As a rabbi who was just ordained seven years ago, experiencing Jewish summer camp for the very first time as an adult has given me a unique perspective.
I grew up Orthodox in Baltimore but was never a member of NCSY. My parents did not send me to TA (Talmudical Academy) or even to Jewish summer camp. Living on the economic periphery did not avail us of the niceties of growing up Jewish in Baltimore.
Moving to Salt Lake for graduate school helped grow me in my Judaism in two ways. First, I became immersed in a warm and welcoming Jewish community. Second it was Conservative, and much more tolerant of varied and sometimes conflicting viewpoints than the communities I had experienced. Being thrilled with this new (to me) brand of egalitarian Judaism empowered me to explore. A big part of that discovery came through the IMUN program at Ramah Berkshires and again eight years later at Ramah Darom. IMUN is a para-rabbinic boot camp, created by Rabbi David Blumenfeld, set in the midst of 400 enthusiastic Conservative Jewish children at Camp Ramah. It was nirvana to an aging Software Engineer searching for spirituality. This IMUN experience inspired me to go to Rabbinical School pursuing a 2nd career at the age of 45.
As an adult, I experienced Ramah Darom as a Rabbi/educator. Actually, I get to act out my childhood all over again, sensing the youthfulness and the enthusiastic carefree attitudes of Jewish teens. The young campers probably looked at me as old, maybe wise (sometimes), but inside, I felt like one of them, paddling around the lake in a canoe, swimming in the refreshingly cool water, singing zemirot, davening in idyllic forest surroundings in the clear fresh air of the North Georgia Mountains. And then there was Shabbat! If you don’t think your children get the idea behind this key Jewish once-a-week respite, think again. Teens at Ramah Darom lead services in a Carlebach style and with such Ruach (spirit) that I wish I could bottle it up and bring it home to my own congregation in Montgomery, Alabama. It is patently evident that these children were paying attention at Religious School or Jewish Day School when we talked about the importance of praying regularly and of proper Shabbat observance. Maybe they only appeared bored, but they were observing and taking these rituals into their being. At Ramah it all gets expressed, and what a delight to behold from a Rabbi’s tired, overworked and sometimes frustrated eyes. I now know all the effort was worth it.
At Ramah these children actuate synagogue and Jewish life into a fun, proactive, and creative style. Teaching these young adults at camp is a rich and rewarding experience. We talk about making relationships Holy and Social Justice. They all enthusiastically participate in this learning between normal camp activities such as hiking, swimming, playing basketball and Soccer. I like seeing this learning take on a parallel roll with these athletic pursuits. It sets a good pattern for life, and hopefully will instill these ideas into their own future Jewish families. From a Rabbi’s perspective this is more than a Jewish luxury. I believe it shows our incredibly bright and intuitive children that Judaism can be vibrant, alive, valid and fun in their lives.
I’ve noticed that every time I return home from Ramah Darom, my attitudes are better, my body stronger, my diet regulated and healthy. Best of all, I am happy and grateful to have made 400 amazing connections to our Jewish future.
Rabbi Scott Kramer was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. He is the rabbi for the Agudath Israel – Etz Ahayem Synagogue in Montgomery, Alabama.