Ear­li­er this week, Stu­art Nadler blogged for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings author blog­ging series about cast­ing off one’s sins and the sto­ries that didn’t make it.

They were small, felt, ringed in blue. We wore them to meals, to all of them, and of course, to ser­vices on Fri­days and Sat­ur­days. You were giv­en two at the start. If you lost them, they were a few dol­lars to replace. Of course, they were yarmulkes, even though we nev­er called them that, choos­ing, instead, to call them bean­ies. To have called them yarmulkes, I sup­pose, would have been to place them in a more strict reli­gious con­text, that, as boys, we may have shirked from. Or found uncool. It’s hard to remem­ber now. This was my sum­mer camp near Cape Cod, a tiny, wood­ed out­post flanked by a fresh water lake, a dozen creaky, wood­en bunks.

Even as a young kid, I rec­og­nized the chapel as some­thing beau­ti­ful. To get there you had to walk along the water. There was a fence that sep­a­rat­ed the field from the lake. We’d go in what was sup­posed to be our best cloth­ing. But we were young, and we were boys, and inevitably, we were filthy. I remem­ber hav­ing to go down a slope, although this might be inac­cu­rate. It’s been fif­teen years since I was there last, and the pho­tographs I’ve found on the web don’t do jus­tice to my mem­o­ries. There were three sec­tions of bench­es arranged in a half-cir­cle. Plain wood­en bench­es like the sort you’d see at a soft­ball field. And there was a bimah, a makeshift pul­pit. Behind this was the water. There were high trees sur­round­ing us, white pine, black gum, red spruce. The chapel, I real­ize now, was noth­ing but a land­scaped clear­ing. There was anoth­er sum­mer camp along the lake, a YMCA camp. And there were a few hous­es dot­ting the shore. One of them had an air­plane docked out front, its land­ing gear retro­fit­ted for the water, and occa­sion­al­ly, dur­ing ser­vices, if you were lucky, you’d see the pilot take off, or land, and then, a few moments lat­er, you’d see the water lap up against the shore – small, insis­tent waves.

Most of us were sec­u­lar, if not entire­ly unob­ser­vant in our usu­al lives, and these ser­vices amount­ed to the total­i­ty of our reli­gious expe­ri­ences. One sum­mer, a boy had his bar mitz­vah there, all of his friends pitch­ing in togeth­er to make it hap­pen. I remem­ber this par­tic­u­lar ser­vice more than the oth­ers. These were small ges­tures: the bean­ies, the prayers we sung before our meals, the imposed solem­ni­ty of our week­ly walk to the chapel. I remem­ber wor­ry­ing that my yarmulke would blow off in the mid­dle of a ser­vice, some lake-born gust of wind tak­ing it and spilling it some­where. This was a fear one doesn’t suf­fer in synagogue.

Late­ly I’ve been think­ing about that chapel, about how love­ly it was to sit out there in the woods, with the birds out over­head, and that air­plane drop­ping slow­ly onto the water. There was no bet­ter place to pray qui­et­ly, to find peace, to feel grat­i­tude at the easy beau­ty we had around us. I find myself wish­ing I could back there now, even though, I’m fair­ly sure I’ve long lost those felt bean­ies. Although I sup­pose, for a few dol­lars, I could get another.

Stu­art Nadler has been blog­ging here all week. He is the author of The Book of Life and is cur­rent­ly tour­ing as a part of the Jew­ish Book Net­work. For more infor­ma­tion about book­ing Stu­art, please con­tact jbc@​jewishbooks.​org.