Hard though it is to believe, we are celebrating the sixth Shabbat of the summer. In just a little over two weeks, camp will be over, campers and staff members will return home and we will begin preparing for the 2013 camp season. So much will happen in camp during the remaining weeks! Here is just a sample:

Shavua Sababa, a new Bogrim program, will start on Sunday. Campers will spend half the day in the specialty clinic of their choice:

Learning pastry baking with a professional pastry chef;
Painting murals with a well-known Israeli artist;
Developing their own works of creative writing;
Composing and performing in their own Jewish rock band;
Mixing and producing music with a professional percussionist/producer; and
Producing the first ever overnight camp stop-action Torah Commentary film.

And that’s just for Bogrimers! Machon campers will go on a fun, public-service oriented trip through Wisconsin. Shoafim will work on their tzedakah projects and select campers, together with campers from Tikvah, will make their own tefillin. We will have two guest scholars-in-residence, Tom Price, an alumnus of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and the US Foreign Service department, and Alon Futterman, director of new shlichim initiatives at the Jewish Agency for Israel and the creator of the Ashkelon Education Forum. There will be more Hebrew musicals, trips, lots of fun and strengthening friendships old and new.

While we now have three shorter session aidot, Kochavim, Garinim and Halutzim, the core of the camp is and will remain the eight-week camping experience. I mention that because we would not have the time necessary to take on the kind of projects we develop here in a shorter time period. Moreover, the blessings of longer time in the summer create opportunities that shorter sessions simply cannot. Over the course of a summer, people change. They become more open. They learn. Relationships at the beginning of the summer are inherently different after a summer of living together. They are richer, more diverse, more tolerant.

We are very proud of our new Kochavim program for entering fourth graders. The aidah doubled in size this year to over seventy campers. Almost 100% of last year’s Kochavim campers returned to camp as Garinimers and another thirty-one new campers joined them. Our Halutzimers are having a fantastic time at camp. These aidot represent the future of the camp. They will become the Nivonimers and staff members of the future. They will become the Jewish leaders of tomorrow as alumni of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin have been leaders of the Jewish community in the past.  

This week, we begin our Torah reading with a Triptik-like list of the stops our ancestors made along their way from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael. Sentence after terse sentence simply tells us where the Israelites stopped along the way. The absence of detail gives the midrash the opportunity to teach multiple lessons and to fill in the gaps. The double parashah leads us almost all the way to the Holy Land. It is as close as the Torah brings us. We end this week by chanting חזק חזק ונתחזק! Be strong, be strong and together we will be strengthened. We hear about all the stops on the journey, we get to the edge of the Promised Land, we chant about strength and we stop short of entering Eretz Yisrael.

The eight-week experience at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is a summer-long journey. There are multiple stops along the way. At each stop, campers grow and change. Campers develop new skills, participate in complex projects, and develop ever deeper friendships. Staff members who have never worked together become strong advocates for one another by the end of the summer. Projects that are not be possible in week four become realities in week seven. The spiritual journey that one starts in Kochavim continues summer after summer at Ramah, well into the staff years, and is nourished by the summer experience. This is one of the things that makes the experience at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin unique.  

As week six comes to a close and week seven begins, camp is abuzz with projects and activities, fun and friends. The investment of the first six weeks of camp is paying off now and will reap dividends throughout the year for campers and staff members, families and communities, synagogues and our People. I know that when your children come home in a little over two weeks, what they tell you about the summer will sound like a Triptik, lots of stops and little detail. Over the course of the months after summer, more and more detail will come out and you will be amazed at how much your children accomplished and grew this summer. Hopefully, you already see the power of eight week camping in terms of impact on your children. Please be sure to share it with others. In that way, we will all be strengthened.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Loren Sykes