Please enjoy a D’var Torah today from Ann Lesley Rosen. Ann Lesley works for camp year-round as our Communications Coordinator and is in residence over the summer supervising our blog, facebook and twitter presences, and all other communications, including the hundreds of pictures we post everyday (save for Shabbat!) of campers and staff. Ann Lesley lives in the St. Louis area with her husband Scott and children Liana, Gillian, Asher, and Amira.
I came to Ramah comparatively late. I didn’t start until my Machon (entering 10th grade) summer in 1995, and was one of only two or three new campers in the aidah that summer. My camp experience actually started with Girl Scout camp the summer before fourth grade. I wasn’t that active in Girl Scouts, but my best friend and I somehow ended up spending a week in rural Missouri living in a tent with a girl named Swimmer who liked to sing songs from The Little Mermaid.
We hated it. The first day we wrote letters to our parents begging them to take us home (I don’t know that we ever sent them) and we complained and complained to our counselors. About the bugs, the dirt, the food, the other campers—anything and everything. It didn’t register with our nine-year-old selves that we had been given an amazing opportunity to get away for a week, to sleep in the forest and connect with the world.
In this week’s parashah, Shelach Lecha, Moses sends twelve spies into the land of Israel with the charge to explore the land and report back. They get the first look at the Promised Land they’ve been hearing about since leaving Egypt. As they journey through the land, they see all the beauty it has to offer, that it truly is “a land of milk and honey.” At the same time, they see the land’s inhabitants, and are fearful that, despite God’s protection, they will not be able to settle the land.
We all know the story. The spies report back. Ten of them say the land is hostile, inhabited by giants, that God just brought them out of Egypt to die in the desert. Only two of them, Caleb and Joshua, say that yes, there are scary things in the land, but God will protect us. God brought us here for a reason. God is not leaving us now.
After my first camp experience, there was no reason I should have found my way to Ramah. Like the spies, I entered that camp with no intention of liking it, no faith that it could work. I only saw the giants, not the beauty of the land. I didn’t like camping and being away from home. Then Rabbi Soloff visited my Sunday school and something stirred in me. Suddenly, I was signed up to spend eight weeks away from home at this far away place I’d never visited. I didn’t even have a friend going with me (which was a huge thing for me, a shy introvert).
I remember packing the night before I left, the plane ride and bus ride, the lump in my throat and the nerves. And then I got off the bus and I knew I was home. I could have gotten off the bus and seen the giants (even as a Machon camper, the Nivonim campers seemed like giants to me!). I could have reported back only the negatives. But, I embraced Ramah. I knew God had brought me to this place for a reason and I was going to take that leap of faith.
The next summer, in Nivonim, I met my future husband. Since then we have spent almost every summer at camp. In two years, our oldest daughter will be in Kochavim and I’ll have to take that leap of faith again, this time as the parent instead of the participant. I know that Ramah is an amazing place. I know that many of you will be experiencing Ramah for the first time this summer, whether as a camper or as the parent of a camper. I urge you to open your eyes to all the opportunities Ramah offers, to know that even though leaving home might seem scary, once you get here, you’re going to have the experience of a lifetime.