Reflections on Camp by Rabbi Aaron Melman
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 bulletin of Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois. I know we seem far removed from summer however I can’t help but reflect on a very powerful two weeks I spent up at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. I think back to sitting on a bench overlooking Buckatabon Lake. The sun is setting and if a picture’s really worth a thousand words then this sunset is worth two thousand. There are several bald eagles flying above the lake - watching them is majestic. I really love the outdoors. Watching campers and staff members head towards their evening programs is a treat. Camp is alive with so many different activities - it is hard to keep track of everything going on. In addition to teaching and talking with different staff members, I spent much of the time walking around camp and seeing the life that exists with magnificent Jewish splendor. There is so much that happens every day. It was wonderful to visit with those from Beth Shalom, both campers and staff.
I am taken back to my summer days at camp and in the provincial parks of Northern Ontario where l took campers on canoe trips all throughout the summer. Overnight camp is an incredible experience and a Jewish overnight camp like Ramah does more than simply offer one an overnight camp.
Camp Ramah is a unique and special place. In many ways it is just like other overnight camps; kids have the ability to express themselves and grow and try new things for the first time in a safe and nurturing environment. However, it differs in so many ways from other overnight camps in that everything exists in a Jewish framework. Hebrew is used extensively throughout camp. Kids learn Hebrew and study Jewish texts and not only do they grow as individuals; they grow Jewishly at Camp Ramah.
I confess that l did not go to Camp Ramah as a kid. I went to another Jewish summer camp north of Toronto where I returned as a staff member for many years. Being up in Wisconsin’s Northwoods I could see the difference between what I experienced when I was younger and what these kids are experiencing today. Jewish education happens in so many different ways. Sometimes it is in the classroom, sometimes it is on the baseball field, the high and low ropes course, and sometimes it is in the chadar ochel, the dining hall. But no matter where it is found, it is found all over Ramah. To see and participate in a living, thriving Conservative Jewish summer experience is something very special. Ramah is not just a summer experience. The lessons learned at this Jewish overnight camp is an education that lasts a lifetime. Jewish skills, Jewish thinking and developing a Jewish identity are elements that stay with one who has been at Ramah. When many people today have trouble understanding what the Conservative Movement is all about Camp Ramah helps people understand what it means to live and breathe a Conservative Jewish lifestyle.
As we approach the fall, a time when people will once again register their children for camp, I hope that you will strongly consider Camp Ramah, or suggest Camp Ramah to others, as a way of enriching their entire Jewish being.