Friday, August 20, 2010

A Camp Arrayed Before Me...And Thanks...

תהילים פרק כז

א  לְדָוִד: ה’, אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי--מִמִּי אִירָא;
ה’ מָעוֹז-חַיַּי,  מִמִּי אֶפְחָד
ג  אִם-תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי מַחֲנֶה--  לֹא-יִירָא לִבִּי:
אִם-תָּקוּם עָלַי מִלְחָמָה--  בְּזֹאת, אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ.
ד  אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת ה’-- אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ:
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית- ה’ כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם- ה’ וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ.

A Psalm of David
The Lord is my light and my help.  Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life.  Whom shall I dread?...
If they arrange a camp before me, I will have no fear.
Though wars threaten, I remain steadfast in my faith.
One thing I ask of the Lord, for this I yearn:
To dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold God’s Beauty, to visit in God’s Sanctuary...
Psalm 27:1, 3-4

Psalm 27 is the Psalm for this season of Teshuvah, of repentance.  From the second day of Rosh Hodesh Elul until at least the end of Simhat Torah and some say until the end of the month of Tishre, we say these words out loud at Shaharit and again at Ma’ariv.  The Psalm is one of hope, of confidence in the future, of seeking God.  It is a powerful prayer for a powerful season of the year.

Psalm 27 is also the favorite Psalm of camp directors.  In the second verse, the Psalmist talks about a camp being arrayed before him yet feeling no fear.  While his intention is to talk about an army, the word מחנה means camp.  Like the Psalmist, from hanhala (senior leadership) week through staff week, from arrival day until the families all depart at the end of our new Family Camp program, there is literally a camp arrayed before me.  Like the Psalmist, I aspire to feel no fear, although a small measure of fear is always a good thing for a camp director.  

Like the Psalmist, wars threaten us - a war for the spirit and the soul of young Jews throughout North America - and just as the Psalmist did, we remain steadfast in our faith, in our belief that we offer something special to our campers and staff members.  Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is a special place.  Yes - it is a place where campers and staff members form deep and abiding friendships with other Jews.  Yes - camp is a place to learn new skills like sailing and softball, acting and singing.  Yes - Jewish summer camp is a place to have fun.  And yes - Camp Ramah in Wisconsin offers something more: an anchoring in Jewish living and learning along with the opportunity to develop deep passion for wanting more meaning, knowledge, spirituality, ritual observance  and moral living and community.  

Jewish overnight summer camp is a wonderful thing.  We are fortunate to have a cornocopia of Jewish camps for our children to choose from for the summer. And all of the camps do wonderful things.  Yet, I am steadfast in my faith that we do something different and important at Camp Ramah.  The playing field is not flat as some would claim - all Jewish overnight camps do not do the same thing.  Nor, as some researchers claim, does friendship trump all.  It is the reason that campers and staff members return; yet, the benefits of the full-summer experience reach far beyond the lifelong friendships that form at camp.  Sending a child to Camp Ramah is about investing for the long-term in the development of a passion for being an active, knowledgeable, committed Jew.  These long term investment results will not translate into research data from surveys of campers and parents at the end of any particular season.  Ask a child or a parent why they go to camp or what they got from camp and it should be no surprise that they will tell you that it is about the friends.  It is natural.  Dig deeper, however, and the long-term story becomes much richer and deeper.  Fun matters.  Friendship matters.  And...Content and meaning matter too.

For eight weeks, we get to dwell in God’s House surrounded by the splendor of nature, the House we wish we could live in all year.  We are moved by the beauty...

Cirrus clouds against the Wedgwood blue sky that look as though they were hand painted;

Of the graceful splendor of the Bald Eagles flying above the crisp, cool waters of Lake Buckatabon;

And, on rare occasion, by the awesome power of nature: storms that shatter 100 year old trees like they were toothpicks, winds topping 70 - 90 miles per hour, and the miracle of no injuries and less damage than could have been wrought.

Through our interactions with others at camp, we see the Divine Image and we visit the Divine Sanctuary.  Eight weeks goes by too quickly though and before we know it, camp is over.  We return to our homes of the “rest of the year,” enjoying the memories of the summer and sharing them with others.  In the days leading up to hanhala week, it feels as if camp will never arrive and, in the blink of an eye, the temperature drops at night and we leave again for nine months.  The closeness to the Divine Presence we feel at camp, cut off from most of the world, in the beauty of nature, is hard to replicate and many of us live on the joy of these two months for most of the year.

The feedback about camp has been overwhelmingly positive - a tribute to the hard work and investment of our staff and our lay leadership who make it possible to do this sacred work.  We had a positive impact Jewishly on so many lives this summer, from all of our campers to our staff members, to the participants in the Ta’am (Taste) of Ramah Program, to the two reunion groups that came to camp this summer (I am personally partial to the Nivonim 1985 group as I was a Junior counselor for their aidah my first summer on staff), all the way to the pioneer participants in our inaugural family camp, led outstandingly by Robin Rubenstein.   We had fun this summer.  We made friends.  We learned a lot about ourselves.  And we grew stronger as Jews.

My first summer as camp director at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is now at an end.  Thank you for trusting us with your children.  Thank you to the staff for all of your hard work.  And thank you to the camp committee for supporting our efforts.  I look forward to having the camp arrayed before me again next summer in what I hope will feel like just a few short days.

תם ונשלם - שבח לאל בורא עולם.

Finished and Complete - Praise to God, Creator of the World.

Shabbat Shalom.

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