Over the years, our kids have done their best to explain how they spend their days at Camp. But as someone who never had the chance to attend Ramah as a camper, I admit I’ve never fully been able to appreciate the experience from their perspective – or why they spend the first few days after Camp depressed at home, declaring at least once hourly that “I want to be back at Camp! I had the best summer EVER!”
I would love to just be a fly on the wall, seeing my kids in action with their friends enjoying everything Camp Ramah has to offer.
In my new role with Ramah Darom, I now have the great fortune to spend most of the summer at our stunning campus in the North Georgia mountains. We are lucky to have a very experienced Camp staff who keep the program running smoothly. Most mornings, after Birkat Hamazon (blessing after a meal) has been said and the kids head off to their bunks for nikayon (cleaning), I typically stop for some staff updates and – after ensuring everything is ready for the day – head to our business office in the Welcome Center to deal with business-y type stuff.
This past Sunday after breakfast, I decided to ditch my laptop (and, if I’m being totally honest, a call with our Board President) to spend the morning just wandering around Camp. This was finally my chance to live out my secret wish to be a fly on the (Camp) wall.
It was a perfect weather day: mid 80s and sunny, but with a nice cool breeze and no rain in the forecast. As I left the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall), I first spotted our Gan (nursery) campers – a group of about 15 super-cute children whose parents spend the summer with us in key staff roles – sitting in the shade with their counselors, putting on sunscreen in anticipation of a long day in the sun. One adorable 4 year old mistook me for David Paskin, our energetic Rosh Musica (head of music) who had spent the previous Friday morning teaching them Shabbat songs. He excitedly called out: “Hi, Rabbi David!” When I burst his bubble, he giggled adorably and opted to just keep calling me Rabbi David. The rest of the kids soon joined in. “Hi, Rabbi David. Hi, Rabbi David”. It was adorable and, I suspect, I will now be called Rabbi David by these kids for the rest of the summer.
I crossed over the bridge and immediately came across a group of kids starting a volleyball game. Just beyond them, I could see campers by the pool taking swim lessons. And just past them, our Israeli tennis specialist was beginning instruction with her small group.
I made a U-turn and headed up the path towards the area of Camp we call lower roads. On my immediate left, Ukelele lessons were in full swing: about half a dozen campers were perched on our “spider web”, instruments in hand, learning chords to a modern Israeli song.
Walking a bit further, I came across an early rehearsal for our camper production of The Wizard of Oz, all in Hebrew. When I reached lower roads, Garinim (our youngest campers) were sitting in a circle in the gazebo listening to the story of Jacob as told by their costumed Yahadut (Jewish studies) teacher. A few steps further, campers from Nivonim (rising 10th graders) were in hevruta (study pairs) discussing a biblical text they had just studied with one of our Rabbis-in-Residence. Looking up just past them, I could see about a dozen campers on the high ropes working together to get through an obstacle course in the sky. In the distance, I could hear the joyous screams of kids in the lake jumping onto the famous Ramah Darom blob.
Everywhere I walked that morning, I saw happy kids. Smiling kids. Engaged kids. Campers taking part in Jewish learning and experiencing Joyful Judaism. Kids playing sports led by members of our 30+ strong Mishlachat (Israeli staff). Young Jews seeing that it’s possible to incorporate a love of Judaism and Israel into their daily lives, and realizing that it’s cool to be Jewish. Kids who, I have no doubt, will remain connected to their heritage for a long time to come.
I will never have the experience of being a Ramah camper myself; my walk around Camp on Sunday was likely as close as I will ever get. But those morning hours reinforced what I already knew: sending our kids to Camp Ramah was one of the best parenting decisions we’ve ever made.