A Rosh Hashanah Message for the Ramah Darom Community

Wally Levitt9.16.20
When I think about being in shul for Rosh Hashanah as a child, one very vivid memory immediately comes to mind: the feeling of my father’s warm hand wrapped around my outstretched index finger as he guided me through the words in the machzor. This usually happened about halfway through the service. As a Jewish day school student, my father knew I didn’t need his help reading the Hebrew; it was simply his way to keep me engaged. He presumably saw that I was starting to get fidgety and recognized that immediate action was needed or the whining would inevitably begin.

I used this same technique with my own kids when they were little. They know it’s something Grandpa did with me and to this day – even as young adults – they love to continue the tradition every year. In fact, my kids are now usually the ones who initiate it; I look forward to the moment during shul when one of them grabs my right hand and sticks out their index finger – my cue to stop daydreaming and refocus on the liturgy. (For the record, they also clearly don’t need the help reading Hebrew: they are all Jewish day school students, longtime Ramah campers and TRY participants, and are experienced daveners and leyners. So I have to assume they just like the feeling, too.)

This year, of course, we will be “in shul” from home. It will be an entirely different experience in so many ways. And as a result, this year I suspect I won’t be asked to hold anyone’s index finger and guide them through davening. It’s one of the many things that will be different in 2020. Yes, it’s a very small thing, but it’s something I will miss. A lot.

These last six months we’ve all been missing so many of the things we love, big and small. Things we’ve long taken for granted have changed, morphed, or just gone away entirely.

For those of us who work at Ramah Darom, the thing we miss most is being with all of you.

Our organization’s work is built around bringing people together on our beautiful campus in Clayton. Since March, gathering the way we usually do has simply not been possible. We had to make the heart-wrenching decision to cancel Camp this summer. We had to cancel all our spring retreats including our Passover program. All the Jewish groups from across the southeast that normally hold programs on our campus either postponed or canceled outright.

Thanks to our incredible team, over the last six months we have found ways to gather in different ways. Over 400 campers (including almost three dozen Tlkvah-supported campers) and 100 volunteer staff came together for Kayitz BaBayit, our four-week Camp experience on Zoom. We hosted Camp Yofi at Home, including a home version of the legendary sticky-gooey-sensory night. We created Mishpachah B’Ramah, physically-distanced getaways for a small group of families at a time. I’m very proud of the team’s work on these programs, and thankful to everyone who participated. Read “Summer 2020 in Review.”

And yet these experiences, while very successful, have not been able to replace some of the best parts of being with our community during a “normal” year. We miss seeing the huge smiles as campers get off the bus for the first day of Camp. We miss spending Passover with the many extended families who come together year after year. We miss the joyful late-night porch jam sessions during Limmud. We miss seeing campers on stage during the annual Camp Yofi talent show. We miss watching the adorable little ones overtaking our campus during the PJ Library weekend. We miss the warm, spontaneous hugs that inevitably happen as people leave Ramah Darom at the end of a program.

We really miss being with you, our cherished Ramah Darom community.

As we head into the new year, we pray for everyone’s health and safety. We pray for a return to normalcy. We pray that we can soon go back to doing all the things we love. We pray for the time, very soon, when we can all be back together at Ramah Darom.

Wishing you and your family a Shana Tova U’Metuka.