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Creating an inspiring “pop-up community”

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Wally Levitt3.05.19

Every year at the Pesach Seder, we are challenged to personally connect to the experience of leaving Egypt. It’s incredible to think that our ancestors walked through the desert for 40 full years, a makeshift community of wanderers who managed to keep their faith alive until they reached the land of milk and honey.

The vision of the wandering Jew was front and center for me last month when I had the incredible opportunity to become part of two very different – yet equally inspiring – “pop-up” Jewish communities: one in the desert and one in the mountains.

Beth and I were part of the Ramah Bike Ride and Hike in early April, joining Ramahniks from across North America and Israel to raise money for our incredible Tikvah programs. This year, the Bike and Hike took us through the Negev desert which was surprisingly green after all the rain Israel saw over the winter.

Shabbat was spent in Mitzpeh Ramon, one of the most gorgeous places in a country that’s filled with boundless natural beauty. For Kabbalat Shabbat, all 100+ participants sat in a giant oval on the lawn outside the Ramon Inn while Ramah staff led us in a soaring rendition of Lecha Dodi. Here we were, dozens of Jews from large and small communities with diverse Jewish backgrounds, all sharing the joyous experience of davening together for the first time in the middle of the desert. It was truly beautiful.

The Ramah Darom Bike Riders and Hikers

Just a few days after getting home from Israel, we headed to Clayton to spend Passover at Ramah Darom. This was my family’s first time being part of this unique experience. There is no shortage of options for guests at our Pesach Retreat: stimulating speakers, incredible outdoor activities, amazing art projects, exceptional excursions and of course…fabulous food.

But what truly struck me was that among the plethora of available activities, often the best attended was our davening – and it was genuinely some of the most inspiring davening I have ever experienced. Over ten days we created a true community in the middle of the North Georgia mountains. Our Beit Knesset was full, as were our alternative services held in the Lakeside Pavilion. We were led by some of the most accomplished clergy and talented Jewish musicians, and every day we came together as one community to sing. At the top of our lungs. Sharing a love of the liturgy, a deep sense of spirituality, a true feeling of belonging. Whether it was the Amidah, Hallel or Adon Olam, you could hear the stirring singing from the baseball field on the other side of the lake. And over the course of the Retreat, that inspired singing extended beyond shul – to the Seders, around the campfire, and even onto the Levine Center porch late at night. It was truly incredible and very moving.

To me, there’s nothing more important or meaningful than being part of a community that shares your values. I feel extremely fortunate to have been part of two such “pop-up” communities in the last month. And for that, I thank Ramah.