By Shaindle Schmuckler / shaindle@atljewishtimes.com

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler

Camp Kinderring was my own special haven, the place where I spent a lifetime of summers, the place where I learned to be proud of me, of Israel, of my Jewish heritage. The place that informed the girl I was and the woman I am today.

Every Friday morning after breakfast, our allotted time for bunk/cabin cleanup was extended. Upon completion of cleanup, all campers and counselors congregated on our bunk’s porch for the inevitable visit by our unit head, who would grade our efforts. She would announce our grade for Friday and the cumulative grade for the previous week.

We were all vying for the big weekly prize. At lunch, our camp director would announce, to great fanfare, the Clean Bunk Award of the Week.

The winners would jump up and down, scream with glee, bang on tables, and show other assorted ways of rubbing our big win in everyone’s face. Not a picture of good sportsmanship.

The coveted prize for an outstanding week of cleanups was leading a march called the Rondo to Shabbat dinner.

Friday activities were shortened by one period, allowing us plenty of time to return to our bunks, shower, dress in our whites, and prepare to march, dance and sing our way to the dining hall, where we ushered in and welcomed Shabbat.

The boys bunk and the girls bunk that attained greatness by winning the Rondo prize would meet near the flagpoles and head for the youngest campers first. The Rondo march encompassed the entire camp — all campers, counselors and staff. Hundreds of children and adults, in our best whites, many with flags of Israel, sang Yiddish and Hebrew songs as we headed to the dining hall.

This weekly tradition, a mere moment in time, was very powerful for me. I felt I was part of a community, I felt we all were important to Judaism. We entered a transformed dining hall.

Each week a group was chosen to decorate the dining hall for Shabbat. After all, true royalty, the Shabbat Queen, would be dinning with us. In the midst of Friday night prayers we would turn, in unison, to welcome the Shabbat Queen, who would always arrive at the same moment each week.

It was extraordinary. I felt a comforting sense of belonging, an intense sense of pride, as my very soul was being fed.

As the years flew by, the Rondo memory stayed with me. It was one of my loveliest and happiest go-to memories.

One glorious day I was given the privilege of directing a large camp, Camp AJECOMCE — a day camp of the Atlanta Jewish Community Center, now known as Camp Alterman.

I could not wait to introduce Rondo. I could picture the scene in my head and in my heart. Hundreds of campers and staff, dressed in white and blue, marching and singing on their way to our oneg Shabbat.

Our Rondo was introduced with great fanfare, and yet it was a dismal failure.

When I was a camper, it seemed like a simple parade, but we just could not get it right. Sounds easy, I know, but trust me when I say that organizing 500 campers and staff is not an easy task.

Every summer we invited shlichim (Israeli teens who came to American summer camps directly from their two-year army tour). Finally, one summer the shlichim agreed to help. With their help and the help of our senior staff, we organized the Rondo.

Unlike most of the staff, I was thrilled to be part of this tradition once again. I hoped it would affect others as it had affected me. I had hoped it would become a new camp tradition. Nope, not so fast.

It took forever to get everyone organized. We were up against the stifling heat of the day. We were all dragging along so slowly that we marched our way right through the 40 minutes allotted for oneg Shabbat.

The Rondo idea died on the vine that day.

No worries: My Rondo memories are solidly intact. The fact that I, along with my entire bunk of 13 counselors in training (CITs) were sent home from camp the year I was 13 — no need for a tell-all; it’s a story for another time — did not diminish my love of camp or the Rondo.