for joining us for a visit this week!
The first full week of camp is nearly over and, after some moments of less-than-ideal weather, this afternoon and evening are due to be gorgeous. During this week, our anafim – programming areas – truly get up and running, as campers dig into five days of sport instruction, fun of the waterfront, and creativity in dance, music, art, woodworking, and radio. Our first camping trips went out, and our first groups tackled the obstacles on our low-challenge course and high-ropes course. Our first island swim attracted dozens of campers and staff. Yesterday afternoon Shoafim upset Bogrim, 3-2, in an epic softball match. Our oldest campers are well into their specializations for the first half of the summer: the Machon are preparing for an intensive hike later in the summer; the art and woodworking groups have begun designing their public art projects; the Tikvah Arts Festival collaboration is off to the races; and more. Our tizmoret (orchestra) is finessing the final notes for its debut performance on Sunday evening at the best night of the summer, our Zimriyah – Song Festival. Tzevet Shirah (Songleaders) have been busy at work rehearsing each aidah‘s song as we celebrate together the 70th anniversary of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s founding. Our Nivonim campers are immersed in their internships, writing and creating a new piece of intentional theatre, serving as assistants in many of the anafim.
On the aidah programming level, kids are smiling and giggling as they enjoy the best that Ramah has to offer. Tikvah played an ingenius game of human Battleship on Wednesday evening, and I had the pleasure of joining two colleagues as “sharks” for Shoafim’s “Shark Tank” in which they presented videos and proposals on topics that need fixing in our broken world. Nivonim campers helped organize a camp-wide game derived from the old classic of Capture the Flag.
On Sunday, we will welcome over seventy first-time campers for our Ruach Ramah program, accompanied by a wonderful staff. This four-night program, led by Rosh Aidah Ari Vandersluis and Coordinator Jamie Cooper, is packed with camp fun as these rising 3rd-graders get a first taste of the spirit (ruach) of camp. Earlier this week, I had the privilege of visiting the Ramah Day Camp outside of Chicago for the first time ever! It was an eye-opening experience to see the hallmarks of Ramah – great fun, great friends, professional-level instruction, deep-rooted Judaism – manifest itself in a different setting. Giving divrei Torah at t’fillot (prayers) and meeting with the Ruach Ramah campers and current Day Camp attendees who will be up at the overnight camp during the second month was an added thrill!
As this summer moves into high gear and we launch our camp-wide programming on Sunday night with the Zimriyah, I spent a good part of this week reflecting on memory and legacy, inspired by two powerful moments last weekend: participating in a chanukat habayit (home dedication) of the new Nivonim Lounge (Moadon Nivonim) and welcoming my first campers back to camp for their 13th year Nivonim reunion.
In June of 1999, I had just finished High School and was jumping out of my skin to begin my dream job: returning as a madrich tza’ir (junior counselor) to the place I felt most at home in the world, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. I was blessed for that first summer with an amazing group of rising sixth graders in Halutzim. When I had been in Halutzim, in 1992, the program was brand new, and the opportunity, with several friends, to be the first counselors for Halutzim to have been alumni of the program added an additional benefit. That summer I cut my teeth on the basics of the job: empathy, attention to detail, goofy fun, making Judaism come alive. I began the process of learning how to care for kids – showers, toothpaste, changing their sheets. I started developing a sense of what it means for each child to be special, to see part of myself reflected in one camper and a different part in another, to see the magical and beautiful spark of God’s image in each and every one. I worked with a camper who spent the first week of camp very homesick – and then had more fun than anyone else the last three weeks of camp. I learned my most valuable lessons from a co-counselor from whom I had anticipated learning nothing. I was seventeen years old, on my way to Israel for a gap year, and I was smitten with this work.
Five summers later I fulfilled a lifelong dream: to be Rosh Nivonim. In that summer, which I knew would be an opportunity to enact a vision for how to end campers’ experience I had been developing for some time, the promise was sweetened by a second formal chance to work with those first campers of 1999, many of whom I had kept in touch with as we both grew up together at camp. Accompanied by an unbelievably talented group of charismatic and dedicated counselors, that summer of 2004 was one of the best of my entire life. The deep relationships with the campers – many of which went back to that first summer – created a deep trust and an openness to, on almost every occasion, roll with each other’s punches. When the summer of 2004 reached its inevitable conclusion, I may have cried more saying good-bye to these beloved teens as I had when I ended my own career as a camper seven years before.
Last Friday afternoon, though I had worked with, talked to, and stayed in touch with nearly all the reunion attendees over the last thirteen summers, a third of the aidah returned for a reunion. To be together like that, back at camp, was exceptionally special. It made me miss the other members of Nivonim 2004 more acutely, and nudged me to enjoy the time I had with this special group of kids. Their own reflections on camp and what camp had given them, as well as what they had given camp, were moving. I don’t think any other aidah in our 70 years has produced as many (seven!) Roshei Aidah, as well as multiple Roshei Anaf. Their interactions with Nivonim 2017 were fun, playful, and imbued with deep meaning for Nivo ’04. I know that, in retrospect, six weeks from now and six years from now, the stories Nivo ’04 shared will have just as deep a resonance for Nivo ’17.
The night before, as written about eloquently by Rosh Nivonim Maya Zinkow here, we consecrated the Moadon Nivonim as part of a process of turning a stunningly beautiful new campus with endless potential into a lived-in home for an aidah of sixteen year olds. Before each of the campers offered their own b’rachah (blessing) for the aidah and the new space, which will be part of an art-installation in the moadon (lounge) for the summer, the Nivonim staff asked camp “veterans” (read: old people) to come and share their own reflections. The wisdom shared was moving and powerful, encapsulating exactly what we are about at camp. One staff member spoke movingly about building relationships with everyone in the aidah because everyone is going to go off and do amazing things; another spoke about the opportunities to figure out who each of us is as an individual through camp and, especially, through Nivonim. The energy in the room as the campers entered after affixing mezuzot to their cabins and took their seats, and then the eagerness with which they listened to long-time camp veterans share perspectives on the lessons we have learned, brought me back to 2004, and to my own Nivonim summer of 1997. It connected all of us in that room to those who came before us.
Camp is about the past, and it’s also about the future. It’s about the innovations that the current Nivonim staff will make to the program, and about the even greater ones that one of this summer’s campers makes when they reimagine something as a Nivonim counselor or Rosh Aidah in 2022 and beyond. It’s about Aliza Broms, the daughter of Ross and Shira, who attended her dad’s 13th year reunion. It’s about seventy years of building blocks to reach today, and laying the first building blocks for the seventy years that begin tomorrow. It’s about the campers in camp who are currently making their best friends for life, falling in love with Jewish culture, Hebrew language, or art; learning about leadership on the basketball court or in an ad hoc cabin meeting; developing their critical thinking skills in conversation with counselors and fellow campers. It’s about the dynamic organism that is Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, shifting and evolving from one incarnation to the next, shaped by our campers and staff who join us every summer.
The latest in an ongoing written dialogue with Nivonim 2004 dating back 18 summers: Thanks for the memories, here’s to the past.
To that same Nivonim 2004 and to Nivonim 2017 in their new home:
The future is in your hands.
by Adam Schrag, Rosh Garinim
It’s been an exciting week for Garinim 2017 (entering 5th grade)! Campers hopped off the buses one week ago with stories to tell, goals to accomplish and friends to meet. Since then, we’ve spent a lot of time building each tzrif’s (cabin) culture through daily journal making, sports games, team building activities and more. One tzrif has even begun making a documentary film on Rubik’s cubes!
Each tzrif took initiative in creating a brand new kikar dance to popular Israeli songs before performing them for the aidah (division) at one of our first evening activities.
Our first Shabbat gave everyone the chance to evaluate how their respective backgrounds and interests could be best utilized in the aidah community we’re hoping to create. Campers learned about their role as scouts in camp throughout the day, determining which elements they wish to include in their ideal community. The parallel to B’nai Israel’s 12 spies’ mission was fascinating and the campers came away with a more nuanced perspective on all that it takes to create an inclusive and loving community.
All in all, Garinim has accomplished a great deal and has much more to look forward to down the road. Between campouts, ropes course adventures, omanut (art) projects and the upcoming Zimriyah song festival, summer 2017 figures to be a thrilling and interesting experience for all of Garinim!
by Maya Zinkow, Rosh Nivonim
As we start a new week here at camp, our Nivonim (11th grade) campers are beginning their internship programs in the various specialty areas around camp. They are stepping into leadership roles with excitement and curiosity, especially given the amazing first week they had settling into their new home on the beautiful גבעה (Givah) campus.
All year, we have been watching as the old Nivo cabins came down to make room for new memories, new generations of campers, and new possibilities for our capstone program at camp. We’ve watched as our maintenance staff worked around the clock to get the new cabins, landscaping, and beautiful new moadon up, running, and ready for Nivonim 2017 to be the lucky and privileged first aidah to make the new Givah a home.
This past week, Nivonim took part in a scavenger hunt that took them all around camp; they solved word and math puzzles in Hebrew that guided them to hidden relics of past Nivonim aidot and discussed what it means to be a part of collective memory at camp, adding to the eternal chain of tradition, Jewish living, and friendship we build here year after year. They had the chance to create their own relics, writing ברכות (blessings) for their fellow aidah mates on individual chamsas, pieces of art often found in traditional Jewish homes as symbols of good luck and peace for the home.
One by one, each camper offered his or her blessing for the aidah, and received blessings from many of the Nivo staff and senior leadership team. It was a beautiful sight to witness as adults who still hold camper memories dear in their hearts offered words of love, advice, and passion to the next generation of young Jewish leaders. Nina Harris, one of our staff trainers, painted a heartfelt picture of lifelong friendship: “Keep each other close. One of the people in this room will be your rabbi. Someone will be your doctor, and you’ll need to call them. Someone will be on the board of your child’s school. These are friends you will have for all time.”
We brought in Shabbat together with the Nivonim 2004 reunion group, continuing to build the spirit of דור לדור, generation to generation, as we teach, learn, and commit ourselves to Jewish living, fun, and friendship. Last week, the Givah was empty, and a little cold in all its shiny newness. Today, it is a home; filled with smiles, music, and hopes for a summer, and a lifetime, full of friendship and learning.
The first days of camp were filled with the sounds of new beginnings: aidot learning their zimriyah songs, the shrieks of joy – and, let’s be honest, inspired by a little cold water – as over three hundred campers entered Lake Buckatabon for the first time in almost a year to earn their deep-water tags and the right to play on our classic Blob and brand new American Ninja Warrior-style water obstacle course. The hugs of old friends seeing each other again in the place they met and the place that nourishes their friendship like none other. The sounds of relative silence as hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries are devoured during dinner Tuesday evening; and no silence as the tables were cleaned and the cabins and aidot each announced a Hebrew version of “We’re here!” or “I’m back!” in the chadar ochel (dining hall).
Thursday morning our scheduled programming began as sports and cultural activities launched across camp. Solelim through Nivonim began practicing for their musicals – an exercise in community-building and group pride they’ll work on for four weeks or more. As I walked across camp on Thursday, the once empty campus was now filled with smiling children and exuberant staff. One Garinim girls’ cabin launched a summer of great memories with capes and costumes as part of their Yom Superhero, traipsing across the Kikar before a breakfast of French Toast. Professionals-in-Residence in dance, outdoor education, and musical instruments arrived to run activities and develop skills during the first reva (quarter) of the summer.
This Shabbat, campers will be introduced to the aidah educational theme which will frame the summer. These themes are developed by the Rosh Aidah in the spring and then presented to our counselors during staff week. Working with a team of professional educational consultants, the counselors develop fun experiential programs on topics related to the theme. For details about the aidah themes, click here.
Within the framework of all these new beginnings, I cannot help but turn again and again to one of our most favorite b’rachot (blessings), what we call “Shehecheyanu.”
One of Judaism’s great and fascinating recurrent themes is the linguistic relationship between God and human beings. Our classical texts seem to take quite literally the notion that humanity is created “in the image” (b’tzelem) of God, a word that in modern Hebrew evokes photographs and copy-machines. Perhaps most famously, the Torah instructs us in Vayikra (Leviticus):
קדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה’ אלוהיכם
K’doshim tihiyu ki kadosh ani adonai eloheichem
You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy
The trend is picked up in a variety of other places: we are to strive to be imitatio dei – imitators of God. And, more radically, occasionally it seems like we are imbued with divine qualities or that God strives to be more like us.
Every evening in ma’ariv we read the following words:
אל חי וקיים
Eil chai v’kayam
God lives and exists
These two verbs – chai and kayam – are the same two verbs that open the unique part of the Shehecheyanu blessing. There, God is praised for enabling us to live and exist. God helps us be God-like. The blessing is also acutely aware of what differentiates God from us: while God is eil chai v’kayam tamid – always – we are fleeting. So we praise God also v’higiyanu, for allowing us to stay alive to celebrate the specific moment in time. Theologically, this is powerful stuff: God is, more or less, an ageless human. And what makes us special is that, due to our mortality, we must celebrate and appreciate the special moments in our lives, the moments of newness – laz’man hazeh.
We only say the Shehecheyanu blessing on moments in our lives that we hope to return to: holidays, putting on new clothing or a ritual garment, taking our first aliyah to the Torah at our Bar or Bat Mitzvah. We don’t say it at most lifecycle events – they are markers along our transient paths to which we cannot return.
This is a time for great celebration and Shehecheyanu moments. Our Nivonim campers have inaugurated the new Nivonim campus, hanging mezuzot on their cabins and programming space (Moadon Nivonim). A new summer is a cause for Shehecheyanu itself – a fresh new beginning with amazing potential for the future that we both hope to return to and which we need to be reminded how special and fleeting our time together is. And, in a topic I will return to in subsequent weeks, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s founding, we say Shehecheyanu for the vision and commitment of the campers, parents, supporters, and staff who have come before us, as an inspiration for the next 70 years of Ramah’s impact.
Our campers are here! Yesterday they settled into their summer home, meeting or reconnecting with friends, playing catch, tag, and name games, and doing it all with their caretakers for the summer – their cabin counselors.
As Director Jacob Cytryn said to our staff on Tuesday morning, “Everything we review during staff preparation week, from the ultra-serious to the playful, from the big picture to the mundane practicalities of building a camp community, is for one purpose: to help ensure that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin will have another fun season – fun for campers and staff, filled with new and enriched friendships. That the fun and friendships happen in a holistic and immersive Jewish environment is the cherry on the proverbial sundae.”
We have brought phenomenal senior leadership to camp this summer, and all our aidah staff and activity staff are planning incredible programming for the campers!
We are putting the final touches on new schedules for the younger aidot (divisions) to provide more flexibility, designing a process for enhanced community-building in each cabin, polishing the scripts for our season of Broadway theater in Hebrew and preparing to offer special professionally-led electives in dance, art, and outdoor education.
Countdown to the camper arrival… 2 days!
Our staff week is underway and we are dedicating our time to laying the building blocks for Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s 71st season. From early mornings through late nights, our packed days are spent facilitating conversations, brainstorming, and sharing ideas about how best to meet the needs of our campers, to provide a warm and caring environment for each of them, and to realize the dreams of our campers’ parents, staff members, and – most importantly – campers themselves for all that the summer can bring.
That moment on a camping trip; running a drill on the softball field; at the potter’s wheel; in the radio station; speaking Hebrew; discovering a new interpretation of a centuries-old Jewish text that makes it feel fresh and relevant to you: these are the memories we hope to deliver. And right now our beautiful campus is filled with potential.
Welcome back to our Rosh Ivrit Ayelet Ben-Shitrit!
This will be my third year as Hebrew staff. In my first year I was also on Garinim and Halutzim staff and my second year I was on Bogrim staff.
How did you find out about Ramah?
In 2013-2014 I was participating in a year of service in Chicago at Anshe Emet synagogue. I met so many people who were going to camp, so I decided to come as well! And I’m so glad about that decision!
Other camp experience:
I spent five years at the Ramah Noam camp in Israel as a camper.
I was a counselor for two years at Camp Ramah Noam Israel and one year at Ramah Noam camp in England.
Favorite thing about camp:
My favorite thing in camp is Kabbalat Shabbat by the lake, when the sun is in the sky. 🙂
Most looking forward to:
I’m excited to work with Hebrew staff, to meet new people, to see old friends, to see my campers from the last 2 years and
to use Hebrew whenever possible!
Life outside camp:
I studied at a secular and religious school in Jerusalem. I am currently working as a counselor at the Hannaton Mechina on Kibbutz Hannaton. The program seeks to train and educate a new generation of leaders who will affect change and instill the intrinsic values of Judaism and modernity in the course of their
lives, starting with their army service.
I am originally from Jerusalem, but this year I live in Kibbutz Hanaton – a Conservative kibbutz in northern Israel
Something exciting happening this summer?
Get ready for a great summer! 🙂
This Memorial Day, our Roshei Eidah (division heads) traveled from Illinois, Ohio (four of them!), and Israel up to a chilly, damp, Conover, Wisconsin. The sun came out for a few precious hours to help our chef put the final touches on a Bar-B-Q and allow our dedicated Roshei Eidah to unpack. We ate, and then quickly got to work.
For ninety minutes, we sat in a circle and began a new tradition at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, a מעגל צדק / ma’agal tzedek / Circle of Righteousness. Drawing on the practices of our ancestors who sat around blazing fires and a compelling philosophy of relationship building and group processing, we shared of each other and learned how committed we already were to shared goals and visions. We then took the time to lay out and concretize those visions into a ברית / b’rit / covenant, an agreement that binds us to each other and to the place where we established it.
As we did this, the Jewish calendar moved from the 4th day of Sivan into the 5th, from the 48th day of the Omer into the 49th. After we completed this exercise we davenned ma’ariv, the evening service, together and completed the counting of the Omer: seven complete weeks from the second day of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. Tomorrow night we channel our Rabbinic sages’ understanding that this journey from early spring to the cusp of summer is the same temporal journey as that of a nation leaving slavery and arriving at the foot of Mount Sinai for God’s revelation.
Two brief takeaways:
1) Our Roshei Eidah are exactly the people we want charged with taking care of, inspiring, and guiding your child this summer. Each personal story is more amazing than the next, as they recount their leadership involvement in disparate areas of college and post-college life, their journeys around the world to discover new things about the world and themselves, their dynamic engagemnt with the Judaisms of the past and of their future, and their outstanding and curiosity-evoking diverse academic interests and achievements. They spoke, this evening, about reconciling feminism with a commitment to living in a traditional Jewish idiom and about reconciling a passion for big ideas and administrative leadership with a deep, burning desire to serve others as a medical doctor. They spoke of holding doors open in their own communities for the derided and underprivileged, and of building those doors for others to walk through by dedicating themselves to keeping the past alive so that the less engaged, the currently less interested, may still have a community to call home when they are ready to return.
During one exercise, these were some of the responses to “A successful summer is one where …”:
– … my campers will believe that they own their Judaism
– … my campers learn the benefit of going outside of their comfort zones to create compassionate, close-knit relationships and a tight community
– … my campers have totally happy moments enjoying simple things that can bring them a lot of joy
– … my campers leave camp with the takeaway of something you can’t explain but was outrageously fun
– … my campers leave camp appreciating that, though there may have been some failed attempts along the way, the joy of mastering new skills, building new friendships, and being a part of an amazing community can’t be beat!
2) I’ve been thinking about different ways that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is not like Mount Sinai. What struck me this evening, inspired by these amazing Roshei Eidah in camp for their first night, is this:
Mount Sinai is the place where God descended on one occasion to give Moses and the Israelites the ever-unfolding revelation that we call Torah, a revelation that continues to speak to each of us. Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is the place we return to every summer for a new generation of world Jewry’s most talented and inspiring young leaders to impart a tailor-made message for the group of campers privileged enough to spend that summer in camp.
Mount Sinai clearly has us beat at its game. We can best hope to ignite a passion for learning, living, or loving Torah in our campers and staff. We can never, ever, deign to pretend that what we have to offer matches what God offered our ancestors at Sinai.
And yet … Mount Sinai cannot beat us at our game either. For what we do is repeat, year after year, different revelations, different “aha” and “wow” moments that change our campers’ lives.
From Sinai, Torah has gone forth to the four corners of the earth for over three millennia and counting. To Ramah, those seeking life-altering experiences have journeyed, from the same four corners of the earth, for seventy years … and counting.
Chag Shavuot Sameach,
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