Shabbat Letter from the Director 2018: Week 6

We’d like to thank

  • Everyone who came to visit us on Sunday and Monday as part of our annual full-session Visitors Days!
  • Magda Dorosz from the Hillel Warsaw
  • Julie Finkelstein from the Foundation for Jewish Camp
  • Rabbi Betsy and Scott Forester from Beth Israel Center in Madison
  • Dr. Lena and David Kushnir from the Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago
  • Rabbi Aaron Melman and Elisa Rotman from Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, IL
  • Amanda Monto from Masa
  • Jeremy Moskowitz from Hillel International
  • Rabbi Carnie and Paulie Rose from Congregation B’nai Amoona in St. Louis
  • Joni and Peter Sussman from Kar-Ben Publishing

for joining us for a visit this last week!

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This week has been so packed it feels like a month since I last sat to write.  The beauty of camp continues to unfold before our very eyes: basketball and softball games; stunning sunsets witnessed by best friends; late night programming followed by sunrise t’fillot (prayers); our annual around-the-island swim; another ecstatic performance of a musical (Grease, by Bogrim/9th grade); deepening relationships in and across cabins; meaningful conversations, sometimes facilitated by adult staff and sometimes happening fully independently between campers; canoe and camping trips; high- and low-ropes course experiences; enticing aromas emanating from the new mitbachon (teaching kitchen); new public artwork around camp; impromptu games of Frisbee, soccer, and floor hockey.  Camp happens all around us. 

While it does we continue to invest time and energy in improving it, for today, tomorrow, and years from now.  Last weekend members of our Ramah Wisconsin Executive Committee reviewed the successful components of our 2018 program while planning for future capital enhancements and investments to expand program offerings and improve our product.  Earlier this week we had the pleasure of hosting representatives of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Hillel International, and Hillel Warsaw.  Joining them was a visionary philanthropist who came to witness, assess, and dream about expanding a program Ramah Wisconsin is piloting to bring Jewish European young adults affiliated with Hillels in Poland, Hungary, and Germany to contribute to and experience Jewish summer camp in America.  We now begin to plan for the future of this program, encouraged by the other stakeholders’ faith in our integration and support for the four staff members joining us this summer. As always, seeing camp from an outsider’s perspective helps us gain ever more insight into what we do well and how we can improve.

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This weekend is one of stark contrasts, one holy and one unbelievably mundane.  Later today we’ll begin the special Shabbat before Tisha B’av, the day on which we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as other national tragedies which have accreted onto this date from the Biblical period through the Holocaust.  The Shabbat, known as Shabbat Chazon (vision) after the first word of the Haftarah we’ll read tomorrow morning from the beginning of the Book of Isaiah, lays the groundwork for the chanting of Eichah (Lamentations) which we’ll read as a camp-wide community Saturday night and then in our individual aidah (age division) t’filot on Sunday morning.  When Tisha B’av falls on Sunday the connections between the two days are underscored more than usual, but the tone is more complicated than it may seem at first glance.  The liturgical components of the two days are, without fail, a combination of lamenting and hope, a mixture of mourning the past and promoting a better future.  Unexpectedly, that is not a trajectory which takes place over the course of the day; it is a trajectory found in each and every moment of sorrow, from the special tune for the beginning of L’cha Dodi tonight through the special paragraph added to Minchah (afternoon service) said only on Tisha B’av

Our summer at camp also reflects, at first glance, a number of contrasts.  Over the course of the summer each of our aidot (divisions) inhabit, on a daily basis, two classic Ramah spaces: the fun and goofy that makes us an amazing summer camp, and the serious educational experiences that makes us so unique and special as we cultivate the next generation of Jewish communal leaders.  We are not one without the other and, often, we are both at the same time.  Here are a few examples, among many:

Kochavim (4th grade) has engaged in discussions about different ways to praise God (and what praising God means) and a Shabbat program about the feelings that come with encountering things that are unfamiliar to us.  Cabins have enjoyed murder mystery-style scavenger hunts.

Halutzim (6th) played Freeze Dance Newcomb on the volleyball court and gave out chocolate for successfully navigating an obstacle course.  This Shabbat they’ll learn about and develop their own personal connections to t’fillot (prayers), exploring topics including personal meaning making, the role of gender in God language and public ritual, and the benefits and challenges of personally crafted or impromptu prayer versus a standardized liturgy. 

Solelim (7th) played Human Sporcle, turning one of the internet’s great procrastination tools into an interactive trivia game.  Campers in groups competed to guess, among other things, each of the 50 states’ largest export and, in a separate round, whether 30 exotic words referred to professional wrestlers or varieties of mushrooms.

Shoafim (8th) had a “senior citizen” night complete with sock hop dancing and BINGO!  This past Wednesday they concluded their thematic programming on comparative religion convening a model United Nations-type forum.  Campers represented a specific religion they learned about in debates on topics of relevance to the campers and the religions themselves.

Bogrim (9th) culminated their storytelling-themed Shabbat by participating in the most classic Jewish storytelling setting: a Seder.  Through the program they surfaced their own stories as individuals, stories of their aidah at camp, and ways in which storytelling can be a tool for effecting positive change.  Cabins 28 and 29 enjoyed another holiday-themed program, celebrating a midnight Thanksgiving in July as they learned the song “Any Turkey Can Tango,” ate pumpkin pie, and made turkey-related art.

Machon’s (10th) separate gender programming has included Smooth Jazz Smoothies for the girls and a paint fight on the island for the boys.  They spent a Shabbat exploring the consequences of being given a figurative blank slate: what does it mean to start over? Can we really do it? In what circumstances might we want a fresh start?

Tikvah (Special Needs), in partnership with Machon chaverim (buddies) will be exploring resilience this Shabbat, through the lens of some classic Pixar movies.  On Wednesday night, also with Machon chaverim, their talent show included karaoke, song parodies, a rap about Visitors Days, and an acrobatic demonstration.

Nivonim (11th) had a great night playing musical chairs tag, which evidently includes counselors trying to tag campers between the music stopping and a camper sitting down.  Today the aidah is beginning a three-day exploration that will take them through Shabbat and Tisha B’av and incorporate themes raised by their musical, Les Miserables, specifically its focus on the June Rebellion of 1832 in France.  They begin today engaging with questions about revolution: why revolt? Tomorrow they explore the goals of revolution in consonance with our summer-long theme celebrating the 70th birthday of Israel:  what were the founders of modern Israel hoping to achieve?  Did they do it?  What can we learn from their attempts?  On Sunday, Nivonim will grapple with reconciling the pre-revolution status quo, the trauma of revolution itself, and the inevitable gap between the dream of the revolutionaries and the actual results in practice.

Atzmayim (Vocational) spent a Shabbat focusing on human rights, which they tied to one of the episodes in the Torah reading that week.  They focused on which rights are most important to each participant as individuals and those which are important for society as a whole.  They also enjoyed an activity of “Jew-per Heroes,” dressing their counselors up in silly outfits and giving them a superhow name, power, and quality.

The holy and the mundane interact all the time at camp; contrasting binaries meld and mix each and every day. And sometimes, as in some of the examples above, they remain separate.  And that’s alright too.

Shabbat Shalom,
Jacob

Questions to ask your campers this week: 

Kochavim: What did you do in Yom Olympics?
Halutzim: What did you mkae in "Holiday Chopped"?
Solelim: What sadna (workshop) are you in and what is a skill you are working on?
Shoafim: Our Yom Meyuchad was all about the environment. What do you think is the most important ecological issue and how do you think we can solve it?
Bogrim: What new Jewish community did you learn about over Shabbat? What makes it unique?
Machon: How was the siyyum on Thursday night?
Tikvah: What was your favorite act in the Machon/Tikvah talent show?
Nivonim: What was the best part of the canoe trip/yimei banot?
Atzmayim: What are you going to do to relax on Shabbat?