By Yehuda “No ‘H'” Fenton
Gan Yisroel has always been famous for their phenomenal choice in staff. The steady flow of dedicated, talented, and Chassidishe staff members has long been a hallmark of CGI. This year’s incredibly eclectic group is no exception.
Among these marvelous staff members includes our versatile survival director, Yosef Shmuel Serebryanski. Brought to us from Melbourne, Australia, this staff member has single handedly revolutionized our idea of his position. Presenting a vast variety of talents, from rope making to Safrus, Yossi has figured out how to teach a wide range of topics with a vibrant interest that holds the campers spellbound.
His survival course has taught campers many important wilderness techniques, from teaching the many uses of rope that one should know to how to start a fire without matches. He first explained that rope could be used to make a shelter, a hammock, and trap small game. Then he showed us how, through rubbing two sticks together, one could start a fire and survive in almost any wilderness situation. Finally, he showed them how to gain a high vantage point in the wilderness using only a rope and a tree. This survival director has taught the campers to feel confident when they stride within the forest.
Yet R’ Serebryanski didn’t only stay in the forest. His talent continued on to learning class. Although tzitzis and safrus courses are common fare in camp, this class was unlike any that’s been done before. He used his versatile talents to not only teach the specific mitzva, but also how to handcraft every component.
The tzitzis course started by him presenting a bag of yellow, uncombed wool. Then he cleaned a piece of that raw wool and explained how it gets turned into a full bag of that pure white wool that we usually imagine. Once this wool was ready, it could be processed through carefully spinning into actual strings. Ultimately, each camper was handed finished strings and tzitzis cards and taught how to tie their own tzitzis.
His safrus course was just as multi-faceted and absorbing. Once again, he began with the raw material by bringing a goat skin, with the hair still on it. He showed how this skin was cleaned, stretched, and dried to turn it into Klaff. The most remarkable element of this presentation was that he not only did this all himself, but he also made all the equipment by hand.
Once the parchment was ready, ink was needed. This ink could have been purchased, but the intrepid survival director decided to make this himself as well The ink could be made by either collecting soot from a wax candle or delicately mixing reactive metals with certain acids to get the rich, black ink required for safrus. This ink, after it was thickened, could be used to write the magnificent letters of the hebrew alphabet in various scripts.
As if this technical demonstration was not thrilling enough, he also wove the intricate and complex halachic details into his presentation. Culling from a wide variety of sources, ranging from the basic to the escoteric, he gave an incredibly informative and engaging course.
One might think that with so much on his plate, Yossi wouldn’t have time to be involved with the day to day activities in camp. However, he was ever present, with a full bag of balloons ready to be blown and tied. The survival director could be seen throughout camp filling balloons with air and tying them into hilarious shapes. He formed hats, dogs, and roses to the delight of the crowd of onlookers that had gathered when he began performing his craft.
This incredibly talented staff member is getting married during the second month of camp and therefore had to leave. In his words, “I would love to stay but I have to get married, and the head counselors said it was a good excuse.”
Although we all celebrate his simcha with him, his absence will be sorely missed. Despite Gan Yisroel’s dedicated and talented staff, the team of teachers required to fill his shoes might present a challenge even to Parksville. Yet, I can assure you that camp will stay true to form by providing more marvelous activities and thereby continue the spectacular summer here at CGI.