Dahlia and Ben quietly drifted to the edge of the field. Ben slipped his arm around her waist as they dropped down into the soft grass. They could see the campfire glowing and sparking in the middle of the field and hear the laughter, guitar playing, and singing of the other campers and counselors, but the warm darkness of the night protected their privacy. The chirps of the crickets and buzz of the cicadas along with the laughter and singing of the group drowned out their own sweet whispers. The rest of the camp, which lay far down a path on the other side of the trees, had gone to sleep hours ago.
Lying back, Dahlia gasped as she noticed the vast expanse of stars that had silently emerged to fill the summer sky. Far from the city lights, away even from the lights of the main camp, the sky seemed bursting with more stars than Dahlia had ever imagined. Ben lay back alongside her, one of his arms sliding under her head. “See those smokey looking streaks. That’s the Milky Way, bunches of so many stars they look to us like clouds,” Ben whispered.
“I’ve never seen so many stars,” cooed Dahlia.
“Kochavim ba-laila,” sang Ben softly, chanting words from Havdallah, the Sabbath ending service. “The stars, the galaxies, the Universe–it always makes me think of God.
“My mother says my father is a star up in the heavens now, sitting near to God’s throne. I wish he were still alive. I miss him,” Dahlia said sadly.
Ben wrapped his arms around Dahlia, who melted into his strong embrace. They kissed, slowly at first. He traced her hairline with kisses. She kissed and nibbled his ears, his neck. Finally their mouths found each other. They kissed and held it for what seemed an eternity. Ben slid his hand under her tank top. Dahlia had never let a boy touch her breasts before. It felt thrilling. She pressed herself against him. With one hand, he unsnapped her bra and pushed up her tank top up, all the while smothering her in kisses.
For a moment Dahlia wondered if she was going too far, too fast. Questions rushed into her mind in a crazy sequence. What did this mean? Did she really like Ben enough? Did she love him? Did he really like her? Did he respect her? Would she get AIDS or get pregnant? What would the girls in her bunk think? What would she tell them? She had to tell them; they had been talking about it for weeks. They all would realize she had slipped away with Ben. But at this moment she didn’t care. Ben’s kisses, Ben’s touch was all she wanted. Her body tingled.
Ben started to unbutton Dahlia’s shorts. She tensed up. “No, no, just kiss me,” she murmured as she pushed Ben’s hand away from her shorts.
“Ok,” he mumbled, and kissed her breasts. Dahlia ran her hands over his short cropped hair. She understood that Ben wanted to go further, but she had never gone even this far with a boy. The sensations flashing through her body thrilled her and frightened her.
A few weeks earlier, Dahlia arrived at summer camp sad and angry. Her father had died in the spring after a hard, short fight with cancer that left Dahlia and her family reeling. He had been the head of a small social service agency that tried to help poor people. At his funeral everybody talked about how much her father had lived God’s commandments, how well he put into practice the teachings of the Torah, of tikkun olam (healing the world) and gemilut chesed (acts of loving kindness). Her father, many said, was one of the truly righteous. Lot of good it did him, she thought bitterly.
Dahlia couldn’t wait to get away from home and join her friends at camp. She had gone to this camp since the summer before she started fourth grade. She had turned 16 this past spring and would be a junior in high school in the fall. Many of the girls in her bunk had started camp when she did, and they had become close friends, as close as sisters. During the winter they made trips to visit each other. A few years earlier, they all attended each other’s bat mitzvah celebrations.
For the last few summers their attention increasingly focused on the guys who attended the camp. Dahlia remembered how some of them had been such scrawny, wimpy boys. Others, she thought, were loud or stupid or gross. But over the last couple of years, the boys had turned into real guys, and Dahlia and her friends had started to notice. Dahlia herself had blossomed over the winter. She was pretty girl with dark twinkling, mischievous eyes and long auburn hair, which she usually kept in a French braid. Her figure was filling out, giving her a shapely, attractive line. Last summer a couple of girls had boyfriends, but they didn’t do much. Still, everybody talked about what they might do or wanted to do or imagined they would do. Would this be the summer she had a real boyfriend, she had wondered? In letters and phone calls and email and instant messages she and her friends buzzed about boys and other stuff all winter.
Only this past winter had she noticed boys starting to take an interest in her. She liked the attention, but then her father got sick and died. Dahlia’s mother sort of died too when her father died. She was there and went through the motions, but Dahlia could tell something was wrong. She couldn’t talk with her mother the way they used to when they would chatter about everything, even stupid and silly things. When her dad was sick, she and her mother talked all the time. They talked about God and they prayed and prayed and prayed. They were sure that God would save him because he did so much of God’s work. Since her father died, they hadn’t really talked to each other at all. Dahlia missed that very much. She tried to tell people–her married sister who just had a baby, her big brother who was away at college–but they didn’t live at home anymore, so they couldn’t really see the change. The doctor gave her mother lots of medications and the rabbi came over a lot to talk with her. “We’ll pray for her,” he would always say as he left. Gimme a break, Dahlia thought to herself. Given the way God had treated her father and now her mother, as far as she was concerned, she hated God, if there even was a God.
That was the one big thing that bothered Dahlia about going back to summer camp. It was a Jewish camp where they used lots of Hebrew words for things and talked about God. They held services every morning and recited the Birkat, the blessing after meals, at each meal. They observed Shabbat, the Sabbath. They had study groups about different Jewish things, usually stuff relating to God. Once Dahlia took comfort in thinking that God was in heaven watching over her and everyone and everything.
Now Dahlia hated even talk about God, hated even the idea of some wonderful God. She used to be so happy about school and her music and dancing and gymnastics and her friends and camp and everything. She used to get excited with the arrival of every new day. Now she couldn’t care less. She was miserable.
One day, a few weeks before she was to leave for camp, Dahlia found her mother sitting in the kitchen. “Mom, can we just talk like we used to?” she pleaded. “I’ve so missed talking with you, and there is so much, I feel, I need to talk about.” Suddenly, Dahlia’s mother started crying hysterically.
“I didn’t mean it. Forget I said anything,” cried Dahlia, trying to calm her mother. But her mother didn’t even seem to hear her or even recognize her. Dahlia hugged her mother hard. “Mom, it’s me, Dahlia. Mom, stop crying. Talk to me,” she shouted, panic rising in her voice. Her mother didn’t respond. Dahlia shook her, kissed her, hugged her, shouted at her, even slapped her, but she got no response at all. Desperate, she called the doctor.
The first week of camp was difficult. Dahlia’s uncle, a big easy-going guy, drove her to camp. Her mother stayed home. “You have a great time. Don’t worry about your mom. With a few week’s rest, God willing, she’ll be as good as new,” he said when it came time to leave.
Dahlia’s bunkmates were bubbling about all the things they were going to do. There was new gymnastics equipment and a new adventure program with ropes and rocks to climb and stuff only the oldest campers could do. And already the kids and counselors were translating the words of the latest pop songs into Hebrew for the big, end of summer camp show, the Zimriyah. The Israeli folk dancing group, Dahlia’s favorite, started practicing for the performances they would give.
It didn’t take long for the boys to start coming around. As the oldest campers, Dahlia’s group, called Nivonim, the Wise Ones, had special privileges. They got to stay up later, skip certain activities, and generally do things with less supervision. Their counselors, college students who had all been campers themselves for years, were pretty cool. The guys and girls quickly began to get reacquainted. One of the romances from last summer started back up as if it had never stopped.
Dahlia found it hard to get into the excitement. A lot of the boys had grown big, some even had started to shave. They sort of reminded her of her father, who always had a boyish way about him. And she was also worried about her mother. But maybe the hardest part was all the God stuff. She felt like a hypocrite every morning and evening when they gathered for prayers and she dutifully rose to say Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, for her father. She felt ready to choke as she uttered words praising God’s name. If God were so great, why would he kill off good people like her father and let bad people live? The comfort she once felt from knowing that God was taking care of things had vanished. Even camp, a place she loved, suddenly seemed cold. She often shivered for no reason, even in the summer heat.
She first saw Ben in a study group, called a chug in Hebrew, that first week. A counselor was leading this chug on the Torah and the environment. Next to him was this tall, thin, wiry good looking guy with short hair and a deep but soft voice. The guy was looking at her. His name was Ben, Dahlia suddenly realized.
Ben had been coming to camp for almost as long as Dahlia, but they weren’t friends. She remembered him as a thin little boy with a high squeaky voice who always was handling whatever frogs or turtles or worms or bugs he might find around the lake or in the woods. Whenever kids told him it was really yucky, he would always explain in his squeaky voice that it was just another of God’s marvelous creatures, a miracle that revealed the brilliance of God’s creation. Dahlia wasn’t squeamish like some of the other girls, but she never considered the slimy stuff Ben liked as a sign of God’s brilliance. God’s brilliance–just the idea now made her feel like puking. She had always thought of Ben as a nerd anyway.
Now the counselor was talking about different rules in the Torah that reflected the Torah’s concern for the environment, about rotating land, about the treatment of animals. Everyone except Dahlia was jumping in and out of the discussion. Ben added something about how God’s brilliance could be seen in everything in nature if you looked closely, even the smallest, most insignificant things, like a bug or a worm.
He might have grown but he hasn’t changed, thought Dahlia. He’s still a bug geek. The chug had been meeting outside under some trees late in the afternoon. Mosquitoes suddenly had come out in force. “What was God’s brilliant idea for mosquitoes?” snapped Dahlia, slapping at one that had just bitten her. Everyone laughed except Ben, who looked pained.
That night, after the counselors went off duty, Dahlia’s bunk started buzzing. A dozen girls lived in a rough cabin, which was referred to as a bunk. It contained a half dozen bunk beds for the girls plus a pair of single cots for two counselors along with cubbies that served as bureaus. The windows were screened, and toilet, sinks, and showers were in a back room. The girls frequently swapped clothes and arranged each other’s hair. They usually stayed up late at night talking and laughing after the official lights-out until their counselors returned.
Shira, a girl who liked to flirt, had received a letter that afternoon from a girlfriend at another camp. Shira was short but had a fully developed woman’s figure. The boys always stared at Shira’s breasts and she knew it. She had dark hair and puffy lips that she sometimes accentuated with lipstick She liked to play the tease, but Dahlia suspected Shira was all talk. Inside the letter were two condoms. The girl wrote that she had gone all the way with a boy the very first week of camp. She said she wanted to remind Shira to protect herself. Dahlia and the other girls suspected that the friend was probably just boasting. She might not even have done anything at all, suggested Deborah, the cynic of the bunch.
Shira had never done anything but kiss a couple of boys. None of the girls had. “But you never know,” added Shira, collecting the condoms that had been passed among the girls, each carefully inspecting the shiny, sealed package.
“Let’s open one and see what it’s like,” suggested Molly, a small, sweet girl but very naïve in the eyes of the other girls. Molly had long straight black hair, almost shoulder length. She had a thin face and a small mouth that gave her a mousy expression. She was very thin, with almost no figure; the boys weren’t very interested in her. “You’re not going to need two of them. Anyway, it’s the guy who is supposed to bring the condoms,” Molly continued. The other girls agreed. Shira, who was as curious as any of them, opened one package. She took out a gooey rubbery ring. “It’s so slimy,” Shira whined. The girls passed it around.
“That’s lubrication. The guys roll it on, sort of like this,” explained Emily, the girl who had gotten right back together with her boyfriend from last summer. Emily was the most glamorous of the girls with wavy blond hair, unusual green eyes and a beautiful figure. She talked and acted like she was the most experienced with boys, but even she, everyone was convinced, had never gone all the way. Most of the girls had had some exposure to condoms in school health classes, but this was the first time they really got to handle one. “It’s kinda yucky and gross,” said Dahlia.
All the girls in the bunk joined in the conversation. Samantha was still a tomboy who kept her dark hair short and wore a baseball cap backwards, but she was very funny and liked fooling around with the guys. She had heavy eyebrows and large round eyes that gave her a mysterious look. A lot of guys found her very attractive. Chaya was a sweet girl, but she had developed a bad case of acne over the winter and was very self-conscious. Deborah, a large, stocky girl, was the jock of the bunk; she excelled in several varsity sports in high school. She kept her hair in tight braids.
The talk turned to the boys. Shira had already categorized every guy in Nivonim either as a loser, has potential, or hot stuff. The girls dissected each guy in terms of how they looked and how they acted. One would jump up imitating some guy or another and the others would laugh. When the discussion came around to Ben, the girls unanimously agreed: a loser.
“He’s a nerd, a geek,” declared Dahlia. “Anyway, I don’t think he’ll talk to me again after the last chug, the one when I brought up the mosquitoes.”
“Still, he’s kinda cute,” chimed in Shira, who thought every guy was kinda cute, except maybe the very worst of the losers.
“If you don’t mind bugs. Remember all the yucky stuff he found in that dead tree at last year’s etgar,” added Emily, recalling a camping trip and nature expedition the previous summer. “It was gross.”
“He’d be all right, except all that God talk really bothers me. Everything is some miracle or wonder of God. He would say a bracha (blessing) for beetles if there was one,” added Jessica, who did the coolest stuff in arts and crafts but was always trying to duck out of religious activities. Jessica was Dahlia’s best friend. She had wide, bright smile and a loud laugh you could recognize anywhere. Usually she kept her long, curly red hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, but when she let it hang free, she almost looked like a movie star.
“Anyway, he’s interested in Dahlia,” proclaimed Shira. Dahlia started to protest, but Shira cut her short. “You could see it the way he looked at you throughout chug. And when you made fun of him, he looked like a puppy that had been kicked and sent away.” The other girls agreed, suddenly bringing up other instances they thought they had caught Ben gazing at Dahlia.
“Gimme a break,” Dahlia continued to protest. “He looks at all of you. They all do. I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings, but that God stuff just gets me so mad.” The counselors returned at that moment and got ready for bed. The bunk quickly quieted down, but Dahlia remained awake wondering whether Shira was right about Ben.
On July 4th, the camp ran a Maccabiah, a daylong series of events and contests and games capped off by fireworks over the lake at night. Boys and girls were grouped together into small teams to compete in a variety of events. Dahlia ended up on a team with two other girls and three guys, including Ben. The morning events were sports- oriented. They had to sink a certain number of baskets, hit baseballs, climb ropes, scramble over an obstacle course, do cartwheels and handstands, and such.
Dahlia’s group wasn’t doing very well in terms of score, but they were all having fun. Dahlia struck out on three straight pitches. Ben could climb ropes fast, but couldn’t sink a basket from the foul line although one of the other girls could. None of the boys could do cartwheels. Dahlia, a talented gymnast, could even do one-handed cartwheels and hold a handstand, it seemed, for hours. They got filthy pulling and pushing each other through the obstacle course. By lunch they were high in spirits but next to last in team rankings, far behind the leaders.
“It would take a miracle for us to catch up,” Josh, the unofficial team captain, estimated as he pondered the score sheet. Considered one of the coolest guys in Nivonim, Josh was a tall, lanky boy with dark hair and dark, penetrating eyes. When he smiled, cute dimples appeared at the sides of his mouth. The girls generally agreed that Josh was gorgeous but shy.
“God performs miracles every day, all the time. So, who knows what might happen,” said Ben cheerfully. Dahlia was tempted to say that if there was a God–and she no longer believed there was–she didn’t think he would care enough about who won the July 4th camp Maccabiah to pull off any miracles. Especially if he didn’t make any miracles for her father. But she decided not to say anything. They were all having such great fun. Why spoil it? Ben was watching her with a puzzled look, as if he had read her thoughts. She gave a weak smile and looked away.
Each team ate lunch together as a picnic under some trees rather than in the chadar ochel, the dining hall. They unwrapped their sandwiches, but before they could take a bite Ben started the motzi, the blessing for bread. The others automatically joined in. Obsessed with God, Dahlia thought, remembering Jessica’s comment back in the bunk and wondering if maybe he actually does know a blessing for beetles.
The afternoon went fast with more team-oriented contests. In a three-legged race, Dahlia was paired with Josh, making her the envy of a lot of girls. They clutched each other around the waist and hobbled through the racecourse with their inside legs tightly bound together. Laughing hysterically, they kept falling down, rolling on top of each other trying to get up.
A tug of war had each team trying to pull the other into a mud pit. Dahlia found herself standing next to Ben pulling as hard as they could on the rope, but they were slowly losing ground to the other team and inching closer to the mud pit. One by one, each went into the mud with Ben falling almost on top of Dahlia. “You awright? I’m sorry,” he mumbled, boosting her out of the pit. Dahlia turned around and grabbed his arm, pulling him out behind her. Then they noticed each other coated with mud and laughed. A swimming relay race gave everyone a chance to splash in the lake and get clean again.
The final event was a giant scavenger hunt. Josh suggested they split into three teams of two and divide the list of things to find. Dahlia again found herself dashing off with Ben to find things like a grasshopper, a moth, and a dandelion. “I know where to find these,” he shouted as they ran. She didn’t doubt him for an instant.
Dahlia shortly found herself kneeling beside Ben in the grass of a small field. Ben already had a grasshopper cupped in his hand. He slowly opened his hand flat. Dahlia expected the grasshopper to immediately jump away but it just stood there on his palm. In the low, late afternoon sun, the grasshopper appeared as the brightest color green she had ever seen, almost luminescent. “Look at the color,” she marveled.
“Isn’t he beautiful. I’m always amazed by the beauty and splendor and perfection of God’s creation. Just look at him,” Ben whispered in awe.
An annoyed look flashed across Dahlia face, but she didn’t want to argue with Ben. “He’s ok, but I’m not too big on God right now,” she replied. Ben gently put the grasshopper into their collection box. They would release it shortly, at the end of the scavenger hunt. Within minutes they had quickly collected the rest of items on their portion of the list–a bunch of fascinating creatures and plants, which Dahlia was forced to admit to herself now that she had looked at them closely.
“Let’s get back and see how the others are doing,” urged Ben, taking her hand and pulling her up. This time, however, they walked back slowly. Dahlia was suddenly aware that Ben hadn’t dropped her hand. They walked silently, hand in hand, a bit further. Dahlia wasn’t sure she liked holding Ben’s hand. He really was nice, in a geeky sort of way. And she had enjoyed his company, even if he did keep bringing up God. But she didn’t know what their holding hands meant to Ben or to her or if it meant anything at all. Then Dahlia noticed Shira and Deborah, who were on a different team. She instantly dropped Ben’s hand. He really was a God and bug geek.
Dahlia knew she would never hear the end of it when she got back to the bunk. Shira and Deborah got there first and had already told everybody when Dahlia arrived. “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” they sang as she pushed through the screen door.
Shira didn’t waste any time getting to the point. “So, did you two make out?”
“No, we didn’t do anything. Nothing. He hasn’t changed. He’s a bug geek,” Dahlia defended herself.
“But you were holding hands with him. We saw you,” Deborah pointed out.
“Yes. He took my hand and held it. But Josh had his arm around my waist in the three-legged race. So what do you make of that?” retorted Dahlia.
“That’s different,” Emily cut in.
“Maybe he’s not such a loser. He’s kinda good looking,” suggested Jessica.
“What’s he like?” asked Molly. Molly usually attracted all the losers because the real popular guys thought she was too quiet and mousy to bother with.
“He’s ok. He’s real smart and very nice and he’s really strong. I don’t even mind the bugs so much–they’re weird but kinda neat. It’s all his God talk. Everything has God attached to it. I can’t stand it,” said Dahlia.
“What’s so wrong with God?” Shira asked.
“God let my father die and made my mother nuts. I hate God,” Dahlia said quietly, but with a vehemence that instantly silenced the other girls.
A few days later, Dahlia and her friends were again in a chug. This time the subject was prayer. The counselor who led the chug was really cool and had them do all kinds of funny stuff he called prayer-obics, the Jewish praying equivalent to aerobics. They were jumping up and down and twisting and bending in all sorts of funny positions. Dahlia thought of her grandfather and her father, who would stand and sway as they davened (prayed). If her grandfather saw prayer-obics, he would turn over in his grave, she thought, but her father would get a real kick out of it. The thought of her father brought a tear to her eye.
“You ok?” asked Ben, who had been watching her and had managed to move up beside her during the prayer-obics.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” replied Dahlia, startled by Ben’s sudden closeness. She had deliberately planted herself in the middle of her bunkmates so Ben wouldn’t approach her.
“She’s fine,” added Jessica, protectively pulling Dahlia closer to her. “I can’t get into all this prayer stuff,” she whispered to Dahlia.
“Me neither,” Dahlia agreed.
They finally sat down and the counselor began a discussion about the act of praying and the different types of prayers. “Isn’t there a prayer for going to the toilet?” one of the boys asked. Everyone started to laugh.
“Don’t be a jerk,” another shouted.
“How stupid can you be?” exclaimed another boy, who cuffed him on the head.
“Wait a second,” the counselor cut in, “Prayers are just a way of praising God or thanking God for all sorts of different things, for every day miracles. You might think it sounds gross but there is a prayer for bodily functions. We thank God for having a body where all the inputs and outputs are working right because we’d be in tough shape if they weren’t. There also is a prayer we say when we see someone who is deformed.”
“Yeah, Thanks God for not making me a spaz,” shouted another kid. One boy jumped up and started imitating a deformed, disabled monster.
“No, it’s not that at all,” the counselor continued. “When you see a deformed or disabled person you say blessed are you, Lord our God, who varies the aspects of your creatures. You are reminding yourself that all living beings are created by God and are beautiful in their own way.”
“That sounds like something Ben would say,” Emily chimed in. The kids laughed. Ben looked embarrassed.
“Hey Ben, is there a prayer for beetles and bugs and that kind of stuff?” Shira asked. The kids laughed even louder. Ben clearly was getting uncomfortable. He tried to laugh it off with them, but this teasing obviously bothered him. Dahlia watched Ben and felt bad for him. She could see how hurt he felt. She thought about saying something in his defense but wasn’t sure what she could say that wouldn’t put her in an awkward position too.
Then the counselor jumped in. “You might say the same thing you say for a deformed person, praising God for the varied types of creatures.” Then, quickly changing the subject, he asked, “what’s the shortest prayer in the Torah?”
“No Jewish prayers are short. Services take forever,” complained Jessica.
“This one’s short, five words,” the counselor asked again. No one had an answer. “It is the prayer Moses says when his sister Miriam comes down with leprosy: please God, make her well. And it worked!”
“I said that prayer a million times when my father was dying and nothing happened,” said Dahlia, spitting out the words. The counselor looked dumbfounded.
One day the following week the youngest campers celebrated Yom Foam (Foam Day), a special event. The camp brought out its fire truck and covered a ball field with foam. The kids ran and jumped and slid in the foam. They threw gobs of foam at each other. Before long everyone was coated in foam and mud. Then the counselors herded them to the lake for a dip to wash off.
Dahlia and a bunch of girls had been practicing their Israeli dancing in a nearby hall during the Yom Foam activities. They came out and saw the remnants of the foam. They spontaneously ran over and started playing around with it. Other older kids quickly joined in as their previous activities ended. Most of the foam had evaporated. All that was left were slick grass and mud with some clumps of foam. It didn’t matter. Before long, the entire Nivonim group, boys and girls together, were slipping and sliding in the mud and foam.
The boys were playing much rougher than the girls, tackling each other and piling on. Ben worked his way through the mayhem toward Dahlia. The girls were throwing the remaining foam at each other. “I’ve wanted to talk to you since prayer chug. I’ve thought a lot about what you said, and I just wanted to…” he started to say. At that moment a couple of guys slid into both of them, knocking them into the mud.
“Sorry. You awright?” one yelled as they scrambled to their feet and continue chasing each other around.
Ben gently lifted Dahlia to her feet. Her hair and face, T-shirt and shorts were coated with foam and mud. He yanked off his T-shirt, searched for a dry corner, and awkwardly tried to wipe the mud from her face. “What a mess. I must look awful,” said Dahlia, noticing Ben’s hard, thin, muscled stomach.
“You look beautiful to me, the most lovely being God ever made,” said Ben, barely loud enough to hear. He bent over and kissed her on the forehead. Dahlia tilted her head upwards. He kissed her on her lips.
“Hey, where’s your shirt, you asshole,” shouted one of Ben’s friends as he tackled Ben and sent him flying. Other guys piled on. Dahlia was left standing alone holding Ben’s muddy shirt.
Jessica came rushing up to her. “What was that about?” she asked.
“Ben kissed me. He said I was beautiful,” said Dahlia, not quite believing what she heard. “I’ve never been kissed by a boy before.”
“Your first time! Right in the middle of Yom Foam. Cool,” cried Jessica, hugging Dahlia.
In the days leading up to visiting day, there was a lot of talk in the bunk about Dahlia and Ben. She didn’t think of him as her boyfriend, but he found every excuse to come around and, while she didn’t exactly invite him she also didn’t discourage him. The verdict from her bunkmates was mixed. “You could do a lot better,” said Shira, although she admitted Ben was cute and nice even if he was a little weird.
Jessica was excited for Dahlia, and the two shared every word of the blossoming relationship. And it was mostly words; the action amounted mainly to a little hand holding as they walked and talked and a stolen kiss now and then when nobody was around. Jessica, who had had a boyfriend during the school year, explained the mysteries of kissing and making out.
Dahlia grew increasingly edgy, but it didn’t have anything to do with Ben. Visiting day was coming and her aunt and uncle were bringing her mother. Dahlia had received numerous letters from her mother, but still didn’t know what to expect. The letters were filled with the routine stuff of summer around her home. She interpreted the fact that her aunt and uncle were coming as a sign that things still might not be right with her mother. Whenever she thought about the last time she tried to talk with her mother, the day her mother flipped out, she became afraid and upset.
When visiting day arrived, a sparkling summer day, the parents parked on a big field near the camp entrance and streamed in at mid morning. The kids lined the dirt road leading to the main camp to greet their parents. One by one, Dahlia’s friends saw their parents and ran up to them. After the initial rush, the stream of parents slowed to a trickle, and Dahlia found herself standing with a dwindling group of kids with late arriving parents. Dahlia, already apprehensive, was growing increasingly upset.
In her agitated state, Dahlia didn’t recognize a group of visitors until her aunt, uncle, and mother were almost on top of her. Dahlia had been thinking about watching for a pair, her mother and father, not the three of them. She was startled.
“Did we scare you?” asked her aunt, hugging her. Her aunt was a short, heavy-set woman with graying hair and a jumpy, nervous manner. “I’m sorry we’re late. There was an accident on the highway and we were backed up for probably half an hour. And then we had to stop and put more fluid in the car radiator. But look who we brought,” she add, turning to Dahlia’s mother.
Dahlia’s mother was standing back, just looking at her. That wasn’t like her at all, Dahlia thought. Then she noticed her mother looked tired and thin. Her auburn hair, usually neatly tied back was more straggly than Dahlia ever remembered, giving her mother a frazzled appearance. And her eyes seemed to have lost their sparkle. Her uncle stepped up. “I’m sorry about the delay, but boy you look great!” he bellowed, giving Dahlia a big hug.
Dahlia turned to her mother: “Hi Mom.”
“Hi darling,” said her mother, stepping forward and giving her a hug and a kiss. “Are you all right? I hope we didn’t upset you too much by being late.”
Then they stood there in awkward silence. “Let’s go see your bunk,” suggested her aunt.
“Sure,” Dahlia agreed, and they started walking toward to bunk. Camp kids and their parents were swirling all around them in happy, animated motion. Dahlia felt completely out of it.
Suddenly, Ben charged up with his mother in tow. “Here’s someone you gotta meet right away. Dahlia, wait,” he yelled. They stopped and turned around as Ben and his mother walked up. “This is Dahlia,” Ben announced, playfully putting an arm around her shoulders.
“I’m delighted to meet you. Ben says such nice things about you,” said his mother, who was shorter than Ben but showed a clear family resemblance. Dahlia didn’t know how to respond. She turned and introduced her mother, aunt, and uncle.
“We’re going to the nature center. I’ll catch you later. Nice to meet all of you,” Ben said, giving Dahlia a gentle pat on her neck before leading his parents away.
“Is he a special friend?” Dahlia’s mother asked after a moment.
“Sort of. I guess so,” said Dahlia.
At her bunk, Dahlia introduced everybody. All the other kids and their parents were coming in and out. “You know, I went to this camp as a boy. We’re going to walk around and take a look. We’ll meet you back here in a few hours,” her uncle announced and pulled her aunt out the door. Dahlia was alone with her mother.
“I’m sorry we were late. You know, I’ve felt very funny about coming to visit you. I know things were a little unsettled when you left,” her mother admitted.
“I’ve felt funny too,” said Dahlia.
More kids and parents barged in. “Let’s go for a walk, to someplace quiet where we can talk,” suggested her mother.
They started out aimlessly wandering, but then Dahlia thought of the small field where she and Ben had found the grasshopper. No activities were scheduled there. It would be quiet. As they walked they talked about the weeks before Dahlia left for camp. They turned down the path to the field. Dahlia took her mother’s hand.
They talked about her father’s death. “Why didn’t God help Daddy, that’s what’s driving me crazy,” cried Dahlia. “Everyone said he was so good, so righteous and he really was. Why did God let him die?” she demanded.
Dahlia slumped down in the grass near where she and Ben captured the grasshopper and whimpered. Her mother sat down beside her and stroked Dahlia’s hair. “I’ve asked myself that question a million times. There is no answer, not one that we will ever know or be happy with. I was so angry with God.” Dahlia’s mother recalled. “And I was angry with Daddy too, although I felt I couldn’t say anything. He wouldn’t get mad at God. To him, everything was just part of some great plan of God that we couldn’t fathom. Even at the end, he didn’t get angry with God. He thanked God for giving us each other and three beautiful children and 25 years together. He thanked God for giving him a beautiful life. He wasn’t angry with God and didn’t want us to be angry with God, but I couldn’t help it. I hated God.”
“So what did you do?” Dahlia asked.
“It drove me crazy, but you know that. Thanks to the doctor and medication–I call them my happy pills–and a good therapist I’m not as crazy as I was then, just before you went to camp. But it is still hard. I talk to the therapist a lot. It helps to talk about these things. I know that now,” her mother replied.
“Do you still hate God?”
“No, not anymore,” answered her mother.
Dahlia hugged her mother. “What made you change your mind?”
“Because I realized that your father was right: God gave me your father and three wonderful children and a grandchild. And God gave us beautiful sunny warm days like today and wonders great and small. Maybe I am beginning to see the world as Daddy saw it. He saw the wonder of God in everything, and maybe I’m starting to see that too. I look at the night sky and see a zillion stars and I marvel at God’s creation. You know what I think sometimes? I imagine that your father is one of those stars, the brightest one sitting closest to God’s throne. And sometimes I think I hear him in the wind as it blows past my ears. I can’t make out his words exactly, but I hear his voice and I know he’s with God watching over our family.”
“I’m angry with God,” said Dahlia. A grasshopper was jumping nearby. Dahlia cupped it in her hands and slowly opened her palm flat as Ben had done. The grasshopper stood still on her hand. “Ben sees God in everything, in things like this little grasshopper. Do you think Ben is like Daddy?”
“Maybe. Tell me about Ben,” said her mother. Dahlia quickly found herself talking with her mother just like she used to. She told her everything about Ben. Her first kiss, holding hands, how he’s kind of cool and kind of geeky all at the same time. How she tingles when he touches her.
Her mother hugged her and kissed her. “Ben sounds like a fine boy. But there will be other nice boys in your life. Just go slow and be careful and trust to your instincts. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel absolutely right,” advised her mother. Then her mother talked how she had met Dahlia’s father. She also talked about her first boyfriend, long before she met Dahlia’s father. Finally, it was time to head back. “Your first love,” said her mother, kissing her tenderly; “your father would say that too is a gift of God.”
Dahlia and Ben heard the kids around the campfire getting ready to return to the bunk. She sat up and snapped her bra. They both brushed the grass off themselves and rejoined the group. Back at the bunk, everybody wanted to know the details. At first Dahlia was shy and didn’t say anything, but under the onslaught of questions little pieces of the story trickled out. The kisses, touching her breasts. “How did he unsnap your bra?” asked Molly, who wanted to know the mechanics of it all.
“Are you going to go all the way?” demanded Shira.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’m ready. I don’t know if I like Ben enough. I don’t know a lot of things,” she insisted. She felt confused. She could still feel the strong sensations Ben had excited in her. Long after the other girls went to sleep, Dahlia and Jessica whispered together, reliving every beautiful detail and every question and doubt.
The next morning, first at morning minyan (prayers) and then at breakfast, Dahlia avoided Ben, but she was sure all the boys from Ben’s bunk were staring at her. Her reputation was shot, she thought. She stayed close to the girls from her bunk and only spoke briefly with Ben when they were both picking up cold cereal. “All I said was that we made out a little bit. But that was all,” Ben insisted. He put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her around to face him. “Look, I want to see you some more. I want to be with you,” he said earnestly.
Dahlia tingled at his touch. “Me too,” she mumbled as she pulled away and returned to her table.
The summer was more than half over and what little remained seemed to be flying by. Dahlia quietly reveled in Ben’s attention. Whenever they could they paired up at camp activities. During free time, they often sneaked off together. They would walk and talk, hold hands, and kiss a little bit. Dahlia thrilled to his touch. Every kiss and caress made her shiver. And she could sense Ben’s deep passion. He dropped hints that he wanted to go all the way, but she still didn’t think she was ready. But it was really, really tempting. Sometimes they would sit and talk and he would massage the back of her neck or trace her hairline with his fingers. Once he gave her a back rub and kept slipping his hands around toward her breasts. It electrified her. Of course, there isn’t very much privacy at summer camp, but Dahlia didn’t really mind. It made it easier to hold off having to make any decision about going all the way.
They talked and talked. Sometimes they talked about the kids at camp and the different activities, but mainly they talked about each other. Ben idolized his dad, a scientist who did research in far away places like Antarctica or the Amazon, but his folks were divorced. Ben lived with his mom. He talked about his dreams and hopes. And they talked about Dahlia’s family and particularly her dad. One day she spilled out the complete story of his final agonizing weeks and her mother going crazy. She had only told the whole story once before, to Jessica. Ben listened and held her tight. He agreed that she had a right to be angry with God, and he didn’t pretend to have any answers. “I thank God every day for bringing you to me,” was all he said. It was probably at that moment Dahlia realized she more than just liked Ben. He really was her first love, and it was as wonderful as she had hoped.
Dahlia’s bunkmates accepted Ben. In fact, Ben’s buddies started coming around more and more too, something the girls were happy to encourage. The summer was winding down quickly now. They were preparing for a three-night overnight, etgar in Hebrew, which would include Shabbat out in the woods. Last year Ben grossed out a lot of kids on etgar by uncovering bugs in a dead tree. Dahlia and Ben could laugh about it together now. This year would be different, he promised.
For etgar they were camping by a lake at the base of a small mountain, more of a large hill really. The first day they did a lot of nature study. The nature counselor pointed out moose tracks and deer tracks. She showed the remains of a small animal, probably a wild rabbit that had been caught and eaten by a coyote, judging from the tracks. Finally, she pointed out some lumps on the trail and poked at it with a stick. “Bear scat, poop. See the berry seeds in it. That’s what they eat this time of year. Bears live around here so we have to be careful how we store our food,” she said.
On Friday afternoon, the campers started preparing for Shabbat in the woods. By sunset their campfires were burning. They changed into clean clothes and began the Kabbalat Shabbat service by the lake, welcoming Shabbat with prayers and beautiful songs. As the sun set over the lake, the water and sky merged into a kaleidoscope of pink and purple streaks. Ben slipped his arm around Dahlia’s shoulders and pulled her close to him. “The Queen, Shabbat, has arrived in all her splendor,” he whispered. Dahlia squeezed his hand. She couldn’t think of anything more beautiful. For a moment, she experienced a remarkable sense of peace and bliss.
The next morning they again held Shabbat services by the lake. This time the sun was slanting through the trees. Dahlia sat on the ground, next to Ben. Campers and counselors led parts of the service. Dahlia agreed to lead several prayers toward the end of the service. Ben would read one aliyah from the Torah. He had been practicing for a week. A low, scattered mist clung to the lake at the start of the service. The sun’s rays slowly burned off the mist, leaving little, short-lived rainbows. “See the rainbow. Do you know what that means?” asked Ben.
Dahlia intended to make a crack about it marking where leprechauns had left a pot of gold. But when she opened her mouth, she heard herself say, “It is the sign God gave Noah that he would never destroy the world again.”
For the end of Shabbat, the Maariv service followed by Havdallah, the campers, carrying flashlights, climbed to the top of the mountain. It was a gentle walk on a well-marked trail. Small clearings opened along the way offering dramatic views of the lake. The trail and clearings were bordered with blueberry and raspberry bushes laden with ripe berries.
The view from the top of the hill was spectacular. You could see forest or lake in any direction. No towns or buildings or power lines or antenna towers or anything manmade marred the scene. As soon as three stars appeared in the sky, the campers lit the special multi-wick Havdallah candles and chanted the prayers to a beautiful melody. Then, arm-in-arm in a large circle they sang Eliahu Hanavi. Dahlia, one arm around Ben, the other around Jessica, her other friends close by in the circle wished the moment could last forever.
Some counselors started a campfire in the middle of the circle. Everyone sat down and began singing. Guitars, marshmallows, popcorn, all sorts of goodies suddenly appeared. Dahlia jumped up with some of the other girls and began Israeli folk dancing. Others quickly joined in. The next few hours flew by in a swirl of dancing and singing. Above them the sky filled with an incomprehensible number of stars. Finally running out of breath, Dahlia and the other dancers flopped onto the ground laughing and laughing. Glancing skyward, Dahlia was again startled by the intensity of the stars. One seemed to her to be twinkling particularly bright. “I love you too Daddy,” she murmured.
Walking back to the tents by the lake, Dahlia and Ben agreed to meet later that night. After the campsite had quieted down, Dahlia crawled out of the tent on the pretext of needing to go to the toilet, which was a crude outhouse. Ben was already waiting there with a blanket in his arm. They headed up the path up the mountain to the first clearing. Spreading the blanket, they cuddled each other and watched the stars.
The gentle cuddling quickly turned into heavy making out. Dahlia and Ben both were growing intensely excited. Ben caressed her breasts. Dahlia’s hands roamed along Ben’s chest, back, and stomach. Ben gently pushed one leg between her thighs. Dahlia felt her body shudder and pulsate, warm and moist. He started to slip his hand toward her panties. She wanted to say no, stop. She urgently knew she had to say no, but she didn’t. She pressed her hips against him.
Suddenly, they heard a sound. Something was rustling through the blueberry bushes nearby. They froze. Their passion instantly evaporated, replaced by fear. Unable to see in the dark, afraid to turn on their flashlights, they lay silent and still, hardly breathing. After a few minutes, the rustling moved farther off. A few minutes later, it was gone completely.
“Let’s get outta here,” whispered Ben. They dashed back to their tents as quickly as they could.
The entire camp surged with the excitement over the Zimriyah, a night of music and theater and dance performances, the climax of the summer. Every group in camp had been working on its performance. Pop songs were translated into Hebrew. Scenes from movies and plays were performed in Hebrew. Dahlia and her friends had chosen to do Sephardic and Bedouin dances and had created seductive belly dancer costumes.
Everyone gathered in the Beit Am, the large recreation hall, after dinner. It was a hot, steamy August night. Doors were open and fans vainly tried to keep the leaden air moving. Despite the heat and humidity, excess adrenaline seemed to be shooting out of kids’ ears. Counselors could barely control the enthusiasm and excitement.
After a bunch of speeches, the performances started. The younger campers were very cute. The rock bands were loud. A couple of bands were even quite good. Ben performed with a group leading Israeli and Jewish folk songs, which brought people dancing into the aisles. The theatrical skits left everybody laughing and screaming. The Israeli dancers, Dahlia’s group, felt energized and beautiful in their beaded, half-revealing costumes. The audience cheered. A lot of the boys hooted. For Dahlia, it was an exhilarating high.
Ben rushed up to her right after the performance, smothering her in hugs and kisses and a stream of compliments. “You are a wonderful dancer, beautiful and exciting,” he whispered, swinging her around. The word suddenly flashed among the oldest campers–party at Nivonim. The Zimriyah had ended. Everyone streamed out into the hot, sultry night.
The Nivonim bunks were a swirl of activity, motion, sound, and laughter. From seemingly out of nowhere counselors produced chips and pretzels, soft drinks, and snacks of all sorts. CDs were popped into boom boxes. Dahlia and the other dancers ducked into the bunks to change. Dahlia put on a skimpy tank top with spaghetti straps and shorts. “Oooh, no bra tonight,” Jessica remarked as she changed along with Dahlia, who was, indeed, going without her bra.
“It’s so hot,” Dahlia replied, trying to sound offhand.
“Sure. Have a good time,” said Jessica, giving her a hug and dashing off.
Dahlia and Ben circulated among their friends for a while. The rest of the camp began quieting down. After a while Dahlia and Ben slipped off by themselves. Walking with arms wrapped around each other’s waist, they ended up sitting next to the canoes by the lake. By now the camp was dark, except for the activity still swirling around the Nivonim bunks.
Clouds quickly streamed in and blocked the view of the stars. Looking across the lake they could see occasional flashes of lightning and hear the low rumble of distant thunder. They began to make out, gentle kisses quickly turning into deep, passionate kisses. Dahlia was self conscious about her kissing. Jessica had told her all about French kissing. It sounded gross. Dahlia couldn’t imagine letting a guy slip his tongue into her mouth. But now, wrapped in Ben’s arms, it was the most exciting kissing she could imagine. It felt wonderful.
Ben’s hand slid under her tank top. Her breasts tingling, her nipples erect. Pushing up her tank top, he kissed her breasts. She pulled Ben’s shirt off him. Ben reached to unbutton her shorts. “No, no, not tonight,” murmured Dahlia, pulling his hand back to her breasts.
“Don’t you want to?” Ben pleaded.
She hesitated. “I thought I did. I do, sort of, but there are too many people around. We’re right out in the open,” Dahlia reasoned. There was, indeed, a lot of noise and activity coming from the Nivonim bunks not far away.
Suddenly, several lightning bolts exploded the sky. Ben snapped around immediately and started counting slowly. Finally, a loud rumble of thunder arrived. “It’s still pretty far away,” Ben calculated. More lightning cracked across the sky.
“Wow, what a show!” Dahlia exclaimed.
Ben propped himself up against a canoe and pulled Dahlia onto his lap. “Let’s watch God’s light show,” he said. The lightning and thunder increased in frequency and intensity as the storm drew nearer. “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, whose might and power fill the world,” he continued, repeating the words in Hebrew for the prayer to be said on observing a thunder and lightning storm.
“Is there really a prayer for lightning? How do you know?” asked Dahlia.
Ben watched the storm and gently caressed Dahlia, stroking her hair and cheeks. “That’s one of my favorite prayers. My father became a scientist because he marveled at all the incredible things in this world and wanted to know how God did it. Evolution, nuclear physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy–he saw God’s hand in everything and wanted to know how God made it happen. The more he learned, the more awed he was by the genius of God’s creation. And the more convinced he became that all this, us, everything wasn’t a random accident but the work of an awesome being, God. He still believes that. He likes to quote the Shabbat psalm: ‘How vast Your works, O Lord, Your designs are beyond our grasp.’ I guess he passed all that on to me.” Dahlia suddenly thought of her father; God’s plan was certainly beyond her grasp.
As they watched the storm Ben described how lightning actually occurred. He talked about his father’s quest to know God. He touched on the intricacies of natural laws from general relativity to thermodynamics weaving the wonder and reverence of God through it all. Ben saw no conflict between science and God. All science was simply another of God’s astounding creations. As Dahlia listened, she thought of her father. He wasn’t a scientist at all, but he felt the same deep reverence for God’s creation. She wanted to feel it too.
“And God’s creatures are the most amazing of all,” Ben continued. Starting at her toes, he traced his fingers along Dahlia’s entire body as he described each part and its role in this miraculous living, growing, beautiful person. Dahlia’s body pulsated under his touch. He led her to see her own body as an intricate, divine tapestry that could only have come from God. When he finally traced her lips with his finger and kissed them, she could have melted on the spot.
The lightning and thunder had grown very close indeed. Dahlia looked up and noticed people scrambling around the Nivonim bunks, trying to close shutters. She felt a couple of drops of rain. “We’d better get back,” she suggested. Ben got up, threw an arm around Dahlia, and they began to saunter back to the bunk. Suddenly, a huge blast of lighting followed almost instantly by a thunderous roar turned the night into day. A big tree, maybe 30 or 40 yards away, flashed for a moment, splintered, and crashed to the ground. A deluge of rain instantly poured down. They dashed to the bunk. God’s might and power, Dahlia thought as she ran through the deluge, could be pretty scary sometimes.
The last night of camp always is a mixture of happiness and sadness, even more so for the Nivonim campers. Many had come here since they were the youngest campers, Ilanot, Hebrew for saplings. Now they were the oldest. Next year, as seniors many would spend the entire summer on a camp mission to Israel. After that, they would go to college, some maybe returning as counselors.
Dinner was a loud affair, with speeches and singing and stomping on tables and dancing in the aisles. The noise approached intolerable volumes but nobody seemed to notice. When the meal finally ended, the campers left to join their groups. Everyone already was packed to leave the next morning. Videos were planned in the Beit Am. Parties were arranged in every group, even for the youngest campers. Nivonim intended to party by the lake. The tree, splintered by lightning the week before, had been removed and cut up. Pieces of it would be used for a beach campfire.
The girls in Dahlia’s bunk arranged each other’s hair and chattered and hugged. Nobody wanted to go home tomorrow. Each hoped the night would last forever. Shira pulled Dahlia aside at one point. “I guess I won’t be needing this,” she said, pressing the condom she had received early in the summer into Dahlia’s hand. “There are some really nice guys here, but none I’m going all the way with. You take it.”
Dahlia was flabbergasted. She had forgotten about the condom. “Why are you giving this to me?” she stammered.
“You never know. It doesn’t take a mind reader to know what Ben is thinking. He’s cute. And you’ve been thinking about it too,” Shira said, with her sly smile. She hugged Dahlia. “Keep it, just in case.”
The weather had cooled off a bit in the last few days. A breeze had picked up from the west. Still most of the kids were wearing shorts and T-shirts. But Dahlia decided to put on a sweatshirt and jeans for the last night. The girls tromped off to the waterfront as a noisy pack. The guys were already there, piling wood onto the campfire.
Ben, wearing a denim shirt and shorts, rushed up to Dahlia. “Hey, you all right?” he asked, immediately noticing her sweatshirt and jeans. ” It’s not that cold.”
“I’m fine,” she replied, but she was quiet, pensive. She was thinking about what Shira had said. Dahlia knew what Ben wanted. She was also thinking about her mother and about her father.
Ben put an arm around her and kissed her gently. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s nothing. I’m guess I’m thinking about my mom and dad.” She wasn’t lying, but it wasn’t the whole truth. She didn’t want to disappoint Ben on their last night, but she didn’t really want to go all the way. But everyone seemed to expect they would. She really felt confused. The crowd around the campfire was growing larger and noisier. Maybe the issue wouldn’t come up if they got involved in the partying. “Let’s join the others,” she suggested, tugging Ben in that direction.
He pulled her back gently. “My counselor has a car in the far parking lot. Nobody will be around later. We can go over there if we want. It’s not locked,” he whispered. “It will be private. Nobody will disturb us.”
Dahlia realized the issue wasn’t going away. After the incident at etgar, she was scared. It wasn’t the idea that they might have encountered a bear that frightened her as much as her own passion. Then, after the Zimriyah, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do. She knew she shouldn’t go all the way with Ben–there were just too many complications and risks–but she sort of wanted to and feared she couldn’t stop herself or stop Ben if the opportunity arose. As much as she cared for Ben, she knew this just wasn’t the right time or right place. Maybe not even the right person. But, she was afraid of disappointing Ben. What would he think? Would he call her a tease? They had already gone pretty far. Could they stop now?
She turned to Ben and put her hands on his cheeks. She ran them over his face, stopping when they were over his eyes. “I really like you a lot, but I can’t go with you to the car. I don’t feel its right. I’m sorry,” she blurted out.
She pulled her hands away. A look of disappointment hit his face like a slap. He inhaled sharply, as if he had been punched in the stomach. “It doesn’t mean I don’t want you or care for you. I do. I do more than you’ll ever know. But it’s not right for me, for us, now. Maybe someday, but not now. Please, don’t be mad at me. Come to the campfire with me,” she pleaded.
She could see Ben struggling to regain his equilibrium. Finally, he put one hand around her neck and drew her to him. “God makes everything happen in its own time. God brought you to me when I least expected it. You are a gift from heaven. I can’t be mad at you,” he said. At that moment, Dahlia realized she cared for Ben more than she had imagined. God brought you to me, she thought, when I most needed you. Then they kissed, wrapping their arms tightly around each other.
The rest of the night was a blur. They rejoined the crowd at the campfire. After a while many of the kids left to watch horror movies at the Beit Am. Dahlia and Ben remained at the campfire with a few others, talking and laughing. Ben picked out the various constellations, but tonight Dahlia was only interested in that one star–the one next to God’s throne twinkling just for her, she liked to think. The fire began to die down and nobody bothered to throw more wood on it. At some point, Ben left and quickly returned with a blanket. He wrapped them in a blanket and again propped himself up against a canoe. They cuddled for a while, but Dahlia fell asleep in his arms. Maybe Ben fell asleep too. Dahlia dreamed the sweetest dreams.
Dahlia and Ben awoke when the kids noisily returned from the Beit Am. The sky was brightening; the stars had retreated from view, even Dahlia’s special star. Dawn was about to break. A cool breeze blew lightly. Dahlia and Ben scrambled to their feet, a bit sleepy and disheveled. Dahlia’s tightly braided hair had come undone and was hanging loose.
The camp was not really a beautiful place. It consisted of dozens of ramshackle buildings and bunks scattered around rough fields and scraggly woods. Train tracks ran along the far shore of the lake. A few times a day freight trains rumbled by. Dahlia never considered it an idyllic spot. But this morning, as the sun began to break across the sky while gentle ripples moved across the lake, she thought it was as beautiful as anything God had created.
Jessica came up beside her, along with Shira and Deborah and Emily and Molly and all the others. With one arm around Ben and the other around Jessica, Dahlia experienced a wonderful warmth surging through her despite the coolness of the dawn air. Everyone gasped as the sun finally rose above the trees, illuminating the water. In barely a whisper, she heard Ben: “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has created such wonders as these in your world.”
“Amen,” Dahlia murmured and then to herself: thank you, thank you, thank you God for all you have given me. The gentle breeze stirred; she could feel it lightly tossing her hair, and she thought for an instance that she could hear her father’s voice whispering in her ear.