This Memorial Day, our Roshei Eidah (division heads) traveled from Illinois, Ohio (four of them!), and Israel up to a chilly, damp, Conover, Wisconsin. The sun came out for a few precious hours to help our chef put the final touches on a Bar-B-Q and allow our dedicated Roshei Eidah to unpack. We ate, and then quickly got to work. For ninety minutes, we sat in a circle and began a new tradition at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, a מעגל צדק / ma’agal tzedek / Circle of Righteousness. Drawing on the practices of our ancestors who sat around blazing fires and a compelling philosophy of relationship building and group processing, we shared of each other and learned how committed we already were to shared goals and visions. We then took the time to lay out and concretize those visions into a ברית / b’rit / covenant, an agreement that binds us to each other and to the place where we established it.
As we did this, the Jewish calendar moved from the 4th day of Sivan into the 5th, from the 48th day of the Omer into the 49th. After we completed this exercise we davenned ma’ariv, the evening service, together and completed the counting of the Omer: seven complete weeks from the second day of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. Tomorrow night we channel our Rabbinic sages’ understanding that this journey from early spring to the cusp of summer is the same temporal journey as that of a nation leaving slavery and arriving at the foot of Mount Sinai for God’s revelation.
Two brief takeaways:
1) Our Roshei Eidah are exactly the people we want charged with taking care of, inspiring, and guiding your child this summer. Each personal story is more amazing than the next, as they recount their leadership involvement in disparate areas of college and post-college life, their journeys around the world to discover new things about the world and themselves, their dynamic engagemnt with the Judaisms of the past and of their future, and their outstanding and curiosity-evoking diverse academic interests and achievements. They spoke, this evening, about reconciling feminism with a commitment to living in a traditional Jewish idiom and about reconciling a passion for big ideas and administrative leadership with a deep, burning desire to serve others as a medical doctor. They spoke of holding doors open in their own communities for the derided and underprivileged, and of building those doors for others to walk through by dedicating themselves to keeping the past alive so that the less engaged, the currently less interested, may still have a community to call home when they are ready to return.
During one exercise, these were some of the responses to “A successful summer is one where …”: – … my campers will believe that they own their Judaism – … my campers learn the benefit of going outside of their comfort zones to create compassionate, close-knit relationships and a tight community – … my campers have totally happy moments enjoying simple things that can bring them a lot of joy – … my campers leave camp with the takeaway of something you can’t explain but was outrageously fun – … my campers leave camp appreciating that, though there may have been some failed attempts along the way, the joy of mastering new skills, building new friendships, and being a part of an amazing community can’t be beat!
2) I’ve been thinking about different ways that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is not like Mount Sinai. What struck me this evening, inspired by these amazing Roshei Eidah in camp for their first night, is this:
Mount Sinai is the place where God descended on one occasion to give Moses and the Israelites the ever-unfolding revelation that we call Torah, a revelation that continues to speak to each of us. Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is the place we return to every summer for a new generation of world Jewry’s most talented and inspiring young leaders to impart a tailor-made message for the group of campers privileged enough to spend that summer in camp.
Mount Sinai clearly has us beat at its game. We can best hope to ignite a passion for learning, living, or loving Torah in our campers and staff. We can never, ever, deign to pretend that what we have to offer matches what God offered our ancestors at Sinai.
And yet … Mount Sinai cannot beat us at our game either. For what we do is repeat, year after year, different revelations, different “aha” and “wow” moments that change our campers’ lives.
From Sinai, Torah has gone forth to the four corners of the earth for over three millennia and counting. To Ramah, those seeking life-altering experiences have journeyed, from the same four corners of the earth, for seventy years … and counting.
Chag Shavuot Sameach, Jacob