It has been said (at least within the parochial world that I live) that one of the greatest scams ever perpetrated on young Jewish youth, is that which my friend the rabbi in Indy has put over on unsuspecting high school juniors for almost thirty years now! You see, my friend the rabbi is a camp director of the highest order. He has run a Jewish study camp in the middle of a corn field since the mid-seventies and he has run it on a shoestring budget, without a lake or waterfront to speak of, and with buildings that were dilapidated when they were originally built in the 1950s. He has also overseen some of the most creative programming, (he got kids to think that it was cool to learn Hebrew, Judaic studies and pray in the middle of their summer vacations!) the rise of a tremendously involved generation of Jewish leaders (many of which got their starts on his staffs) and a musical legacy that has given rise to some of the giants in modern Jewish music today! It is no wonder that he engenders such fierce loyalty from all of those campers, staff members and faculty that have passed through his camp's gates. But, I truly believe that one of his lasting legacies will be the con that has become known as the Avodah program.
Back in the late seventies, my rabbi friend realized that he needed a program that would better service high schoolers that were graduating out of the regular camper program. He knew that these kids were still a wee bit wet behind the ears to really be good CITs and he wanted a bit more distance between them and the oldest campers on camp. Not only that, he was spending a good chunk of the summer budget on salaries for maintenance, kitchen, infirmary and office staffs that were doing little more than partying all summer. So, in 1979 my friend the rabbi created the Avodah program. This was originally a one year program designed for kids entering 11th grade (it is now for high school seniors) and the idea was that under the supervision of unit heads, they would do all of those jobs that were previously done by the maintenance, kitchen, infirmary and office staffs. Not only that, the kids would participate in their own study programs that were laid out by their unit heads and visiting faculty. Oh and the piece de resistance--he would charge each participant the equivalent of one camp session tuition. Yes, you read that correctly! These kids actually would pay for the privilege to wash dishes, type services and clean toilets. Wait!! There's more. The rabbi knew that there would be fierce competition among the kids to get into this program (how he figured that out, is one of life's enduring mysteries!) so he would have them write an essay and gather references from home to vouch for their characters. He was so right. Not only was there a massive outpouring of applicants, the program has survived almost 30 years. Every year, more and more kids fight tooth and nail for the right to scrub the camps toilets and smell like sewage for a summer, and have the best time of their lives!!!
One summer, my rabbi friend actually conned me into serving as one of the unit heads for this motley crew. They were a wonderful group of young people who loved camp so much that they would have done anything that rabbi friend asked. That summer was one of my all-time favourites in my decade at camp. It instilled me with so much, but among all of the memories, the thing I remember and use the most, is my ability to fix a toilet! Yes, I know how to fix a toilet. I can plunge with the best plumber in the biz and I know how to use a toilet snake. Over the years, this little nugget of knowledge has served me well. While the husband is Mr. Fix-it in this house, I am usually the one who deals with the bathroom issues. So, it was with some smug sense of satisfaction that I embarked on fixing the basement commode this afternoon.
After flushing, it became very apparent that the damn thing was clogged. I ran for my handy-dandy little plunger and proceeded to plunge the rubber off of the thing. No dice! Still clogged! Kept at it until my arm ached!! I thought that the water level had decreased, so I made the fatal error of toilet repair, I flushed! AGHHHHHH!!! Water and sewage spewed out and littered the bathroom floor. I shut the f@#$*&g thing off and moved into clean up mode. Once the place was scrubbed, bleached and gleaming, I realized that this was a job for which I did not possess the proper tools. I placed an 911 call to the husband and told him of my "crappy" afternoon. I informed him that we need to procure a toilet snake and he replied that we need a plumber. That is one of the things I love most about the husband. He is truly logical, sane and cool under pressure. Of course it is easy to be cool when you aren't knee deep in shit! I should have remembered what my rabbi friend taught me all those years ago. "When in doubt, get some sucker to pay through the nose for cleaning up somebody else's shit!" Today, I am said sucker!!