“When I step off the bus each summer…I come alive”
We received this letter a few weeks ago from one of our amazing chalutzim, Ellery. We are extremely grateful for this kind gesture, and amazed at the beautiful way she writes about the place we all call home.
Dear Rabbi Eliav,
As you may recall, my bat mitzvah passed a couple months ago. For my bat mitzvah project, I had a really hard time choosing which community I wanted to help most; Ramah, of course, was included in the list of organizations. I ended up deciding to volunteer at a nursing home called Shalom Park that my zayda had lived at, but I still wanted to be able to give back to the place I call home for several weeks each summer. I had received quite a bit of money from my bat mitzvah and it only made sense to donate to Ramah. Ramah is such an important part of my life and Jewish identity, in many ways it had helped me reach my bat mitzvah as much, if not more, than weekly hebrew school.
To be completely honest, Ramah is not picture-perfect. Fallen trees lay like collapsed soldiers, with their charred cores that had been defeated by the Hayman fire. A rare treasure are the colorful wildflowers that, like much of the plant life, are recovering from the threat of their home. The buildings are far from glamorous with chipping paint and rotting wood. And yet, despite all of the imperfections, I, and many others, will forever call Ramah beautiful. But Ramah is not beautiful because of its watercolor sunsets, or the way the white tents lay against the regrowing forest, or even the way the paths are lit in the dead of night by the starlight that can only be seen at 8,000 feet high and its guiding lights. No, Ramah is beautiful because of what happens there. At ROA smiles are contagious, connecting to nature is inevitable, and many recognize God in the world in ways they never had. At Ramah in the Rockies afternoon rainstorms can’t stop us from dancing, a bruise or scrape has never stopped one of Ramah’s campers to take on a new challenge, the line for the showers before Shabbat is worth the wait because the dirt has collected on skin and underneath fingernails from various adventures. Chilly mornings will never be a roadblock for the community of 8,000 feet to wake up with the sun, a group-hug can’t be stopped by the amount of mud on our clothing. Ramah changes people.
When I step off the bus each summer on the first day of camp, I come alive just as hundreds of others do the same. My heart is beating with the anticipation of spending my next weeks in nature and with friends that come from every corner of the world, my cheeks ache from the uncontrollable need to smile, and my world shifts back into place. I know that every year I return to my home-away-from-home where I can meet old friends and new-comers, I can greet the forest, and see the world in its best light. I know that every year I return to my home that a day won’t go by that cheering from the Ohel Ochel [dining tent] that can be heard on the basketball court, that a Shabbos will not pass without dancing, I know a day can’t pass that I won’t experience something new, or that the summer won’t go by without a competitive game of capture the flag. Because that moment when I step off the bus to join my friends I know the 11 months I was anxious to return to my family of friends were well spent because I am now where I belong. And every summer, after all hiking, rafting, climbing, painting, biking, hugging, singing, smiling, I return to my other family with tears in my eyes, marked up legs, and stories to share.
I chose to donate 10% of the money I had received for my bat mitzvah to Ramah because I know that it will go to many more summers of camp that many more campers can experience and know ROA the way I have. I chose to donate to Ramah because it has made me the person I am today. I chose to donate to Ramah because it is my family and my unofficial home.
I appreciate what you and the staff do at ROA more than I am able to put in to words.