Shabbat Letter from the Director 2018: Week 3

We’d like to thank

  • Our Ruach Ramah campers and staff!
  • Jen Abeles from the American Hebrew Academy
  • Rabbi Steven Abraham and Lior from Beth El Synagogue in Omaha
  • Rabbi Emily Barton and Sue Harris from Tifereth Israel in Des Moines
  • Tammy Brody from Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield, IL
  • Rabbi Alexander Davis from Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, MN
  • Amy Dworin from Beth El Synagogue in Omaha
  • Cantor Joshua Fineblum from Temple of Aaron in St. Paul
  • Tamar Frankel and Rabbi Zachary Silver from Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield, IL
  • Dr. Phyllis Gorin and Rabbi Morris Allen from Congregation Beth Jacob in Mendota Heights, MN
  • Sara Karol from Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, MN
  • Lori and Rabbi Ben Kramer from Moriah Congregation in Deerfield, IL
  • Janet and Rabbi Michael Siegel from Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago
  • Mimi Stern from SHALVA in Chicago

for joining us for a visit this last week!

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Sunday evening the Zimriyah (Song Festival) did not disappoint.  What makes the Zimriyah such a powerful experience is that each and every aidah in camp gets to hold the spotlight for parts of the evening. The energy of the Zimriyah, just like the energy of our Hebrew musicals, directly derives from the identity formation and pride of the specific aidah (age group) taking center stage.

This was a week of flying high after the Zimriyah launched each of our aidot skyward. Bogrim (9th grade) returned earlier today from an aidah-wide, first-of-its-kind camping trip that was a roaring success. Shoafim (8th) spent its Yom Meyuchad (“Special Day”) on Wednesday learning about different non-profit organizations worthy of financial support through tzedakah and then held a vote open to all chanichim (campers) to decide the three winners for whom the aidah will raise money throughout the summer. Nivonim (11th) sat at rapt attention last night through the Nivo English Play, an exceptional and unique project, now in its 16th summer, whereby a group of campers write, block, produce, and direct their own reflection on the aidah’s summer theme. Solelim (7th) enjoyed amazing home-made music videos that morphed into an aidah-wide dance party on Tuesday evening. Garinim (5th) spent Wednesday writing stories, four lines at a time. After each group of kids rotated through the eight stations the counselors had set up, the whole aidah broke up to dress up and act out each of these eight original 32-sentence mini-plays. And they loved performing them so much that the whole aidah wanted to perform them for each other a second time! And, perhaps most gripping of all, our first inter-aidah game day of the summer saw the Bogrim and Machon (10th) softball teams facing off in a kind-spirited and fun rout – the Bogrim girls won in a landslide – and then a nail-biting defensive extravaganza for the night cap – the aidot were tied 0-0 after six full innings and the game was called at 1-1 after eight!

At the aidah level – coeducational programming, designed for a specific developmental level, with special projects and initiatives for each and every summer – is where we find our greatest impact. The first stop in any camp tour I lead takes us into the Beit Am (indoor gymnasium) where we immediately discuss the play plaques on the wall dating back to 1980. I take great personal pride that the first plaque in the upper left-hand corner is of Nivonim 1980 – my father Rabbi Eric Cytryn’s last summer as a Rosh Aidah (Division Head) – and that same wall ends, and the next begins, with two of my summers as Rosh Nivonim, in 2004 and 2005. There are those of us for whom the plaques themselves write a history of camp, both as pieces of art and in the way they evoke sensory memories of what the Beit Am sounded, smelled, and felt like on those summer evenings in 1994, 1999, 2007, or 2013. Each plaque represents a group of people, young men and women, and memories of individuals – solos, races, role models – and groups – basketball teams, Talent Show acts, and cadres of friends. Our camp is defined by these aidah identities.

Beyond the full aidah experience, voluntary opt-in programming carries its own heft. Yesterday afternoon we were over-subscribed for our first island swim with over 100 campers and staff eager to get in the lake and push themselves to swim one or both ways to the island. That Nivonim English Play could not have happened without the nine brave and talented campers who bared their souls, learned their lines, and performed with profound presence and immediacy. Moadon Tikvah (our special needs program’s lounge) was filled on Wednesday evening with nearly two dozen Machon chaveirim (buddies) learning more about their friends in Tikvah, processing their experience, and roleplaying a variety of situations in which they might find themselves. Last night a revived camp tradition, the Thursday night mishmar that begins to welcome Shabbat with songs and stories, was packed once again. Mishmar’s energy extends beyond our campus: last Thursday night a group of Machon campers spending the night on the island sang along as mishmar took place in the Sifriyah (library), and yesterday before leaving for their camping trip Bogrim campers begged for song sheets so they could recreate mishmar at their camp site. Campers opt into our tizmoret (orchestra), a choir that will perform before Friday night t’fillot tonight, and the Kikar dancing that is taking place as I type. Individual camper’s passions – for art, woodworking, volleyball, cooking, dance, soccer, musical instruments, and more are rewarded through individual and small group projects in those areas.

We channel the wonders of overnight camping in all their goofy randomness for the sake of building powerful, bonded, multi-summer and eventually lifelong communities. We would not be a camp without sports courts or arts activities, but the way sports and the arts integrate into the broader educational vision of what we do is absolutely distinct. Campers specialize in many different things here but each specialization creates something larger: confidence building and skill development for the individual and, all the more importantly, creating a sense of a community that represents more than the sum of its parts. In future weeks I will explore more of what makes us special as a holistic and immersive Jewish environment; for the time being I want you to see how the components of your child(ren)’s days here are part of a deliberate plan that goes beyond individual activities.

If this week launched the aidah experiences with the Zimriyah and a full-slate of programs, next week is the fullest of the summer in many ways. Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday is Yom Sport, a day that is dedicated to the breadth of activities we have to offer plus community building, pride, and sheer, unadulterated fun. A few hours after we conclude Yom Sport with the traditional end of a massive relay race and award the כוס קונובר / kos Conover / Conover Chalice to the winning team, we will join together in another powerful expression of individual/small group achievement leading to aidah pride: the camp-wide Talent Show. Wednesday will feature an extended July 4th celebration – more to come on our blog and in pictures – and then Thursday evening we begin our theatrical season with Shoafim’s performance of Beauty and the Beast.

I look forward to seeing the 2018 version of the Beauty and the Beast plaque. I know it will remind me of the 1992 premiere of Beauty and the Beast as a Ramah Wisconsin musical, and the fact that it was the first play I ever saw in the Beit Am. One of our current board members played the Beast and I recall feeling how much I wanted to someday be on that stage with everyone cheering for my aidah. Eight years later I had the honor of helping my own campers prepare for the 2000 version of the show that included epic silverware costumes and a magnificent directorial effort by my best friend and closest educational colleague for the last 20 years, our very own Jon Adam Ross (JAR). When I see the 1992 and 2000 Beauty and the Beast plaques on the Beit Am wall, I remember clearly those nights and those aidot. I am reminded of the unique individuals who come together every summer to create the broader aidah identities we hold dear.

Shabbat shalom, 
Jacob

Questions to ask your campers this week: 

Garinim: What story did your group perform and what part did you play?
Solelim: Which of the Shabbat situations/dilemmas was the most challenging?
Shoafim: Who is your Garinim buddy and what have you taught them about camp?
Bogrim: What was the highlight of going on the camping trip with your whole aidah?
Machon: What are you working on in your intensive?
Tikvah: How was the bonfire and concert with Josh Warshawsky?
Nivonim: What peulot have you done with your CIT campers?
Atzmayim: What did you do on your day off?