I am sitting in my log cabin writing this blog post on Saturday night. Outside are over thirty Ramah and URJ staff members sitting around a campfire singing songs together. We made havdallah together and then used the light of the candle to light our camp fire. What an amazing way to end an inspirational Shabbat, and what beautiful sounds are wafting into my window.
Thus far, I would rate our Kivun WFA/WFR (Wilderness First Aid/Wilderness First Responder) a terrific success. On Thursday afternoon over 25 participants arrived at our ranch from camps throughout the Ramah and URJ camping movements to spend time on the Ramah ranch, sharing best practices about their own environmental programs, learning how to incorporate additional Jewish content into their programs, and of course, to become certified in either WFA or WFR.
We have been operating according the typical schedule at Ramah Outdoor Adventure, rising while the sun is still low in the sky, and ending our day around sunset. We have been eating outstanding vegetarian food in our chadar ohel (dining hall) and been enjoying a new addition to our program “the food tour,” where a chef addresses the community before we recite the Motzei to explain what we will be eating at that meal. And best of all, participants have had a chance to connect with each, realizing that while they work at different camps, and even have different theological perspectives, the core Jewish values of their communities are more similar than they are different from one another. For example, tonight, after dinner, each cohort of staff members (gardeners, trippers, teva/nature experts) sat around and shared best practices. It was interesting to hear how different specialists have been able to incorporate Jewish values into their programs to very different extents.
While bringing together staff members from different movements has its benefits, one of the challenges for us as a community has been around ritual observance, in particular teffilot (prayers). Ramah teffilot and brachot, before and after meals, tend to be primarily in Hebrew. This does not appear to be the case at the URJ camps represented at Kivun. Over the past two days, we have tried to incorporate different traditions and have different movements lead different parts of the service. For example today, we had two shacharit services, and then after a traditional Torah service for everyone, Rabbi Vicki Tuckman, who is here with the URJ camps, lead us in a brief discussion in lieu of reciting the Musaf. Similarly, we have been singing the Reform version of Hamotzi before many of our meals, and have been switching between the traditional Ramah birchat Hamazon (grace after meals) with a less traditional version including English words of thanks lead by Rabbi Tuckman. Unfortunately, we did not think to bring Reform prayers books or benchers to the ranch, and therefore, the URJ participants are having to follow along in the Ramah books, which are sorely lacking in English explanations and transliteration, to which many of the URJ participants are accustomed. Tomorrow morning, Rabbi Tuckman and another URJ participant, will be leading morning teffilot in the hay loft from a Conservative siddur. In our goal of creating healthy discomfort among all members of our community, and to really challenge us to learn about the broader Jewish community, I wish that we had a more traditional Reform siddur from which we could daven tomorrow and at other points during this training.
We are only half way through our Kivun training, and tomorrow is sure to be another long and exciting day. After breakfast, participants will spend most of the day in WFA and WFR training. I will post more, including pictures, at a later point. But for now, I want to wish everyone a Laila Tov from the Ramah Ranch.