In one of my early summers as Director of Camp Ramah Darom, our camp community reached the momentous milestone of being able to host a 10 year reunion for our first group of campers, our very first Gesher.
When Ramah Darom first opened its doors in 1997, these twelve-year-olds were then and would always be our oldest campers. Four years later, we celebrated the conclusion of their camper experience with a program called Gesher which came to define this particular group even years later: Gesher 2000.
As a new Ramah camp, it was gratifying and meaningful for all of us to see this first group of home-grown kids return to camp in 2002 and transition into the ranks of staff, serving as role models and giving back to the community that had given them so much. Several summers later when members of this group rose into senior staff positions at Camp as Roshim, we felt like we had really arrived: our little start-up, this new Jewish educational experiment in the South had spawned an extraordinary group of committed and capable leaders. We had developed our own leaders – not just for our camp community but for all of Southern Jewry.
I must admit that I did not anticipate the way the next milestone for our community would affect me. This summer at our Family Camp program and then again at our recent PJ Library weekend called “Book It To Shabbat,” we were able to welcome kids from this Gesher 2000 along with Staff Alumni from the late 90’s back home to Ramah Darom. But they did not come alone. They brought their spouses – several were couples who met at camp! – and they brought their children. We are introducing a brand-new generation to the magic of Ramah Darom.
The mix of emotions was quite powerful. There was deep gratification in the knowledge that Ramah Darom had generated a group of young adults committed to living vibrant and creative Jewish lives. And it was profoundly inspirational to see their desire to put their own children on a similar path towards connecting with community, connecting with the riches of our tradition, and connecting with the sense of fun and joy one can only feel at Camp.
In many ways, the milestone that we have just reached where our own family programs are attended by adults who trace their Jewish development to their experiences in Clayton, GA is the most significant marker in the maturity of our organization. For the first time, we can point to a true alumni base for our Camp. No longer a fledgling summer program, Ramah Darom has become an established and thriving year-round enterprise. And a new era of support will unfold, led by individuals whose own personal experiences at Ramah Darom fuel their devotion to our mission.
What was truly thrilling about these two recent Ramah Darom programs which drew together our Alumni is that they were not reunions – but, rather, pre-unions. A “Gesher 2033 Pre-union”: a gathering of infants who will start camp together, form an Aidah, share adventures, travel to Israel as a group, stand-up at each other’s weddings, and one day introduce their own children to the magic of Ramah Darom.
One of the first fundraising brochures for Ramah Darom read: “Ramah Darom meant to be…Soon to be!” As we take in our current reality, actualizing L’Dor VaDor – the transmission of Jewish values and commitments from generation to generation – this old tagline take on new meaning. These infants and toddlers are meant to be Ramahniks and indeed very soon they will be. Looking at their bright eyes, we are all blessed to be able to anticipate a vibrant Jewish future.