Please enjoy a D’var Torah this week from Rosh Garinim 2015, Danny Stamos. A lifetime Ramahnik, Danny graduated from the University of Michigan in the spring of 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Biomolecular Sciences. After working as a research assistant at the Wicha Lab on the role that stem cells play in cancer, Danny moved to the Washington DC area when he received a postbaccalaureate intramural research training award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to do research on T-cell signaling and development. Reflections on Hanukkah by Danny Stamos
In a few short days, Jewish families will dust off their menorahs and wrap their gifts for the first night of Hanukkah. Hanukkah is probably one of the most popular holidays among Jewish children. Eight days of presents makes the buy-in for the holiday easy. For a long time, this was the reason why I loved Hanukkah. But as I have gotten older I have begun to see parallels between the Hanukkah story and what we do at Ramah, and that has given this holiday new meaning for me.
At a basic level, the first parallel is that the vision of Ramah’s founders was an echo, two thousand years later, of the Maccabees revolt against the Greeks: Hanukkah celebrates a resistance to assimilation and a commitment to protect Jewish culture. We could imagine that the Maccabees would be proud of Ramah as a response to the challenges of American Judaism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a counter-cultural expression of Jewish pride.
On a deeper level, the parallel I see between the Hanukkah story and Ramah is that both take something ephemeral and make it last. Once the Maccabees defeated Antiochus, they came back to the temple to relight the menorah. Unfortunately, after the war there was only one jar of pure oil left to light the menorah. Not to be undone by the limits of some simple combustion chemistry, God provided a miracle and the oil lasted for eight days. Our limitations at camp are not so much physical as practical. With just a few weeks together, we try to fill the summer with impactful programming that the campers will remember all year long. So much happens between summers and yet the programming at Ramah is strong enough to reverberate beyond our weeks and years together. How many of you can remember what you did four summers ago? Or forty? Memories and experiences fade, but more often than not the experiences at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin last a lifetime. That is miraculous.
This Hanukkah I am thankful for all the gifts Ramah has given me: The gift of a strong Jewish identity; the gift of Jewish literacy; the gift of Jewish community. I am thankful for the gift I could never buy on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. I am thankful for the gift of Camp Ramah and the miracles that happen in Conover every summer.