Surprise Lake Camp hosted its sixth annual Rosh Hashanah Program this past week, and the program drew over three hundred people, even in the rain.
The camp’s alternative service is designed for Jews who feel they should do something to observe Rosh Hashanah, but typically don’t, or for those who find that a traditional temple service doesn’t speak to them. The camp has designed a “script” that makes a point of carefully explaining the meaning of all the traditional prayers, and providing various ways to relate to those prayers for people with a wide range of different spiritual beliefs. The service emphasizes singing led by Paul Suchow, who is the camp’s Neil Diamond Music Specialist (Neil is an alum). It is intentionally child friendly, with the children of Surprise Lake Camp, not its Board members, reading from the Torah and coming to the bimah for aliyahs.
Normally the camp conducts the service at its beautiful outdoor Eddie Cantor Theater, named for another of its famous alums. But this year was too soggy. This did not dampen the holiday spirits of the assembled. They squeezed into the camp’s teen dining room, and were surrounded by beautiful Judaic silk art created by the campers over many summers, which, together with an impressive carved portable ark and colorful floral arrangement, converted the building into a sacred space for the day.
One of the highlights of the program, apart of course from the T’kiyah G’dolah, which 15 year old Ben Atwater sounded for what seemed like an eternity, was Tashlich. The crowd gathered along the lake, which is an authentic flowing body of water as required for this ritual, and recited a prayer written by the camp for the occasion:
On this holy day,
May I consider the mistakes I have made,
And may I learn from them.
And then may I find forgiveness and peace
By casting off my sins
And going forth with a lighter heart.
After Tashlich, the camp provided a variety of Rosh Hashanah activities. The most popular was kosher wine tasting. Other favorites included a reflective nature walk, guided meditation, yoga, a camp sing-along, and a special Rosh Hashanah art project.
The festivities concluded with a bounteous dairy meal. Custom baked challahs spelled out the words Shana Tova and decorated the smoked fish buffet. Everybody left satisfied, both gastronomically and spiritually, and motivated to dedicate themselves during these days of awe to reflecting on how they can be better human beings in the year ahead.