Many Ramah families include several generations of campers and staff members. Last year, shlicha (Israeli staff member) Nitza Bassel joined us for her first summer on staff, but she was no stranger to camp. Both of her parents attended Camp Ramah (one in Wisconsin and one in New England) before making aliyah. Nitza shares her story below:
Peppered throughout my childhood were comments from my Ima about her two summers spent at Ramah in New England. It was only last year I was preparing to come to Ramah in Wisconsin that a sense of self-doubt began to come over me: “What am I doing this for? Will I really be able to relate to the campers? What impact will my enthusiasm for bringing Torah and Israeli life to kids in America have?”
It was then my mother shared the effect that camp had on her as a 12 year old which continues with her until this day. It was that taste of living Judaism that gave her the sense she had found HOME. She described Kabbalat Shabbat, the sun setting, everyone sparkling and white, and the singing. She wanted to take this with her forever. There were very few things she didn’t involve herself in. She often acted out her lines for us as the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz for us—B’IVRIT (in Hebrew)!
Ima also experienced her first Tisha B’Av at camp. Her long, descriptive letter to home of that time was published in the synagogue newsletter—unbeknownst to her!
Above all else it was the caring, stimulating and sincere people that became her greater family at camp. Ima is still in touch with many of her camp friends here in Israel. Camp propelled her and many friends into a more Torah-based life – many of them living and raising children and grandchildren in Israel. Ima’s two summers at Ramah shaped her outlook on life, on being Jewish and on being comfortable living her Jewishness to the fullest.
My Aba, also, would tell us about his time at Ramah in Wisconsin. Like my Ima, he remembers the Kabbalat Shabbat services as being very special and inviting. He, too, experienced observance of Tisha B’Av for the first time. He explained to me that growing up in a Conservative shul, there was never any mention of Tisha B’Av, probably because it is in the summer when many people go away. He described how he first heard Eicha, sitting on the floor in the Ulam, everyone holding candles and following the reading.
Although my father would often skip activities to hang out in the library or in a ‘secret’ spot next to the lake, he enjoyed many aspects of Ramah life. He loved archery, carpentry, the classes in Jewish philosophy and learning and, of course, meeting many people with whom he became very close. He had a lead role in the Nivonim production of “Inherit the Wind” and also read Torah and Haftara for services very often.
He has fond memories of speaking Hebrew in the dining hall where such creative words as ‘chatulim l’maalah’ (catsup) were created. He even got to host the morning “Rock Kimah” radio show a couple of times.
Being in camp allowed him to experience what a religious Jewish full time life felt like. He loved the z’mirot they sang on Shabbat and continued to sing many of those tunes for years to come.
He spent the summers of 1970 and 1972 at Ramah in Wisconsin and the summer of 1973 with Ramah Seminar in Israel. He had already graduated high school early and stayed on in Israel for three years of yeshiva learning.
Like my mother, he created life-long friendships with some of his fellow campers. He and they were able to go on to integrate the sense of Camp Ramah into their daily lives not just as teenagers, but throughout their adult lives. And I am the product of all this!!!