Parashat Chayei Sarah
by Yael Bendat-Appell, Assistant Director

In this week’s parasha we read about the end of Sarah’s life as well as the end of Avraham’s life.  Yet despite their deaths at such an early point in the Biblical narrative, their legacy has already been clearly established.  They have ensured both a literal continuation of their line through their offspring as well as a spiritual continuation of their line through the covenant established with God and entrusted to Isaac.

In addition to their lineage and their spiritual teachings, Avraham and Sarah also established a legacy of connection to physical space. In Breishit 23, immediately after Sarah dies, Avraham secures a piece of land, Ma’arat Hamachpelah, in which to bury his wife.  Avraham later joins Sarah when he is buried alongside her in that same location.  Ma’arat Hamachpelah becomes a site with an emotional tug for us not just because it is in Eretz Yisrael, but because of the significance of the choosing of that spot by Avraham as their final resting place.

When I was at camp this past summer, I was struck by the camp facilities dedicated in memory of individuals who had been deeply connected to Ramah Wisconsin and who died at too early an age.  The Ohel Yitzchak dedicated in memory of Rabbi Isaac (Zicky) Bonder, the meditative rock facing the agam marking the Michael Salkin Memorial Waterfront, and the Jonathan Shapiro Mercaz are physical examples of the legacies honoring individuals.  There are also many program endowments named for campers and staff members who were deeply a part of the Ramah experience and family.  I was so moved to see that for so many, camp was the place to mark and celebrate the memories of these individuals.

I was having lunch this week with a Jewish educator in the community whose kids grew up at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  He told me that when both of his kids got engaged, they brought their future spouses to Conover, Wisconsin, to show them camp.  Both felt that they needed to share their deep connection to that physical space with their beloveds, and clearly neither of them felt that it was enough to just show them pictures or share camp with them merely through words or stories.  Camp had played such a significant part in their formative experiences that it was imperative to physically be there with the person with whom each would share his and her future.

After spending time at camp, we feel a magnetic pull to that place; a physical and a spiritual pull.  It is a gift to us that the Ramah experience impacts us so deeply that in our moments of greatest connection, love, and celebration as well as our moments of greatest loss, we are pulled to that place to build our own legacies.