Shabbat Letter from the Director 2018: Week 7

We’d like to thank

  • Scott Brown from the Midwest Camp Leadership Network
  • Todd Clauer and Mirra Klausner from Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City
  • Rabbi David and Annie Glickman from Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City
  • Rabbi Tamar Grimm from Beth Jacob Congregation
  • Sean Murphy from Beth Jacob Congregation
  • Rabbi Avi and Sara Olitzky from Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, MN
  • Shalom Orzach from the Foundation for Jewish Camp
  • Professor Joe Reimer from Brandeis University
  • Rabbi David Russo from Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago

for joining us for a visit this last week!

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What makes a summer?  The big details and the little ones.  This week was a week of big events: Machon’s (10th grade) trip through Wisconsin; Shavua Bogrim (9th) and its specialty clinics and myriad special events; a Shoafim (8th) outing to Eagle River to volunteer as part of their tzedakah project; the ending and beginning of new Kochavim (4th) sessions; a week of special fun for our Tikvah campers; and, of course, Nivonim’s (11th) performance last night of Les Miserables.  These big moments create space – figurative and physical – for little moments as well, for a special pe’ulat erev (evening activity) based on the HQ trivia game for Solelim (7th) and special programming for Halutzim (6th) during their t’fillot (morning prayers). 

The little moments go well beyond the aidah (age group) or tzrif (cabin) level, down to the smallest interactions between campers and staff members around camp.  The adult staff member who takes a swim test with the anxious young camper.  The counselor playing Frisbee or catch with a group of kids.  Teaching a group of campers a new card game; or learning how to play theirs.  Sitting outside on a Shabbat morning frantically learning a Torah reading.  Working on a softball swing or proper grip on a tennis racket.  Answering questions about camp’s history, or the book you’re reading, or God and community.  Hitting the right note on your trumpet.  Learning how to act as you expend all the energy you have on remembering the words and key for your big solo in the play.  Being gently reminded to put on a sweatshirt and socks because it’s cold outside.  The counselor who escorts the same forgetful camper every day up to the Marp (infirmary) to take his or her medicine.  The list goes on and on and on.

This week I ask you to consider the tremendous dedication of our staff members, and take action to thank one or more of them who have had an impact on your family.  How can you do that?  Read on. 

At 10:30 last night our staff gathered by aidah for a special snack and activity. I had the pleasure, with others on our senior staff, of dropping by each of these meetings and delivering a staff appreciation gift – a winter hat, complete with auburn-and-white pompom.  The looks on our counselors’ faces as they saw the gift were priceless.  The evening continued with music in the chadar ochel (dining hall) and a special opportunity to express gratitude to each other.  Every staff member received a piece of paper with thanks from a member of our leadership team.  For nearly an hour, staff members mingled around the room, stopping to add notes of encouragement and thanks on colleagues’ sheets of paper.  It was a feel-good night, and there was an amazing energy in the room.

To work at a summer camp is to run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace.  For nine weeks things never stop happening, and at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin you are constantly juggling how to meet your campers’ individual and group needs; support the amazing programming opportunities we offer at camp; promote and develop our educational mission to cultivate deep connections to Judaism, Israel, and our intellectual and cultural heritages; and have fun!  Our staff participate in daily staff meetings, weekly limmud (study) sessions with scholars-in-residence and other educators, ongoing hadrachah (professional development) training, and curriculum- or program-development time.  From the ropes course to t’fillot, nagarut (woodworking) to the agam (waterfront), pe’ulat erev (evening activity) to Shabbat, our staff are in a constant state of creative production.

The job is both thankless and unbelievably rewarding.  We can never thank our staff enough for all that they do so well, and they know internally that no matter how good they are at their job, they could always be and get better.  At the same time, the moments when campers turn to them in times of exuberance are unspeakably powerful.  Few things are more moving than watching campers call their staff onto the stage at the end of their musical, a moment when the literal stars of the show recognize with joy that they could not have achieved their greatest feat of the summer without the help of their beloved counselors.

I’d like your help in thanking our staff in one of two ways:

1. Please write a note of gratitude to any combination of individuals who have supported your child’s summer, this year or in the past, and e-mail them directly to me at jcytryn@ramahwisconsin.com.  Adina and I will read a selection of letters at our end-of-summer staff meetings next week and, whenever possible, share the messages directly with staff members.  If you don’t know all the staff members’ first / last names you can just write: counselors / Rosh Aidah / swim staff / Hebrew teacher, etc.  of (your child’s name).

2. Please make a tribute gift in honor of any or all of our staff this summer on our website here.  Consider a gift of $20.18, $57.78, or more.  There is a section of the donation form for tribute details.

One of our visiting educators asked me a question earlier this week about spirituality.  My spiritual life does not manifest itself in ways that society generally views spirituality: no yoga, no meditation, no walks in the woods.  My spirituality emerges from doing things I love, from encountering beautiful language and complicated ideas.  And it is most regularly present in my life in the core function of our staff: the development of deep and meaningful relationships.

My counselors helped catalyze my relationships with my friends when I was a camper, and I am proud to still call some of these mentors my friends.  I hope I paid some of that forward with my own campers, many of whom remain cherished parts of my life.  One of the benefits of being here at camp for so many summers is being able to engage new generations of campers, staff, and hanhalah as friends, including the younger siblings and now children of people I met during my first summers in the ‘90s. 

Camp is a place where we find love, though rarely is that love romantic.  It is much more often the love of abiding friendships, the sign that we sprinted through a marathon together, that we did amazing things – big and small – and that around those things we forged shared memories and values.  As we approach the final week of camp, we will say goodbye for ten months to the place where so many of these friendships began.  I know many campers and staff share my feeling about the magnitude and power of the friendships we make here, one expressed beautifully by Les Miserables and the Nivonim campers last night:

האמת של פעם: לאהוב את בן אדם אחר זה כמו לראות את פני האלוהים
Ha’emet shel pa’am: le’ehov et ben adam acheir zeh k’mo lirot et p’nei ha’elohim
The truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God

Shabbat Shalom,
Jacob

Questions to ask your campers this week: 

Kochavim - How is your tarbut? What task did you complete in silent library? How was the swim test?
Halutzim - What heroic acts did you do during Yom Superhero? Who is your superhero?
Solelim - What zionist leader did you connect with most and why?
Shoafim - What service site were you at and how do you feel like you contributed to the community?Bogrim - What was a highlight of your Shavua Bogrim? What is something new that you learned? How were you pushed to think in new and creative ways?
Machon - How did your time at United Way in Milwaukee make you think differently about your own background and the needs of others?What were similarities and differences you noticed between Camp Ramah and Camp Chi?
Tikvah - What Jewish customs did you learn about this Shabbat? What new bracha (blessing) did you learn?
Nivonim - What ways do you find celebration at camp? How do camp celebrations influence celebrations after camp?
Atzmayim - What's something new you learned at your job this week?