Tradition Welcomes Change: Thoughts from Ilene Weismehl

In May of 2014, JOIN’s Development Manager Ilene Weismehl wrote a great piece for’s blog about camp memories, Shabbat, tradition, ritual and change. Enjoy an excerpt below, and read the whole article on the RJ blog.

For as long as I can remember, it was a given that my brother and I would go to Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute, commonly known as OSRUI (pronounced Os-roo-ee), and even more commonly known as Oconomowoc (the camp’s Wisconsin town name).  Although none of the above-mentioned names hint at the Debbie Friedman prayers or Hebrew immersion programs or after-meal songs, I always had a notion of what the names might hold (courtesy of my parents’ stories of their own time at Union Institute in the fifties) and I couldn’t wait to claim it.

Forty years later, many of my camp memories have grown as faded as the photo below. But the memory of Shabbat at camp remains vivid! On Shabbat, all camp activities ended early so we had time to shower off the weekday grime of lake and sweat and craft projects. We donned our nice Shabbat clothes and shoes. Then, clean and shiny, and a bit shy for our newly-scrubbed appearance, the girls and boys would meet just outside the dining hall for Kabbalat Shabbat.

Everything became different and new for Kabbalat Shabbat, our receiving of Sabbath. With our combed, damp hair we had no choice but to seeeach other, ourselves, and the world differently. We sang L’chah Dodi with a melody à la the Mamas and the Papas. We sang, clapped, and jumped to express our heartfelt welcome as we anticipated a day of rest, albeit a rest from the none-too-stressful weekdays of camp life.

Each Friday, we were called upon by Jewish tradition and ritual to change our routine, to interrupt the status quo, and to transform ourselves and our expectations of the coming day. It threw our routine off kilter and sometimes made us uneasy. But from that initial discomfort we found rest and joy and a new understanding of the everyday.

Continue reading on the blog.


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