When I attended camp as a chalutza (camper), it never crossed my mind that my counselors spent time outside of the summer thinking about their role at Ramah in the Rockies and how they can grow to be better leaders and role models. My first summer as tzevet (staff), however, has lifted a curtain for me, letting me in on the behind-the-scenes preparation that makes camp so great each summer.
I recently had the privilege of attending the Bert B. Weinstein Leadership Training Conference, a National Ramah staff training seminar that takes place each winter in California. From acting out camper care scenarios and working through challenging situations to discussing what makes inclusion programs successful, our cohort focused on how we can make the Ramah experience thoughtful, intentional, and fun for our chalutzim!
In our bunk dynamics session, I played the role of a counselor observing a group of chalutzim. In the scenario we were assigned, one of the campers was a camp veteran who had trouble making new friends in the bunk, one was shy, another was a social butterfly, and the last was excited and entirely new to camp. After paying attention to the interactions, we created a sociogram – a diagram our campers’ relationships with one another – in order to better understand the group dynamic. The exercise was a wonderful practice in being an attentive and involved madricha (counselor).
Our session on inclusion touched upon the deeper values that underlie the difference between meaningful inclusion and tolerance. Throughout the discussion, inclusion staff from across the country wrestled with this distinction. We concluded that tolerance views differences as inherently problematic; issues to be dealt with quietly. Meaningful inclusion, on the other hand, values each individual for what they can offer, and understands differences in personal limitations. As madrichim, the way we treat all our chalutzim should embody our shared Jewish value that each person is created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God.
At the beginning of the conference, Rabbi Ed Feinstein told the story of the prayer Ma Tovu. He explained that when Balaam was hired to curse the people of Israel, he climbed to the top of a nearby hill overlooking the Israelites’ tents. From that vantage point, he was unable to see the challenges that were taking place on the ground, and was instead overcome with awe as he gazed upon the community the Israelites had created. When he finally opened his mouth to say the curse, he spoke a blessing instead.
From a place of perspective, Balaam was able to experience his environment in a new way – appreciating the big picture without getting distracted by the details. Similarly, at camp, it can be easy to get distracted by the details and lose sight of why our machane (camp) is so special.
Participating in the Bert B. Weinstein Leadership Conference has given me the tools I need to return to Ramah in the Rockies as the best counselor I can be. Next summer, I will remain aware of the dynamics of my bunk and how they are impacting the chalutzim. I will understand what meaningful inclusion looks like and why it’s so important. And most importantly, I will remember to seek places of perspective, from which I can appreciate the beauty of our community.
By Julia Turnbow