A glimpse into Shabbat at Camp

Wally Levitt8.1.21
I wish everyone could experience Shabbat at Camp.

Since we’re not able to take photos and videos on Shabbat (yes, I admit I’ve secretly considered hiding a camera under my kippah to give parents a glimpse), this week I kept a mental timetable of how I spent the day. I know words won’t do it justice, but I hope my descriptions below give you a small taste of why Shabbat at Ramah Darom is amazing, inspiring and always the highlight of the week.

Friday, 5:40pm

For the first time this session, our entire kehillah gathered together as one kapsula (pod) at the amphitheater for Kabbalat Shabbat. Campers and staff were decked out in their Shabbat best, and before tefillah began I spotted several siblings from different aidot giving each other a big hug. This week was Shabbat Shoafim, so they had the chance to sing an opening song in Hebrew; this was extra special since last Shabbat, their whole aidah was still in quarantine. After a beautiful D’var Torah from our Director Anna, Nivonim and Gesher (our two oldest aidot) set the tone for the younger campers with their spirited singing of Yedid Nefesh. I noticed that many of the older campers, after so many summers at Camp, didn’t even need their siddur!


After a delicious Shabbat dinner and joining the younger aidot singing zemirot in the Chadar Ochel (dining hall), the adult staff (educators, specialists, medical staff, etc.) gathered for a shiur (class) from one of our Rabbis-in-Residence on the very relevant topic of “re-entering society”.


Our summer tzevet (staff) came together for their weekly “Stoneg” – a Staff Oneg. The highlight every week is the “Mensch of the Week” presentations, where our young staff (last week’s award recipients) pay it forward and award their fellow colleagues for going above and beyond.

Saturday, 9:30am

After enjoying our Shabbat breakfast tradition of cinnamon rolls (yum!), I made my way to the Beit Am (covered basketball court) for tefillot (prayers) led by our Gesher campers. I am always impressed watching these teenagers taking leadership roles in the Camp community. The highlight was a full aliyah chanted by a member of our Tikvah Vocational Program who was amazing, and was greeted with spontaneous applause!


I snuck out of the Beit Am to head over to the Margam (Lakeside Pavilion) where I was able to catch Nitzanim in the middle of their Shabbat Skits. Words cannot describe how sweet it is to see these 3rd and 4th graders acting out the week’s parsha! After they were done, the kids lined up at the front of the pavilion and “rolled the Torah back together” – that is, they spun themselves until they were all smooshed together. Absolutely adorable!


Every Shabbat morning between davening and lunch, members of the Matcal (head staff) are invited to a shiur taught by one of our Rabbis-in-residence. This week, it was a crowd of about three dozen people – ranging from our 20-something Rashei Aidah (age division heads) to this 50-something CEO – discussing the true meaning of the Sh’ma. And oh yeah: there is also amazing cholent!


I decided to spend the early part of the afternoon just walking around Camp. At the tennis court, the “Kiddush Cup” was in full swing with kids from several aidot competing. Right next door, a group of Shoafimers was playing hockey. The pool was full of campers this hot afternoon, and as I walked by our Tikvah-supported campers were just making their way in. In the Beit Knesset (synagogue), some Kochavim campers were practicing for their B’nai Mitzvah with help from our staff. I also spotted Sollelim campers being led on a waterfall hike, Gan kids hanging out on the giant spider web with their parents, some campers playing a pick-up game of basketball, and I might have even caught a couple of older campers in the midst of a “Shabbat Walk”. Everywhere I went, I was greeted with a rousing “Shabbat Shalom”. And everywhere I looked, all I saw were smiles.


I won’t confirm or deny, but I may have snuck in a Shabbat nap.


Seudah Shlishit (the third meal on Shabbat) always has its own unique energy. It might be campers unwinding after a day that’s less “programmed” than a typical day at Camp…or perhaps it’s anticipation for Havdalah…or maybe it’s simply because dessert is always ice cream!


After ice cream, I wandered into the side Chadar Ochel to witness my favorite part of Shabbat at Camp: Sloach, short for “slow ruach” (spirit). I wish every Camp parent could experience this amazing tradition. Campers from a couple of aidot form a giant circle, and with their arms wrapped around each other spend the time until Havdalah singing slow Hebrew songs, from classics like Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Al Kol Eileh, to more modern versions from artists like Josh Warshawsky and Neshama Carlbach. It’s led entirely by campers, and the spirit of comradery cannot be described in words. Between songs, individual campers spontaneously stand up to expresses appreciation to their friends and their staff. Sloach truly encapsulates everything Jewish camp is all about. As our Camp Doctor whispered to me, “this is liquid naches”!


And of course, the pinnacle of Shabbat at Camp is Havdalah. Hundreds of campers and staff join in our amphitheater. First, each aidah forms a giant circle to sing the brachot together. After a spirited “hamavdil ben kodesh l’chol” (including loud screams and jumping!), the lights come on and it becomes a joyous celebration of the new week. Everyone is hugging and wishing each other a Shavuah Tov…we all sing and dance together to our Camp song Drishat Shalom…then the Israeli dance party begins with our new tradition, “Shavuah Tov” by Avraham Tal. That’s followed by several other current and classic Israeli songs. Everyone at Camp is up and dancing – even those kids who would not be caught dead dancing back at home! When it’s time to end the party, there are inevitably cheers of “od shir echad!” (one more song).

I really wish every parent could experience Shabbat at Camp. This weekly “liquid naches” gives me great confidence that our Jewish community is in very, very good hands.

Shavuah Tov from Clayton!