Thank you to
for joining us for a visit!
The first full week of camp is when we see the magic begin. Our campers move quickly from the transition to camp into what feels to them, and to us, like a permanent state. Kids shift from searching for new friends and getting their bearings to forming cabin and aidah (division) identities, diving deeply into the first meaningful activities and programs of the summer. Yesterday was our first island swim as dozens of campers and staff swam from our beach to an island about four-hundred yards away; some swam back as well. The Solelim (7th grade) boys have organized their own basketball league – they played their first games yesterday. Our Nivonim (11th grade) campers are deep into their internships and service projects that begin the summer; they pausedon Wednesday to become archaeologists for the day – unearthing artifacts around camp that tell famous camp stories of earlier generations that speak to Ramah’s values and history. An innovative series of t’filah (prayer) programs for Bogrim (9th grade) that the division is still in the midst of have focused on the connections between nature and prayer, including opportunities for different outdoor prayer experiences and a text study focusing on Rabbi Nachman of Bratzslav’s spirituality that relies greatly on nature. OurShoafim (8th grade) campers similarly utilized programming to lead up to a celebration of the receiving of the Torah last night, re-enacting the holidays of Shavuot and Simchat Torah with joyous dancing as they reflected on what it means to prepare for a major shift in their lives and to take responsibility and ownership of their Judaism. OurAtzmayim (vocational) participants enjoyed their first full week at their job-sites in Eagle River, as well as weekly highlights like a meditation session with Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell. Our Machon (10th grade) and Tikvah campers launched their chaverim (buddy) program that continues to be over-subscribed and which our staff works to enhance each and every summer. Our Garinim (5th grade) campers spent a day gaining an appreciation for their own individuality, carrying a supersized jigsaw puzzle piece around their neck and decorating it with their skills and how they see themselves, and then appreciating how each individual comes together to form a community when the puzzle was finally assembled. Our Kochavim (4th grade) campers have spent the week performing a talent show, enjoying a hockey game for the “Stanley Kos” (Cup), and learning to appreciate the natural beauty of the Northwoods through perhaps the most popular camp song, Mah Rabu (How great!). We wish farewell to our Kochavim A campers as most of them depart on Monday morning – see you in 2016!
This Shabbat is a particularly special one for me, as we welcome back to camp, for their thirteenth reunion, Nivonim 2002, an aidah I worked with as a counselor for two summers. As a young college student, I had the pleasure of working with these young men and women for two amazing summers, partnering with exceptional staff members and beginning to develop many of my ideas about education, leadership, and working with children. This afternoon we welcome back nearly forty-people, including significant others, fiancé(e)s, spouses, and children of our alumni. Thirteen years after we worked together, many of these alumni remain dear friends and I look forward to rekindling other friendships. We welcome this weekend two ordained Rabbis, an Assistant Camp Director, and many others who have begun the careers that will distinguish them for decades as professionals, family members, and lay-and-volunteer leaders; we are, as ever, so proud to call them Ramahniks. We have danced at each other’s weddings, been there for each other in good times and bad, and it will be special to reconvene here at Ramah for another Shabbat.
With all this going on, as the rhythms and cultures of our individual aidot (divisions) become established, we begin this weekend to turn our attention to our summerlong theme: What does it mean to be a Zionist in 2015? First developed in the winter by a group of our senior educational staff and consultants, ownership over the project has been embraced by our Cornerstone Fellows, veteran counselors Josh Flink, Elana Kennedy, Tova Perlman, Ari Vandersluis, and Yonah Vogelman, under the leadership of our Program Director and Cornerstone Liaison Jeremy Fineberg. The Cornerstone Fellowship, a project of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, brings cohorts of veteran staff from many different Jewish summer camps for a week of intensive educational training before the summer, where the Fellows for each camp develop a project for implementation and cultural change over the summer. This year we rejoined Cornerstone after over a decade of not participating, and look forward to a new tradition of our Fellows developing the summerlong theme.
Our theme this summer is focused on celebrating Ramah Wisconsin’s amazing connections to Israel; well over half of our staff has spent at least a few days in Israel within the last twelve months. This encompasses our junior counselors, many of whom spent last summer on Ramah Israel Seminar; a huge cohort of second-year staff who spent the past academic year on a gap-year program in Israel; our expandedmishlachat of Israeli staff; and dozens of other staff who participated in some combination of Birthright trips, alternative Winter or Spring breaks, Hillel delegations, and much more. On Sunday night, our camp-wide programming will begin with ourZimriyah (Song Festival), which will bring us all together to celebrate Israel through music.
Our relationship with Israel, like our relationships with anything about which we care so much, is not always so simple. As such, we began work with our staff during staff week to provide skills on how to facilitate honest and respectful conversations about Israel and Zionism. Our goal is to help each one of our campers and staff to articulate and explore the role Israel plays in their lives. We are all familiar with the articles and demographic data telling us that for new generations of North American Jews a relationship to Israel may not be so important. We know that our Ramah community is an exception to this possible trend, and we want to continue pushing ourselves to engage with Israel in ways that are developmentally appropriate and educationally sound. We look forward to updating you on how the theme plays out throughout the summer, through music, dance, dialogue, and discussion.
It has been another amazing week at Ramah, one highlighted by the craziest day of weather I have seen in my 24 summers in camp. What began as a cold, rainy Mondaymorning on camp developed into a hot and sunny afternoon. Then, a few storms passed ominously close to camp, darkening the skies in the late afternoon but resulting in only a few drops of drizzle. After dinner, as the sun was magnificently setting, another storm came through quickly, drenching the camp but never blocking out the sun. A surreal yellow light illuminated the whole camp, even as each window was obscured by the quick downpour. And then … as the sky cleared once again and the sun began its final dip into the horizon, a magnificent rainbow appeared, framing the sky. The rainbow – and the beginnings of a double rainbow near its bases – was stunning. Like so much at camp, it was magical, gorgeous, and so fleeting. And thus, it was like another week in the Northwoods.
Suggested questions to ask your camper early next week via e-mail:
Kochavim: What did you learn about yourself and being a part of a community duringyom meyuchad (“special day” – specialty staff day off filled with programming planned by cabin counselors)?
Garinim: What did you draw on your puzzle piece on Wednesday?
Solelim: How do the responsibilities you have gained outside of camp compare to the responsibilities you have within camp?
Shoafim: What “sacrifices” do you make to be a better person?
Bogrim: What was your super power on Wednesday?
Machon: How is play practice going? What part did you get?
Tikvah: What was your favorite activity on Yom Yisrael (Israel Day)?
Nivonim: What did you learn about camp history on Yom Excavation (Excavation Day)?
Atzmayim: What are you learning in your fitness class with Tom?
Fun evening activity – Garinim choreograph and perform in their own “music videos.”
Bogrim campers in Lev Gray’s class learn about Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), humanity’s shared responsibility to heal and transform the world.
From the moment our first campers arrived on Tuesday afternoon, our campus, virtually empty two weeks before, has been infused with feelings of friendship, fun, and relaxation. Few sights are more moving than that of campers with counselors or – more likely and more powerful – campers with their friends, sharing the burden of carrying their luggage from the parking lot to their cabins. One pair of campers each shouldered one strap of a duffel bag as they walked across camp holding hands. Other campers utilized teams of three or more to lift bags that weighed far more than any one of the individual children. By dinner time, the Kikar, the lush, grassy field that serves as our town square, was filled with campers playing games and getting to know new friends. Campers and counselors spent Wednesday and Thursday being introduced to all that camp has to offer, learning their Zimriyah (music festival) song, enjoying one or two organized sessions on the sports fields run by our sports staff, taking their swim tests, rotating through music, drama, art, radio, woodworking, and other activities. Throughout the days I watched as pickup games of soccer, basketball, and tennis emerged seemingly out of thin air, only to dissipate as the next scheduled activity brought the campers, however briefly, away from the courts. The weather has been beautiful, and today is the first full day of up-and-running programming for the entire camp as campers move into a daily schedule that includes set time on the sports fields, waterfront, cultural arts options, Jewish studies classes, and Hebrew activities. As I sit in my office in our arts center, the sounds of campers playing flutes and trumpets fill the air.
The theme of the entirety of Sefer Bemidbar (The Book of Numbers) is the maturation of relationships between the different main characters: God, the People of Israel, the Levites, Kohanim (Priests), Aaron, and Moses. Having left the foot of Mount Sinai, the proverbial honeymoon is over and, each week, new complicated dynamics emerge. In this week’s Torah reading, occupying center stage is the rebellion of Korach and his followers.
Their chief complaint is encapsulated in one of the first verses in the parashah: כי כל העדה כולם קדושים, ובתוכם ה’ – For the entire aidah [is made up of] all holy people, and among them is God. Korach wants to know what makes Moses and Aaron so special, as well as why certain hereditary groups, namely the priests and Levites, have more important roles in the community and are more closely involved in the worship of God.
The complaint reminds me of an earlier incident which we read two weeks ago, about two men, Eldad and Meidad, whom transgressed communal norms and were found prophesying inside the walls of the Israelite camp. Having witnessed this act, which is perhaps heresy or false prophecy, well-intentioned individuals approached Moses and asked that Moses himself give the order to chastise the two men. Moses’ response is instructive: המקנה אתה לי? ומי יתן כל-עם ה’ נביאים. כי יתן ה’ את רוחו עליהם. – Are you jealous on my behalf? If only that the entire nation were prophets and God would give them God’s spirit [to prophesy]!
Unexpectedly, both Korach and Moses seem to be saying the same thing: each member of the Israelite nation has the possibility of being a prophet; each of us is imbued with holiness. And yet, that potential remains unrealized in both of these cases. The possibility may exist, but that possibility is presented by the Torah as remote, even dangerous, and their examples do not become instructive for us.
Though we hold onto certain vestiges of the heredity, hierarchical, and priestly Israelite religion of the Torah, our Rabbinic Judaism (itself nearly two thousand years old) puts a much more positive spin on this potential for holiness in each of us.
Nurturing the spark of holiness in each individual of our Ramah community and in the community itself is the primary task of our work this summer. I share three examples to illustrate this point.
Kochavim – לך לך, והיה ברכה – “Go forth … and be a blessing”
Kochavim campers (both A and B) will explore what it means to be a “mentsch” and contribute positively to the community around them. They will use God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and Debbie Friedman’s famous “Lechi Lach” as core texts to explore inform their exploration of themselves and their newly forming Ramah community.
Garinim – איכה? – “Where are you?”
Based on Rabbi Art Green’s reading of the Garden of Eden narrative and specifically God’s call to Adam – ayekah, where are you? (Genesis 3:9) – Garinim will be exploring what it means to create and sustain a community.
Solelim – שמור וזכור בדיבור אחד – “Observe and Remember as in one utterance”
How can we imagine living every moment as fully present as we are on Shabbat? Can every moment be Shabbat? Is camp a type of Shabbat from the year? As these campers cherish their first “full Shabbat” at camp (one-seventh of the year), they will embark on an exploration of Shabbat’s meaning in and potential in our lives.
Shoafim – קהילת השואפים – A community of aspirers
Shoafim, which means “aspirers,” will explore communities that aspire to make the world a better place. This theme will complement the Shoafim Tzedakah Project which involves raising money during the summer and making thoughtful decisions for how to allocate those dollars.
Bogrim – אני מאמין, אנחנו מאמינים – I believe, We believe
Inspired by National Public Radio’s This I believe … series, as well as the literature of Jewish thought and philosophy, Bogrim will explore their personal belief systems as well as what it means to believe as a collective group.
Machon – הרשות נתונה, וטוב העולם נדון – “Freedom of choice is given, and the world is judged favorably”
Machon will focus on how to create their own identity and act on it, using as their guiding principle this selection from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:16/19). How are we empowered to make our own decisions? How do we manifest our values in our actions – with each other and with the world? What is our role to play in shaping the future of our family, community, and world?
Tikvah – בראשית – “In the beginning…”
Tikvah’s summer will utilize the founding narratives of the Jewish people, from the Book of Genesis, to help answer the following questions: from where do we come? Where are we going? And how should we treat other people along the way?
Nivonim – וזכני לגדל – “And may I merit to raise…”
Nivonim will explore their own potential, privilege, and responsibility to the world around them and each other. As they leave their lasting legacy on Ramah and embark on their future as individuals and a collective, they will explore the ways in which the opportunities and challenges presented to them help shape who they are, and how they realize the best versions of themselves.
Atzmayim – בשבילי נברא העולם – “For my sake was the world created”
Using this powerful phrase from the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) that is used to help explain the importance of every single human being, Atzmayim will spend the summer thinking globally and acting locally, developing their own personal identity through the context of global culture and politics.
Suggested questions to ask your camper early next week via e-mail:
Kochavim: Which fun activities did you enjoy last week, including the relay race, making a mural, new tunes in t’filot (prayers), and photo scavenger hunt?
Garinim: What song did you dance to at the dance show pe’ulat erev (evening activity)?
Solelim: What did you learn on Shabbat about conserving the planet?
Shoafim: What new ways to be a leader in camp did you discuss over Shabbat?
Bogrim: How was your audition for A Chorus Line?
Machon: What “intensive” are you in and how have the first few days been?
Tikvah: Which of your daily activities are you most excited for? (Options include: Tikvah Arts Festival; sport; play practice; Jewish studies class; and social skills group.)
Nivonim: Which internship are you participating in? Why did you choose it?
Atzmayim: How were your first few days working in town?
Check out some of the highlights of Staff Week 2015!
A summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin impacts not just the campers but all family members. One new initiative we are pleased to introduce this summer is our Ramah Grandparents Club. Please click here to register current camper grandparents to receive camp communications and a complimentary “Proud Ramah Grandparent” gift.
For us at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, like so many educators and parents, we know: the journey is far more important than the result. The process is more important than the product. It isn’t where you’re going but how you get there. Yes. And also: it’s about the type of process you experience along the way.
This week’s Torah reading, Sh’lach L’cha (Send forth), like all parashiot (weekly readings) in the last three-and-a-half books of the Torah, finds the Israelites in the midst of a long journey, over forty years, from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. And the central narrative of the reading is one of an additional journey, that of a group of scouts chosen to enter into Israel and return with a report about both the tribes who live there and the land itself. This secondary journey ends terribly for the Israelites, as the scouts report demonstrates a major inferiority complex and paranoia. As readers, we are left with the question: What went wrong?
On Tuesday, we began our Staff Week, and the last three days have been filled with dancing and singing, deep conversation, lots of name games, and focusing on our work at hand: orienting around two hundred educational staff members to their roles this summer. Most of our time is spent in focused meetings led by our supervisory staff (Roshes) in small groups, covering the developmental stages of campers, expectations for a specific job, lesson-planning and program development.
In our first camp-wide program, on Wednesday morning, we began with three “TED”-like talks, each of which emphasized a different pillar of what it means to be a successful staff member – and camper – at Camp Ramah. These three pillars are: caring for other people’s children, understanding our role as Jewish educators, and pushing ourselves to be good team members and to exercise leadership.
Longtime senior staff member Jon Adam Ross (known universally in camp as JAR), began with a wide-ranging talk about leadership and stepping up, using the best Biblical equivalent, the word הנני, Hineni, which literally means “Here I am.” JAR began by reflecting on a number of humorous and instructive episodes from his long mentorship under and partnership with our CEO, Rabbi David Soloff. Other highlights included a retelling and analysis of a well-known midrash (interpretive story) about the splitting of the Sea of Reeds that focuses on the character of Nachshon, and a selected reading and discussion from astronaut Chris Hatfield’s brilliant memoir An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Again and again, JAR hammered home his question: How do each of us prepare ourselves to answer our call to step up, not knowing from whom or exactly when the call will come?
Our second talk was given, virtually, by one of our Educators-in-Residence for the summer, Shalom Orzach. Shalom, who will join us for ten days near the end of the summer for a special project (more on that in future weeks!), is one of the great Jewish and Israel educators of the moment. His ELI talk, filmed earlier this year, explored how Israel education should be both timely and timeless – of complete relevance for the moment and tying us to our eternal values. You can watch Shalom’s full talk here.
Finally, Assistant Director Yael Bendat-Appell took our makeshift stage to deliver a moving and inspiring reflection on what it means to take care of other people’s children. Yael’s talk, which had many of us wiping away tears throughout, began with personal details about and pictures of her two children, Adin and Orli, and then shifted to her own graduate training in general and special education. Yael concluded with the following charge:
So, why did I share with you the intimate details about my children and my family’s particular story? Not because my story is more dramatic or interesting or noteworthy than any others. I promise you; it’s not. I told you my own personal story to help you understand that each and every family has their own version of mine. Each family, and each child, is a whole world unto itself; far beyond what the outside eye can know. Our children represent our greatest challenges and triumphs. By sending a child to camp, each parent is entrusting us with the most precious and intimate aspect of their lives. They do it because deep down, parents know that this particular place, in Conover, Wisconsin, can help their child become the best person that she can be. Because ofyou and the love and care that you will show them this summer.
Every person in this room has a unique job, a unique role to play, in taking care of lots of people’s children this summer. From the essential basics of health and safety, to teaching self-care and hygiene, helping kids learn how to dress appropriately for the weather, protecting their skin from sunburns, and keeping them hydrated…to the more profound: teaching kids what it means to live in community; to respect others and treat them kindly, to cultivate a sense of adventure and independence; to push kids gently to try new things and develop new skills; guiding kids as they explore and discover new parts of themselves.
It’s an incredible responsibility to Take Care of Other People’s Children. But it is also an immense privilege and gift that parents are willing to share their children, their worlds, with us.
God willing, when Visitor’s Day comes– not only will the parents have a chance to thank you for the work that you are doing; but that through your work, you will have come to love and appreciate their child, and you will feel the desire to also thank them.
These three talks were a wonderful way for us to start our week of staff training together. Even more than that, I believe, they can help you – our parents, grandparents, alumni, board members, and other stakeholders – appreciate what it is that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is providing for more than five hundred fifty children this summer.
First and foremost, we are here to embrace the responsibility and privilege of taking care of other people’s children, providing them a safe space to grow and challenge themselves while we support them.
Second, we are here to enact an ambitious agenda of Jewish education, exposing your child to the joys of 24/7 Jewish living and helping them find new insights, new knowledge, and new skills.
Third, we are a leadership incubator for the Jewish people. Our staff represent the best and brightest from their college campuses and Hillels; service in the I.D.F.; long-term educational programs in Israel; and more. They serve not only as counselors to our campers but as role models for them: before we know it, our current campers will assume – and, if history is any indication, surpass – the impressive feats of our current staff.
Each of these three goals is not about the end result; instead, our focus here is on the journey and the process. We are confident that, if constructed, guided, and nurtured correctly along the way, the diverse results will take care of themselves.
In the final verses of the Sh’lach l’cha, we find an answer to the question of what, exactly, went wrong on the mission of the spies. In a section that becomes the third paragraph of the Sh’ma prayer, we read the following verse:
ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם.
Do not go forth after your hearts and your eyes. (Numbers 15:39)
The verb used here, latur, is the same one in God’s instruction to Moses to send the scouts into Israel. It is a verb that appears to be synonymous with other similar words about the Israelites’ journeys, specifically the word masa/n’siyah. But it becomes clear that this word – latur – refers to a misguided journey, one doomed to failure from the start.
About halfway through the summer, just before our full-season Visitors’ Days, we will read another Torah reading, one that describes in tedious detail thirty-eight years of the forty year journey through the desert. In that reading it will become clear that as negative as the verb latur is to describe a misguided journey, the verb linso’a, from the other root, is positive. As we read that selection, near the very end of the book of Bemidbar (Numbers), we come to understand that some journeys are redemptive in and of themselves.
Throughout this Shabbat and into Tuesday afternoon when our first group of three-hundred fifty campers arrive, we will continue laying the groundwork to enable each and every member of our Ramah community to embark on a healthy, productive, and inspiring journey this summer.
We’re packing for camp and have crossed everything off our list, but what if we still forgot something?
We do keep some supplies—like toothbrushes, sunscreen, etc.—in our infirmary in case someone needs something. For bigger things, you can send a package to your camper. Campers love getting packages no matter what’s in them – but please do not send any food!
All mail should go to:
Camp Ramah in Wisconsin
6150 E. Buckatabon Road
Conover, WI 54519
I see a lot of Hebrew words on the camp website and in emails. My camper does not speak fluent Hebrew. What will she do?
Don’t worry! Your camper will soon be using Hebrew words every day without even thinking about it. Once your camper gets to camp, his or her counselors and bunkmates will help out with the translations. In the meantime, check out our glossary of Hebrew words commonly used at camp here.
This is my child’s first summer at camp and he doesn’t know anyone. What will he do?
As soon as your child arrives to the drop-off site (or Midway Airport, for those who are flying), our friendly Ramah staff will do everything they can to make your child comfortable. They’ll introduce people, play games on the bus, show movies and more. The bus ride is the first part of the Ramah experience, and our counselors want to make a good first impression!
Once the buses arrive at camp, the counselors will greet their campers in the parking lot and help them find their luggage. The counselors will show the campers to the cabins, help unpack, and introduce everyone in the cabin. The campers spend the whole first day getting settled, playing ice-breaker games, and getting to know their new summer home.
How do we know our camper arrived safely at camp?
As each bus arrives, we will send an email to the parents of the campers on that bus. We expect the Twin Cities and Chicago Suburbs buses to arrive early afternoon and the Midway buses to arrive later in the afternoon (as long as there are no flight delays). In the evening we will post photos in CampMinder. Click here to see instructions on how to view photos in your CampMinder account.
Last but not least, have you seen the new Ra-Mah Koreh magazine? It’s got some great packing tips and advice for preparing for camp. We can’t wait for camp to start in just a few days!