Written by Ethan Bennett
For me, camp is not just the special piece of land found along Moore Road in between 86th and 96th Streets in Zionsville. Rather, camp is and will forever continue to be this magical phenomenon that brings be happiness, that forces me to simply smile, wherever life takes me.
In the years since my time as a camper and counselor, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many far off lands, and GUCI has followed me all along the way.
Now, as the reader, you may be thinking at this point that I’m about to tell you about one of my best friends from Israel who I met at camp and who I don’t even see as a friend anymore, but instead, family (along with his entire extended family). While Ori is an incredible addition to my life, you’d be wrong.
Or maybe you’re thinking I’ll tell you about the time I landed just after midnight in Bangkok and headed straight to the comfort of a fellow GUCIite’s home. Or when my travels got the best of me in Istanbul and a GUCI friend living there took me in as I recovered from my traveller’s sickness. While the familiar faces of Tanya and Hannah were highlights of my time in those countries, you’d be wrong.
So perhaps you’re wondering if I’ll share about the time I was traveling across Poland while leading a summer journey with NFTY in Israel and felt a sense of belonging as my bus passed by the town of Tarnow. While this town, which was the scene of so many of Ron’s life-guiding Ba’al Shem-Tov stories around the campfire was surely a magical place, you’re still not quite right.
What I’m here to tell you about is how camp showed up in the most unexpected place. Just this year, I was flying to meet up with my sisters for a sibling trip to Mexico. Starting in different origin cities, we planned to meet in our destination at the airport arrivals. As my plane descended into Oaxaca city, I was peering out the window, nose pressed up against the glass. My eyes scanned over the landscape of mountains, valleys, and winding rivers and I soon became fixated on one thing: the bright purple trees below.
If you’re confused, I’ll let you in on a little Migdal crew secret. (Don’t worry, the rest will remain between us 😉). Sometimes campers have difficulty reaching the top- while this is totally acceptable, as the crew, we also utilize a few different techniques to encourage campers to reach their personal goal and have a fulfilling climb. One such tactic is telling them that there is a purple tree that you can only see from the top of the tower. This simple silly concept is all that is needed for many to put their fears aside and make the climb. Given that I haven’t ever seen such a tree in my hundreds of ascents, it is truly remarkable how many campers tell us they can see the tree. The innocent imagination of a camper is something we should all envy.
Anyway, as I peered out the window of my window seat in the sky, I couldn’t help but smile to myself and feel a sense of accomplishment. I finally saw the purple tree. I could finally retire my harness, for my story as a Migdal man was complete.
As soon as I landed, I told Abby and Michelle about the trees and we laughed together as they too saw the purple trees and were amazed. As we proceeded on our travels, GUCI was on my mind, and brought me joy, with every purple tree we saw.
The impact that GUCI has had on my life is not limited to the feeling that colorful trees in other countries give me. As I approach my 10 year Avodah reunion, I am grateful for all that camp has taught me – how to think, how to work, how to ask questions and how to teach. But most of all, I will forever be grateful for the best lesson of all: how to be happy.