2017 Pre-Shabbat Letter from the Director #6

We’d like to thank

  • Art Elstein, Dr. Lee and Judy Shulman, special guests, renowned educators and researchers, and Ramahniks from the 1950s
  • Professor Nadav Shelef from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his family
  • Rabbi Michael and Janet Siegel from Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago
  • Rabbi Zach Silver from Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield, IL
  • Lori Stark, Director of the Ramah Day Camp in Chicago
  • Jennifer Zacks, Twin Cities Engagement Coordinator, and her family

for joining us for a visit this week!

To paraphrase a Talmudic statement about the time period around Purim:  משנכנס קיץ מרבים בכיף / mishenichnas kayitz marbeem b’keif / when summer arrives, our fun expands!

After some challenging weeks of weather, beginning last Friday afternoon we have been experiencing a beautiful Northwoods summer with warm and hot days, cooler nights, and only the occasional shower.  And the timing could not have been better for the biggest week of camp-wide programming during the entire summer.

Sunday afternoon, as we concluded our successful Garinim visitors day, we transitioned into one of the greatest Yom Sport experiences in recent memory.  Led by our Program Director, Gal Atia, supported by a staff reaching into every nook and cranny of the camp, Yom Sport provided a perfect balance of energy (ruach!), competition, and fun as קבוצת אדום / k’vutzat adom / the red team emerged victorious.  In the last six summers, all four teams have taken home at least one victory!  Our post-Yom Sport tradition of joining together for a camp-wide Talent Show that highlights the unity of the camp and the wide-ranging talents of our campers was another highlight.  The next morning we awoke to a red, white, and blue-filled 4th of July, where we awkwardly translate all of our camp Hebrew into English (the Garinim never get used to being called seedlings, nor does Machon acclimate well to being referred to as “the institution”).  American singing and Kikar dancing were supplemented by special programs in many of the aidot, an awesome carnival, and delicious cook-out.  The trailblazers (Solelim) even got to leave camp for a bit and march in the Conover parade with their float!  On Wednesday we announced the winners of the carnival raffle, one of the great moments of anticipation and exultation we have all summer.  Mazel tov to Ethan Sterling from Shoafim and his bunkmates in tzrif vav (Cabin 6) for winning the grand prize, a movie-and-ice-cream night in Eagle River!

Our week of awesomeness concluded last evening with the opening of Ramah’s theatrical season as Shoafim performed Mary Poppins.  After announcing the second group of alufei ha’ashpah (“Aces of Trash”) who help keep our camp clean and orderly and are thus rewarded by highly-sought-after T-shirts, Shoafim did an amazing job in general and, specifically, created a play all in the audience will remember for the ingeniously situated umbrella.  For a great week and a great show, we can all say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

With this rundown of an awesome week at camp – and I missed some of the most creative programming of the season thus far, a walk-off hit in a hotly contested softball game, and much more – we miss a great deal of the intentionality and nuance that adds layers of meaning to our work and our impact.

Our program is built on multiple levels.  We aim to support individual campers, cultivate their interests, and help them shine and grow.  We aim to create loving communities where our campers learn to live together, developing pride in their cabin and aidah.  We challenge our campers as individuals and as collectives to be better, to do more.  We do this all within a framework of exuberant joy, helping our campers develop counter-cultural senses of what constitutes fun.  And, when all is said and done, we hope to have produced alumni of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin who are mentsch-ier people, more knowledgeable and more skillful as human beings, as artists/athletes/swimmers/outdoorspeople/carpenters/dancers/singers/musicians, and as Jews.  We hope that they will have the tools to create communities of their own, to maintain and deepen their existing friendships and to develop new ones.

Yom Sport is a day on which our campers play in a co-ed basketball tournament; a silly relay race involving running a lap around camp, solving a Rubik’s cube, setting a table, and more; a boating race to the island; and the climactic lighting of a fire by the team captains that, once the first team has completed the task, evolves into a powerful statement of love and support as each group of captains, in succession, help support the teams who have not yet finished.  Two of the annual camp moments which bring me to tears are the scene of the twenty Nivonim captains huddled around that last fire together, having given up nearly all caring about the final tally, and witnessing the full Nivonim aidah, apparently experiencing the most profound joy, jumping up and down together in the lake in a tradition that is at least twenty years old.  This is what makes us Ramah.

A few hours later the talent show is a similar expression of who we are as a community, as the standing ovations for acts begin early.  The fearless Garinim campers, a boy and a girl, performing a prop-assisted dance/lip-sync version of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me;” musical performances with instruments and voice of no fewer than three aidot; an awesome Shoafim dance involving four young women from Omaha and two young men who chose a dance elective for the first two weeks of camp; a Tikvah camper and his Machon buddy, in a duet supported by the rest of a Machon cabin, performing the timeless “New York, New York.”  The performances are amazing, moving, often hilarious.  The cheering crowd and the “wow” factor of wondering “how can they do that?” are what makes the evening sublime.  This is what makes us Ramah.

Melding American patriotism with powerful Jewish identity; helping our Israeli staff understand the American relationship to our flag, so different from the Israelis’ with their own; hearing unfamiliar words in camp that should be so familiar in the town of Conover, in the state of Wisconsin, in the United States of America, in a world so dominated by the English language.  Watching friends experience the carnival games, and the music, and the lines for the popcorn and the sno-cones, and the impromptu Frisbee game that erupts on the Kikar, and the red and the white and the blue.  And then the next morning back to business-as-usual, back to thematic programming planned by counselors, by eighteen- and nineteen-year olds who know that their job in camp is to be Jewish educators, to engage their campers in meaningful conversations about being Jewish in 2017 as they take care of them and help these campers feel comfortable embodying and becoming the beautiful people they already are.  This is what makes us Ramah.

And on Thursday night, with severe weather likely and the entire camp gathered in the Chadar Ochel (dining hall) for a massive song-session, we had to grapple with the inevitable questions.  Would the show go on?  Should we move the camp from the dining hall to the Beit Ha’am (auditorium)?  What would happen if the lights went off, or if we needed to move into our storm shelters?  In the end, none of it mattered, not because the rain was brief, if torrential, and we were never in danger.  And not only because we were merely treated to the acrobatics of three bald eagles as the clouds came closer, a rare cloud formation after the storm, and a breathtaking sunset.  And not only because Mary Poppins does what our musicals do, gave individual campers from disparate backgrounds and with disparate talents – some of which they didn’t know they had when camp began – the opportunity to shine.  Our musicals turn groups of campers into an aidah, effecting the bonding and identity-formation that happens when you summon such an amazing performance that, twenty-four hours prior, you could not have imagined.  Not only this – but because our campers are unbelievably flexible, willing to go with the glow, walking calmly from the Chadar Ochel to the auditorium and then participating in a second song session as we worked out our game plan for the evening.  And because they sat at rapt attention and watched a great show, cheering for the hardworking Shoafim.  And because at the end of the night the entire camp stood up and sang our himnon, our anthem, at the tops of our lungs.  This is what makes us Ramah.

All of this is what makes us Ramah.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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