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 In early January, seven of our staff and Rabbi Eliav traveled to Camp Ramah in California to attend National Ramah’s Weinstein Winter Training Conference.  This is just one part of our ongoing commitment to staff training and education throughout the year. 
 
Here is what some of our participating staff had to say about the conference: 

Staff posing“My favorite thing about the Weinstein Conference was the ability to experience all the Ramah camps in one setting, where we could share how each camp is different in its own way. Furthermore, it was fantastic being able to form lasting friendships with staff from other Ramah camps that I would not have met if we both did not go to Weinstein. The sessions I attended were all interesting because I could hear how different counselors from different camps might plan entirely different activities with the same guidelines. One session that particularly sticks in my mind is this session about creating a bedtime ritual in the ohel that wraps up the day and creates a sense of family between everyone. This is an easy way to make the end of the day something everyone looks forwards to.”
-Kenny 

“My weekend at Weinstein is not one that I will soon forget. Not only was it a great opportunity to get to know some of the amazing Ramah Rockies staff but it gave me the chance to learn and grow with tikvah staff from all the camps. I can’t wait to put some of these great ideas from other Ramah’s into action. I didn’t think it possible, but my time at Ojai got me even more excited for kayitz 2017!!!”
-Abby 

“It was really nice to experience a national Ramah retreat. As someone who is relatively new to the Ramah culture, it was fun to connect to people from all different camps and also learn what makes Rockies unique. Two highlights for me was leading a hike in the green mountains of Ojai and meeting people in person, who I work with during the year.”
-Zach

“At Weinstein we met staff from all across the country, and had the opportunity to learn from each other, exchange program ideas, and find out what makes each camp unique. But the best moments were when you couldn’t even tell that we were all from different camps. Often, it was music that brought us together. During t’filla and shira, we all know many of the same melodies, and we catch on quickly to the new ones. Joining our voices together in song is a powerful and beloved part of every camp, and it was amazing to be able to share it with the wider Ramah community.”
-Eliana

A Place to Be Yourself, The Place to Take on Life’s AdventureSONY DSC

The Ramah Rockies Experience 

 Rabbi Scott Bolton, Congregation Or Zarua, New York City

Writing from the beautiful Rockies, Basecamp


I believe that we need to find the right places for growing, reflecting, experiencing joy and awe. At every stage of our lives, we must find it for ourselves, and parents, to be good guides for their children, have to search out those environments. Finding a place, school, camp, or synagogue that encompasses them all is a challenge. What an incredible privilege to be able to become part of this sacred community at Ramah Rockies where I can see that everyone is in explorer mode and committed to the core values of community, individual growth, joy and honoring one another.

From this Rabbi’s perspective, when a camp is filled with people who are little like angels you have to share the blessings. Let me call out to fellow parents, Jewish community members and those wanting to contribute to the lives of children as camp staff – this is an inspiring Jewish place to be for two, four or eight weeks! Everyone here is accepted for who they are, what they stand for and how they express their Judaism, yet the commitment to community and finding common ground places everyone in a trust relationship. SONY DSC

With those trust relationships built through sacred attachments, the adventures themselves into the wilderness, up boulders, through forests, down paths both excite individual campers and create an understanding about teamwork and responsibility important both for summer adventures and for all of life.

At about 9,800 feet above sea level, at a trailhead, I saw a group of teens take on leadership under the careful supervision of dedicated adventure counselors. The gave each of the young leaders a different job and had them carefully sort out, equitably, all the extra equipment they would need to camp over five days and reach more than 12,500 feet above the tree lines. Their initiation into the ways of survival and skills for staying safe, and their celebrating Shabbat together got them ready for that journey. The leaders of the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Initiative (JOLI) empowered those teens from around the world, of one Jewish family, to each find their own inner strength and to create a team that could literally and figuratively realize new heights! JOLI bolton masa bierstadt

I am seeing that when those of all backgrounds, of one family, come to make magic here at Ramah Rockies there is a buzz and a peace all at the same time. There are physical heights and spiritual heights to ascend. Few places in my travels have inspired such an electricity as well as a sense of acceptance, potential growth and Jewish spirit. 

I know I am in the right place for these weeks I will be here! Hineini! “I am here,” as our ancestors responded to God when asked if they were ready for the next chapter. 

 

To register for Ramah in the Rockies today, please click this link. Register Now!

Rabbi Sarah Shulman, a recently ordained Rabbi, was one of our first staff members.  This summer, she is the Director of Camp Ramah in Northern California for their inaugural summer. We are so proud to have had Sarah as one of our founding staff members, and of the great work she will continue doing at Ramah Galim. This is the speech she gave at her ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. 

Makom Torah, an Ordination Speech by Rabbi Sarah Schulman

Rabbi Eliav presenting Rabbi Sarah Shulman at her ordination ceremony

Rabbi Eliav presenting Rabbi Sarah Shulman at her ordination ceremony

Thank you all for sharing this priceless moment with my classmates and I in this place of Torah, for helping us to reach it, and for sustaining us so we could reap from it. A special thanks to those who have traveled from out of town to celebrate with us and the Jewish community tonight. On a personal note: Laura and Gary, Ramah leaders, TRZ community, close friends and family – you are up here with me.

Classmates, hevre, this is a moment to cherish and a moment where our past meets our future. Ten years ago I was on a much different path and so were you. Like many of you, I have found myself reflecting in the last few weeks as I prepare for ordination and for the next chapter in my life as a rabbi on what I would say to myself of 10 years ago. What blessings and truths do I carry with me today that I would offer to her and other young people in her generation as guidance?

In response, I offer a letter I have written to each of our former selves, to the younger men and woman who were driven to succeed, who had all the tools to succeed, but were without the companionship, grounding, perspective, or Torah to find genuine success. We had knowledge, we had passion, and yet many of us also had profound loneliness or aimlessness, whether we then recognized it or not.
I direct this letter to each of our former selves AND to each and every person in this tent regardless of age or background because there is a younger person within each of us and within each of our families who is a little lost or alone. We all have questions; we all have doubts; we all at times need the compass of Torah.

Dear younger Danny, younger Mathew, younger Jeremy, younger Nolan, younger Josh, younger Jeremy, younger Becca, younger Adir, and younger Sarah,

Stick with it, honey. You’re going to right this course. Believe us, we know because we have lived it. You’ve come into adulthood striving to find your way, striving to be successful in the footsteps of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Larry Paige because these innovators are the heroes of our time. Yet the narrative about success that you have internalized as truth about an individual’s search for a brilliant idea to save the world is not the only path out there to success or happiness or meaning.

Indeed, we have grown up with a narrative emphasized by the success of Google and Facebook and a few dozen other start-ups that inspires us to seek powerful ideas and with them, powerful positions. But we need to know that this narrative of success misrepresents reality for the vast majority of us on this planet. This is a fairytale about one person cultivating the brilliant idea that changes the world.

Each of you will indeed birth important ideas – as teachers, founders of new camps, communities, movies and podcasts, and as creative human beings. But nevertheless something critical is missing from this narrative. What is missing from this story (and from our ideal of success) is other people.

I’d like to offer an alternative narrative, and with it a path out of a present stuckness. Because although you have spent the first decades of your life chasing ideas, it hasn’t been enough, has it? Though knowledge has gotten you far, it has not helped you answer your big questions about life. It has not helped reveal a sense of purpose or quelled loneliness. And it won’t be enough in 10 years time either to navigate hate crimes, violence in Israel, ISIS attacks, or the trials and tribulations of illness. It’s time for a new operative paradigm in life.

Thankfully, Jewish tradition offers a vital counter-narrative to the uber-idea-man fairytale, one articulated in Mishnah Avot chapter 4 (and in your future ordination program in 10 years): Rabbi Nehorai teaches:

הֱוֵי גוֹלֶה לִמְקוֹם תּוֹרָה וְאַל תֹּאמַר שֶׁהִיא תָבוֹא אַחֲרֶיךָ, שֶׁחֲבֵרֶיךָ יְקַיְּמוּהָ בְיָדֶךָ. וְאֶל בִּינָתְךָ אַל תִּשָּׁעֵן.

Uproot yourself to live in a place of Torah, and do not say that it will come to you. For your hevre will make it stick with you. So do not rely on your own understanding.

This text offers a different road to success. It invites us to leave – as did Abraham and Sarah, the Israelites from Egypt, and the Jews of Rabbi Nehorai’s generation following the destruction of the Temple – what is familiar behind, to actively embrace change in our circumstances, our surroundings, and in ourselves. Go find a makom Torah, a deeply rewarding place to learn and a space for relationships. According to 16th century Rabbi Almosnino, this means a place where the atmosphere, surroundings, and community are pervaded by Torah. It’s not just a place; its other people. It’s time for each of us to consider where we need to go and who we need to seek out to gather the wisdom to collectively serve the world.

If you do, you’ll be grateful to find many places of Torah in schools, synagogues, the beit midrash, camp, and in the arms of spouses and partners, friends and children from Los Angeles to Jerusalem that offer an essential sense of learning, connection, and solidarity.
In the precious makom Torah that is housed within American Jewish University you’ll find other people who will change your life. For your journey is not over by discovering a place of learning, rather it is your future classmates and teachers who complete this new paradigm. According to Rabbi Nehorai, it is your hevre, or the colleagues, friends, family, and mentors around you who support your growth and guide you to find meaning and purpose in your work in this world. “Do not rely on your own understanding” because change is not about one person coming up with an idea that changes the world; rather real change is and has always been about changing the nature of our relationships in this world. Who is wise, Ben Zoma asked? Our tradition answers: The one who learns from every other person. You have already learned so much from your families and teachers up until this point. And now what your new hevre will give you is the training to become an inspiration and a companion who also others find and create m’komot Torah in our communities. I cannot even describe to you how much you will benefit from the teaching and spiritual guidance of your future rabbis, mentors, family, and friends within the walls of rabbinical school and beyond its borders. They will show you that the act of Torah is not complete without the love of others.

You may be wondering, what is the cost of not switching to this alternative narrative? The Talmud in Shabbat 147b tells us about Rabbi Eleazar ben Arak, who went off on his own to the waters of Diomsith, determined to pursue his learning and ideas without others. What was the result? It was neither success nor satisfaction. Rather he lost his Torah, he lost a grip on his learning. It wasn’t until his colleagues assembled to pray for him that his learning and equilibrium returned to him. This is how the second half of Rabbi Nehorai’s teaching is a commentary on the first. It’s not enough to find a place of Torah, but you must share it with others and let others share it with you, or you may end up in dark, lonely waters.

The rabbi you’ll each strive to be, and frankly, the rabbis that the Jewish community will most need, are not just idea generators but community generators; not just people of Torah but democratizers of Torah; not just priests or prophets but teachers, and all different kinds of teachers. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us: Moses himself could have been called many things. But what did they call him? They did not call him “Moses the liberator,” “the lawgiver,” “the prophet,” or “the hero.” Though he was all those things. Jewish tradition called him none of those things. When Jewish people wanted to give him the highest honor they called him, “Moses our teacher.” To be a teacher in Judaism is the highest honor” for to be a teacher is to lovingly connect Torah with other people, giving and receiving. Nolan and Becca, Jeremy and Josh, Adir and Danny, Mathew, Jeremy, and Sarah: be patient because one day you will have the opportunity to teach from the deepest place within you and use that place to guide and inspire a future generation of young searching souls. One day you will look back on your former self and feel proud of every step you took and every hand you held along the way to get from the narrow bridge to the bimah.

Yours truly,
Your older and wiser, but humble Rabbi selves

[Turning to the whole tent]

On the one hand this is a message to the younger version of our nine new rabbis tonight, but really it is for each one of us. For at times we are all lost or fearful, at times we are all caught up in a narrow image of success for ourselves or for our children that neither serves us or them. The affirmation of Jewish life is that we never have to take this journey alone. The promise land is a place for a whole people. In it there are no prizes or plaques, no pats on the back or six figure pay checks but there are arms to hold you and teachers to guide you and the laughter flows like milk and honey. It is no coincidence that one of the names of God is Hamakom, “the place” – for we find God in our lives in those holy places where we sit across from another and listen.
So I invite each of us to consider, what is your makom Torah, what is the place of learning and the people of learning that you need right now in your life? And what is stopping you from seeking them out tomorrow?

I bless each of us with the courage to let go of going it alone and to instead seek out the people and places in our lives that inspire us to collect, to personalize, and to share our own precious Torah with others. May we all find a place of learning that inspires and challenges us, and through it may we join one another to build and bridge communities; break down boundaries and borders; actualize shared ideas and heal one another.

2014 Tzevet Tipus [Rock Climbing Staff], Noah Kaplan, wrote this spoken word poem this summer about the power of the Masa [backcountry excursion] experience.  Words to the poem are below the video.  We hope you will enjoy this!

 

For five days we leave behind our phones, we forget about conventional conveniences, the clutter of the day, we sweep it all aside for a while to find what hides behind our eyes unclouded by wifi. For five days We breathe the fresh air cradled rocky and strained by aspen groves, sipping on the sweet smells of summer fed to us by our sky Hashem whispers to us, adventure is out there. We, who fly a whole mile high, there is nothing like this ride. We call this time Masa, the journey. We leave early and pack light, for we plan to travel far, wide, We give up our complex comforts for a simpler sense of service to ourselves, of preference and priority, of sound, Listen, adventure is out there, listen. It’s laping at your shore. This song never gets old.  We leave our watches, our roofs, and yes often our bathrooms, for a timeless place, a forever truth in nature. These ancient languages have not been lost, the trees still whistle and hum in the breeze with their lips bigger thaan SUV’s and their tongues that never get tired, are you listening? Can you hear it? We call this time Masa, this place, the Journey. We are in search of adventure, in search of god and each other, we are the Masa, the journey and for four nights the moon is our spotlight, watching as the stars nod across the sky to tuck us into that silver darkness, nothing is warmer, nothing is freer than this blanket this fire by our side, we, the pioneers of our own potential have  songs with their endless arms reaching upward, there is something magic about this circle, these hurtles, this path untraveled, you’ll find your potential is just as endless, listen as the wind plays the trees against the drumming, there is rhythm to discover in our feet. Learn what it means to feed yourself full to this beat, what it means to push yourself more, to take care of your core, to be apart of this team, born of a collective dream, we are all in this together, strip the white noise of the city from your skin, we should all know this everything, and to make memories that do not require batteries. Write stories with your every step. For five days and four nights we learn to take care of our bodies, our minds, our souls. Look up, Hashem is all around us out here, this air, this water, these lives and laughter let its voice fill you, climb its mountains, ride it smooth, move with purpose, groove, climb, bike, shoot, lace up your boots. It is time, Learn precision and how to sleep by its side, no lie, out here we are the pioneers of our own potential, the students of our surroundings, the reverent citizens of our world, there is no end to this road, us all a part of this team, this whole, this time, like an endless smooth sounding rhyme, with light hearts, and laughter, find us pushing our limits going faster choosing the challenge that will bring us forward, for there is no end to this road. This journey where we sing ourselves to sleep and awake in the morning with the possibilities simply at our feet, all around us, waking up to find that adventure is out here.

Reflections on the Ramah Service Corps Fellows Conference:

Who says summer camp is only in the summer?

Ari Polsky

A few weeks ago, I packed a bag, ready to escape the cold, and hopped on a flight to California. I attended the Ramah Winter Training Institute at Camp Ramah in California, as a part of the Ramah Service Corps Fellows. At this conference I was blessed to be a part of a cohort of my peers from all the Ramah camps. Aside from the blessing of being back in the camp setting in the middle of winter (not to mention visiting my childhood camp), it was great to really see camp magic happening all around me.

Shacharit at Temple Beth Am with Josh Warshawsky

Shacharit with the Josh Warshawsky and the Pressman Academy Middle School, where I grew up.

The conference featured six different tracks, each with their own sessions and activities. In each track the cohorts gathered to sharpen their skills, and gear up for the summer. The Ramah Service Corps track was a little different, in that our focus was on bringing the summer into our year-round positions.

As a member of the RSC, we each work in synagogues, schools, and youth groups, to bring the magic of camp to the rest of the year. We use our skills as Rashei Edah, Madrichim, and Moomchim, and infuse synagogue, school, and youth group life with camp-style programs and Jewish learning.

A true highlight- on the second day of the conference, we woke up bright and early, and made our way to Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am to see one of our fellow RSC Fellows in action. Josh Warshawsky led a spirited musical shacharit service for the middle schoolers, in which we got to take part. I and another fellow, Alan, were treated to catching up with many of our former campers briefly after shacharit. Afterward we heard a bit about Josh’s many hats within the synagogue and school, and what he has been doing to bring camp to school life.

Ramah Service Corps Fellows Group Shot

Ramah Service Corps Fellows 2014-2015 at the Zimmer Museum.

Our next site visit was at the Zimmer Children’s Museum at the Jewish Federation, meeting with Esther Netter. While taking us on a tour of the museum, Esther told us, “A day at a good museum is a lot like a good camp program.” We heard all about the thought, intention, and planning that went into the various parts of the museum, and making it accessible to a diverse population. Seeing all the kids and activities going on at this museum, it felt less like a “museum” and more like a collection of playgrounds and role playing sets. I guess that’s what Esther meant by museums being like camp. She gave us another piece of advice that stuck with the group, “Share your failures. Talk about them. It’s what you will learn the most from, more than your successes.”

Later, Alisha Pedowitz, from BJE-Los Angeles, joined us to talk about Service Learning, and using active service projects and debriefing sessions as experiential service learning. To model this, we took part in helping the Zimmer Museum prepare materials for a future workshop, and cleaning some of the toys. We cut out pictures and shapes, and cleaned the toys, and had a great time together.

The final part of the day involved an interactive cell phone and picture scavenger hunt throughout parts of Hollywood. We had a great time roaming the city and coming up with cool ideas for creating our own monitored scavenger hunts.

Zimmer Museum BJE Los Angeles Service Learning

Doing service learning with the Zimmer Museum and Alisha Pedowitz.

The conference itself really was an exercise in modeling activities that we could all use in our camp, synagogue, school, and youth group lives. We had a great time sharing our best practices. Of course, we also shared our failures and challenges, and crowd sourced ways to improve them. By bringing all of us together at this conference, we each strengthened our network of colleagues, of friends, and fellow camp people. Thank you to Amy Skopp Cooper, Dr. Zachary Lasker, Esther Netter, Alisha Pedowitz, Josh Warshawsky, Dan Messinger, and Rabbi Joel Alter for all facilitating, teaching, and presenting to the cohort.