What do Harlem, Tel Yehudah, Mel Reisfield, and social activism have in common??
All are prominently featured in Born to Rise, a new book coming out next month by Judaean Deborah Kenny (formerly Debbie Kuker). Debbie was National Mazkira in 1979-80, attended Tel Yehudah 1976-80, Year Course 1980-81, and worked as a Madricha at both Sprout and TY. She lost her husband to leukemia at age 38 and subsequently founded a network of public charter schools in Harlem. Now ten years later, she's written a book about the experience. Young Judaea, Mel, and Tel Yehudah are all part of the story. Debbie discusses summers at TY as providing the formative experience in her life that gave her not only leadership and education training, but also a sense of commitment to social justice. Here is an excerpt from Born to Rise:
The summer camp Sara and I attended was a welcome change from the superficiality of high school. While the kids loved to socialize and have fun, it was the kind of place where it was cool to be smart and everyone fit in. The camp was dedicated to Jewish values and social justice. The chorus of our camp song was “You and I will change the world” – and everyone actually believed it, including me. It was bliss.
It was at camp where I met the teacher who would change my life: Mel Reisfield. He was an extraordinary and often irreverent educator, and for many decades the camp’s heart and soul. He was the coolest adult we kids had ever met. Mel could captivate hundreds of campers and counselors for hours with lectures about history, heritage, and social justice. My favorite stories were about his activism – how in 1963, he got in a car with a friend and two students and drove to D.C. for the March on Washington to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; how he led efforts to raise funds for Biafra when Africans were starving; how he had helped organize one of the very first walkathons for the March of Dimes; and how he joined in protests to support farm labor leader Cesar Chavez. “We have to care about people,” he would always say.