Camp as an immersive educational experience

by Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon, Rosh Hinuch

“If God put one boy and one girl of each animal in the ark, which dove did Noah send out?”  

“Can we write a midrash about that?”

—Garinim campers (7th grade) learning about gratitude, wonder and blessings.

“If I know I’m mean to my friends sometimes…what can I do to change that?”

—Shoafim camper (8th grade) exploring the question, ‘When do you take a stand?”

“I think Malcolm X’s kind of protest got more done than Martin Luther King’s.”

“I’m not sure that’s true….I think maybe both kinds were important to have.” 

—Bogrim and Machon (9th and 10th grade) campers studying Rebels of the Torah

“Echad! Shtayim, Shalosh!  Arba! Chamesh!”  

—A Garinim camper in Hebrew class, running across the grass and shouting the number of his steps in Hebrew. 

These are the moments that animate our days as educational staff members here at camp. In these moments, we see the curiosity of our campers and their desire to improve their Hebrew and to have conversations that help them grow both as Jewish learners and as people. Some of these moments are slightly off topic, but these tangents driven by students’ interests are a luxury of teaching in the camp setting where there are no tests or deadlines—only learning for its own sake.

Though most of the education campers receive at Ramah is informal, they do have two 45-minute shiurim (classes) a day:  one in Hebrew and one in Jewish studies. 

Hebrew is taught by native speakers from Israel and the classes emphasize hearing and understanding as well as speaking Hebrew.  This month the younger campers are learning about our senses.  Next week campers will focus on ‘taste’—which will culminate in a fun activity involving chocolate!  Older campers integrate Israeli culture into their lessons by viewing Israeli television shows and then discussing the content in Hebrew.

In Jewish Studies, campers in Bogrim and Machon select from a variety of electives including Jewish views on conflict resolution, Torah stories of love gone wrong, Rebels of the Torah, Israeli hip/hop commentary on conflict, and Hebrew language theater.

Younger campers study topics including Gratitude, wonder and berachot; Celebrating the entire Jewish year in one month, and Jewish wisdom on life’s tough questions.

We are also in the process of implementing several new curricular initiatives. Currently, a selection of Bogrim and Machon campers are studying parshanut, the weekly Torah portion through the lens of commentators such as Rashi.  This elective class, called Rebels of Summer, focuses on the narratives of complaint and rebellion that fill the summer parshiyot. 

In the second half of the summer, some Shoafim campers will learn about the Holocaust using a curriculum written by former Rosh Aidah and current Jewish educator, Joseph Eskin. 

A new Nivonim curriculum will immerse our oldest campers in an intensive exploration of timely and timeless issues and ideas related to Israel. In doing so, it will lay the groundwork for a more literate cohort of engaged and passionate young Jews, many of whom already play formal and informal leadership roles among their peers. Rooted in our study of מגילת העצמאות, the Israeli Declaration of Independence, campers will learn about key events and people in Israel, and consider how they relate to the country, its challenges and achievements on a personal and communal level.

In all of these classes the goal is to provide both a content-rich experience while giving campers the opportunity to have conversations about meaning.  Camp is an immersive and amazing lab where we build a summer community based around Jewish living—classes at camp are a place where campers can process what it all does and can mean to them personally.  

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