They did not arrive by owl. Nor were they hand-delivered by Hagrid. Nevertheless, the hundreds of volumes of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" that arrived in Wingdale, N.Y., on Sunday took Camp Ramah in the Berkshires by storm.
"It’s a real thing around here," said Rabbi Amy Roth, assistant director of the camp. "One edah [age group] celebrated ‘Harry Potter Shabbat’ this week," she said, noting that the 14-year-olds dressed up as various characters portrayed in the book. "It became a part of the camp."
The book, the seventh and final volume in the popular series by British author J.K. Rowling, was released on Saturday, so campers who could not rush out to bookstores to buy it had to wait until Sunday to receive it.
"Sunday was visiting day and parents brought it with them," said Roth. "Now I’m seeing 15-year-old girls sitting at the table, reading; walking all over camp, reading; wrapped in towels, reading ."
And it’s not just the campers, said Roth, who noted that some counselors have expressed concern that since they are too busy to read the book right away, someone might reveal the ending before they get there. (At press time, Roth was only up to page ‘0 and said she probably wouldn’t get to read the entire book until camp was over. She asked this reporter not to reveal the ending.)
Fourteen-year-old Katie Shepard of Teaneck, part of the edah called Bogrim, began to read the book on Sunday as soon as her parents left the camp. Since then, she has read it during free time and before bed.
"A lot of the boys have finished it, but not many of the girls have," she said, adding that most of the 80 campers in her group are reading the book. While she has not personally encountered any spoilers, she said that some people have had the experience ruined for them by fellow readers who told them more than they wanted to hear.
"People in the bunk asked each other not to give away the end as a matter of courtesy," she said.
Katie said that reading the book has fired her imagination, inspiring her "to imagine a world of wizards." Nevertheless, she said, "I’m not sorry that it ended because it was long enough, a good length."
While Katie observed that she had not learned any lessons from the book, 14-year-old Aaron Marans of Teaneck, Roth’s and Rabbi Noam Marans’ son, said he picked up a thing or two.
"Well, I know how to fend off Death Eaters," he said. But, he added, he’s also "learned a lot about friendship and loyalty."
Aaron noted that the book is particularly popular in his edah. "As kids get older, they can read longer books, and this is a big book," he said of the 759-page tome. He also described the "code of conduct" adopted in his bunk, whereby campers have agreed not to divulge the ending. According to Aaron, when the sixth book came out, a spoiler revealed the ending to all of B side (the camp is divided into A side and B side, according to age), "and everyone was very upset."
"I hope something good will happen at the end," he said, "like Harry defeating the Dark Lord." In keeping with the book’s injunction not to say the villain’s name out loud, he said, his counselor suggested that campers prepare for the book by refraining from pronouncing "Voldemort" for a full week before publication. Transgressors would be asked to do push-ups, said Aaron, "but that didn’t go anywhere."
"It’s a great book," he said. "My parents read it to me when I was in kindergarten and first grade, and it’s been a major part of my life."
Roth pointed out that the series contains a number of valuable lessons for young readers.
"It talks a lot about family connections, and that’s an important concept in Judaism, going back to the Torah," she noted. "Even today, whether one is a Kohen, Levi, etc., is determined genealogically."
In addition, she said, Harry Potter himself, who is clearly designated as "the chosen one, the one who’s special," is a good role model.
"He’s not a great student, and he’s a bit messy," she said. "Here is a normal kid who goofs around but still becomes a leader."
She pointed to Jewish tradition, which records that Moses, who is described as having a speech impediment, was nevertheless selected to lead the Jewish people.
Said Roth, "Harry is an unlikely hero. It’s a nice model for kids, especially in today’s world, where the media show perfect-looking, glitzy, Hollywood models."