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Summer All Year

Yisroel Besser

For Rabbi Judah Mischel and his staff and campers at HASC, the past two months are the fuel to keep the next ten months just as warm

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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BE GREAT Rabbi Judah Mischel: “Imagine, you have a 17-year-old kid from the Five Towns who doesn’t pick up his own socks, and suddenly, he’s bathing a camper with autism. That’s not kindness or compassion, it’s called nishmas Yisrael, avodas hamiddos, a mitzvah of v’halachta bidrachav, emulating Hashem’s ways. It’s the way to become great, so they become great. And if we do our job, then they actually realize that they’re great, too”

B lue poured into summer blue,

A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,

The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew

That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north

Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows

Order their populations forth,

And a cruel wind blows.

(from “End of Summer,” by Stanley Kunitz)

You don’t really see silos around the frum summer camps and bungalow colonies of Sullivan County, New York, but the impending return to the city shows itself in other ways: the storewide clearance sale at the Woodbourne seforim store, the softest of sighs couched in every word.

Well, almost.

It’s somewhat heartening to pull up to Camp HASC in Parksville, New York, against the depressing thought of summer’s end, because there, you hear a different poem, a song that tells you summer isn’t the exit, but the gateway to the new year.

Moments after I park, a young boy goes speeding by on a small red bicycle, his smile seeming to float behind him like a ribbon off the handlebar. A counselor keeps step, urging the boy on as he pedals frantically, as if he might never get this chance again.

”Go translate what you learned this summer to the rest of the year. That everyone is special”

“Kol hakovod,” enthuses HASC executive director Rabbi Judah Mischel. Though he’s of average height, Rav Judah’s bushy beard and exuberant walk give him an outsize appearance. “Wow, wow, ashrecha, ashrecha….” he exults.

This camp is more than four decades old, the pioneering program for the Jewish special-needs community. The HASC summer program has served thousands of children and adults, but there’s nothing here that feels rote or institutional.

Counselors and campers come pouring down the large hill, and it takes me a moment to process what I’m seeing — then it comes in a flash. They are all matching: duos dressed in “Na-Nach” attire, Elmo T-shirts, Chabad yarmulkes, Mets jerseys. Many girls are wearing dresses to match their counselors.

Rav Judah, as he’s known on these grounds, gives insight into the annual HASC minhag of Matching Day. “You know how the Arizal says that a rebbi and talmid are connected from before time? It’s the same thing here. There’s a real shidduch between a camper and his or her counselor.”

Matching clothing is cute. Matching souls is what makes this place special.

A teenager carrying an empty hot-water urn rushes by, peyos flying.

“Hey,” Rav Judah says, stopping. “Amazing. A vasser treiger [he uses the Yiddish shtetl term for water carrier] with peyos. What could be better?”

There was another “matching day” that I missed. “Oh, man, I wish you’d come here on Visiting Day!” he exclaims. “You feel the glory. You have parents and counselors in this beautiful slow dance, needing each other so badly. They come from Kiryas Joel and Boro Park and Englewood and Scarsdale, and suddenly, they’re all on a level playing field. We really should call it Ashreichem Yisrael Day — there’s this fire of ahavas Yisrael burning that feels so right.

“That’s what I mean”—a note of intensity creeps into his voice—”that summer is the start of a new year. They see things in themselves and now they need to move forward. We always tell the staff at the end of summer, ‘In some ways, it’s easier to be patient and generous with those who so obviously have less than you, but in truth, everyone has their own special needs. Go translate what you learned this summer to the rest of the year. That everyone is special.”

The mandate gives Judah Mischel a 12-month-a-year responsibility, the task of shaping and developing the gifts his staff members display over the summer. He and his wife Ora live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and many of the staff members spend the year learning in Israel. Yet he’s back in the US before the summer to interview and hire and prepare his staff, and then, after the summer, to help them process the growth and apply it to their lives. Throughout the year, he travels to America on camp business or to serve as scholar-in-residence for various communities and events around the country. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 674)

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