A few summers ago, Rabbis Noach Sauber and Hersh Kasirer, the learning directors at Camp Dora Golding, launched what they called the “Say Thank You” program. Rabbi Sauber introduced the program by reiterating to the campers the great importance of reciting brachos as a way of thanking Hashem for all the gifts we take for granted every day. Then he explained that for the next week, each afternoon during “Rest Period,” when campers frequent and patronize the camp’s canteen, he and/or another rebbe would be stationed on the canteen porch with a marker in hand. Every time a camper would recite a bracha out loud, a box would be filled in on a large poster especially made for this program. The goal was to have 2,500 brachos recited carefully by the end of the week.
What made the program even more meaningful was that it was dedicated in loving memory of Rabbi Kasirer’s father, Rav Moshe ben Tzvi Halevi, who was niftar less than a month earlier.
The “Say Thank You” program began the following Sunday and was an instant success. There was an immediate heightened awareness regarding saying brachos generally all around the camp, not just during Rest Period.
That Tuesday morning, Rabbi Sauber was going for an early morning walk when he noticed a lone white swan swimming serenely in the camp’s lake. This was bizarre because in his over two decades coming to camp, Rabbi Sauber could not remember (nor could I) ever seeing a swan in the lake. The swan remained there throughout the day, swimming peacefully in the lake, even as campers boated alongside it. It became an instant camp celebrity and was even given a name – Poochy.
Then suddenly, as soon as mincha ended, many of us saw the swan take off and fly over the shul and out of camp. It has not been seen since. (There are signs posted in camp promising a reward for anyone who returns Poochy to the lake.)
So, what’s the big deal, you ask? We were intrigued by the sudden mysterious presence of the pristine white swan for almost an entire day. As per Rabbi Sauber’s suggestion, I looked up in Perek Shira what shira the swan sings to Hashem. It turns out the swan is not directly mentioned. But there is the “avaz shebabayis,” which is translated as a duck, to which the swan is closely related. (In the Artscroll edition of Perek Shira. the picture of the avaz shebabayis is of a swan.) So, what is the shira of that species?
Remarkably, its shira is “Hodu laHashem kir’u b’shemo – Praise Hashem, call out in His name.” I don’t know of any other animal’s shira that seems more directly connected to the recitation of brachos.
By Thursday afternoon (a day earlier than expected), the camp had reached the 2,500 brachos mark. The entire camp enjoyed a special dessert on Shabbos in celebration.
It seems somewhat eerie that a swan settled on the lake in the center of camp for an entire day, right in the middle of the brachos contest. But if you’re not easily moved by such occurrences and aren’t impressed with Poochy’s brachos connection, this story can still serve as a chizuk and reminder for all of us to try to recite brachos with a little more fervor and feeling.
It’s been said so often that the key to happiness is not having more but appreciating more. So whether we hear the swan sing “Hodu laHashem” or not, we must make sure that we fulfill the words of that song to the best of our ability!