2017 Pre-Shabbat Letter from the Director #5

We’d like to thank

  • Brittany Abramowicz from Springboard (Jewish United Fund of Chicago)
  • Rabbi Morris Allen from Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, MN
  • Chava Alpert and the Ruach Ramah delegation from the Ramah Day Camp
  • Danielle Block from the American Hebrew Academy
  • Scott Brown from the Midwest Jewish Camp Leadership Network
  • Jamie Cooper from Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago
  • Jody Horowitz from Jewish United Fund of Chicago
  • Amanda Monto from Masa
  • Leah Nash from Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City
  • Avital Ostfield from B’nai Amoona in St. Louis
  • Alex Treyger from Chicago Jewish Day School
  • Megan Zimmer and Samantha Isenstein from Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago

for joining us for a visit this week!

What a week at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin!  Despite the weather – and we won’t sugarcoat the reality that it has been unseasonably cold and rainy, though it appears that this weekend we will already be turning a corner on both – camp is in full gear as we provide awesome fun and build great friendships!

We sent our Ruach Ramah and Garinim campers to Eagle River for bowling outings to get out of the rain for an afternoon and hosted an impromptu Winter Carnival where booths included building snowmen, trying to walk in snow shoes, and something involving pretzels, frosting, and lots of sprinkles.  Last night a nail-biter of a softball game under the lights between Machon and Nivonim was decided by a three-run home run in the final inning.  A group of Machon girls talked our Rosh Agam (Waterfront Director) into letting them participate in a canceled Island Swim because they wanted to do it.  Solelim and Shoafim enjoyed “t’fil-ective” options in self-selected small group activities for prayer this morning.

Nivonim campers, in the second week of a two-week internship program around camp working in different programming areas, had a blast assisting our Ruach Ramah staff during the four-night overnight that welcomed seventy-one first-time campers to Conover.  The Shoafot (girls in Shoafim) loved their basketball game.  We began pre-Yom Sport activities with a breakout on Tuesday and a planning session for cheers, banners, and dances on Thursday.  Tikvah campers went through an intense version of Songleader Boot Camp with artist-in-residence Jacob “Spike” Kraus.  The Machon and Tikvah partnership is off to a strong start as they blend identities to become Mikvah (get it?  Machon + Tikvah = Mikvah).    And, in the spirit of partnerships, Garinim and Shoafim have started a buddy program, launched last night with a goofy carnival.

The biggest highlight of the week, of course, was our Zimriyah (Song Festival), a highlight of any summer at Ramah.  Our music team, under the leadership of Josh Warshawsky, Sam Blustin, Nadav Gal, Edon Valdman, and the assistance of musician-in-residence Meira Silverstein, did a phenomenal job, and Josh has written about the Zimriyah on our blog.  Click here to read his entry and view the Zimriyah video.

I want to delve deeper into the meaning of the Zimriyah itself and its theme, פנינת תפארה / p’ninat teefarah / beautiful pearl, which is also our summer-long educational theme, tying together camp-wide events as well as a variety of staff programming, special visitors, and camper experiences.

In the late 1940s, Moshe Greenberg (z”l) penned what we now call himnon Ramah (the Ramah anthem).  In the opening lines, he describes camp as a beautiful pearl (פנינת תפארה).  This summer, we will spend time thinking about this allusion on four levels:  How are our campers, community, physical setting, and institution all beautiful pearls?  How does being in our setting in the beautiful Northwoods, wrapped in the loving context of our nurturing community, help our campers be the best versions of themselves?

The occasion of the 70th anniversary of the founding of camp is a lens that is aiding us in this exploration.  Part and parcel of Ramah’s vision from its founding, and a holistic understanding of all it has done for generations of campers and staff, is a two-pronged approach to summer camping:  a focus on immersive Jewish experience and on building good people and warm communities.  Our last two summer-long themes, in 2015 and 2016, focused on our Jewish experience, specifically about our relationship to Israel and honing our understanding of Jewish identity and expression in America.  This summer, we focus on personal characteristics, on building the people we want to make up the communities we want to shape the world in which we want to live.

At the Zimriyah, the theme manifested itself in explicit and implicit – or “meta” – ways.  Explicitly, the music focused almost exclusively on songs written by alumni of our camp, including some shirah (songleading) legends of days past.  Rabbi Yosi Gordon, Rabbi Moshe Rothblum, Brian Gelfand, Matt Kalin, Naomi Less, and Josh Warshawsky were all represented.  Other songs were about a joyous community.  During the event, the entire camp sang happy birthday to camp on its 70th birthday.  These songs are examples of, and speak to the reality of, camp as a p’ninat teefarah.

Under the surface, what everyone in the room witnessed on Sunday night was an even more emphatic statement of the power of what we do.  Thanks to years of work to shift different components of our culture, we experienced an exuberant evening, filled with joy, dancing, and song, in which the energy in the room was all about the singing and the moment.  The types of rivalries that are often natural in similar settings of adolescents have disappeared from our Zimriyah.  We have a beautiful pearl that we nurture and care for.

I love to sing, and I love the poetry of song.  The intentionality of lyrics and, in Jewish music, of textual allusion or a new melody attached to liturgy or Tanach, gives me great joy.  The music of the Zimriyah songs of my camper and staff years remains a key component of the playlists constantly running through my mind. Those songs are associated with sense-memories – sounds and images – and of the memories of friends, counselors, and campers surrounding me.  One of the great joys of my current role is watching new generations of campers learn the music they will remember twenty-five years hence, bopping and hopping as they experience the sheer joy of an evening of music at camp with their best friends.  

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