When I was a kid, I went to a summer camp in the Berkshires. I was there from 1949 thru 1959, as a camper and then as staff. The camp was called Camp Lenox and was (and is) just outside of Lee, MA, near Pittsfield. It was a Jewish camp insofar as the campers were all Jewish as was most of the staff. We did a “motzi” before meals, we dressed for Shabbat in camp uniforms and had a Shabbat service on Friday night. The Friday night service was on the porch of a large, rustic, log building called the “lodge”. The building was big enough to contain a basketball court inside and a stage at one end where we did plays. One porch of the lodge was set up with benches and there was a rustic ark made of small logs. I’m not sure why the ark was there as we really did not use it. We only had Friday night services and very rarely Saturday morning service. Once in a while, there might have been a Bar Mitzvah and occasionally a camper with an upcoming Bar Mitzvah worked on it during the summer with a counselor. However, the ark did contain a small Torah. Again, I have no idea why, and I have been unable to find out where the Torah came from or why it was there. According to some old pictures, there was a rabbi on staff, long before I was there. Perhaps he brought it and perhaps they did more “Jewish” at that time.
The camp was sold in 1962 and the new owners were Jewish but not particularly active. In 1991 I received a note that Camp Lenox was planning a reunion. They had lost track of most of the people from my era, so I sent them the names and information I had and pointed them toward whomever I could for additional contacts. I did not plan to go, but at the last minute, I decided to. I had been to the camp a couple of times, briefly, in the intervening years including when I was in the Army and stationed at Fort Devens.
During the reunion I was roaming around, finding and exploring my old haunts, and I happened into the cellar of the lodge, a large dirt floor area used mostly for storage and where they used to collect laundry from the campers. While looking around I saw something strange across the floor. From a distance, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I went closer and found it was, indeed, what it had appeared to be, the camp Torah that I remembered. It was open, unrolled a little and on the floor. There were (are) some nibbles along the edges of the parchment where critters had obviously been munching, but they did not reach into the actual text. One of the bottom handles was missing and half of one of the disks. I rolled it up and picked it up. Then I looked around for the mantle (cover) that used to be on it. I could not find it, so I found a piece of cloth and wrapped it up.
Now the question was what to do. I certainly did not want to embarrass anyone. I found the owner, took him aside, put an arm over his shoulder, and said, “Guess what I found under the lodge? I found the old camp Torah. May I make a suggestion. If we can use it, we need to find an appropriate place for it. If not, I’m sure we could find a youth group, or a synagogue, or even a camp, that would be pleased to give it a good home and use it.”
During a campfire that evening, the owner presented the Torah to me and asked me to find it a good home! I carried it on the plane home with me. (You could do that back then.) When I got off of the plane, carrying a cloth-wrapped bundle, my wife Adrienne took one look at me and wondered what I had managed to bring home this time. She suspected an antique radio. Surprise!
It turned out that a friend of ours in Birmingham was a sofer, a scribe. He offered to go over the Torah for me, check it and repair as needed if I would restore and refinish an inlaid wood card table for him. So, I did, and he did. He reported that the Torah was in very good shape considering what it had been through. I did the mechanical repair, turned a new handle and fitted it in place and made a new disk. On the inside of the disk, I inscribed it so there would be a permanent record. We had no mantle (cover) for it, but there were several old ones in storage at Beth-El (in the attic), and, sure enough, one was just the right size.
It was shortly before the holidays when we got all of the repairs done. So the little Torah marched on Simchat Torah for the first time in no one knew how many years, at least 20 or 30. It was given a place in the ark at Beth-El and was used on holidays. Not long after that, Ramah Darom was established.
So, the little Torah went back to Camp at Ramah Darom for the summer. We had people take it to Camp at the beginning of the summer and bring it home after. We did that for several years. Then it was decided that Beth-El certainly had enough Torahs and so the little Torah was placed on permanent loan at Ramah Darom, which is where it remains to this day. And I almost did not go to the reunion!
A New Dress
This summer the little Torah got a new dress thanks to Marlene Kaplan, mother of Audra Kaplan (Ramah Darom’s Director of Camper Care & Tikvah Support Program) and grandmother to 5 camper/staff alumni (Leah, Joey, Helen and Nathan Spellberg, and Ali Katz). Marlene created this beautiful Torah cover for the Little Torah and Ramah Darom.
Pictured here, Marlene’s grandson, Nathan, holds the Little Torah during morning Tefillah at Camp Ramah Darom this summer. L’Dor V’Dor!
The donation and restoration of the Little Torah were a generous gift from Julian (past President of the Ramah Darom Board of Directors) and Adrienne Brook of Birmingham, AL. The beautiful new cover was a gift from Marlene Kaplan of Highland Park, IL.