The J.A.P. Chronicles

I’m eight years old and I’m sitting on hillside overlooking a picture perfect lake that shimmers in the pinkish light  of a maine dusk. I am nestled amongst 399 other girls, aged eight through 15, and no one makes a peep except the birds above us in the elm branches, as the head of camp blesses the Shabbat lights. We all whisper “Amen” when she is done, in unison, so it sounds as if it comes from the ground itself.

The head of camp nods ever so slightly to two campers, older girls with long blown out hair, who have been sitting nervously beside her, waiting to participate in the service.

One of them rises. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” she begins, and I am rapt with attention. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by,” she concludes a few moments later, “and that has made all the difference.” The phrase “the road less traveled makes the difference” resonates in my eight-year-old imagination so that even now my feeling of being Jewish and my penchant for taking risks, both in my writing and in my life, have somehow become intertwined.

The girl who read the poem sits, clearly relieved, and the other girl stands. She has the easier job, reading from the Xeroxed sheet we will use every Friday night for the Shabbat service on the hill that I will attend for the next seven summers:

“Thou shalt love the Lord, your God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” I know this prayer. I’ve heard it before in Temple, and I join along with the other campers. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart.” I don’t even know what all the words mean, but I feel their power and direction as I recite them with the others.

When we are done saying the Shma it is time for silent devotion. Marina, the music counselor, plays some minor chords on the electric organ set up on the hill.

I’m frightened because it is my first night at sleep-away camp, but I am calmed by this moment when we have come together for Shabbat, a familiar tradition as it is something I have always celebrated with my own family at home.

Now it is time to sing “The Sabbath Prayer” from Fiddler on the Roof “May you be like Ruth and like Esther. May you be deserving of praise.” I’m not clear who Ruth and Esther are, but I am clear that I feel content to be among these girls, and I hope to grow up one day to be a smart, capable Jewish woman like the head of camp, like Marina at the organ, like Ruth and Esther, like my own mother. And as I look across the hill, out towards the lake all silver and black in the gathering twilight, I know that one day I will be.

Isabel Rose’s first novel, The J.A.R Chronicles, was published this summer by Doubleday. She co-wrote and starred in the 2004 release Anything But Love, available on video and DVD.