Get up and go to the land……
That is what I did….. This year I got up and I went to the land. Actually to more than one land but I did not leave my deep Ramah roots at home in Toronto. I am writing this because my Ramah experience has not been a typical one……
Let’s go back to the summer of 1996. I had been going to Camp Ramah in Canada my whole life, literally. First as a visitor and later as a camper I was loyal but I sought more adventure, somewhere different than Utterson. Not that there is anything wrong with Utterson but I just wanted a change. So I looked at different trips and even considered different camps but in the end I chose to go half way around the world to a camp where English was not the spoken language. That summer my friend Aliza and I set off to Machaneh NOAM in Israel. When people asked us if we were nervous we would say no…. what is there to be nervous about?! No big deal….. We went to camp, we loved it and best of all we took things about it home with us. One thing that I desperately missed was the amazing Shabbat environment at Ramah in Canada. I appreciated and benefited from the different programming style of NOAM in Israel. I became almost fluent in Hebrew because although everyone knew English, coming from mostly North American backgrounds their most comfortable language was Hebrew. Another was I learned to appreciate Ramah. All the daily routines that I had grown so accustomed to somehow seemed more exciting and meaningful. Even though as a camper it was difficult to bring ideas and practices from one Ramah to another, I personally gained from this experience.
After that summer I entered high school. I decided for many reasons that public school was the best choice for me but as part of that I was looking forward to going to Israel for a semester of my junior year, grade 11, on the Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim program.
So on February 7th 1999 I was off on my next Ramah adventure. I am not sure if it fully hit me until I was on the plane to Tel Aviv that I had just left my friends and family to go into a completely unknown place with strange people for four months. There was one thing that helped to comfort me; knowing that I was going to a Ramah environment and my feeling of ultimate connection to anything Ramah. There are no words to explain the bonds I have made with some of my fellow TRYers…. These are friendships that will last forever despite the fact that I live in Toronto and they are scattered throughout the United States. We did everything and anything you can think of….. Together! We got to see the country from both angles; the tourist’s angle and the citizen’s angle. “We got dirty in the land”, as our teacher and director Daniel Laufer said to us on the first day. Ein Gedi, Gadna- a five day intensive army training, Massada, the Dead Sea, Kibbutz Ketura, desert survival, Yom Hashoah, Yom Haatzmaut…. The list goes on and on as does my huge photo album….. You name it; we did it, learned about it and now cherish the memory of it. Living as I did in Israel I also improved my Hebrew by living with a non English speaking Israeli family for two weeks, by talking to people on the streets, through our mifgashim (meetings) with young Israelis and our volunteer projects. Four months in Jerusalem and travelling through Israel led me to gain a perspective on the pluses and minuses of Israel, the society, the politics, the land, the history. This gave me a greater understanding of the need for Ramah programs throughout the world to increase the awareness and love of Israel and to promote and encourage Masorti and Conservative Judaism.
When I thought of coming home in June after this intense, unbelievable experience to a job in the city it did not seem right to me. I wanted a last hurrah to end off my amazing year. So again I went to work investigating possibilities…. Finally through a family friend I got connected to NOAM in England which is linked to but not the same organization as Noam Israel. Done!!! I was going along with my best friend whom I had met and become really close with on TRY. I had no idea what to expect but I was no amateur adventurer so there we went. Again I had an amazing experience! NOAM England is quite different than Ramah in Canada because the madrichim (counsellors) run the show. I did everything from running Ivrit and cooking chugim (activities) to cooking for Shabbat. It was nice to take part in all aspects of camp. I formed friendships, had adventures and best of all made a connection to another ‘cousin’ in the Ramah family.
Now that all the Yom Tovim are over and my Ramah staff application sits on my ‘to do list’ I think about my future plans. What is my future and the future of others within Ramah? I want to do it all, absorb it all, learn from it all and teach it all. Perhaps in the future there will be special opportunities offered by National Ramah for staff and perhaps older campers. Both could benefit from experiences outside their ‘home’ Ramah by being exposed to other.