Written during Summer 2016
A few weeks before coming to Ramah in the Rockies, Sous Chef Jeffrey Harris was out to dinner with a friend of a friend. Jeffrey was telling his dinning companion about the job that he had just been offered in the Colorado Rockies. They replied, “Working at a summer camp will be life changing,” and at the time Jeffrey was hesitant – after all, how could one summer surrounded by hundreds of Jewish kids in the Colorado Rockies be life changing? But by summer’s end, that same Sous Chef had a very different perspective on Ramah in the Rockies, as he shared, “This is a unique place… I believe I have met people here who will be in my life forever.”
Just as Ramah in the Rockies is a unique summer camp, so too is Sous Chef Jeffrey Harris. Jeffrey has taken to learning about Judaism – he is learning Hebrew, he has gone to t’fillot, learned in limmudim, and has even studied Talmud in chevruta. Normally, these are fairly normal things for the tzevet at Ramah in the Rockies to take part in – what makes this situation extraordinary is that Sous Chef Jeffrey Harris is not Jewish.
Jeffrey Harris was raised Protestant Christian, and prior to coming to work at Ramah he only knew a handful of Jews, and knew very little about Judaism as a religion. As Jeffrey disclosed, because of his religious differences he was worried that he would, “be an outsider from the rest of the community,” but he is now an integral member of the Ramah in the Rockies family.
Jeffrey explained that Judaism is not so different from Christianity in many ways, “Rituals are rituals – they are just different depending on the religion.” And likewise he can relate to the t’fillot we do at camp, as he recalled that even in Church he was taught to repeat words that he had been instructed to say. Sous Chef Jeffrey did however note some differences between the two major religions, as he pointed out Christianity is a religion established in faith, whereas Judaism is, in his assessment, a religion grounded in practice. Moreover, he was drawn to Judaism’s approach to right and wrong; that is, Jews will often choose to do what they believe to be ethically or morally right. This is juxtaposed by Christianity’s ideology of sin, which was/is determined by the church not by the individual.
In a similar vein, Jeffrey recalled a conversation he had with Rabbi Eliav where Eliav explained that, “Judaism only has one unifying belief – that there is one God; other than that we [Jews] argue about everything.” This model was one which fascinated Jeffrey, and is why he ultimately took a stab at learning Talmud. Because, “The New Testament is vague, but the Talmud goes into complex details about everything,” Jeffrey found learning Talmud refreshing.
Jeffrey started this journey at the beginning of the summer; his first week in the kitchen he spent some time researching the laws of kashrut, as they would be significant in his line of work. This however only sparked his interest, and he soon dug deeper. Jeffrey began to explore various facets of Judaism – by the first day of the first session he had started learning Hebrew using flashcards, and later in the summer he continued his learning.
He attended a few services, but found that they were not as interesting as other parts of Judaism because he was not able to understand what was being said. However, he did recognize the allure of singing in services, as he believes singing offers more of an emotional connection, which in his perspective it is more enjoyable, “seeing people be connected to something.” Moreover, at a certain point in the summer he decided to try wearing a kippah and he even tried observing Shabbat with the rest of the Ramah in the Rockies community.
Although Jeffrey has found Judaism’s extensive laws and regulations a bit restrictive, thus far he has welcomed that challenge. And furthermore, he has his sights set on working for a Jewish organization which will allow him to come back to Ramah in the Rockies next summer. All in all, this job has become a lifestyle for Jeffrey, as he pointed out, “You can treat it as just a job, or dive in and be part of the kehilla.”