Jonah Harris will be the Rosh Aidah for Sollelim this summer. Jonah is from Highland Park Illinois. This is his 18th summer in camp; spending 5 summers in Rishonim, 7 as a camper, and this will be his 6th summer on staff. Jonah graduated from Tufts University in 2015 and since then has been working as a structural engineer in Chicago. This fall he will begin a master’s degree program in structural engineering.
Reflections on Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei
by Jonah Harris
“וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה.”
Vayeitz’u kol-adat b’nei-yisrael milifnei moshe.
“So the whole community of [campers] left [their parents’] presence” –Exodus 35:20 (paraphrased by Jonah Harris).
Before the Israelites built the Mishkan, the sanctuary in which God’s presence will dwell, Moses brought the people together and told them that each person should contribute however they can, using their own skills and materials, to the construction of the Mishkan. When it came time to build the Mishkan, the community then went on their own, without their leader Moses, to build a holy space.
Thinking about parashat Vayakhel/ Pekudei, I could mention the importance of physical creations to sanctify a location and describe the beautiful works of art created by campers and staff that decorate our physical space at camp. I could discuss how valuable it is for a child to exist in a community where he or she can contribute both to the external and internal community spaces. Rather than expound on these points, I want to focus on what the Israelites did right before they created the Mishkan, when they left their leader, Moses, the man who brought them to that glorious day in the desert and gave them the values that they would follow for millennia.
Before campers arrive at camp, they leave their homes and their families. This is part of the magic of summer camp – we have to leave the familiar to truly thrive. The metaphor of a plant pervades our language around this: we uproot ourselves in one setting in order to grow in an unfamiliar one.
Just as the Israelites came together to build the Mishkan, each camper brings what she can to Ramah, each according to her abilities, knowledge, and skills. Camp has myriad outlets for each child to find a way to shine – in the arts, in sports, in swimming, reading Torah, and by being a “mensch.”
Without Moses, the Israelites needed leadership, and our parashah gives us Bezalel, who emerges as a skilled craftsman of many trades. The Israelites rely on him to lead the building process of the Mishkan, and he uses his divinely-inspired talents to enhance the Mishkan’s construction and design. At camp, our counselors channel Bezalel’s role to make their own magic, utilizing the different skills and passions they possess to develop relationships with campers. Like Bezalel did, the construction and design of our camp community relies on our staff. With the counselors’ help, the campers create an organic community that will last them a lifetime.
As a Rosh Aidah for the first time, I step into a new role this summer, inspiring and coordinating staff members in addition to campers. As I move up one step on the organizational hierarchy, I hope I can continue to channel the role of Bezalel on a different level: to help them come together to turn their respective relationships with individual campers and their cabin into one cohesive aidah – a taste of the mishkan in the Northwoods.
Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from Rosh Halutzim 2017 (entering 6th grade) Ari Vandersluis. A camper for six summers, Ari was on staff for three summers as waterfront staff and cabin counselor. He is currently a junior at The Ohio State University, where he is studying Business Management on the pre-medicine track.
Reflections on Parashat Ki Tissa
by Ari Vandersluis
In this week’s parashah, Ki Tissa, we read about various large events in the lives of B’nai Yisrael (the People of Israel) leaving Egypt. This parashah includes the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses’s destruction of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and subsequently, HaShem’s (God’s) second delivery of the Ten Commandments to Moses. However, directly before these significant events occur we read about an equally important, yet far less discussed event, B’nai Yisrael’s first census. This seemingly insignificant occurrence actually serves as yet another declaration of community. By this point, B’nai Yisrael has already begun their travels through the desert and built a sanctuary for HaShem. Yet, HaShem feels that directly before they receive the Ten Commandments – the pinnacle of the nation’s spiritual journey – He must have an accurate count of the B’nai Yisrael, an almost administrative act to best signify their affirmation of a proud community.
This administrative act of HaShem brings a clear relevance to communities today. One of the first assessments of cities/towns/communities is a census, a very clear indication that the community can be viewed independently. However, with each census comes the question of who can be counted. In the Torah, directly following the commandment to perform a census, Moses is told to include all Israelites above the age of twenty and that each person should contribute a half-shekel, regardless of wealth. By saying this, HaShem clearly defines who it is that carries the responsibility of societal contribution and He shows that each of these people must be treated equally. By deciding who is counted and how they are treated, HaShem sets precedence for community culture.
Much like the Torah’s outline for who is counted in the census, at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, there is strong intention behind these community foundations. While B’nai Yisrael is counted at the age of twenty, at Camp Ramah your contribution to the community begins as soon as you begin your time as a chanich (camper,) as early as eight years old. From the moment a child or adult steps into the Camp Ramah atmosphere, he or she is valued and challenged intellectually and religiously. Regardless of age, campers find themselves contributing to the community and consistently helping to build a strong Jewish culture. Even in my first summer at Camp Ramah, in Halutzim, I can vividly remember the intellectual debates had within my tzrif (cabin), arguing about whether or not the lake could be used as a Mikveh (a bath in which certain ritual purifications can be performed) – it can! In each of the ten years I have spent at Camp Ramah, it has been clear that my opinion matters and that I am a significant piece of the larger community. At Camp Ramah, every chanich and tzevet (staff) member has a voice. Everyone contributes that half shekel.
We are happy to introduce you to our new Rosh Sport Dedi Bitton!
Life outside camp:
I’m the owner and manager of a big sport center in Israel, Merkaz-Dor. Kids come here for after school activities and we have over 1200 kids coming to participate in our activities. (www.sport4all.co.il)
Other camp experience:
I was a shaliach many years ago at Camp Ramah in Ojai and worked there as a basketball coach.
Most looking forward to:
I’m very excited and happy to be working at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin this summer! I’m looking forward to meeting all the campers and staff. I hope to bring new activities to the sports courts and fields and for the sport experience to be excellent for everyone.
Favorite sport to play? Favorite sport to watch?
That’s an easy question! I was a professional basketball player so I have to say the answer is basketball!!
I’m married to Rotem and we have 3 sweet kids: Dor, 8 years old, Daniel, 5 years old, and Nadav, 3 years old.
Favorite activity to do for fun:
I love to BBQ and I enjoy relaxing and spending time with my family at home!
Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from our Program Director Gal Atia. A longtime Ramahnik, Gal has held many roles at camp, including Rosh Mishlachat, Rosh Sport and staff trainer. Gal is from Neytanya, Israel, where he lives with his wife and children and works as a special education teacher.
Reflections on Parashat Tetzaveh
by Gal Atia
You might say that the theme of Parashat Tetzaveh is preparation. We read God’s instructions to Moses regarding the seven-day inauguration of the Mishkan (the mobile sanctuary that will accompany the Israelites through the desert). There are details regarding the lighting of the menorah and there is a lot of information given by God to Moses about preparing Aaron and his sons to do their holy work as priests. It’s clear that the real work of sacrifices in the Mishkan can’t begin until the Kohanim (priests) are thoroughly prepared.
As I read the text, I was immediately reminded of what it takes for an Israeli to prepare to come to camp as a shaliach, a representative of Israel. Over the last few years I have had the amazing opportunity to be directly involved in preparing our Mishlachat (Israeli staff) for camp. You might not know that the process starts in November when interested young men and women go through a screening workshop. This is followed by an interview with the camp director, a four-day training seminar and a visa interview. All this comes before the 24-hour trek from Israel to the Northwoods of Wisconsin! Both Parashat Tetzaveh and my own personal experience tell me that the more time and energy you put into preparing to do a job, the more meaningful the work will be when you actually do it.
A second interesting item of note in this parashah is the fact that Moses’ name isn’t mentioned even once. The parashah begins with God calling Moses “You,” and this is very uncommon in the Torah. One commentator explains that God was furious with the Israelites after the sin of the golden calf which we read about next week (though the exact timeline of events in these chapters is quite murky) and wanted to punish them harshly. In response Moses said to God, “If you punish them, erase my name from your book (ספרך/sefercha).” This word can be looked at as ספר-כ/sefer-chaf, which means “the 20th book.” Parashat Tetzaveh is the 20th portion in the Torah and perhaps God took Moses’ name out to show us a true, humble leader who doesn’t care about his name being on the front page as long as his people are safe.
After Shabbat we move immediately into the joyous and raucous celebration of Purim, a day of unadulterated joy and goofiness that, amidst recent events in America and Israel, provides hope for a more carefree era and helps strengthen our ties to our heritage. In a striking way this year, the story of Esther and Mordechai also does not contain the name of a figure we’d expect to feature prominently in the story – God. The author’s self-awareness of this may be hinted at by the Hebrew root of אסתר/Esteir/Esther of ס.ת.ר/s.t.r meaning “hidden.” According to a beautiful midrash in the Talmud, the Purim story, in which God is absent from the surface narrative, is the time when the Jewish people truly accept upon ourselves the responsibilities and obligations of our role in relationship to God and each other.
As we move inexorably towards the brightening sun, warming temperatures, and unabashed joy of the upcoming summer, let’s remember these two lessons: preparation leads to success and the perception of God’s absence can empower us to achieve great things.
שבת שלום וחג פורים שמח
Shabbat shalom and chag purim sameach (Happy Purim!).
We are happy to introduce you to our new Rosh Hinuch Bashetach Joel Dworkin! He may be new to the Ramah Wisconsin family, but he’s not new to Ramah!
Life outside camp:
I am working towards my B.A. in psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago and consulting with other summer camps and addiction and mental health treatment centers on expedition programming.
Other camps and roles:
I was a madrich (counselor) and then Rosh Masa at Ramah in the Rockies for 5 years and Rakaz Trips at the JCC Ranch Camp in Colorado for 1 year.
Most looking forward to:
All of our chanichim (campers) spend at least one night camping out and for some of them, this is their only experience in the wilderness. I’m excited for the first kid who asks “can we please stay out another night?”
Favorite camp meal?
Anything cooked on a camping stove. And coffee. And Shabbat salmon. And BBQ chicken. And all the other camp food.
Other jobs you’d like to have at camp:
Honestly, I’m angling to be Operations Manager or Assistant Director next.
Favorite activity outside of camp:
Sea kayaking and backpacking
Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Joseph Eskin, our 2016 Rosh Limudei Yahadut. Joseph was also Rosh Tikvah for three summers. A lifetime Ramahnik, Joseph, a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan, is currently studying at Yeshivat Hadar in the yearlong fellowship.
Reflections on Parashat T’rumah
by Joseph Eskin
In this week’s parashah of T’rumah, we read the instructions for constructing the Mishkan, the sanctuary in which God’s presence will dwell among B’nei Yisrael (the Israelites) during their time in the desert. God’s directions to Moses are an incredibly detailed description of the creation of sacred space, and the individual features of the Mishkan are each fascinating in their own right. This week, though, as I read about the creation of sacred space, I could not help but think about the desecration of sacred space that the Jewish community has suffered from and that all Americans have borne witness to over the past two weeks: the vandalism of hundreds of gravestones at Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia.
There is something particularly painful about an attack on a cemetery, which is often among the first institutions a Jewish community creates when it establishes itself, and which testifies to a community’s commitment to its history and its future in a specific place. Yet amid the fear and uncertainty raised by these attacks, a glimmer of hope shone through in efforts by American Muslims who, as of this writing, have raised over $130,000 to help the St. Louis Jewish community repair and rebuild its cemetery.
That act of generosity helped me find new resonance in the second verse of Exodus Chapter 25, in which God commands Moses, “Speak to B’nei Yisrael, and have them take an offering for me; You shall take my offering from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity (ידבנו לבו/yidvenu libo).” Rashi comments that the word yidvenu comes from the root word נדבה/nedavah, and understands this act of donation to the Mishkan as an act of goodwill. At the very beginning of the parashah, before specifying the exacting details of construction, God establishes that the emotional basis of the Mishkan will be kindness and altruism. The precise physical structure of the Mishkan is certainly important, but underlying all of it is the generosity and communal goodwill of the people. It is that feeling, as much as the architecture itself, which makes the sanctuary an appropriate dwelling place for God’s presence. Perhaps without that feeling, it would not be a sanctuary at all.
In the thirteen years that I have spent at Camp Ramah, it has become clearer and clearer to me that the same is true of the physical space and the experience that we build each summer. Campers create amazing and intricate projects each summer, from pieces of art and woodwork to musical theater productions and cabin cheers. Jokes, friendships, songs and memories become the material that our weeks together weave into beautiful tapestries. But beneath the tangible products of a summer is a commitment by each person at camp to every other person at camp, a willingness to give openly and generously of themselves. It is that feeling which makes everything at camp possible, that same feeling which helps communities like those in St. Louis and Philadelphia, across political, ethnic, religious, and cultural divides, unite and rebuild in the face of tragedy. That is exactly the same feeling which makes it possible for God’s presence to dwell among us.
Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Josh Warshawsky, 2016 Rosh Shira/Tefillah and Artist in Residence. We are thrilled that Josh will be returning to camp this summer as Rosh Omaniyot Habamah (or Rosh Performing Arts). Josh is currently in the Ziegler Rabbinical School in Los Angeles, studying in Israel this year. His second CD, “Mah Rabu,” features many of our favorite camp songs such as “Kol B’Ramah,” “Mah Rabu” and “V’ahavta.” You can check it out on iTunes or at www.joshwarshawsky.com.
Reflections on Parashat Mishpatim
by Josh Warshawsky
In the 70th year of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, we’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on our last 70 seasons; the ways in which we’ve grown, the traditions we’ve created, and the ways in which we have failed and succeeded. Reflection is always bittersweet; it enables us to remember our favorite memories from the past, but at the same time we sometimes yearn for past experiences rather than looking ahead towards the future. In any event, milestones remind us that while the past has come and gone, the future is still unwritten.
Our great commentator, Rashi, emphasizes this point in this week’s parashah, Mishpatim. In Mishpatim we read a continuation of the laws God began to deliver last week with the Ten Commandments. The parashah begins: וְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים, לִפְנֵיהֶם / v’eileh, hamishpatim, asher tasim lifneihem / “These are the laws that you shall set before them” (Exodus 21:1). How do we know that these laws are a continuation and not something entirely new? Instead of reading ְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים / eileh hamishpatim / “These are the laws,” The first words of the parashah read, וְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים / v’eileh hamishpatim / “and these are the laws.” Rashi explains:
Wherever אֵלֶּה / eileh / “These are,” is used it cuts off the preceding section from that which it introduces; where, however, וְאֵלֶּה / v’eileh / “and these,” is used it adds something to the former subject [i.e. forms a continuation of it]. So also here: “And these are the laws [i.e. these, also].” What is the case with the former commandments (The Ten Commandments)? They were given at Sinai! So these, too, were given at Sinai!
Further on in the parashah, we are told that, וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה, אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי יְהוָה / vayichtov moshe, eit kol-divrei Adonai / “Moses then wrote down all of the commands of the Lord” (24:4). Rashi explains that this verse means that Moses wrote down all of the laws that God had given to the people from the beginning of the Torah up to, but not including, the account of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Why is this important? Because Rashi admits here that even Moses, our greatest teacher, cannot predict the future. Moses cannot write down events that haven’t happened yet, but can only record the story up to that point.
When Moses reads to the people of Israel all that he has written down, they respond with the famous line: כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע / kol asher-diber Adonai na’aseh v’nishma / “all that the Lord has said we will do and we will hear!” (24:7). What does it mean to do and to hear, and why is it written in that order? A second great medieval commentator, known as Rashbam, explains it thusly: “we will carry out what God has already said, and we are prepared to listen [obey] to what God will command from here on out.” I’d suggest a different interpretation of this verse. These verbs are said together, and so should be acted out simultaneously. “We will do” means that we will write the future, living our lives and carrying on the legacy, while “we will listen” adds that we will do this as a continuation of the past and a manifestation of our present. We will remember our past experience. We will remember the rules. We will remember the stories. We will remember the songs. As we mark our 70th anniversary, I am hopeful for the future that we and our campers will write, making sure that we carry the legacy and values of our tradition with us as we build a better tomorrow.
Tikvah is a division of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin developed in 1973 to provide inclusion opportunities for children with learning, social and communication difficulties, including those who are higher functioning on the Autistic Spectrum.
Machon campers (entering 10th grade) and Tikvah campers enjoy a close partnership. They perform together in campwide festivals and present a Broadway musical together. A popular component of the Machon-Tikvah partnership is the one-on-one chaverim (buddy) program. Buddies spend structured and unstructured time together every week and lasting friendships are formed.
We met up with two chaverim this summer on the kikar. Here’s what they had to say:
“The chaverim program is an amazing experience and an opportunity to get to know campers you wouldn’t typically meet. Being a chaver taught me so much about myself. The bond I made with my buddy had a big impact on both of us – we both learned so many new skills.”
“My favorite things to do with my chaver are playing games, swimming, taking walks around camp and reading books together. I also like when we sit together at Shabbat tefillot (prayer).”
We know both chaverim are counting the days (113) until they meet again at camp!
It was great to see so many readers of HaMirpeset Shelanu at our 70th Anniversary Celebration! It was truly awesome to see 450 people – spanning all seven decades of camp history – singing the camp song, linked arm in arm. The words of “Himnon Ramah,” לבבנו מלא רחשי הודיה – our hearts are filled with gratitude – echoed throughout the room and across the generations.
During the program, Nadia Goldberg (Nivo 2015) and Ethan Less (Nivo 2017) represented the current decade of Ramahniks. Older alumni were very touched by their reflections on the impact of the Ramah experience. We share their beautiful words below.
Ethan: “Erev tov. It’s hard to believe this summer I’m going to be in Nivonim. Not only that, but the first Nivonim in the brand new Nivo campus on the Givah.
“I first came to Ramah simply because it was what my brothers, my parents, and other relatives did. Quickly though the experience became my own. I learned that Ramah is a place where in one moment I was playing an intense game of cards with cabin mates and in the next moment I was exploring the meaning of the Book of Job with those same friends in an equally intense debate. Ramah is a place where in one moment I was racing down the court with a basketball in hand trying to score one more bucket and the next moment I was sprinting even faster into the Beit Am so I could make it in time for the chorus number ‘Lech Barechov’ or ‘Ease On Down the Road’ from our Machon musical ‘The Wiz.’ All in Hebrew.”
Nadia: “I honestly could not imagine my life without Camp Ramah. There are so many ways in which camp shaped me and my love for Judaism. Before camp, I never really enjoyed Shabbat services. I would come to synagogue with my parents, but I never fully participated in the service and I didn’t understand what made Shabbat special. But, after my first year at Ramah, I learned to appreciate these times of prayer and reflection. I also used to be a really nervous Torah reader. But my first summer at Ramah, my counselors encouraged me to read Torah and provided me with constant support. I also learned how to become a confident service leader – there is a special feeling you get while standing in the place you love in front of all of your friends that gives you the motivation and confidence to lead a group in prayer. Although camp helped me to build my Jewish identity, the best thing about camp is actually the people. I entered camp without knowing anyone, and after four summers, I left with best friends. I formed incredibly strong friendships and I know many of them will continue to be my closest friends as I move into college and beyond. I am excited to come back to camp as a junior counselor this summer because I want to help give young campers the same amazing experience that I had that has forever changed me. I know I am not alone in calling camp Ramah my ‘happy place.’”
Ethan: “A message that I’ve learned from my Ramah counselors is very simple … just buy in. Make the most of those short and sweet summers at Camp Ramah. I’m pretty competitive, so naturally, I didn’t care if it was the NBA finals or an inter-aidah softball game; I wanted to win. But I came to realize that winning doesn’t mean having the most points, but instead winning means making lasting memories in a Jewish community surrounded by your best friends.
“My friends and I couldn’t be more excited to be the Nivonim aidah that gets to open the cabins that will last at least another 70 years, knowing that someday (don’t worry, Mom and Dad, a long way away) I’ll have children that will sleep in these new bunks, and they’ll have children that will do the same. From generation to generation, Ramah has been a gift in our family that we will always pass down. Thank you to everyone here tonight for supporting Ramah and making it a possibility for any kid to attend. I couldn’t imagine a summer with any of campers missing from the aidah. Thank you.”
It was the middle of winter, but you could feel the warmth of summer at Morgan Manufacturing in downtown Chicago on February 11 when 450 alumni, parents and friends gathered to celebrate Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s 70th anniversary. The event attracted members of the extended Ramah community of all ages excited to reconnect with one another and fete the camp’s continuous and ongoing impact on American Jewry. The opening of the camp in Conover in the summer of 1947 with 100 campers launched the North America-wide Ramah camping movement. Today 11,000 campers and staff members participate each summer in the Ramah network of 9 overnight camps, 4 day camps and programs in Israel.
An online photo album shows guests enjoying camp-like experiences, including a 360-degree tour of camp, a green screen with camp backgrounds, and a “selfie station” complete with trees, a canoe and a fire pit. Many attendees enjoyed spotting glimpses of their younger selves in a slide show of photos throughout the decades.
The evening’s formal portion began with Havdalah and honored the presidents of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, as well as chairs of Ramah Day Camp (located in Wheeling, Illinois, and celebrating its 18th anniversary this year). Camp Ramah in Wisconsin president Jonathan Sherman made a special presentation to CEO Rabbi David Soloff and day camp director Lori Stark in recognition of their ongoing commitment and leadership.
While a video featuring alumni interviews and footage from different decades focused on history, camp director Jacob Cytryn and assistant director Adina Allen spoke on the current camp experience. A video update was provided on the ongoing $6 million Givah Campaign supporting scholarships, endowment and capital improvements. A highlight of the evening was the singing of the camp song, with former Roshei Aidah (division heads) holding the banner used at camp. Hundreds of Ramahniks linked arms as the words of the song echoed throughout the room and across the generations.
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