Dedicating our Outdoor Sanctuary

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by Melissa Buyer-Witman, Eisner & Crane Lake Faculty Dean

On Friday, July 19th, our Alumni, faculty, board members, generous supporters, leaders in the movement along with campers, and staff all gathered together to dedicate and celebrate our recently revitalized outdoor sanctuary. Nothing could stifle the sense of community or gratitude we felt in coming together, even in the midst of one of the summer’s most intense heat waves.

As mentioned by Crane Lake’s director, Debby Shriber, the outdoor sanctuary is of the utmost importance because it is the beating heart of our camp. All of the magical moments one witnesses here at CLC, begin and end with the outdoor sanctuary. From the smallest act of kindness – like offering a seat to someone searching at our Friday night Shabbat dinner, to the biggest, loudest, ruach-filled cheers during Maccabia, to the grit we see on the soccer field, or the courage we see at the lake when someone climbs the inflatable for the first time. These spiritual acts are inspired each morning and every Shabbat in our outdoor sanctuary. Here in this space we are reminded of the values that imbue our every action, we are connected to our people and tradition through song and through prayer, and we are reminded of the power of community.

Our tradition teaches us that we can create sacred space and holy ground wherever our heart desires – that it is not about the structure, or even the location, but the hearts of the people that come to build it. When it was time to build the Mishkan in the desert, a community of recently freed slaves, with very little to give, answered the call. Everyone’s hands, everyone’s willingness, everyone’s individual gifts were necessary to build the sanctuary – and that willingness to give is what transformed a tent into  – a sanctuary, a sacred space. When we called on this community to give– to help us build the spiritual heart of our camp community, so many answered the call – and gave with a full heart. As a result, our new sanctuary has a comfortable bench seat for anyone who joins us, 18 newly planted trees to offer shade, a new bima, a new Torah given to us by Temple Emanuel Sinai of Worcester and so much more. The willingness, the effort, and the support are the building blocks, the very foundation, or our new outdoor sanctuary; they are what transformed dirt, grass and trees, into sacred space.

Our hope is that our new outdoor sanctuary will continue to inspire campers and visitors for many years to come. There were 18 young trees planted in our new sanctuary – 18 or chai, is a symbol of the vibrant life these trees will bear witness to, each and every time we gather for prayer. While these trees have just begun to take root, they will grow right alongside our campers. They will watch them continue to play, and thrive and become the best versions of themselves.  In return, they will be a grounding and lasting touchstone for all; a powerful reminder of the experiences, memories and friendship that were born at Crane Lake. And we hope, the trees will be here for generations yet to come- reminding us all what it means to plant, build and work for an entirely new generation of campers.

Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman is the Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Israel of the City of New York.  She has served on faculty at Crane Lake since 2012, and her daughters, Lily and Josie, are both camp “lifers” as well! She transitioned to the role of Faculty Dean in 2019.