Rabbi Menachem Creditor’s Reflection

I am the proud father of a Ramah camper.

Just last week, my family returned from seven days at Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA, where I served as Camp Rabbi. What makes me most sad to have left was not my own experience, but that of my family. My children are Ramahnik’s, now a three-generation tradition for my family. They swam, sang, ate, and cheered in the most exquisite Jewish air outside of Israel, surrounded by Jewish culture, Ruach (spirit) and countless fun-loving fellow Jews. (As I am about to leave for Israel on a shul trip, working at Camp Ramah was also a useful Hebrew refresher!)

It was my privilege to work with the different Edot (age groups) and the whole Tzevet (staff) at Ramah, and to play Frisbee-golf while talking Torah with my dear friend, Rabbi Daniel Greyber, the executive director of the camp. I was proud to witness emerging Jewish pride at every developmental stage. But my greatest joy was visiting campers and staff from my home community, hearing from them their favorite parts of Ramah, seeing their contagious enthusiasm and glowing eyes, and sharing with them how proud I am that they are learning and growing at Camp Ramah.

There are many quality overnight Jewish camps, each with their own particular vision of community and youth camping.But I find something uniquely compelling about Camp Ramah. It might have been the sight of Shabbat morningTefilot (prayers), with children reading Torah and Davening (many for the first time) with the guidance of their Tallit-wearing role-models, their counselors. It might have been the Israeli dancing led by a Jewish Argentinian staff member before every meal. It might have been singing together with the older staff – many products of Ramah themselves – long after meals were over. It might have been the young girl trying on tefillin for the first time with her friend’s assistance. Or it might have been the Israeli lifeguard teaching an American Jewish teenager with Down Syndrome how to swim, guiding with both conversational Hebrew and deep pedagogic attunement.

I’ve long felt, having spent almost two decades worth of summers at Ramah (Berkshires, Nyack, and now Ojai), that camp is one of the best expressions of Judaism – inclusive, traditional, participatory, spiritual, and diverse.

Our shuls can –and must– learn from this model of emotional Judaism to develop more settings that include prayer and swimming, nature and friendships –spiritual settings which touch our emotional selves– creating the sacred communities we typically experience only at camp.

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