Acceptance, Openness & Shira

Matt Kalin8.20.21

My Ramah story started at Wisconsin in 1985, where over the years, I was a camper, counselor, music guy, and teacher. I worked a couple of summers at Ramah Poconos at their traditional summer camp and participated in their Tikvah Family Camp program.

I first came to Ramah Darom in the fall of 2006 for the wedding of my old friends, Susie Tendler and Ross Sadoff (then-Assistant Director of Camp Ramah Darom). At the wedding, Rabbi Loren Sykes (then-Director of Camp Ramah Darom and formerly our Ramah Wisconsin Rosh Aidah) invited me to record music with campers the following summer. Later that spring, Susan Tecktiel (Director of Camp Yofi) asked me to sing for both Camp Yofi sessions.

That summer, I got to spend four separate weeks at Ramah Darom: two Camp Yofis (June and August) and two Ramah Darom camper recording sessions (Session Aleph and Bet). Wonderful! I became well acquainted with the Atlanta Airport and David Spielman, my driver! From there I worked a Winter Break Family Camp and a Passover Retreat (like going on a cruise!). A few years later, we recorded a second album of Camp music.

I’ve now led shira (music) at about 14 Camp Yofis, including a virtual session (deeply fulfilling in its own way!). I consider it the most important professional and personal experience of my adult Jewish life.

The beauty of the landscape, the families, the singing, the friends, the mentoring and the being mentored, the over-arching acceptance and openness: it’s the most tangible evidence of divine spark I’ve ever witnessed.

I’ll share two moments, one specific and one recurring.

When I first started at Camp Yofi, I was unsure if my bagful of song-leading tricks would work in this setting. Group singing is all about energy! But how could I lead the crescendos and diminuendos, the ebb and flow of a good song session with kids who may be hypersensitive to noise? On a whim, I experimented with a call-and-response “Hinei Mah Tov” with encouragements to sing “a little higher and a little louder, but please don’t scream!” The kids were so involved, and none seemed bothered by the louder singing. Then, again experimenting, after “a little bit quieter” and quieter still, I asked everyone to join me in “think singing,” a silent call-and-response. Unbelievably, it worked (silence!), and in all the years since, I’m still amazed.

The recurring moment occurs during my favorite 20 minutes of every summer: the Camp Yofi closing ceremony. Throughout Camp, I make sure that everyone – kids, adults, staff – knows a handful of traditional Yofi songs and a new one or two so that we can all sing together those Sunday mornings.

As a pilot, I often wish I could share the amazing views I see through the cockpit windows – the Manhattan skyline, downtown Washington, DC, sunsets, lightning in big thunderstorms, the Rocky Mountains. Like those views, I wish everyone could see all the faces singing back at me with such joy and abandon at the end of every Camp Yofi. I’m crying now thinking about it.

In the last few years, I’ve spent my work vacation time to be part of Camp Yofi. Wouldn’t everyone?

See you at Camp Yofi!

Camp Yofi sing-a-long from our 2020 Kayitz Babyit (Summer at Home) virtual program.

About the Author

Matt Kalin singing at Camp Yofi with a yellow shirt, a wide smiling mouth and a guitar

Matt Kalin

Matt is a life-long Ramahnik and a graduate of the Joint Program between Columbia and The Jewish Theological Seminary. A performer, recording/mix engineer, and music educator, Matt has pursued another passion and now flies as a Captain for United Express.