This Summer Counts

Geoff Menkowitz6.14.20

My simple message for this week is that this summer counts.

In the Zoom meetings we held with each Aidah (age-division) immediately after our cancellation announcement, the question of t-shirts came up in almost every single one – even the meeting with Tzevet (staff). Will there be a t-shirt this summer? Will I still earn my 5-year shirt? Will I still qualify to receive an 8-year hoodie sweatshirt when I complete Gesher?

Facing of the emotional difficulty of coming to terms with a summer spent away from Camp – not to mention the devastating state of our world right now, this focus on t-shirts may seem juvenile and even shallow to the uninitiated. But for “Camp People” who appreciate the t-shirt culture of Ramah Darom, this makes perfect sense. In much the way that older generations expressed cultural affiliation by wearing a “ Magen David ” or the Hebrew word “ Chai ” on a chain around their necks, for our current campers their Ramah Darom t-shirts are a profound expression of their Jewish identity. This is far more significant than donning an athletic jersey to demonstrate fanatical devotion to a professional sports team and it is much more personal than showing school spirit with SWAG from your alma mater.

Our campers, in ways that most cannot articulate yet, wear their Ramah Darom t-shirt to make a statement about the way that the values of Ramah Darom resonate deeply within them. Putting on the Camp shirt on a winter morning is a reminder of the personal growth that takes place in the supportive environment of Summer Camp and can refocus them on striving to be their best selves. Worn in camp or out of camp, the t-shirt marks them as part of a community built on a foundation of inclusion, gratitude, kindness, and joy. Camp t-shirts are indeed a big deal.

Well, we have a t-shirt for Summer 2020 . So it’s official: This summer counts!

Our t-shirt art this summer reflects the unique nature of the Ramah summer we will spend at home, physically separated but together nonetheless. Our professional team has rallied to create in a very short period of time an amazing new experience for our community. On Monday, we will launch “ Kayitz BaBayit” (Summer at Home), an extension of Ramah Darom at Home that will engage 402 registered campers over the course of 4 weeks. The program will be facilitated by 89 staff volunteers (including 5 supported by our Tikvah Vocational Program) ensuring that our campers can still have a Ramah summer that includes friendship, fun and meaningful Jewish moments. These Mitnadvim (volunteers) will make sure that this summer does indeed count.

Last night, we concluded our first-ever completely online Staff Training/Orientation with an epic “Zoomified” Roller Coaster ritual (pictured above). Our Staff Alumni know this Roller Coaster ritual as the thrilling and uplifting way that we close the annual all-staff meeting in which we recommit ourselves to the core values of Ramah Darom.

In my closing charge to staff this year, I reminded them that the Ramah Darom experience is not measured in weeks or months but in years. Our success in creating committed leaders comes from the cumulative impact of being in a relationship with our educational community over the course of 7, 8, 9+ years. This vital initiative of “Kayitz BaBayit” will make sure that our campers maintain their sacred connection to each other and to Camp, and that they will be back with us in 2021 to continue their Ramah journey.

Our amazing young adults have answered the call when their community needed them most. From their own years at Ramah Darom, they have learned not only to appreciate the power of community but also to understand that being part of a community comes with real responsibilities. We are grateful for and inspired by these home-grown superstars!

As we all plunge into this unknown world of virtual camp, we do so with confidence because of the committed, creative, and caring staff we have. We are blessed. Here we go!!!