MELBOURNE, Australia [CHI] — Camp Gan Yisroel started off like every other year. The days were packed with a range of amazing activities, Shiurim, Davening, meals, night activities, and Rebbe times – all carried out with an unbelievable chayus from every camper.
Thursday night, Yud Alef Teves, changed everything. The tragic news that shocked the entire world and especially the Australian community affected us in camp tremendously.
That night, there was no discerning between those who had personally known the Simons and those who weren’t fortunate enough to have met them; between those who are close friends with Bassie and those are merely classmates; between those who were privileged to have had Sheiny as their Madricha or those who weren’t. That night, the news affected everyone. There was not one dry eye in the entire camp. Not one Tehillim that remained unopened. Not one child who didn’t ask “why?”
Rabbi Menachem Wolf spoke to the staff members and provided the Chizuk that helped us remain strong throughout that night and the remaining days of camp. He told us that every year before the summer; the Rebbe would personally check the staff lists for each camp. The Rebbe would have to approve of the Head Counsellors, Counsellors, and Learning Directors (etc) each year.
Rabbi Wolf told us that us being in camp this year is Hashgocha Protis. There could have been many other people completing our assigned jobs – but G-d did not want the others – he wanted that this year, each of us, were the ones who attended camp. The Rebbe knew that we were there, and has consequently given us the Kochos to be able to endure this tragedy, and to instill in the campers the strength to be able to do the same.
I wasn’t in the Shul when Rabbi Wolf addressed all the campers but I know that when he walked out there was a certain calmness in the room. No one can explain why tragedies happen and especially to these two beautiful Neshomos, but Rabbi Wolf stressed to these children that continuously mourning will prevent us from doing Torah and Mitzvos. We can cry and we can yell and we can question all we want, but if we really want Moshiach to come so that all our pain and suffering comes to an end – then we have to realize that we have a job at hand. Our Tefillos should be said with extra Kavanah, Tehilim should be recited, the learning we do should be L’iluy Nishmos, and our singing should be with an extra Chayus.
The next morning, I saw a change in every counselor and camper. This was not your regular CGI anymore. Literally every camper had taken these words to heart.
Davening that morning was different – the singing was louder and the words were coming from every girl’s heart. During breakfast, I had expected a more subdued and quiet meal. But no! Every camper was up on her chair. The cries of “Ad Mosai” and “we want Moshiach now” which were coming from the very depth of our souls echoed through the hall. Tears were streaming down faces; one could see the pain in the girls’ eyes. Girls who would never have shed a tear in public, girls who were “too cool” to cheer and girls who one could never coax to even stand up, screamed out to Hashem to bring Moshiach – we were all up there, begging and pleading for him to come! I still can not understand how Moshiach did not arrive that morning. Such a cry I had never seen before.
It seemed that as night would fell so did the girls spirits. The strong faces that they had put on throughout the day would slowly fade and the tears would start again. The counselors sat for hours trying to comfort the girls.
One night, I was sitting with a large group of girls and started asking them how they felt the camp had dealt with the whole situation. They all seemed happy with how things were going. Yet, when I asked them if they felt like the camp had moved on too quickly or if they felt like we hadn’t properly mourned the passing of Rabbi and Mrs Simons, they didn’t respond so positively. I further questioned them and came to realize that by continuing on with our schedule, many girls felt like we were (C”V) treading on their memories, and in a way had pushed the whole situation to the side and tried to ignore what had happened in order that camp should continue as normal.
I explained to the girls something that I had learnt only that day.
Rabbi Simons A’H was a man who loved camp. He always organized school camps, and he spearheaded camp back in the days when Sydney would have a separate CGI from Melbourne. His wife A’H was always right behind him, assisting and guiding whenever she was needed.
The idea of “Yacov Lo Meis” had been discussed by every year level during their daily Chumash Shiur, and here we had the amazing opportunity to practice and carry this teaching out. The expounded meaning of this phrase is that Yacov is alive because his influence lives on. That just as his descendants are alive, he, too, is alive: as long as his descendants disseminate his teachings and carry on his work, Yacov lives. I stressed to the girls the importance of not allowing death to make a persons life final. If we want the lives of Rabbi and Mrs Simons A’H to really live on then we must continue doing that which they had worked for in their lifetime. Being in camp when this tragedy occurred, whilst hard to see, was Hashgocha Protis. Standing on your chair to sing and cheer or having fun during an activity was in no way saying that you have forgotten the tragedy that befell on our community and friends. Rather, you are taking everything that this couple lived for and are allowing them to live on; you are turning their memories into a living legacy.
No one can say that moving on after a tragic death is easy. But the girls did it! Walking into the camp, it was easy to feel and see the extra Chayus that the girls had in everything they did. I have attended CGI Melbourne for many years, and have been to camps overseas as well, but never before have I come across a staff and group of campers like the ones I was privileged enough to meet this year.
The things I witnessed throughout camp, continuously amazed me. No matter what they were doing, they went the extra step. Whether it was Tznius, Davening, Shiurim, cheering, helping out without even being asked (to the extent of shlepping tables, chairs, vacuuming…), or Ahavas Yisroel; I am certain that Rabbi and Mrs Simons A’H were looking down on Camp Gan Yisroel 5768 and smiling. The girls certainly made sure that their legacies live on.
A special thank you to the following people:
First and foremost – Moishe and Dina Kahn – people who the Rebbe would be proud to call his Shluchim. Their dedication and untiring efforts have changed the face of the entire Melbourne community. Without you this camp would never have happened!
The camp chaperones – Ima and Abba Susskind, Hershel and Debbie Herbst, Rabbi Menachem and Rochel Wolf and Liron Susskind; for helping us out with Shiurim, serving meals, organizing BBQ’s, night drives, arts and crafts, chesse sandwiches, and for helping us out literally whenever we needed!!
Our head counselors – Chaya Ceitlin and Rochel Boyarsky – the hours you put into camp did not go unnoticed. Thank you for being a pillar of support and strength throughout camp. The energy and life you put into everything you did was amazing!
Our staff members – Sheiny Simmons, Leah Solomon, Rochel Cohen, Batya Pikovsky, Chaya Abenson, Mich Retman, Freda Werdiger, Miriam Teleshevsky, Sara Hecht, Eli Oliver and Malka Sellinger – Without your dedication and patience this camp would not have been the unbelievable success that it was!
And to our dear campers – I wish I had the talent to be able to write down my real feelings. I cannot adequately describe the way in which each and every single one of you touched my life this summer. I am proud to have been a part of “IT’S ABOUT TIME 5768!” Don’t let the inspiration fade away – keep on being the amazing girls that you are!