Celebrating Sukkot at Camp Ramah

In a religion full of holidays, there is one that reigns supreme: Sukkot. Not what you might have expected, right?

As one of the three major pilgrimage festivals, in which Jews in Temple times would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Sukkot goes by many names in the Jewish tradition. Other than Sukkot, the festival is referred to as Chag ha’Asif (the Harvest Festival), Chag ha’Hodaya (Festival of Thanksgiving), Hakhel (Gathering), and He’Chag (The Festival). Since Rabbinic times, we have attached two other holidays to Sukkot – Hoshanah Rabbah and Simchat Torah.

Each of these names reflects a one of our most important camp values, making it the perfect holiday to “celebrate” at camp. The nature of the holiday, in which we dwell in temporary, open air structures reflects our value at Ramah in the Rockies of living close to nature. The harvest festival’s focus on gratitude and intentionality about the food we eat is something we experience daily at camp, as we introduce all our meals with a “Siyur Ochel” (food tour) in an effort to encourage our community to slow down, take a moment, and truly appreciate the food that nourishes us and where it comes from. Joy, community and honor are three of our four core values, and we emphasize gathering as a community for meals, Jewish rituals, and fun.

As part of our special Sunday ‘Yom Meyuchad’ programming this summer, we recreated many of the Jewish holidays, giving our chalutzim (campers) the opportunity to share their favorite family traditions with their friends and to create new Jewish memories together. For “Yom Sukkot” at camp, chalutzim built Sukkot out of materials they found in the forest, decorated our new Ohel Ochel (Dining Tent), and perfected their outdoor cooking skills. Campers also worked on the farm and learned about farming cycles, practiced new orienteering skills that might have helped the Jews make it through the desert in less than 40 years, and created skits and decorations to welcome two new Sifrei Torah to our machane (camp)!

Since the fire in 2017, we have been honored to receive Sifrei Torah from our friends at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack and Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. When Yom Sukkot rolled around this summer, we were thrilled to have an opportunity to celebrate these new Torah with our entire kehillah kedoshah – our holy community. In celebration, we built a new Aron Kodesh and quilted a handmade, custom dressing for the Torah. When we shared these beautiful new items with our community as the highlight of our Yom Sukkot schedule, everyone joined together to sing, dance, and welcome the Torah to its new home at Ramah in the Rockies!

In addition to formally welcoming the new Torah to our camp community, we had so much fun learning and sharing outdoor skills, gathering for a day of fun, and getting a taste of this important holiday while at camp. May this festival be an opportunity for all of us to re-immerse ourselves in nature, in mindfulness and gratitude, and in the pure joy of being Jewish.

Moadim l’simcha!

Deena Cowans (Director of Jewish Education 2016-2018)

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