Friday, 16 January 2015

Everything is Connected

I am continually amazed by the power of camp. At least the one that I attended. It seems that no matter how far we have all travelled, how diverse our journeys, we all remain interconnected by that cow patch in Indiana. It has been a long time since I was there, and yet events keep popping up that somehow wield a magical force which transports me back to those days of sweltering heat, Shabbat walks, and sugar-laden bug juice. That confluence of happenings is occurring once again this Shabbat in Washington D.C.

This weekend, NFTY-The North American Federation of Temple Youth, is celebrating their 75th anniversary with an alumni concert, featuring my old GUCI buddy Dan Nichols. GUCI's Avodah '82 took it upon themselves to arrange for a reunion using the concert as the centrepiece of their weekend festivities. I was not a part of that Avodah crew. I was a counsellor and songleader that year, but their festivities did get me thinking about that summer, the summer of '82. That was the summer of "Everything is Connected."

Now if any of you have ever been inside of the GUCI gates, have had any connection to GUCI campers or staff, or have even been to a Dan Nichols concert or seminar, you will have heard about "Everything is Connected." It is one of those urban legend-type stories that is hardly believable some thirty plus years later. But, for those of us who were there to witness it, it remains one of the singular defining moments of our camp experience.

It all began with the legendary and remarkably gifted Bonia Shur. Bonia was a great composer and an unbelievable force in Reform Jewish music. His compositions are performed around the world, and he was a deeply respected professor of liturgical arts at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. In the summer of '82, Bonia and his wife Fanchon came to visit GUCI for a Shabbat to act as a sort of scholar/musician in residence. This was long before any of us immature teenagers truly understood what a gift it was having Bonia in our midst. Bonia was brilliant, but eccentric. He had a wild, unkempt look about him, a sort of shlubby-looking Beethoven, and he was so far ahead of his time in trying to convey new age ideas on liturgy and prayer circles, that most of us really didn't know what to make of him. We tended to giggle a lot and we were wholly unimpressed that Fanchon wanted to introduce movement into our prayer experiences. We had no idea what was to come.

After lights-out on Kabbalat Shabbat, the staff was directed to attend a special Oneg. Bonia and Fanchon would be leading the program. He had the entire staff stand in a large circle in the dining hall. Bonia then proceeded to take a long rope and asked everybody to grab hold of it. Fanchon insisted that we move the rope together rhythmically as one community. Now, just picture it. A group of sweaty, awkward teenagers and young staff standing in a circle clutching a rope and moving it forward and backward. There was a lot of laughing and a lot of mocking. But Bonia was undeterred. He just kept it moving. Finally, he asked somebody, anybody, to shout out a phrase as to how this made them feel. I honestly can't recall who said it, but somebody yelled "Everything is connected!" Bonia began to chant a melody. "Everything is connected. Everything is connected." Over and over again. It went on and on and on. We convulsed in giggles. He asked for another phrase. "It will work out!", another person yelled. Bonia began to chant. And he kept chanting. And he kept chanting. "Everything is connected. It will work out!"

Most of us had never heard the phrase 'mantra' before, and even fewer had ever been to a yoga class. But Bonia knew. He just kept chanting and kept the rope moving. It went on for what seemed like an eternity. I don't remember when it happened or even how it happened, but suddenly I realized that I was chanting too. And so was every single person in that room. "Everything is connected. It will work out." The laughter and mocking gave way to spiritual involvement. The discomfort at trying something new melted as we found relaxation in the prayer. There was serenity in the interconnectivity. Later that weekend, Bonia and Fanchon introduced our new GUCI mantra to the entire camp. Everything is Connected became the watchword for the summer.

I don't think that any of us could have foreseen social media and how intertwined we would still be in 2015. That Shabbat evening in Zionsville united us all in a way that can still be talked about, but never truly felt unless you were there to experience it. But, Bonia knew it all those years ago and he insisted that we share it. Interconnectivity is vital to everything that we do in our lives. We all have an impact and an import on those around us; those with whom we live, work, and love. We cannot and should not neglect those relationships, because in the end we are all we have. 

It has been an incredibly challenging start to 2015. Perhaps if we all just take a step back, breathe in and out rhythmically, and chant Bonia's mantra, we might find a bit more peace on this Shabbat. Have fun Avodah '82. Everything is still very much connected.

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