I sit here in between sessions of our amazing 2017 Family Camp, as we have welcomed forty families from around the Midwest to spend an extended weekend with us.  The kikar is alive again with the next generation of Ramah campers, as is the waterfront, sports courts, omanut (art studio), Beit Am (gymnasium) and ropes course.  Your children are all home; the physical unpacking done as the mental, emotional, and spiritual unpacking has just begun.  Hopefully, the final tears precipitated by leaving camp have been shed, replaced with the countdown calendars for next summer, video chats and phone calls with new friends, and other signs of a hope and commitment towards 2018.  Near the peak of summer, with the days already growing shorter towards fall and winter, Ramahniks plant seeds of hope that will endure and grow through another school year and we will harvest in June and July. Last Friday night, Josh Pickard and Sophie Kaufman addressed camp with reflections on their summers as campers and the meaning of Ramah.  Below we have excerpted part of their divrei torah. As I look forward to welcoming them and the rest of Nivonim 2017 back to camp as Junior Counselors in 2019, it is a great pleasure to give them the last word on an amazingly successful summer filled with fun, friends, and meaning.

Josh writes about his biological family at home and his Ramah family, about what it means to cultivate and nurture a family and how to give back to it.

When we are born, we join a family. It is completely random who’s in your family. But you live with them, you take care of each other, and you grow up together. Personally, I was incredibly lucky. To be born into a great family with incredible parents and the three best brothers I could ask for. My brothers – Aaron, Daniel, and David – are my favorite people in the world. I have a unique and powerful relationship with each of them. These relationships developed, I believe, because we grew up in one house, together. Physically, we lived in rooms next door to each other.

Coming to camp is a choice. A choice that I have made for the past few summers. My first summer at camp, Garinim 2011, I remember being so excited to come to Ramah. I was excited to go to sleep away camp for the first time, to be away from my parents, and to be like my older brothers who at the time already had fallen in love with Ramah.

Everyone comes to camp for different reasons and with different goals in mind. When I was younger, I was excited for the campy experience: going away, meeting new friends, and overall having an exciting summer. As I have gotten older, my reasons for loving camp have changed. This summer, I came to be with my family, my aidah.

Prior to arriving at camp each summer I, and I know many others, have expectations for how we expect the summer to go, what the highlights will be: Yom Sport, the play, the Zimriyah (song festival), aidah sports games, and so many other things. The camping trip was always a favorite of mine.

Although we have some unreal pe’ulot (activities) at camp, our attitude and how we act truly are responsible for making a special summer. It is not enough to go watch during your aidah sports game. You need to go and you need to be present. You need to believe. You don’t just stand and watch the game, you buy into the game and go absolutely crazy cheering for you friends as they play. It is not simply enough to go through the motions, you need to believe that it is the greatest thing ever.

This is how we build and contribute to our Ramah family.

Based on last week’s Torah reading, Sophie rhetorically asks the question of what it means to give back – to serve – Ramah.

To serve our machaneh (camp), we also have to take what we learned here and bring it into the “real world.” This is no small task.

In this week’s parashah, the Israelites are preparing to enter Israel because they “are holy people to the Lord …. God has chosen [them] to be a special people to Godself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.” This is a concept I’ve often struggled with. How could one group of people be better than or even more special than another?

“The chosen people” is a term I’ve stayed away from. To me, it sounds pretentious. But when I connected this pasuk (verse) back to my experiences at Ramah, I found myself more comfortable with it. It has nothing to do with being better than anybody else, but rather with the responsibility that comes with living according to Jewish values, or in this case, being a chanichah (camper).

During the kayitz (summer), we do more than just hang out on the kikar. We study in our yahadut (Jewish studies) or ivrit (Hebrew) classes, we learn how to swim and rock climb, to understand people who are different from us, and even to appreciate the little things like the hugs after Kabbalat Shabbat, the muzikah (music) coming from radio, or the constant integration of hasafah ha’ivrit (the Hebrew language) into our everyday vocabulary. We are taught such genuine, sometimes hard to grasp concepts such as the relationship between science and religion, the mourning process, our understanding of God, contradicting laws, or why chicken is not considered pareve.

If we teach it and learn it, we must uphold it as well.  And as a chanichah, it is our achrayut (responsibility) to take these morals, values, and memories created at Ramah back home with us. And by doing so, we keep all of those ideas alive. Just as we are commanded to do in the Shema, we must “teach them diligently to [our] children…”.

Shabbat Shalom.