Update from camp #2

It is Sunday evening, our chalutzim are just finishing their last minute packing for their masaot (excursions) tomorrow.  We have five trips leaving right after breakfast.  All our chalutzim are super excited to be heading into the backcountry for five days.

The first five days of camp have flown by.  Our activities at the chava (ranch) are in high gear.  Today our last three campers from session I arrived safely and immediately were welcomed by their peers.  It was truly amazing to watch our community, which has only been around for five days, open their arms to the newcomers and make them feel as though they too had been here for a while.

While I could write pages about each of our chalutzim and the activities we have been doing, I wanted to focus on Shabbat.  Of the past five days, our 25 hours of Shabbat was truly among the most memorable 25 hours of my life!

If there is one thing that unites all Ramah camps, it is the prominence of Shabbat within the weekly program.  I am pleased to say that Ramah Outdoor Adventure is no exception.  Our Shabbat preparation began immediately after lunch on Friday when we began our weekly tradition of working on service projects.  All the chalutzim and madrichim headed to one of hillsides which had been burned in a forest fire in 2005.  Two of our madrichim lead a discussion about the role of planting trees in the Jewish tradition, before setting us loose upon the barren hill with trees to plant, stake and water.

At around 6:00pm we all gathered in front of the boys tents, dressed in white shirts for twenty minutes of Israeli dancing.  It was amazing to see everyone from the youngest camper to the oldest staff member join hands in singing and dancing.  After our dance session we proceeded as a group, singing the whole way, to a field where we set up benches for Kabbalat Shabbat.  Like the Kabbalists who canonized Kabbalat Shabbat, we danced among the grass and flowers to welcome the Shabbat queen.  From services in the field we moved to the chadar ochel (dining hall) for a relaxed dinner followed by another song session and an oneg shabbat.

Shabbat day followed the typical Ramah Shabbat schedule with services, eating (lots of it), free time and two structured activities in the afternoon.  But in addition to these, we sang and danced and sang some more:  after lunch, after dinner and after making Havdallah.  At 10pm on Saturday night, we actually had to turn off the Israeli dance music and tell everyone that it was time to go to sleep because we had a full day ahead of us on Sunday.  We feared that the campers would continue dancing into the night and not be able to wake up the next day.

This is my 12th summer at a Ramah camp.  And I must admit, that rarely have I experienced a Shabbat with as much singing and ruach (spirit) as we had here over the weekend.  I attribute this heightened level of ruach to a few factors.  First of all, our campers are amazing.  Each and every one of them want to be here and are actively trying to make this camp their home.   Additionally, our small size makes us feel more like a large family than a small camp.  Most people in our community know the names of the other people in the community, even though they are of different ages and would not necessarily be friends with each other outside of the camp setting.  This level of intimacy allows for our entire camp to feel more of a united whole.  And finally, I applaud our AMAZING staff members who have given their hearts and souls to empower our campers to have the greatest time of their lives.  Without this amazing group of college and post college students, there is no way that the camp could function.

What I saw on Shabbat was the ability of teenagers to join together in the most wholesome of ways.  The singing was not yelling and banging, but real singing.  The camaraderie was not just idle banter, but meaningful dialogue.  And the friendships being developed are being done so within the confines of shared common experiences.  In the end, it is this latter aspect, the deep relationships being created around shared memories within a Jewish context, which is really the key to the success of Jewish camps in general and Ramah camps in particular.

In a few hours, our community will split up and head out for five days before uniting again on Shabbat.  I can only dream about the transformations that will happen this week while everyone is on the trail, and am already counting down until we are reunited in the field for  Kabbalat Shabbat.

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