For many summers, it has been tradition at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin that two Nivonim campers speak to the entire camp at Kabbalat Shabbat. It is my pleasure to share with you the divre Torah of Ari Weinstein and Rachel Small. I hope that you are as moved as I am by their eloquence, their love of camp, and the strength of their Jewish identity.
Thank you for entrusting all of your campers to us this summer. We are looking forward to one more Kabbalat Shabbat on the lake and to learning from Rachel and Ari.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Loren Sykes
Ari Weinstein’s Dvar Torah
Shabbat Shalom.

I’m here to tell you that camp doesn’t change. Yes, it’s fair to say that Machon no longer goes to Canada. And a new Chadar was built a few years ago. And trees have fallen during storms. But the nature of this institution has remained the same. It remains anchored to the shore of Lake Buckatabon, set in a far removed corner of the Northwoods. Look out at the lake, no, above the lake; look at where the trees meet the immaculate blue sky. It’s as if we’re in a glass case, like in a museum, where the people and exhibits change regularly, but the impact remains the same from year to year. And now, we are at the end of our museum tour. We’ve had the opportunity to browse around camp in every weather, on all of its trails and grassy patches, from the agam to the Giva. But now it’s time to give up that privilege and move on.

Each time we move up an aidah, it feels as if we’re undergoing major changes. We are given more responsibilities and privileges as we mature. But even though we feel as if we’re moving quickly through the summers, the basic structure for each aidah stays the same. Machon was different than Bogrim, which was different than Shoafim, and so on. But when I think, really think, about it, I realize that our Machon summer had the same basic elements as the Machon before us. Yes, we shaped it and made it our own, but at the core, it was the same. Like the Kikar—it stays the same from year to year. We have the opportunity to make it a battleground for life-size fruit ninja or Les Mis dodgeball, but next year, it will be the same grassy hill it was on June 12, 2012, waiting to be transformed during 2013.

This year in the Nivo English Play we wrote about a world without religion and students who went to a museum of religious history. One of the key characters was Elijah, the museum’s janitor and a bus driver, who was responsible for opening the museum and keeping it presentable. Elijah set the stage and, more importantly, brought the students to the museum as the bus driver. One of Elijah’s quotes particularly struck me: “You’re going to leave this bus the way you found it. The only thing that’s going to change is you.” I’m relatively sure that camp is not a bus. But they served the same purpose: both buses and camp brought us from one location to the next; from our arrival, be it when we were ten or twelve or fifteen, to today, standing here as young adults. The essence of camp is still the same as it was in 2007 when I stepped off the bus, not yet aware that my experiences over the next six summers would shape who I am today.

Enlightenment era philosopher John Locke theorized that we are all blank slates at birth, ready to be shaped by our experiences and surroundings. In a way, I think that both we as individuals, as well as camp itself, are blank slates, mutually writing on each other with each passing summer. We impact camp every day. It’s not only the act of consciously giving back to camp, be it picking up trash, making artwork to hang on a building, or helping a younger camper, but just the act of being present. It’s impossible to be here and not make a change. And the Kikar is very much like a giant slate placed in the middle of camp for us to write on; we fill it with small daily activities, like sitting on it with friends, and monumental events of the summer, like a spontaneous camp-wide water fight. Camp has also shaped me as an individual, taught me values and morals that I could have never learned in a different setting. I learned how to be a leader, how to live with others, form lifelong friendships, and live a meaningful Jewish life. It’s easy to say that camp has filled a large fraction of my slate. And our aidah has left our mark on camp’s slate: be it our famous track record for incredible musicals, unparalleled athleticism, or a Yom Sport that will be remembered forever.

And we, like all the aidot before us, have helped to fill the most magnificent slate in camp: the walls of the Giva. Graffiti is, of course, condemned in any building off the Giva. But the Graffiti in the Nivo cabins doesn’t have the same negativity associated with it; on the contrary, it turns the Giva into a museum of sorts. History is encased in decades-old scribbles still on the walls and ceilings and floors of our cabins. When two members of Nivonim 1987 came to look around during their 25th Reunion, they found the names of members of their aidah and told us that it looks the same as when they’d lived there. Notes from the early 90’s etched onto the walls share the same feelings we have about Nivonim and Camp Ramah. Nothing here really changes; not through the years, or decades; only the faces passing through the Giva change.

The isolated, museum-like aspect of camp has, in a strange way, always made me think of the Truman Show. The Truman Show is a movie about a man named Truman who unknowingly lives in a television show. Everything about his world is fabricated—the actors playing his family, the laws of society, even the weather and the sky above him. Though we aren’t filmed around the clock (as far as I know), the concept of living in a world tailored to our every need seems familiar. Every peulat erev, every yom miyuchad, every Hebrew and Text class, serves a purpose for us growing as individuals and an aidah community—a Jewish community. A Jewish community that I hope I can recreate and immerse myself in as an adult. And all of Nivo 2012 has been affected by this. We’ve all learned about how to be a Kehila Kedosha, a holy community. And here, circled around this community of the entire camp, are the seventy-eight incredible leaders and role models of Nivonim 2012.

The sense that every aspect of camp is designed to benefit us, and, as a result, seems to be perfect mirrors how I perceive the Garden of Eden, which existed solely for Adam and Eve. They could explore the boundaries of the world they knew, discovering and experiencing more with each passing moment. The Garden itself was a place of naivety and innocence, separated from the rest of the world. There could not have been a more perfect place for Adam and Eve to live than in the beautiful, untainted Garden. There is no doubt in my mind that Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is the only place in the world where I will ever feel as if I’m in the Garden of Eden—in a rustic, fenced in pocket of Wisconsin uncorrupted by the outside world.

But this camp contains the same element of the Garden of Eden which made it imperfect—temptation.

וַיְצַו יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָדָם לֵאמֹר:  מִכֹּל עֵץ-הַגָּן, אָכֹל תֹּאכֵל. וּמֵעֵץ, הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע–לֹא תֹאכַל, מִמֶּנּוּ:  כִּי, בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְךָ מִמֶּנּוּ–מוֹת תָּמוּת.

God had told Adam and Eve, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat; but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die” (Gen. 2:16-7). At camp, Nivonim is our forbidden fruit. It’s the only consistently untouchable element of camp. Nivo is intriguing and exhilarating to think about, and we’re sure it’s the only thing we really want. But we, like Adam and Eve, are so fortunate to have everything we need available at our fingertips, with the exception of one fruit tree. The tree of knowledge, like Nivo, is the most magnificent of all, and Adam and Eve ached to try its fruit.

וַיֹּאמֶר הַנָּחָשׁ, אֶל-הָאִשָּׁה:  לֹא-מוֹת, תְּמֻתוּן. כִּי, יֹדֵעַ אֱלֹהִים, כִּי בְּיוֹם אֲכָלְכֶם מִמֶּנּוּ, וְנִפְקְחוּ עֵינֵיכֶם; וִהְיִיתֶם, כֵּאלֹהִים, יֹדְעֵי, טוֹב וָרָע.

The serpent said to Eve, “You are not going to die, but G-d knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who know good and bad” (Gen. 3:4-5). Once the serpent had convinced her she wouldn’t face mortal danger, Eve couldn’t resist the desire to taste the forbidden fruit. After all, it was the only thing in their Garden inaccessible to them, mysterious and wondrous above all else. They disregarded everything else that Eden had—the trees, fruits, vines, things easily taken for granted. Is it worthwhile to think only of the single fruit, rather than the entirety of all the Garden had to offer? No. And I wish I could tell that to every camper who gawks at the Giva, buzzing with excitement for what they know is the single most incredible part of camp—Nivonim.
Because Nivo is not the most incredible part of camp—it’s the small things. The moment you step off the buses on the first day, the mornings when fog nestles over the lake, the bagels on Wednesdays, the sand on the floor of the cabins (though it’s never clear how it got there), the island swims, the Shabbat walks you take, the hugs after services on Friday nights, the spontaneous water fights—why do those go unnoticed as wonderful features of our Garden?

Don’t wish away your spectacular summers for Nivo, because, as in the Garden of Eden, eating the forbidden fruit was Adam and Eve’s final act before they were forced to leave. Their whole experience in the Garden culminated in the moment when they finally held the fruit in their hand, experienced it with every sense they could—in the same way we experienced Nivo. But in the end, they were unable to stay. There is no denying that Nivo is intriguing and mysterious—and curiosity is inevitable—but truly exploring the garden that camp is is something we don’t fully appreciate until we’re told our time is limited and we need to leave the most wonderful garden in the world.
In truth, Adam and Eve were able to gain something from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. They became conscious and aware of themselves and their surroundings. Similarly, I’m not leaving this Garden empty-handed. I’ve acquired forty-four weeks worth of knowledge on how to understand myself and the community around me. I have learned this from living in close quarters with thirteen others every summer. I learned how to be a leader through the White Rose Leadership Society during Machon. And I remember on Yom High School in Bogrim, we talked about how to balance our Jewish lives with our lives at a public high school. And that’s something that really sticks with me throughout the year, something I can feel the impact of every day. I remember realizing on that Yom Miyuchad that camp had actually equipped me so well to know what Jewish aspects I wanted in my life. I realized that giving back to the Jewish community is important, so I signed up to tutor kids for their Bnai Mitzvot. I learned that being Jewish in a non-Jewish setting requires you to be a representative of the Jewish community and a leader as well.
Not every ending is forced, though, as in The Truman Show. Truman notices peculiarities in his life that he can’t logically explain, and pieces together that nothing he perceives is genuine. He sails across the vast “ocean” that separates his perfect island town from shore, trying to find the limits of his world. Eventually, he hits a wall, reaching the end of his life as he once knew it. And the controller of his world tries to reason with him, tries to convince him to stay. But once Truman realizes there is a stairway to a door leading outside to the real world, he smiles and says, “In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night,” and walks out. It’s inevitable that we will reach that wall. And we as Nivo will have to leave this dome of safety and move forward. And our consciences will beg us to never leave this beautifully crafted world, just as the creator of Truman’s world hoped he would never leave. I can see the wall; it’s just over the bend of two days’ time. Yet I know that, like Adam and Eve, I’ve experienced the forbidden fruit of my Garden and cannot stay any longer. Like Truman, I’ve come to the point at which I cannot return. I need to climb the stairs, no matter how hard it is. And I know that, in two years’ time, when I return, the exhibits of this museum won’t have changed a bit.

Camp Ramah: In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night. 

Shabbat Shalom.
Rachel Small’s Dvar Torah
Shabbat Shalom.

Over the course of the summer, I have been thinking more and more about the time we have here at camp. At the beginning of this week’s parashah, V’etchanan, Moshe pleads to God for more time so that he can enter the land of Israel. Now, as I am reaching the end of Nivo, I wish I could have more time. Since I can’t, I want to reflect on how I have used this time that I did have to the fullest. Abraham Joshua Heschel says in his work, The Sabbath, “There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious. Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events.” How do we attach ourselves to moments in time? We have to acknowledge the beautiful space that surrounds us, for it is a gift. During the ten months of the year when camp is not occupied, it is just a space. For the two months of the year that camp is full of people, full of life, we must learn how, in the words of Heschel, to sanctify the time we spend in this space.

Before Nivo, every summer had strong structure, so I had to learn how to make each moment in between the schedule unique. Last summer, I had two perakim of Beit Midrash each day. I would fill the time in between perakim by hanging out with one of my friends on a hammock on the point. Each day we would talk about something new, so that every day of Beit Midrash would feel different. Heschel urges us to use our time wisely, but it can be hard to do so at camp when our routine is so rigid. We measure time in perakim, plays, island swims, storms, beautiful sunsets—the list is practically endless.

In contrast, Nivonim has presented me with the opportunity to appreciate unstructured time. Much of my Nivonim summer has been spent questioning the limits of time. My aidah has strived to follow the idea of YONO, “you only Nivo once.” Time will always keep moving forward, smacking us in the face. The frightening truth is that we can’t do anything to stop it. The past 8 weeks have been filled with “would have’s,” “could have’s,” and “should have’s.” That being said, time brings comfort as we approach the end. The consistency of time is reassuring.

In between the landmark events of the Nivonim summer, I have been looking for places to put YONO into action. When I reflect on my summer, I will remember the Zimriyah, but I will also remember when my friends and I created our own moments in our own time of purity, just like on the hammock,—formal and informal, planned and unplanned. Sometimes we would fly kites, other times we would simply lie down and discuss what we value in life. Our community creates these moments during Kabbalat Shabbat by the lake and seudat shlishit singing. Our voices transform the chadar ochel gimel into a sanctuary to recognize Shabbat’s departure. Camp gives us the chadar, Judaism gives us this time of Shabbat, but we infuse this space and time with our own holiness.

Heschel teaches, “The sanctity of time came first, the sanctity of man came second, and the sanctity of space last. Time was hallowed by God; space, the Tabernacle, was consecrated by Moses.” God sanctified time by giving us Shabbat. God also gave us this physical land, but human beings like Moshe had to sanctify it themselves. God gave us the summer months, but we come to camp and take walks on the garbage trail, dip our toes in the water by Chalutzim hill, and as a result we sanctify this place. To quote the Nivo English Play, “This world is too beautiful to come from chaos, too ordered, too perfect…How did we get so lucky? How did everything fit together so perfectly? For all we know, we are the only planet out of the countless millions where everything came together so perfectly not only to create life, but create life so beautiful and so full of wonder.” This space that we have here at camp is inherently holy, because it is breathtaking. But it is us, the people and community of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin who make it a palace of time.

I have been speaking about time and space as holy concepts, but what exactly is the relationship between the two? I have been trying to unpack this question all summer. At camp, more than anywhere else, we need to find the difficult balance between space and time. Without time, when would we appreciate space? Without a space, time would be an endless plane without anywhere to use the time. If we are hyperaware of time running out, then we lose sight of the place we are in and our fear of time passing too quickly engulfs us. If we are not aware enough of time, then we let it pass without taking action and do not understand how to use time to our best advantage. The important thing to do is find a balance between heightened consciousness of and liberation from time.

This awareness of time and space has even been integrated into one of our aidah’s main themes: the Nivocalypse. It can only take place at camp during the specific time of Nivo. Much to our surprise, the Nivocalypse really did make an appearance during the talent show on Yom Sport and our production of Les Mis, as they were both interrupted by a torrential downpour, wind, thunder, and lightning. It only resonated as the Nivocalypse, because we were here at that time.

The idea of the Nivocalypse has pushed our summer forward, for Nivonim is the nearest thing to an apocalypse at Camp Ramah. And although we might get lost in this ending, we need to acknowledge the beginning, middle, and end of our story here. We have beginnings, so that we can look out at the potential of the future, middles to enjoy and soak in the moment, and ends to reflect and find closure. We performed the banot talent show dance twice so that we could finish the last 20 seconds of the dance and find closure. Nivonim is a challenging summer, because we must find closure for this summer and our whole camping experience. We have been waiting for Nivonim for so long—anticipating the mystery and uniqueness of the summer, getting butterflies just thinking about being able to freely walk onto the Giva, but internally and unconsciously craving closure. We need the closure of the next few days, even though it symbolizes the end. We know we will have to sing the final Shabbat Adon Olam tune, listen to our beloved aidah members give speeches filled with an outpour of love for Nivo 2012 and camp, remember stories from our past during No Smoking, and finally circle up for one last time as an aidah as the bus engines turn on, the headlights shining on the one and only Nivo 2012.

We can’t think of time existing on a two dimensional clock. Just as space exists in a three dimensional world, we must look at time in a three dimensional world, working as a spiral. When one full circle around the clock finishes, a new layer of the clock begins, and a new cycle of time starts ticking from twelve. In order to put our camp experiences into bigger chunks of time, I think we can relate to morning, noon, and night to our greater journeys as campers here. Every morning here at camp we wake up to the unforgettable sound of buzzing lights. The madrichim start counting down the minutes left until davening. Then you might hear the door open with a creak and slam once, twice, and a faint third—someone trying to predict the next hour’s weather.  Then we reach the afternoon. The kikar is full of life as campers scurry from sport to tarbut, and Nivonimers play kikar games, such as Quittich and human Fruit Ninja, nap, and chat simply because we can. Time feels endless. Then comes the night, filled with various peulot and shrieks of joy coming from every corner of camp. The most beautiful moments of the night are the still ones on the kikar, when time really feels as if it has halted. The lake is placid and dark, the sky mysterious, and the grass on the kikar holds a day of memories, but feels tranquil. On the kikar after Shabbat dinner last week, I heard the sound of silence. I felt goose bumps feeling so alone, but comforted by the knowledge that hundreds of members of the Ramah community were not too far away. The night is a time to reflect and rejuvenate, prepare for the next level of the spiral. As the last spiral of my camper years is wrapping up, I’ve began to realize is that I’m ready for the next spiral. As individuals and as an aidah we have watched campers becomes counselors, and counselors become roshei aidah. We have seen future leaders of the Jewish community develop and have learned how to become future leaders ourselves.  Although I still don’t know how the last 7 summers or the last 12 hours have passed so quickly, I have started accepting the fact that Monday’s end is the also the beginning of a new level of the spiral.

When we are no longer in this holy space, time will be able to comfort us. As time passes, we heal, and we will move on with our lives. Life exists after Nivo, but we might look at it through a different lens. We can be comforted by the fact that the painful time right after camp, when the sting of the end is ever-present, will end with time. After midnight, the clock will strike 12:01. And in the future, even though our full aidah will never be here together again, small groups of us and individuals will meet together again in the future. Our paths will undoubtedly cross and we’ll somehow find our ways back to each other. It will be in a different place, at a different time, but we will be brought together by the memories and experiences we shared in the space at a previous time, on a different level of our clock.

Somehow, 78 individuals ended up together to create Nivonim 2012. We can look at every month of our camper experience one interval of time on the first level of our camper clocks. While many of us started out as the first Garinim, from 12 to one on the first level of the clock, others came it at different hours in our history. All 78 of us are here and now, seconds away from striking midnight and entering a new level of the clock. The hands on our clock will never stop, as much as we want them to, but we have no choice but to collectively keep traveling on our paths.

Shalom Machaneh Ramah and Shabbat Shalom.