The legacy of John O. (Johnny) Varble, who died on Oct. 19 at 83 on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of American Jewish University, will live on forever. Johnny was a dedicated and beloved member of the Brandeis-Bardin community for more than 40 years, leading the ranch staff, and welcoming and supporting all who visited the campus. Johnny also was an award-winning horse trainer and breeder. I had the privilege of working with him for three years and of being his friend for many more. Johnny lived by a set of values that permeated all he did in life, and his devotion to Brandeis-Bardin was unparalleled. For thousands of people, he represented the heart and soul of Brandeis, and for several individuals, he was a mentor who greatly impacted their lives.
Gabe Goldman wanted to believe in miracles, wanted to believe in the power of prayer, wanted to believe that God had spoken to prophets. But Goldman, an Orthodox Jew, felt burned out on Judaism. He would perform the rituals with perfect technique, but no heart. A change, he thought, was in order.
At the time, a little more than a decade ago, Goldman held a prestigious job as curriculum director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Cleveland. He earned $70,000 annually, enough to own a comfortable home and provide for his wife and four children.
It was 6:00 on a Friday evening. My wife, myself, and 50 complete strangers had just managed to light two candles, each on one tiny table, without burning ourselves. Our names, printed in a groovy font, glistened under the nametags hanging around our necks. We were sitting in a circle, introducing ourselves and saying what the experience reminded us of. Was it any surprise that two-thirds of us answered, "Camp?"