It is almost my second Shabbat at camp this summer.  After an intensive week of work with our Roshei Aidah (Division Heads) and Tzevet Machnaut (Camping Staff) and a weekend with our Roshei Anaf (Program Area Heads) and Tzevet Chavalim (Ropes Course Staff), we welcomed our mishlachat (Israeli delegation) on Monday and our full staff on Tuesday.  Our staff is inspiring with their energies, talents, deep and empathic articulation of what it means to care for the hundreds of campers who will join us throughout the 2013 summer, and commitment to the mission and vision of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.

This evening  there will undoubtedly be phenomenal davening – nearly two hundred vibrant young adults praying, singing, stomping, clapping, and dancing to usher in Shabbat.  We celebrate Shabbat in a community that is, in many respects, a mash-up of the very best Hillels in the country.

Our work this week is relaxed and frenetic at once, setting a tone for the summer that is both so action-packed and much more relaxed than the frenzy of our lives at home.  Historically, camps were created as countercultural institutions:  educational settings that could offer what busy parents in the sweltering inner cities of the late 19th century could not.  We welcome campers seeking a break from their screens, the frantic pace of their school and activity schedules, an immersive Jewish environment, the joys and growth opportunities of communal living, an opportunity to see the stars and smell the trees, and more.

Perhaps the greatest expression of how we both stand apart from and are part of the communities from which our campers will begin traveling early next week is the way in which Ramah programming is designed to use the words of the Jewish past to speak in the language of the Jewish present.  In perhaps the most inspiring of many inspiring moments of the last twelve days, the Roshei Aidah presented to each other their themes for the summer.  Each Aidah has an educational theme that informs the content of their programming throughout the summer, helps serve as a hook upon which the staff build the culture of the group and functions as a rallying cry to help them hold onto the constant stream of experiences they have here at camp.  Here are some of the tag lines in development by our staff:

Kochavim:  Mah Rabu Ma’a’secha – How Great Are God’s Creations
Garinim:  B’yachad Yad B’yad – Together, Hand in Hand
Chalutzim:  B’tzelem Elohim – In God’s Image
Solelim:  Im Tirzu, Ein Zo Agada – If You Will It, It Is No Dream
Shoafim:  Lo Aleicha Ham’lachah Ligmor – It Is Not Upon You to Complete the Task
Bogrim:  Ner Adonai, Nishmat Bogrim – God’s Flame is the Soul of Bogrim
Machon:  Chadeish Yameinu K’Kedem – Renew Our Lives as in Days of Old
Tikvah:  V’ha’ikar Lo L’facheid K’lal – And The Essence is Not to Fear At All
Nivonim:  Lo Bashamayim He – It Is Not in Heaven
Atzmayim:  Shoftim, M’lachim, V’n’vi’im – Biblical Jewish Leadership:  Judges, Kings, and Prophets

Each of these themes was developed by our Roshei Aidah in dialogue with our Assistant Director, Yael Bendat-Appell, and myself, and are more fully fleshed out as educational topics in addition to the tag line.  The tag lines themselves draw on Biblical verses and themes, the writings of Rabbi Nachman of Bretslav and Theodore Herzl, and the wisdom of Pirkei Avot (the Wisdom of the Sages).  Throughout the summer our campers will build on these themes and, eight weeks from now, will be gathering before Shabbat to begin the final steps in their exploration of these topics.  By that point, the themes will have transcended whatever the Rosh Aidah initially intended in March or April; the tag line and all it represents will have become, with any luck, the defining image of their summer here at Ramah.

On behalf of our entire staff, I wishing everyone a safe journey to Ramah in the coming days and a wonderful final Shabbat at home.