The difference a name makes

Our first full day of programming has come to a close.  As I write this, all of our chalutzim (campers/pioneers) are fast asleep in their ohalim (tents).  I, like so many of our chalutzim, have spent most of the year dreaming about being back in camp, and then in a blink of an eye we are here and we have one full day under our belts.  As I walked around our chava (ranch) today, I saw chalutzim riding horses, mountain biking, shooting arrows at the archery range and so much more.  Our orienteering staff built an awesome 3D topographical map using mounds of dirt and piping.  Campers at the farm had a chance to take care of our alpacas and goats and to collect eggs from the chicken coup.  Overall, it was a terrific day.

One of the areas in which I believe ROA truly excels is in creating an intense and intentional Jewish community where everyone knows each other’s name and where everyone is respectful of the other.  One challenge we have been working to overcome this year is the issue of how to integrate our community where 40% of the chalutzim are new to Ramah Outdoor Adventure, while 60% have been here previously.  Creating a cliquless community is a hallmark of our camp!

To overcome this challenge we have decided that in addition to being hyper vigilant about reaching out to all the new chalutzim, we also will all wear name tags for the first five days of each session during the summer.  Our hope is that by wearing names tags throughout the day, chalutzim and tzevet (staff members) will feel more comfortable addressing people by name and will feel more comfortable going up to people whom they do not know to begin a conversation and/or to invite into a game.

While I know the names of every chalutz/a on paper (and often their parents’ names and home state) I am still learning to put names to faces.  Not to mention that many of our returning chalutzim, all of whom I recognized last year, have grown tremendously and I sometimes do a double take before realizing who they are.  I was walking next to a third year child, who is entering 9th grade,  for almost thirty seconds today before realizing that this person who was my height was the same person who last year left camp reaching only to my shoulders.  Today, as we opened the doors for lunch, I stood on the porch greeting each chalutz by name—admittedly, I had to look at the name badge on a fair number of them.

In order for us to have a financially sustainable camp, we must continue to grow each of the next three years.  But as we continue this growth we are determined to maintain the same small community feel that we  have had when we only had 50, 80, 100, and this year, 133 chalutzim at any one time.  It is not possible, or perhaps even desirable, for everyone to be friends with each other.  But to know names and to address someone by his or her name should be a basic hallmark of any tight knit community.

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