Arie Taught the Gentle to be Strong and the Strong to Show Heart

[Arie Gluck, the legendary director of URJ’s Camp Harlam for 37 years and a member of Israel’s first Olympic track team, died Thursday, June 23rd. He is remembered by a former staff member.]

IMG_1524-e1466966153403-417x400By Avram Mandell

No one ever tells an “Arie story” without trying to mimic his accent and the way he talked. Maybe it’s because anyone who has had a meaningful encounter with Arie comes away from the relationship with a little bit of Arie inside of them.

I was the assistant director of URJ Camp Harlam and the NFTY-PAR advisor from 1995 to 1997. Before coming into that position, I spent six summers at Harlam as a camp counselor and, in the summer of 1999, after my first year at HUC, I was the senior camp educator. My first real job (forgive me Arie, I know being a camp counselor is a real job), was working full time for Arie in Philadelphia, first at the office on Samson and then on Walnut Street.

Arie was a true teacher and mentor to me as he was to so many of us. When I would bring him the budget for a NFTY-PAR event, he would ask me, “where is the shemenet?” “I don’t know what that means, Arie.”  “Shemenet,” he would say, “the cream in your budget in case you don’t bring in as much revenue as you’re expecting. Go change your budget and bring it back to me.”

He taught the gentle to be strong and the strong to show heart. He taught those of us who were in our first roles as supervisors to make smart decisions and perform to the best of our ability. “I hired you to be a supervisor, so go supervise.” And he taught those of us who were too tough, how to modulate our behavior. On Facebook, Rabbi Jessy Gross wrote:  that Arie once said to her, “You, you are a bulldozer … and you are a great one … but you can’t always be a bulldozer.”

We all know Arie was one tough cookie. AND he had a huge heart. One thing that always impressed me about Arie is that he gave people second chances. Every summer, often during the first few weeks of camp, a counselor would be fired. And the following summer, that counselor would often be hired back.  Arie showed that he was a true mensch who clearly understood the concept of repentance.

He loved taking care of his camp family. Countless stories have been told about Arie bringing campers to his office or over to his house, so he and his wife, Elaine, could comfort them when they were homesick or dealing with a death in the family.

During my six-year run as a counselor, I usually waited until the last minute to decide that I wanted to spend my summer at Harlam. I would call camp the day before orientation started and ask if they had a spot for me. Arie hired me every time and said, “we held a spot for you because we knew you were going to call.”

I’ve enjoyed reading people’s tributes on Facebook. It has been wonderful to see that many of us have similar stories. As a first year counselor, Arie would always treat you with respect. You were an adult hired to a create safe, fun and meaningful memories for Jewish children. “We’re here to make memories,” he would say.

Most importantly, we all learned that being on time means being five minutes early.

Arie, you left us five minutes too soon.

At the end of each camp session, Arie would say, “In Hebrew, we don’t say goodbye. We say l’hitraot, which means see you later.” Arie, through the camp you’ve built, the lives you’ve touched and the legacy you’ve left behind, we still see you now. And we will see you later.

L’hitraot to my boss and to my mentor, you will be missed.

Avram Mandell is the founding director of Tzedek America, a Jewish social justice and travel gap year program based in Los Angeles. He also runs a two-week urban social justice summer program in partnership with URJ Mitzvah CorpHe tributes much of his involvement in the Jewish world working with Jewish teenagers to his time mentorship by Arie Gluck and from his experience working the URJ Camp Harlam.

Cross-posted on Camp Harlam’s Blog; reprinted with permission.