Hi. I’m Lauren, the planner of the bus tour. I haven’t written for this blog yet, and while I feel a little bit strange writing the final post as someone who wasn’t on the road the whole time, as the one who started off with the tour it also feels fitting.
I began this journey in January, when I was handed the fragments of systems, ideas and old documents of certain components, and then allowed to run with it and piece together a tour. I stared at my empty excel document from which the tour was meant to emerge, and after months of internet research (thank you, Foundation for Jewish Camp and JCCA website with your interactive map), talking to everyone I encountered, emailing Jonathan Dubinsky (without whom the tour also would not have happened) and spending a lot of time with Google maps, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Through a myriad of emails and calls that went unanswered, a few camps said yes, they wanted to pay for the bus to come, and suddenly I had a shell of a tour. I had places we had to be, people who were excited about the mission and enraptured by the photos of an upside down bus. I spoke to a woman in Kansas for whom no task was too large – she fundraised the full amount to bring the bus to her camp. I spoke to an early childhood center director in Chicago who told me how great it would be to have people who are truly living out these values of sustainability in a Jewish context be role models for her campers – that was my spiel, and she said it to me before I even finished explaining the program. I spoke to a camp director in New Jersey who wanted to book the bus for 4 days. In these pockets of success, I found inspiration. I was really doing something, really achieving something with this tour. People wanted to enhance their camp experience and believed that we were the something more out there – something to wow and impact their campers. Some camps created a budget ex nihilo for bringing in external programs or nearly exhausted their entire budget for us, hinged on the belief that we would provide more than fun; that we’d both teach and embody something extraordinary, worth remembering for years.
For a while, I was living and breathing the bus tour. It occurred to me that maybe everyone didn’t want to hear about it, but I couldn’t seem to stop. And it rarely drained me – generally, it gave back more than what I put in. I found two of the educators because I never stopped talking about it – one at a Shabbat dinner, and one through a colleague talking to a geologist studying at Pardes (after she told me I’d do best to look into coverts, as I’d likely never find a Jew equipped to be a bus mechanic). I also found some of the camps and some of the hospitality when the bus tour spilled into my personal life, as well as some amazement and accolades. I planned the Tour de Farm event in Kansas on a Friday evening right before Shabbat while walking back from picking up a last ingredient for a salad for a potluck dinner at a friend’s, and though I didn’t end up showering that evening (like a true bus educator), I felt re-energized by the idea of bringing our vegetable oil bus and our bike blender to cheer on people biking from one urban farm to another. I was ecstatic, in that moment, to have been swept up into this regenerative cycle of belief in sustainability and in the existence of good in the world.
Sometimes I felt like I was floating, buoyed by the energy and enthusiasm of those around me, and sometimes I felt like I was wading through a swamp of confusion, about how to hire people and find a mechanic, how to balance a schedule and bring in enough revenue. Once I nearly finished building the schedule and the team, I began to worry about the educators. Would they feel they had enough structure of meaningful programs and people to appreciate their work, and sufficient free time to exult in their adventure? Would they be happy?
All I wanted from my abundance of work and energy that I devoted to this project was to share in some of the magic of it, to have it reverberate back to me. And in many ways, throughout these last six weeks, it did. It overflowed its structure, drawing stares and questions and stories everywhere it went, from people connected to and totally foreign to the concepts it represented. I personally saw the immense and powerful impact of the bus tour through brief glimpses into their lives on the few times I met up with them, from evaluations from institutions, photos, comments from friends and from friends of friends. That the circle of influence expanded so widely so quickly, and also drew in on itself, as I met and heard from people in all circles of my life and people connected to them never stopped seeming amazing. That this vehicle and all that it stood for brought together and really compelled people not just to notice but to tell someone else or send pictures, many of which made it back to me through circuitous routes or from far-flung directions, was even more awesome.
Thank you to everyone who was part of this bus tour, and to everyone who in turn let me be a part of it.