Camp News

Jacob’s Reflections on Noah’s Ark as a Metaphor for Shabbat

Posted on October 20, 2017

Noah’s Ark as a metaphor for Shabbat: Thoughts on God’s promises to and manifestations on the Earth

Our ancestors did not think about “science” as we do, but they understood, deeply and organically, the natural world around them.  Flora, fauna, the heavens, the seasons, the tides, and best practices for agriculture, hunting, fishing, and work with domesticated animals were all things their communities needed to know well to thrive.  The world around them often made sense, and sometimes it didn’t; the role of religion in the ancient world, like the role of religion in our own, was to bridge these two areas of experience and, most of all, to bind people together in community.  This is the meaning of the Latin root of ligo which religion shares with ligament: it holds us together.

I have believed for a long time that it is no coincidence that we read Parashat Noach less than two weeks after the holiday of Shemini Atzeret when we recite תפילת גשם / t’fillat geshem, the prayer for rain.  The parched land of Israel and the Middle East is just now experiencing the first rainfall in more than six months.  The flash floods will soon return, vigorously and briefly, to the Judean Hills and Negev Desert.  And it cannot be a coincidence that we read of a great rainstorm, a flood to end all floods, just as it begins to rain for the first time in months.  Because every time we experience a sudden change, deep down in the fear-center of our brain, we ask ourselves the often subconscious question:  “Is the new normal the forever normal?”  Is this ever going to stop?

The denouement of the flood narrative occurs near the middle of the fourth aliyah of Noach, where we read in beautifully poetic biblical Hebrew:

עוד כל ימי הארץ:  זרע וקציר / וקר וחם / וקיץ וחרף / ויום ולילה / לא ישבתו.

Od kol y’mei ha’aretz: Zera v’katzir / v’kor vachom / v’kayitz vachoref / v’yom valailah / lo yishbotu.
For the rest of the earth’s days: [the cycles of] planting and reaping / summer and winter / rainy and dry / day and night / will not cease.

This is the promise God makes to us: cycles endure.  It will stop raining. Day will become night.  Until the end of days.

The flood story itself is of the destruction of these cycles and divisions, specifically those established in the Torah reading from last week, the creation story of the first chapter of Genesis.  Imagine the unceasing rainstorm, the impact of the cloud cover, the loss of visibility.  All the distinctions (הבדלות/havdalot) God set up have been dissolved: light and darkness (1:4), the waters above and the waters below (1:7), the collection of the waters to create ocean and land (1:9).  And all of God’s creations have disappeared: flora (1:11), the sun, moon, and stars (1:14), fish and birds (1:20), land animals (1:24), and all human beings (1:26) save for Noah and his family on the ark.

The only aspect of creation to survive the flood is the ark itself, and the only part of the creation narrative which is not destroyed through the flood is Shabbat (2:1-3).  Shabbat itself is a celebration of God’s creation, and it is anachronistically appealing to imagine Noah and his family making Kiddush in the midst of the flood with the words zikaron l’ma’asei b’reishit, a remembrance of the acts of creation, when they likely believed that the only surviving acts of creation were on their boat.

This past summer, one of our scholars-in-residence, Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, shared a powerful teaching from the Hasidic master known as the Netivot Shalom which connects Shabbat to the ark “because Shabbat is the source of the connection between Israel and God.” It is “a dwelling place in the lower realms” – God desired a dwelling place, a pure spot in which we might raise ourselves up” (translation by Rabbi Jonathan Slater).  During the flood, the ark is the sole remnant of God’s fingerprints on the earth, it is the second iteration of God’s spirit hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2), it is the only place where God’s likeness and image – human beings – can be found.

Shabbat is magical if for no other reason than that it was the only one of God’s creations that Godself could not conquer.  It survived the flood and, as the Zionist thinker Echad Ha’am believed, Shabbat has given Jews an identity, a structure, and unbreakable protection throughout our history.  At camp, of course, Shabbat is magical in other ways.  By counting the Shabbatot of the summer we acknowledge the turning of the seasons and the progress of our time together.  We experience the power of community and the exuberant expressions of that community which are one of the great ways God becomes manifest in our lives.  We are reminded of the unbroken chain that links us to our predecessors and successors, in Conover and in our families.

This Shabbat Noach, the 23rd anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah, I will be thinking about the ark.  I will imagine it braving the elements as so many parts of our country and the world have struggled in 2017 with braving water, wind, and fire.  I will be praying for it to rain, in appropriate amounts, wherever rain is needed.  And I will fear not as I trust God to keep the promise that the rainy season yields the dry season, that the shortening days will lengthen in a few months, that fall will become winter will become spring will become camp.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reflections on Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah

Posted on October 11, 2017

Maya Zinkow just finished her 13th summer at camp. She spent four years as a Rosh Eidah and is currently in her second year of Rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is spending this year studying in Jerusalem.

Reflections on Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
by Maya Zinkow

This week’s Dvar Torah is dedicated to the campers and staff of URJ Camp Newman, and to my parents, Elka and Misha, whose Jewish camp experience in Northern California inspired my own love of summer camp.

I’m reading the news from the comfort of the סוכה/sukkah I helped build; its nylon walls blowing in the breeze, its wooden frame screwed and zip-tied together, the סכך/schach above me offering a glimpse at the blue above. It is, truthfully, a precarious structure. It is built on the porch of a friend’s apartment, and I nearly fell over the railing as I laid bamboo over wobbling wooden planks last week, just hours before the יום טוב/yom tov began. It was assembled efficiently and will be taken down in the same amount of time. But here, in the midst of סוכות/Sukkot, it offers itself to me as a shield from the fiery realities of today’s headlines.

I woke up to the news that the campus of URJ Camp Newman, the Reform Movement’s camp serving Northern California, was nearly completely destroyed by the wildfires currently raging in the region. When I was born, my father was concluding his tenure as the director of UAHC Camp Swig, another Reform Movement camp that has since closed its gates but whose community was absorbed into the Camp Newman family when its campus was sold. Though my visceral sadness stems from this familial connection I feel toward the Jewish camp community of the Bay Area, there is a sadness and fear I know we all feel at the thought of our own summer home being swiftly taken from us. Our camp community relies on the people and relationships who make it up: first and foremost, thank God no one was hurt.  Once we acknowledge that no human life was damaged at Newman (though that cannot be said for the destruction throughout the region brought by this and other fires), we can accept how valuable we perceive the inanimate objects that make up our camp to be.  The thought of waking up to learn that the physical space of camp – our cabins, our plaques that hang along the בית עם/beit am walls as markers of time, and the glorious natural environment of our Wisconsin Northwoods – had been wiped out by fire is almost too devastating a thought to contemplate. It is a reality our colleagues and the community of Camp Newman are currently facing, and our thoughts and hearts are with them as they mourn this loss.

During the joyous festival of סוכות, we are meant to move our lives outside and surrender ourselves to the fragility of nature. סוכות are at once protective shelters yet totally vulnerable to the elements. There is, however, a catch: if it rains we are no longer obligated to dine or dwell in the סוכה, a rabbinic recognition that nature’s realities might dampen our שמחה/simcha, our joy. This safeguard didn’t stop my siblings and me from layering up to sleep in our family סוכה as children amidst fierce Minnesota sleet, but the message is clear: the moment our joy and contemplation of God’s eternal presence turn to fear and discomfort, we are permitted to seek more permanent shelter elsewhere. Regardless of our dwelling place during these seven days, we are meant to spiritually dwell on the ever-present סוכת שלום/sukkat shalom, shelter of peace, that God provides us. In doing so, we realize that there is nothing under the sun that is truly permanent. Our homes, from Puerto Rico to Florida to Houston to Santa Rosa, can only offer us an illusion of eternal security in the face of nature’s sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrifying power.

As we near the end of סוכות, our hopes for good weather turn to prayers for rain. On Simchat Torah/שמחת תורה in Israel and on Shemini Atzeret/שמיני עצרת in Jewish communities across the world, we will recite תפילת גשם/t’filat geshem, the prayer for rain. I will cry out to God, perhaps louder than I ever have, to bring a rain that might fight the flames raging not only in California, but across our utterly broken and wounded world. In Man is Not Alone, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel comments on the relationship between nature and spirituality, carefully drawing a distinction between human power and human piety:

“In the dimension of the holy the spiritual is a bridge flung across a frightful abyss, while in the realm of nature the spiritual hovers like the wafted clouds, too tenuous to bear man across the abyss…Words do not stem the flood, nor does meditation banish the storm. Prayer never entwines directly with the chain of physical cause and effect; the spiritual does not interfere with the natural order of things. The fact that man with undaunted sincerity pours into prayer the best of his soul springs from the conviction that there is a realm in which the acts of faith are puissant and potent, that there is an order in which things of spirit can be of momentous consequence.”

We’ll pray, not in place of action but in partnership with it. We’ll pray because we need the shelter of tranquil transition before we spring into helping, into offering resources, into making phone calls. We’ll pray because somewhere deep inside, we still believe that our words might touch the Divine ear, the Master of the Universe, the One who commands the wind and brings down heavenly rain. We’ll dwell in the place of prayer even as we are carried into the new beginnings of בראשית/b’reishit, Genesis, perhaps before we are truly ready to start anew.

Sometimes we are blessed to raise funds and to plan, to create new spaces where our children can grow as Jews and as people. We at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin have taken on significant building projects in the last few summers, and in this moment when a fellow camping community is experiencing such devastation to its physical space, not to mention our friends at Camp Ramah in the Rockies who themselves experienced a fire to one of their beloved buildings last summer, we realize that we cannot take our camp facilities and the opportunities to expand and enhance them for granted. More than anything else, the news from California teaches us that it is ultimately the friendships and meaningful relationships that create the space of camp. Our סוכת שלום is built in each other and in the values that hold us together, values of education, social responsibility, מצות/mitzvot, and תורה/Torah.

Before evacuating, the staff of Camp Newman was able to save the ספרי תורה/sifrei Torah that were housed there. No matter what nature brings, no matter if the fires of the world continue to rage or if we are able to contain them with a cleansing rain, we are compelled to roll our scrolls back and continue the story. This שמחת תורה and שמיני עצרת, I will hold the community of Camp Newman in my heart, along with the whole of our vulnerable universe, as I pray for rain beneath the shelter of my טלית/tallit.

Kikar Connection: Ramah Profile Shira Forester

Posted on October 3, 2017

Meet Our Tzevet: Shira Forester

I am from Deerfield, Illinois, and I am currently a junior studying rehabilitation psychology as a pre-nursing student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I now am teaching at Beth Israel Center in Madison. I have been visiting camp every summer (and one winter) since before I could talk, but I have spent seven summers as an official camper, went on Ramah Seminar, and have spent three summers as a counselor.

Favorite camp event and why:
One of my favorite parts of camp is watching all of the plays. Although I was never talented enough to star in my own play as a camper, I love coming together with the whole camp to watch the different eidot come together to make a real production.

Skill or life lesson learned at camp that has been useful at home:
A life lesson that I learned from being a camper and counselor at Camp Ramah is how to work with others, whether or not I may agree with them. As a camper, I learned this from living in a cabin with others and from participating in peulot with my eidah. As a counselor, I learned this skill from working with other people on va’adot to plan activities when we may have different thoughts on how to execute our goals in an activity.

One thing you couldn’t live without:
Matzo ball soup.

One thing about you that may surprise us:
I am the only person in Camp Ramah in Wisconsin history to receive a noodle cake for my birthday.

Camp is….
A two month break from the “real world.”

One hope or wish for 5778:
One hope for 5778 is that people in the world better learn to listen to each other, to promote equality, and to work together to make the planet a better place. And also more matzo ball soup.

Kikar Connection: Ramah Profile Raphy Gendler

Posted on October 3, 2017

Meet Our Tzevet: Raphy Gendler

I am from Minneapolis, MN and was a camper for 7 summers. I was a junior counselor for Garinim and Kochavim this past summer. I am currently a freshman at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

Favorite camp event and why:
I enjoy the musicals because it is wonderful to see an eidah perform something amazing for the whole camp, especially in Hebrew. One of my favorite parts of the plays is the camp-wide singing of himnon Ramah at the end.

Skill or life lesson learned at camp that has been useful at home:
It is possible to make a real, lasting impact on someone. I was lucky to have many counselors who inspired me and realized I had the opportunity to hopefully have a similar effect on my campers. As an older camper and staff member, I came to realize that Ramah is one of a few places where an 18 or 19 year old can have such a meaningful impact.

One thing you couldn’t live without:
Ice cream sandwiches for dessert on motzei Shabbat.

One thing about you that may surprise us:
I discovered a frisbee golf course in Eagle River. It’s not quite as great as the camp course featuring Lake Buckatabon as a water hazard, but it’s still fun.

Camp is….
The primary builder of Jewish identity and the place that allows me and my peers to grow up in a community of committed, involved people.

One hope or wish for 5778:
Warm weather in both the Northwoods of Wisconsin and the Finger Lakes region of New York

Reflections on Yom Kippur

Posted on September 29, 2017

Reflections on Yom Kippur
by Yael Bendat-Appell, Camper Intake Coordinator

I moved to New York City after graduating college. It was August, 2001. Moving to New York City is inevitably a transformative life event; moving to New York City three weeks before 9/11 transformed me beyond all expectations.

I held myself together through the initial shock and trauma of living in that city during its most devastating moment. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, during my first Yom Kippur in New York, that my heart cracked open and the floodgates lifted.

I recall with total clarity the moment that the shaliach tzibur began almost inaudibly trembling the words of the Leader’s Prayer, הנני העני ממעש (hineni he’ani mimas), which is recited immediately before mussaf. My attention was drawn to the meaning of that prayer in a way it had not been before. Its essence is an expression of profound humility in response to the enormity of the task of giving voice to the community’s prayers, pleas, hopes and, in some circumstances, pain.

“Here I stand, empty of deeds, in turmoil, fearing the One who sits enthroned…I have come here to stand up and plead with You for Your people Israel…even though I am not worthy or fitting to come.”

Since that Yom Kippur, the Leader’s Prayer continues to be one of the most powerful liturgical moments of the High Holidays for me. I experience it as a profound personal reminder to try to be a shlicha tzibur, a voice speaking on behalf of others *even* despite feeling unworthy or not up to the task. It reminds me to think about which communities might feel voiceless. It reminds me to ask whose needs need to be raised up and magnified. What prayers can I give voice to for the sake of bettering our society? And when I do find those opportunities to give voice, do I do so with humility?

We live in a world, in a country, in which many people are suffering– for many different reasons. As we approach this Day of Awe, let’s each commit to try to be shlichei tzibur for goodness and action and justice in our daily lives.

“…for the sake of all the righteous and honest, innocent and upright people, and for the sake of the glory of Your great and mighty and awesome name. For you listen with compassion to the prayers of Your people Israel. Blessed are You, who listens to prayers.”

ברוך אתה ה׳ שומע תפילה
Baruch atah Adonai shomei’a t’filah.

G’mar Chatima Tova.

Shanah Tovah 2017!

Posted on September 20, 2017

Weekly D’var Torah 9/15/17

Posted on September 15, 2017

The last morning of camp I had the pleasure of joining our Nivonim campers around 5:30 a.m. as they sang their way off the Givah and through the gate at the foot of the hill. It was the same gate that they sang and danced their way through on the first night of the summer and this new tradition bookended their experience as the first Nivonim to live on the Givah. This archway was an initiative of Nivonim 2016 as they prepared their lasting legacy as the last aidah to live on the “old” Givah and serves as a bridge between the Givah we loved for many years and the new campus where our campers now have the privilege to live.

At the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, we read אתם נצבים היום כלכם- “you are standing today, all of you” as B’nai Yisrael prepared to enter a covenant with G-d establishing a unique relationship. A few verses later we read:

“כי את-אשר ישנו פה עמנו עמד היום לפני ה’ אלוהינו ואת אשר איננו פה עמנו היום, not with you alone do I forge this covenant and this oath, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem our God, and with whoever is not here with us today” (29:14).

We already learned that all of B’nai Yisrael was gathered and the acknowledgement in the later verse must indicate the presence of past generations and the generations to come.

As we once again approach the end of the narrative in the Torah, and look ahead toward new beginnings, we are reminded of the importance of legacy, and the connections to the generations that came before us and those who will continue to come after us. This time of year also prepares us to think about our own legacy and the events that have helped shape us and our communities to get to this moment. In this period of time leading up to the high holidays, we are engaging in a period of personal and communal reflection. Who has made an impact on me? Whose actions inspire me to be better? What moments from this past year reflect my desired legacy?

In one of the most evocative moments of the Musaf service on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the shaliach tzibur recites the Hineni prayer before the community. Throughout the Torah narrative and again here, the use of Hineni “here I am” indicates a call to action. Part of the prayer reads “please, give me success along the road that I tread, to stand and ask for compassion for me and for those who have sent me.” The climax of our high holiday service humbles each and every one of us. In order to move forward and to look to the opportunities that may be coming, we first need to reflect and attribute our presence in the moment to those who have come before us.

While Ramah’s buildings and physical site may have changed in the past 70 years, it is clear that the standing legacy and impact of camp has not. We saw time and time again this summer that camp continues to be a transformative place and this was certainly reflected as Nivonim sang their way off of the Givah on the last morning of the summer. The visionaries of Ramah’s early decades helped shaped our camp experience to this day, and, at the same time, each Nivonim aidah has an impact on camp’s future.

As Nivonim danced out of the gates on their final morning as campers, they served as a true bridge between their own narrative and our communal camp narrative. They sang and celebrated their future relationship with camp in two years as staff members and they also served as a strong link between two chapters in our Camp Ramah in Wisconsin history.

As we enter Shabbat and continue through this month of reflection, I hope we all remember those who came before us as we open ourselves up to what lies ahead.  When we hear the call to action, may we all find our voices responding Hineni, here I am.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah

Weekly D’var Torah – 9/8/17

Posted on September 8, 2017

On Wednesday, I traveled to and from New Jersey to be with my wife, Tamar, her extended family, and layers upon layers of friends, to mourn, celebrate the life of, and bury Tamar’s grandmother Sylvia Schlussel.  Tamar and her brothers, my sisters-in-law and I, and her seventeen great-grandchildren, knew her as Savty.  As one of Tamar’s brothers mentioned at the funeral, Savty, who defined herself both in terms of her professional career as an early childhood educator and in the role she played as the wife and partner of a Rabbi and educator, treated every person – and especially every child – she met with such love and caring that her real grandchildren needed to use the possessive form of the Hebrew word for grandmother:  סבתי / savti / my grandmother.

In her eulogy, as echoed in the other reflections by the Rabbi of my in-laws’ synagogue and other family members who spoke, Tamar reflected on Savty’s educational methodology.  Like so many other early childhood educators, she provided unconditional love and nurturing for decades of young children while working in less-than-ideal conditions for less-than-ideal pay.  Tamar and her brothers tell stories of encountering, all over New Jersey and New York, in classrooms and synagogues and elsewhere, former students of Savty who remembered her twenty, thirty, even forty years after she taught them, and the way their faces would light up when remembering what she had done for them so long ago.

Tamar reflected on her own experience studying education and embarking on a career as an educator in her own right.  As Tamar herself learned about the approach known as “progressive education,” she discovered that her grandmother’s techniques and approach were deeply rooted in an educational tradition.  Tracing its academic origins back to the work of John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky, this approach to child rearing, to passing along knowledge, dispositions, and responsibilities to the next generation, is truly an application of ancient approaches to parenting and how many indigenous communities, outside the framework of a western “formal” education, raise their children to this day.  As Jews we take credit for versions of this approach through the four sons section of the Passover haggadah and verses like Proverbs 22:6: “Guide/educate the child along their own path.”  And our methodology at Ramah Wisconsin draws deeply on this educational approach for everything we do.

At the funeral, two different Rabbis alluded to the powerful opening section of this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tavo, where the Torah instructs us on the details of the ritual to be performed by a farmer upon bringing the first products of the harvest to the Temple as a sacrifice.  The language of the ritual, which has the farmer recount in the first person the core narrative of Jewish history was borrowed by the haggadah as a central text for study and likely inspired the classic understanding, itself a profound statement of progressive education, that all of us should ourselves as if we had been slaves in Egypt.

For good reason, no one mentioned the main section of this week’s Torah reading, the short list of blessings and long, gruesomely detailed list of curses that will befell the Israelites if they observe or transgress God’s commandments, respectively.  The section is jarring for, among other reasons, its obvious part in a supercessionist understanding of the Hebrew, Biblical God as angry and vengeful. The list of curses is so caustic that the Masoretes (6th-10th centuries) who established our written and chanted versions of the Tanach, actually softened the language for the public chanting of the text on two occasions.  As with so much in life, context is everything, and reinterpreting this section for the 21st century can give it fresh life. The blessings and curses are the product of a period in Jewish history with little autonomy.  Birth order and the tribal affiliation of one’s father dictated much about life, including land ownership and access to religious office.  One’s ability to participate in religious practice at all (the categories of tahor and tamei) had nothing to do with things someone consciously did.  Conversion didn’t exist – you were an Israelite if you were born one.  The world was metaphorically set in stone, and the blessings and curses served as a reminder of the consequences of taking responsibility for the small freedom of choice one had.  Moreover, as Neil Gillman compellingly lays out in his great work on Jewish theology, Sacred Fragments, the different covenant narratives in the Torah are based on treaties from the ancient Middle East dictated by a conquering King to a new vassal state, and one of the characteristics of those treaties is to stipulate the consequences – positive and negative – of following through on one’s end of the “bargain.”

Today’s Judaism is about choice and about our autonomous ability to exercise free will.  I say this not as a description of the “Sovereign Self” or the conscious awareness of free will that is one of the defining characteristics of modernity.  Rather, Rabbinic Judaism is consciously constructed so that anyone can become a student of Torah, that those who wish to can become Jews, and that our actions matter in every way.  Through this lens, the blessings and curses of this week’s Torah reading are what we like to call at Ramah “taking the long view.”  They are an embrace of the ups and downs of life, both in terms of the opportunities and challenges we face and in terms of our own growth and development as human beings.  As we all know, that growth and development never happens linearly.  It is about stepping forward and then back, about great breakthroughs and slipping down slopes.

Savty’s work with her students shares much in common with our approach at camp and one that many schools have come to adopt in different ways as well.  It is an approach built on the premise that toddlers share much in common with adults and that adolescents share much in common with toddlers – that the best practices and techniques of discovery and community-building that are so obvious and ever-present in early childhood settings would be wisely used in high school and college settings.  And, of course, these are some of the foundational principles of our summer camp, whose goals go far beyond a summer of recreational fun.

Approximately three thousand years after the events of this week’s parashah, through moments of great adherence to God’s laws and others in which great swaths of Jews missed the mark, we are still here.  As the Jewish people has aged, we have developed and grown and reimagined ourselves and our relationships with God.  And we continue to struggle with the same challenges our ancestors did.  In the prime of a (God-willing) eternal middle age, we share so much in common with the equivalent of the Jewish infants in the wilderness.  We take the long view.

May Savty’s memory be for a blessing, and may her essence be bound up in the bonds of eternal life.  May the ever-present God comfort her children, sisters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren among the rest of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

2017 Pre-Shabbat Letter from the Director #11

Posted on August 11, 2017

I sit here in between sessions of our amazing 2017 Family Camp, as we have welcomed forty families from around the Midwest to spend an extended weekend with us.  The kikar is alive again with the next generation of Ramah campers, as is the waterfront, sports courts, omanut (art studio), Beit Am (gymnasium) and ropes course.  Your children are all home; the physical unpacking done as the mental, emotional, and spiritual unpacking has just begun.  Hopefully, the final tears precipitated by leaving camp have been shed, replaced with the countdown calendars for next summer, video chats and phone calls with new friends, and other signs of a hope and commitment towards 2018.  Near the peak of summer, with the days already growing shorter towards fall and winter, Ramahniks plant seeds of hope that will endure and grow through another school year and we will harvest in June and July.

Last Friday night, Josh Pickard and Sophie Kaufman addressed camp with reflections on their summers as campers and the meaning of Ramah.  Below we have excerpted part of their divrei torah. As I look forward to welcoming them and the rest of Nivonim 2017 back to camp as Junior Counselors in 2019, it is a great pleasure to give them the last word on an amazingly successful summer filled with fun, friends, and meaning.

Josh writes about his biological family at home and his Ramah family, about what it means to cultivate and nurture a family and how to give back to it.

When we are born, we join a family. It is completely random who’s in your family. But you live with them, you take care of each other, and you grow up together. Personally, I was incredibly lucky. To be born into a great family with incredible parents and the three best brothers I could ask for. My brothers – Aaron, Daniel, and David – are my favorite people in the world. I have a unique and powerful relationship with each of them. These relationships developed, I believe, because we grew up in one house, together. Physically, we lived in rooms next door to each other.

Coming to camp is a choice. A choice that I have made for the past few summers. My first summer at camp, Garinim 2011, I remember being so excited to come to Ramah. I was excited to go to sleep away camp for the first time, to be away from my parents, and to be like my older brothers who at the time already had fallen in love with Ramah.

Everyone comes to camp for different reasons and with different goals in mind. When I was younger, I was excited for the campy experience: going away, meeting new friends, and overall having an exciting summer. As I have gotten older, my reasons for loving camp have changed. This summer, I came to be with my family, my aidah.

Prior to arriving at camp each summer I, and I know many others, have expectations for how we expect the summer to go, what the highlights will be: Yom Sport, the play, the Zimriyah (song festival), aidah sports games, and so many other things. The camping trip was always a favorite of mine.

Although we have some unreal pe’ulot (activities) at camp, our attitude and how we act truly are responsible for making a special summer. It is not enough to go watch during your aidah sports game. You need to go and you need to be present. You need to believe. You don’t just stand and watch the game, you buy into the game and go absolutely crazy cheering for you friends as they play. It is not simply enough to go through the motions, you need to believe that it is the greatest thing ever.

This is how we build and contribute to our Ramah family.

Based on last week’s Torah reading, Sophie rhetorically asks the question of what it means to give back – to serve – Ramah.

To serve our machaneh (camp), we also have to take what we learned here and bring it into the “real world.” This is no small task.

In this week’s parashah, the Israelites are preparing to enter Israel because they “are holy people to the Lord …. God has chosen [them] to be a special people to Godself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” This is a concept I’ve often struggled with. How could one group of people be better than or even more special than another?

“The chosen people” is a term I’ve stayed away from. To me, it sounds pretentious. But when I connected this pasuk (verse) back to my experiences at Ramah, I found myself more comfortable with it. It has nothing to do with being better than anybody else, but rather with the responsibility that comes with living according to Jewish values, or in this case, being a chanichah (camper).

During the kayitz (summer), we do more than just hang out on the kikar. We study in our yahadut (Jewish studies) or ivrit (Hebrew) classes, we learn how to swim and rock climb, to understand people who are different from us, and even to appreciate the little things like the hugs after Kabbalat Shabbat, the muzikah (music) coming from radio, or the constant integration of hasafah ha’ivrit (the Hebrew language) into our everyday vocabulary. We are taught such genuine, sometimes hard to grasp concepts such as the relationship between science and religion, the mourning process, our understanding of God, contradicting laws, or why chicken is not considered pareve.

If we teach it and learn it, we must uphold it as well.  And as a chanichah, it is our achrayut (responsibility) to take these morals, values, and memories created at Ramah back home with us. And by doing so, we keep all of those ideas alive. Just as we are commanded to do in the Shema, we must “teach them diligently to [our] children…”.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shoafim Tzedakah Fair

Posted on August 8, 2017

By Jesse Steinman and Marnina Goldberg, Shoafim staff
and Golda Kaplan, Rosh Shoafim (8th graders)

The Tzedakah Fair is the pinnacle event of the reshaped Shoafim Tzedakah project. This year we refocused the project to help campers bring out their social justice passions and cultivate skills and knowledge so when they go out into the “real world” they know how they can help.

In the beginning of the summer we asked campers to list their interest in issues. From there, we divided them into groups. Over the course of the summer, our campers learned about refugees, education and cancer in detail: the root of the problem, the Jewish connection to the issue, why we should care, and how we can help. We participated in discussion groups, completed small volunteering projects, and listened to guest speakers who had experience in these issues. This was all done so they could continue to grow their interest in these issues, and so when they leave camp they can take the lessons they learned with them. All these activities culminated in the Tzedakah Fair this past week.

The Tzedakah Fair included quite a few booths featuring Tzedakah, social justice, and doing mitzvot. Each group had a booth run by campers with educational pamphlets, a small volunteering station, and information on the issue. There were also games like a dunk tank, a sponge throw, a football throw, a pop-a-balloon game, etc. that revolved around these issues. For example, at the football throw you first learned about an NFL player and a charity that he supports. For the dunk tank and sponge throw, you had to answer questions about the issue that you learned about at the educational booths. This led to an exciting atmosphere filled with fun and games and intellectual learning.

All in all, the Tzedakah Fair was an amazing representation of what the Shoafim Tzedakah Project accomplished this year. Our Shoafimers became well-versed in their issues of interest and brought their passions and knowledge to the rest of camp in a fun and exciting fair. We can only hope that as the years progress, the campers will feel a special connection to the issues they learned about, and will go on to do great things by helping people who are affected by these issues.


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