Dear Chalutzim (campers), Parents & Guardians:
Within the next three weeks, we will welcome our tzevet (staff) for Wilderness FIrst Responder training and our hanhallah (leadership) weekend. A few days after that, Shavuah Hachana (staff week) begins! I am excited to once again create our kehillah kedosha, holy community, where we live according to Jewish values, texts, and traditions. I want to take a moment to share about one of my favorite aspects of morning prayers, wearing tallit daily and tefillin during the week. (Embedded are links to My Jewish Learning; if you do not know this website, check it out!)
When I wrap my tefillin or don my tallit, I know that I am connecting to thousands of years of ancient ritual. In Judaism, we are constantly using objects to enhance our observance, be it a seder plate handed down from a loved one, a kiddush cup from one’s Bat Mitzvah, or candlesticks received before getting married. I have three tallitot: one that my parents purchased for me when I started rabbinical school (my oldest), another used as the chuppah at my wedding, and another wrapped around me when I was ordained as a rabbi. (I never received a tallit when I became a Bar Mitzvah because, growing up in an Ashkenazi Orthodox community, I was expected to wear tzitzit under my clothes and not a tallit when I prayed. At Camp Ramah I learned I could wear my tzitzit over my shirt in the morning for prayer because I was not wearing them under my shirt during the day despite a myriad of “tzitzit checks” at school). I mainly use my oldest tallit for daily prayer. On Shabbat I wear my ordination tallit, and on high holidays I wear the one from our chuppah. When I say the blessing over the tallit and then wrap myself in it, I am brought back not only to the tallit’s origin story, but also to memories formed during hundreds of other times I have used it in the same morning ritual.
Each summer there are ample opportunities to create memories through practicing Jewish rituals as our days are structured around these rituals. For some, these rituals are second nature, whereas for others practicing them, including the frequency, will be a new experience. While celebrating the religious diversity present within Ramah, we ask that each member of our community try to practice these rituals several times during the summer, seeing whether they become a regular practice outside of camp and adding to one’s personal religious journey. One aspect of religious observance in which we hope everyone over the age of B’nei Mitzvah will engage is the wearing of tallit and tefillin. Most of our chalutzim wore a tallit at their B’nei Mitzvah, and some practiced using tefillin as part of their B’nei Mitzvah practice and continue to use them at varying frequencies. Others have never tried or have yet to have the opportunity to try wearing them.
We want to encourage everyone to consider that wrapping oneself in tallit and tefillin at camp is literally AWESOME! Practicing these rituals, alongside peers and role models, can open up a beautiful opportunity for campers who might find the rituals strange or unfamiliar. We are excited to deepen and strengthen our camp norms and culture to support each other in spiritual exploration. Imagine the power of returning home with a tallit that has accompanied one on treks through the Colorado backcountry and fallen off one’s shoulder during spontaneous jumping and dancing that often happens during parts of our morning t’filot (prayers). Some families might not agree with our egalitarian assumptions and forgo participating in these rituals. We respect this decision, and we never seek to make a camper feel less-than because they are or are not wearing a tallit or tefillin.
Tallitot and Tefillin, especially when received upon becoming a B’nei Mitzvah or any life cycle event, have deep emotional and often expensive monetary value. We understand that some might be reluctant to send items of value to camp. If you have a beautiful tallit that you do not want to “get ruined” at camp, please consider purchasing a cheaper, camp/travel quality tallit to use in all your future travels. (They start at $25 on Amazon. Please know that some of the inexpensive ones are sold by “messianic Jews” and are not considered kosher–you’re more than welcome to email me a link to review before purchasing). Additionally, we hope that many of our B’nei Mitzvah age four-week chalutzim this summer will make their own personalized tallitot that they can take home with them. If you have not purchased tefillin for your child, we hope you will consider doing so; they are a gift that will last a lifetime.
On the ranch we have about 20 extra tallitot and 10 extra sets of tefillin that we can lend to our staff and campers this summer. If you are in a position to help us acquire additional tallitot or tefillin, either because you have extras at home or can make a financial contribution to enable us to buy more, we welcome the assistance. Our long term goal is to provide a loaner pair of tefillin and a tallit to any child over the age of 12/13 who arrives at camp without them to borrow while they are with us. Donations can be made online here, and please write “tallit/tefillin” in the memo line, OR you can send your extra kosher tallitot/tefillin sets with your child to camp.
Thank you for allowing your child to join our camp this summer. We strive to provide a vibrant and intensive approach to Jewish living, presenting Judaism as relevant, compelling, and possible. We hope that each day at camp our chalutzim and tzevet have moments where they feel inspired and challenged by Jewish texts and values and explore ways to integrate these into their own religious journeys. It is only because of the faith you put in us that we are able to open our camp to hundreds of Jewish youth year after year.
As always, please be in touch with any questions, comments, or concerns, and we look forward to seeing everyone very soon.