18 years. A cycle of life.
We started out together in the middle of the summer of 1999, I was a songleader at URJ Camp George. It was the inaugural summer. It was my first summer as a camp songleader.
I came to camp with my red Fender acoustic, which was my first guitar and the guitar with which I had begun my NELFTY (now NFTY-NEL) songleading career. I loved that guitar.
But halfway through the summer, someone broke my red Fender acoustic. We never discovered who the culprit was. It was just broken one morning when I opened the case to play. DEVASTATING. And so it was that I found myself, on my day off, shopping for a new guitar with my father. There were no red Fender acoustics available that day but the beautiful sunburst body of the Epiphone Hummingbird called out to me. I didn't know she was famous. That Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow, Jewel, Chris Cornell, Michelle Branch all had (or would) play Hummingbirds just like her. I didn't care about any of that. I just loved the beautiful artwork on her body. I loved her narrow neck and her sweet voice. I named her Tziporah and swept her off to camp. Havdallah was one of the first things we sang together.
And we've been singing together ever since.
This guitar saw me through that summer of songleading and many more. It came with me to KUTZ (Havdallah under willow trees) and to Israel (Havdallah in the Negev), and endured the indignity of all the name-tags and frog stickers that befit a NFTY-NEL guitar. It came to temple where I learned how to lead youth group services and where I taught music class to little Jewish kids. And of course, we led Havdallah there as well.
Then it came to University, where together we transitioned from song-sessions to coffee-houses. She was the body I clutched nervously the first time I took the stage to sing a song of my own. She was the partner with whom I wrote angsty songs about globalization and broken hearts. And of course there were Hillel Shabbatot and more Hebrew school music classes and back to KUTZ we went again. Havdallahs in the Hillel House. Havdallahs under the stars.
Then, back to Israel we went, this time for a year, struggling to grow from song-leader to prayer-leader. We studied the cantorial arts. We led Havdallah in Israeli parks and in ballrooms overlooking the walls of the Old City. We went to Prague and sang softly at Thereizen. We took a boat from Cypres to Haifa. Debbie's Havdallah with Debbie herself for the first time.
We moved to New York. She schlepped with me on the subway. She lived in my HUC locker (an entirely different kind of indignity!). She helped me lead my first HUC service and got me in trouble for relying too heavily on her. And there were soup-kitchen talent shows and Havdallahs in the CL. And she got to take Debbie's class with me - singing Debbie songs with Debbie. And there was a Havdallah at Debbie's house as well. Precious, precious memories we have.
And then she came with me to Camp Harlam one summer and was quietly supportive of my decision to change tracks and become a rabbi. She shared my distaste for the term "singing rabbi" (Oh! So you'll be one of those "singing rabbis"!), while also helping me to personify it time and time again. (I am a rabbi who happens to also sing, if you must know)
She has gotten me through many rough nights, rough weeks, rough years. My tears have fallen on her but she has never complained. We have sung together through joys and tragedies.
And then to Plattsburgh she went, as a rabbis guitar now, and suffered all over again, as the name-tags and worn down stickers were sloughed off. We looked more professional now but we could still stay up late for jam sessions at Bienniel. She was my partner on the Bimah. Just the two of us those first two years. Havdallahs and Tot Shabbat in the sanctuary. Havdallahs at camp, now as faculty at Crane Lake and URJ Sci Tech. We moved to Boston and she lived on the Bimah at TBD, and sometimes in my office. I have spent more Shabbatot with her than with any single living being.
And then, this year, back to Toronto we go. She got to ride in the car, not the moving truck. And for a while she lived in the storage locker at City Shul so that she would be on hand if needed. And now she comes with me, back again, full circle, to a Camp George Havdallah. The guitar of the Dean of Jewish Living (fancy name for "camp rabbi"). A long way from the 17 year old songleader and also not a long way at all. A hop, skip and a jump.
18 years. The blink of an eye. So many lifetimes in a lifetime and she has been with me through them all.
Havdallah with Camp George.
A summer full of them. And of song sessions and T'fillot and camp fires. So much to look forward to, though this time she will not live in the Chadar.
Wherever we live, wherever we go,
I know she is up to it.
We are ready.
We have come home at last.