Our family has the wonderful opportunity to spend our summers at Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
Among its many outstanding features and qualities, Camp Dora Golding has an unparalleled learning program that it is immensely proud of. Directed by its indefatigable learning director, Rabbi Noach Sauber, who is also a personal rebbi and mentor to our family, there is an unbelievable amount of learning that takes place here.
A half hour before Minchah on Erev Shabbos, hundreds of campers pack into the Camp Shul to usher in Shabbos with optional Torah learning.
Then, on Shabbos itself, well over 75 percent of our campers and staff learn in the Camp Shul for three hours. It’s a magnificent sight to behold, with campers learning Gemara, Mishnah, Chumash, The Little Midrash Says, and books about g’dolim. (The Camp Shul is well stocked with hundreds of donated books geared for our campers.) They learn alone, or they learn with a fellow camper, counselor, or other staff member – or they attend a shiur offered by one of the rebbeim. Last session, during those hours, 185 campers completed a masechta of Mishnayos. It was celebrated with a unique special Shabbos party for those campers. Most incredible is that all the learning is completely optional!
In addition, daily learning groups have almost perfect attendance throughout the summer.
There are many campers who share that the CDG summer learning program gave them their first positive connection to Torah learning. They were able to be “top-level learners,” despite struggling in school throughout the year.
What’s the secret to the success of the program?
Campers want to earn “max miles.” Aside from a gala barbecue celebration, there is a prize auction at the end of every camp session with very expensive and coveted prizes. Every hour or learning group that a camper attends is counted as a thousand miles into his “account.” Every thousand miles grants him another ticket at the auction. Only campers who have earned the maximum number of miles can enter tickets for the top prizes. If they aren’t max miles, they can enter tickets into the lower tier of prizes. (Those lower-tier prizes are not too shabby either.)
The auction itself is a sight to behold. At the recent auction two weeks ago, the total value of all prizes awarded exceeded $12,000. Most prizes are donated by staff members and camp alumni, who themselves benefited from the program when they were campers.
The direct impetus for the optional learning may be because of the prizes. However, when campers leave camp knowing that they were “max miles,” that experience leaves a deep impression upon them and gives them a feeling of positive connection to Torah learning. That alone makes the whole thing worth it.
The morning before the auction, each camper receives tickets from his rebbi commensurate with how many hours/miles he earned. After writing his name and bunk number on each ticket, he drops his tickets into the bucket in front of the prizes he chooses.
During the auction, the entire camp packs into the camp theater to watch the exciting proceedings. As the winning ticket for each prize is drawn, the winner is called onto the stage amidst great fanfare and cheering. The prize is handed to the beaming winner, and a picture is taken of him standing next to his learning rebbi.
The energy and hype of the auction itself can hardly be captured in words, and it’s one of the main highlights of the summer. Just getting called on stage is itself a thrill. It should be noted that there are many campers who have been in camp for many years who have never won a prize. With so many campers entering so many tickets into each prize, the odds of a camper winning a top-level prize is pretty low, so each ticket is very precious and winning is a big deal.
One of the prizes at the recent auction was an autographed jersey of New York Jets wide-receiver Garrett Wilson. When the winning ticket was picked, Rabbi Sauber announced that the winner was from Bunk 16 and he told all the campers from Bunk 16 to come up on stage.
When Rabbi Sauber announced that the winner was Noah L., Noah was immediately lifted up by his excited bunkmates, who were clapping and cheering his name.
What happened next blew us all away.
As the entire camp – well over 700 people – watched from the crowd, Rabbi Sauber asked Noah if he was a Jets fan. It was almost a rhetorical question. Why would he have entered any of his hard-earned tickets into a prize he didn’t care for? To everyone’s surprise, Noah emphatically answered that he was not a Jets fan at all.
Rabbi Sauber looked at him in disbelief and asked him if he wanted to give the jersey back. When Noah replied that he wanted the jersey, Rabbi Sauber asked him what he planned to do with it?
The JC of Bunk 16 – Nachi – had not been feeling well on Tish’ah B’Av afternoon, just a few days earlier. After being examined by the camp doctor, Nachi left camp to ensure that everything was okay. (Thankfully, he returned to camp for the second session a week later.) Nachi is an avid Jets fan. Noah announced that he had entered the ticket so that, if he won, he could present the jersey to his JC, Nachi.
The assistant head-counselor FaceTimed Nachi and, as everyone watched, was informed about the prize won on his behalf. A picture was taken with Noah, his rebbi, and the staff members who had donated the prize, one of whom was holding a phone with Nachi’s smiling face on its screen. It was a very touching moment.
It should be noted that Nachi himself donated towards one of the prizes for the auction, albeit not the one he was given.
Winning and receiving is always exciting, and it’s always fun to receive new things. But more gratifying and satisfying than receiving is giving to others, especially when one gives away what’s personally meaningful and dear.
The final pasuk of Parshas R’ei states, “Every man, according to the gifts of his hands…”
Rav Menachem BenZion Sacks noted that the value of a man is ascertained according to how much he is or is not willing to give. What he gives from and of himself defines what kind of a person he is.
The autographed jersey of wide-receiver Garrett Wilson was given as a gift by 12-year-old “wide-giver” Noah.
It’s not often that an autographed NFL jersey becomes holy.