Thursday, July 30, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan- Shabbos Nachamu
TU B’AV- 15 Menachem Av 5775/ July 31, 2015
Pirkei Avos Perek 3

Rabbi Dovie Eisenberger is one of the esteemed learning rabbeim here in Camp Dora Golding. As Tisha B’av was beginning a few summers ago, just after he had left his bungalow to daven marriv and eichah, Rabbi Eisenberger was frantically summoned back. A bat had been spotted in his daughter’s bed room. After a few frenzied minutes, George, camp’s legendary worker, was summoned. In his inimitable fashion he coaxed the bat as he gently proceeded towards it before he grabbed it by its feet and removed it from the premises.
When informed about the ordeal one of their neighbors remarked that in Perek Shirah it says that the shirah of the bat is the opening words of the haftorah read the Shabbos following Tisha B’av: “Nachamu nachamu ami – Console, console my nation!” No one wants to find a bat in their home or bungalow, but the symbolism of the bat flying into the room just as Tisha B’av was beginning was extraordinary. The fact that the room which the bat had flown into was that of the Eisenberger’s daughter Nechama was even more remarkable.
Why is it the bat who sings the song of consolation?
Before Camp Dora Golding redid almost every building in camp, including the ‘Family House’ where the Eisenbergers reside for the summer, for many years performances and plays were performed in the Recreation Hall, referred to as the rec (or wreck) hall. As the plays were set to begin it was not uncommon for bats to fly around in front of the stage, and occasionally above the crowds. It definitely added a great deal of drama to the production, especially when an actor had to duck in middle of a scene.
Bats function best at night. Using echolocation the bat navigates with precision, even in the darkest of places. Exile is often compared to darkness; a time when it is difficult to see things clearly. During exile it is challenging to comprehend the ways of G-d and why there is so much pain and suffering. Just as the bat has the ability to navigate through the darkness by utilizing ‘echolocation’, so too must we learn how to navigate the darkness of exile using the ‘echolocation’  provided for us by the Torah and our leaders.  
It is commonly known that pirates wear a patch over one eye. Truthfully however, it has nothing to do with a missing eye, but rather to help them see adequately. While the eyes adapt quickly when going from darkness to light, studies have shown that it can take up to 25 minutes for eyes to adapt when going from bright light to darkness. Pirates frequently had to move above and below decks, from daylight to near darkness. They wore a patch over one eye to keep it dark-adapted. When the pirate went below deck, he would switch the patch to the outdoor eye and see in the darkness easily, potentially to fight while boarding and plundering another vessel. Like pirates we need to be able to endure in worlds of lights and worlds of darkness.
Rabbi Eisenberger added that bats hang upside down. In exile when the world often seems backwards and upside down the bat symbolizes the ability to ‘hold on’ if its feet are firmly rooted.
Finally, bats tend to nest together in very close proximity, as we were reminded during every performance in camp. The symbolism of this characteristic of the bats is obvious. United we stand; divided we fall. Unity is the key to our redemption and the source of consolation. 
“Nachamu Nachamu Ami!”
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim
Shabbos Tisha B’av 5775/ July 22, 2015

At our Shabbos table a few weeks ago a friend of ours related that some time prior she had been attending a wedding. She was standing next to her table and shmoozing with a friend, when she felt tapping on her shoulder. She completely ignored it and continued conversing. After a minute she heard a voice behind her say "I imagine that you have young children and have trained yourself to ignore relentless tapping, but you are blocking the aisle. Could you please move aside?" She immediately moved aside, apologized, and explained that the woman was exactly right. She was so used to the tapping that she hardly noticed it, even though her children were not with her.
The Gemara in Gittin recounts the tragic story which resulted in the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. There the Gemara relates that after he destroyed the Bais Hamikdash, the arrogant and wicked Roman General Titus returned to Rome bragging that he had overpowered the Jewish G-d.
A short time later a small gnat flew into his nostrils and entered his brain where it immediately began mercilessly pecking away inside his head. Titus tried all sorts of remedies but all to no avail. One day as he walked past a blacksmith who was banging away with his anvil, the pecking stopped. The gnat seemed to enjoy the noise. From that point onward Titus had someone walk next to him banging away at all times. With time the gnat became used to the banging and resumed its pecking, until Titus had the person bang a little harder. But then the gnat became accustomed to that too, and the noise had to be increased even more. Eventually Titus died a slow and painful death.
In relating this story the Gemara is reminding us of basic human nature. When someone is subjected to the same experience day and after day no matter how awe-inspiring, terrifying, or intriguing it is, eventually it becomes trite and loses its intrigue. Eventually it becomes nothing more than background noise.
When a parent or teacher is always shouting at their students/children eventually the children no longer hear the shouting and program themselves to just tune out. [This is not to say that they aren't bothered by the emotional reprimand, but the intended jolt accomplished by the shouting no longer has the same effect. If anything it begins to breed resentment.]
When Titus originally passed the blacksmith the gnat was intrigued by the noise. But with time it became accustomed to the noise and was no longer affected by it.[1]
To make an impression something must be exciting and fresh. In today’s world, educators possess the difficult task of maintaining excitement in their lessons. We as individuals too have the arduous responsibility to maintain excitement in our religious observance. When Torah and mitzvos becomes 'background noise' and the ‘noises’ of the world around us become louder and more exciting we no longer hear the sounds of our soul within us.
Tisha B'av and the preceding period of mourning come to jolt us out of our spiritual stupor. When we allow the Bais Hamikdash within our souls to be reduced to ashes we can no longer relate to it. But when we mourn its loss than we begin to reconnect ourselves with it and it begins to be rebuilt from within us.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
An easy and meaningful fast,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

[1] I heard this idea and explanation of that gemara from Rabbi Noach Sauber who heard it from Rabbi Homnick. For many years Rabbi Homnick would expound upon the gemara in Gittin on the lawn of Camp Morris throughout Tisha B’av afternoon for seven hours straight! 

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Matos-Masei
Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av 5775/ July 15, 2015
Pirkei Avos – Chapter 2

This week Camp Dora Golding went on its first major trip of the summer to Dorney Park, a major theme park in Allentown, PA. As anyone who has ever been to a Theme Park is aware, not only do people wait on long lines to go on rides, and pay a lot of money for a cup of soda mostly filled with ice, but people also enjoy spending their money to play games which leave minimal chance for success. The draw is that after playing a few times, eventually you win a stuffed animal which you can then proudly display as you march around the park. The bigger the stuffed animal the more impressed people are.
When we boarded the busses at the end of the day at Donrey Park we had to figure out how to find place for three huge stuffed animals. (I don’t even know how to describe what kind of animals they were – they were half bird and half penguin.) Then when we got back to camp the proud winners had to lug their overweight loot up to their bunk and find place for them.
During my late teen years on one occasion I went with a few friends to a theme park on Chol Hamoed and brought a knapsack full of stuffed animals from my house. Once we entered the park I took them out and walked around holding them. Quite a few people stopped me and asked me which booth I had won the prizes at. I simply shrugged and pointed in the distance.
It’s interesting that once you leave the theme park not only do the stuffed animals no longer accord you any respect, but people also wonder why in the world you are walking around with them.
I had more than one friend who had large collections of stuffed animals, many from their visits to Theme Parks. When they got married their wives slowly began disposing of the inanimate dust collectors that were taking up needless space.
Our world is a little theme park with all sorts of attractions and rewards. We become consumed with trying to win those prizes, enjoy the rides, and gain some status as we walk around the park. But eventually the park closes and we have to head back to reality. All of the things that granted status while in the park are reduced to being trivialities at best.
The Three Weeks and the laws they impose upon us are very inconvenient. The fact that it transpires during the summer, when society is enjoying the hot summery sun with hardly any restrictions, makes it all the more challenging. But the Three Weeks carry a sobering reminder to us that all that glitters around us is not gold. Despite our wealth, prestige, and relative comfort, the world is far from where it should be. The Bais Hamikdash is not rebuilt, Eretz Yisroel remains in perpetual danger, and so many of with constant pain and suffering.
The Three Weeks of mourning sets the stage for the months of Elul and Tishrei which are always just beyond the horizon of Tisha B’av. If we are so consumed with the momentary prize to show off to everyone around us, when the glittering lights go out and the rides stop we will have nothing to show.
If we internalize the poignant message of Tisha B’av and take its sobering message to heart we will be able to remember what is truly valuable and important, and will elevate our entire lives. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos
23 Tamuz 5775/ July 8, 2015
Pirkei Avos – Chapter 1

A change of scenery is always nice, and our family really takes pleasure in coming to the Pocono Mountains each summer. Aside for enjoying being part of Camp Dora Golding, we also enjoy the unique environment of the local populace who live here.
One day last summer when Chani went to do laundry at the local Laundromat, a fellow came in and emptied his laundry into a washing machine, and then proceeded to add most of the clothing he was wearing. He then joined a crowd watching a TV show called “Rednecks.” True story! 
This summer, when we first arrived here and went shopping at the local Supermarket, we noticed on the back of the shopping cart in which our two year old was sitting an advertisement that read: “Pocono Cremation Society: Your affordable cremation option. No hidden charges, No additional fees.” I wonder how many people considering using the competition switch to Pocono Cremation Society because they see the ad on the back of their shopping cart. I don’t think you’re going to see that in New York.
Then last week I had to visit the mechanic down the block from camp to get my tire fixed (I think the duct tape didn’t work). You can learn a lot about an institution by the reading material in the waiting room. At this mechanic, there were two Sports Illustrateds, a bunch of Fishing Magazines, and a pile of Hunting Magazines.
I had never looked at a Hunting Magazine before, and it was very enlightening to see how to shoot bears and moose, and why you should eat the animals you kill. There was a line on the cover of one of the magazines introducing a feature article which caught my eye: “Today’s hunters have gear, but do they have skills?”
That line is not only applicable to hunters in Duct-Tapeville, Pennsylvania, but it’s also very true about our religious observance as well. There has never been a time in our history when people spent so much to beautify their mitzvah observance. We have stunning menorahs, esrog boxes, Seder plates, Shabbos candelabras, and besomim boxes. We have beautiful tefillin and tallesim and spend tremendous amounts of money to observe Shabbos, Yom Tov, and live daily as Torah Jews. That is all praiseworthy and should be recognized as such. But the aforementioned magazine cover question could very well be directed towards us as well: “Today’s Torah Jews have gear, but do they have skills?”
It is not enough to purchase the means to perform mitzvos on the highest level, we also need to have an appreciation of the meaning, essence, and laws regarding the mitzvah. A bar mitzvah bochur who dons expensive tefillin and has a stunning tefillin bag but has never learned the halachos and doesn’t understand the incredible beauty of this special mitzvah has gear but is lacking skills. The family who has beautiful Shabbos tablecloths and sumptuous food but doesn’t study the laws of Shabbos or speak some words of Torah or the parsha at their table has gear but lacks skills. The one who goes through the motions of living like an Orthodox Jew but has no appreciation of the depth and value of living such a life has the gear but lacks skills.
A friend of mine once quipped that it’s ironic that sometimes a kid will run out onto a baseball field with all of the latest gear – including batting gloves, sweat band, cool sneakers and socks, etc. and yet the kid can hardly hit or throw a ball. He’s got all the gear but he’s lacking skill.
If you were on a camping trip and encountered a bear would you rather be with someone who had gear but no skill or skill but no gear?
It’s good to have the latest gear, but without the skill it’s not going to get you very far.
Should our Torah and mitzvah observance be any less?

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum          

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak
16 Tamuz 5775/ July 1, 2015
Pirkei Avos – Chapter 6

You know you’re starting to get old when you preface an anecdote with “When I was a kid”. So here I am getting old as I begin by saying – When I was a kid in camp a couple of decades ago there was something called a letter. One would write a note to someone else, place it in an envelope, seal it, put something called a stamp on it, and put it in the mail box. Magically it would show up at the intended address a few days later.  
Each night at supper in camp, letters would be dropped off at every table, and the counselor would disseminate them. As campers we waited excitedly to receive a letter, especially because it might include some money.
One summer on the first night of camp, a boy in my bunk received a letter. I couldn’t believe it. We had barely finished unpacking; how did he already receive a letter? He showed me the letter. It was from his father. His father wrote “actually, you’re sleeping in your bed and aren’t leaving to camp until tomorrow. But I miss you already knowing that you will be leaving.”
I don’t remember if there was any money in the letter, but I do remember being very impressed with the father’s sentiment.
This week another wonderful season has begun here at Camp Dora Golding. Over 600 campers arrived anticipating a summer of fun and sun. As a parent I can appreciate how difficult it is to send away a child for a few weeks to live away from home.  
In his book Homesick and Happy, Michael Thomson makes a strong case about the benefits of sending children to overnight camp. He begins by listing eight things that we as parents cannot do for our children (although we wish we could): We cannot make our children happy, give them high self-esteem, make friends for them, act as their manager or coach, force their growth, completely shield them from social media, keep them perfectly safe, or make them independent.
Part of parenting entails that we figure out the delicate balance between setting appropriate and vital limits and giving them necessary space to make their own decisions, and often their own mistakes.  Sending a child to overnight camp sends a strong message of trust and confidence in the child’s ability.
Rabbi David Ashear relates that there is a row of houses in Lakewood, New Jersey which all share the same basic landscaping, including a tree planted in the same location at around the same time.
            During Superstorm Sandy some of the trees fell, while some did not. After some investigation it was realized that the trees that were watered with automatic sprinkler systems collapsed, but those that were not watered remained firmly in place.
The trees that were not watered with sprinklers had to develop deeper roots into the ground to ensure their receiving the nutrients and water they needed. The trees that received the automatic sprinkling however, did not need to develop such deep roots and were more easily felled during the storm.
Parents who spoil their children and give in to their every whim, may seem to be showing greater love for their children. But with time it becomes clear that they are stifling their children’s growth and causing them not to develop deeper roots that will help them withstand the tempests of life.
Although overnight camp may not be appropriate for every child, but the challenge to allow children space to develop on their own and gain their own life experience definitely is. Every parent wants their children to be able to develop roots that penetrate deeply, well beneath the superficial surface.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum          

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425