Nearly 60 Years Later and I’m Still an Alonimer

The girl in that photo above had no idea what she was in store for the first time she walked into Camp Alonim. I was 13 years old the first time I went to Alonim, it was August 1963.  I was assigned to Girls Senior Bunk 9.  I had never been away from home for more than a week —I had gone to a horseback riding camp in Woodland Hills, CA, very different from a very “Jewish Camp”. I knew absolutely no one and upon arrival knew right away that there was a very large group who were “returnees” and knew each other very well. It was a very lonely feeling, but it did not last long because a friendly new bunkmate, Barbara Olgin, came up and introduced herself and helped me unpack and settle in.  It did not take me long for me to realize that this was indeed going to be a very special month.

I grew up in a very cultural but not religious Jewish home — I did not know Hebrew and only had gone to Sunday school for a very short period of time. I was amazed at how many of the campers came from such “Jewish homes” and the wealth of knowledge they had about the Jewish religion. At camp, I made it my challenge to learn as much as I could about our heritage and religion over the next month.

Israeli Folk Dancing with Dani Dassa impacted me most. I had always studied ballet and had been told many times that I was a natural dancer.  The very first class I had with Dani, I was hooked and knew I wanted to learn as much as possible from him.  Israeli dancing became a natural high for me and was a marvelous release, a chance to relax and to unwind.  Dani became my mentor and over the years took me under his wing as his protégé and taught me how to teach, choreograph, and perform.

On my first Shabbat, I finally understood why we needed to have white outfits (of which I did not have enough) and soon begged my parents to send more but eventually ended up sharing outfits with my bunkmates. I had never really participated in Shabbat on a weekly basis before, but grew to love preparing for camp Shabbat at Alonim. Dressing in white, the quiet walk from the flagpole to the Rec Hall for services are still very special memories for me. The service was so different from what I had experienced at our local synagogue. The group participation, the beautiful songs, and the whole aura was so quieting and yet so fulfilling.

The special meal afterwards and being able to sit wherever we wanted in the dining hall made the evening even more special. Singing along with Ben Ari, the opening and closing blessings made me feel so good inside.  Then the dancing afterwards and the pure joy one felt was amazing and how contagious it was and  closing the evening in a big circle saying good night let me know that this was a very special moment in time and in my life

Havdalah was a whole new experience for me. Before coming to Alonim, I hadn’t known anything about it or what it was, but it soon became another one of the special memories that I never forgot. The twisted candle, the spice box, singing in a circle, and closing with a niggun and Shavua Tov still brings chills to me just thinking about it.

I went on to be a JCIT in 1964 and a CIT in 1965. Both summers were wonderful and I made some of the best friends I have ever had in or out of camp.  Spending 8 weeks as a CIT and being a part of the day to day operations of Alonim was so rewarding.  Even scraping the gum off the bottom of the tables in the dining hall took on a whole new meaning when preparing the dining hall for Shabbat.

I always loved the Maccabea games and was so honored to be chosen as a Captain. We were the Judah Blue Messiahs and we came in second place.  It was one the most challenging experiences, and I learned a lot about being a leader and having younger campers looking to me for guidance. The experience proved to be helpful when I arrived at camp in 1966 as a Junior Counselor and dance assistant to Dani Dassa.  Working with Dani solidified my desire to do something with dance and in 1967, I was accepted to the UCLA Dance Department with a focus on ethnic dance and ethnic music.  I worked my way through college teaching Israeli dance at the local synagogues under Dani’s direction.

I returned to Brandeis in July 1968 as a BCIer – it was an amazing experience capped off by having Eli Wiesel as our lecturer in resident.  BCI further enhanced my love of the Jewish heritage and culture.  Again, the friends I made and knowledge I accumulated would influence me through my life.

1968 was my last summer at Brandeis but the memories and the experiences I had there are with me always. In keeping with the L’dor v’Dor tradition of Brandeis-Bardin, my son Jay who was attending Brandeis University, Boston, MA attended BCI in the summer of 1998. He went kicking and screaming.  I will never forget the first call after his first Shabbat thanking me for forcing him to go.  He even became of lover of Israeli Dancing, who would have thought.

Written with love by Shelley Kotlikoff (née Hershfield), CIT 1965