Shabbat Letter from the Director #2

Thank you to

  • Hazzan Michael Krausman from Beth El Synagogue in Omaha and his family
  • Rabbi Aaron Melman from Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, IL, and his family

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.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jacob

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?

 

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