Friday, July 13, 2012

And on The Sabbath Day

The laundry truck is pulling into camp.  Groups of shrink-wrapped laundry will be picked up and carried to the tzrifim.  Cabins will be cleaned even more than normal.   The various activity areas are finishing up earlier than usual.  In a few minutes, music will pour out onto the kikar and campers will race from all corners to join rikud al hakikar - dancing on the kikar.  The atmosphere of camp is changing.  The shift from the mundane, the regular to the kadosh, the sanctified, is palpable.  In just a few hours, Shabbat with her sense of The Divine Presence will arrive at Camp.

Late in the afternoon, Chanichim and Madrichim will gather by aidah to prepare as a group to enter our outdoor synagogue on the lake. They will sing, exchange shabbat-o-grams, hugs and high-fives.  After that, we take our places along the shores of Lake Buckatabon and pray together, singing and dancing the various prayers of Kabbalat Shabbat.  We are led by campers from Tikvah and Atzmayim, including a d’var Torah by Ari Schneider-Gans.  As the sun sets and tefillot end, a collective  Shabbat embrace takes place, brothers and sisters finding one another for Shabbat hugs, friends embracing, hand shakes exchanged.  Slowly, the camp makes its way up to the chadarei ochel for Shabbat dinner, for more singing and dancing, talking and enjoying. There will be short evening programs for the aidot, an energizing tisch for the Nivonim, and a talk by Rabbi Michael Seigel of Anshe Emet Synagogue on the question: “Does Conservative Judaism Still Matter?”

The morning brings tefillot, more discussion, more time for friends and fun.  Lunch, time to rest, friends walking around camp, talking about issues of import and of the day.  Softball games, free swim, more discussions and a strong sense of community.  As the sun goes down we gather on the kikar to be serenaded by the “Ramah-capella,” our very own a capella group.  After seudah shlisheet, the third meal of the day, many campers and staff members choose to sing the songs of seudah shlisheet.  This is perhaps the most moving and powerful part of the day.  The melodies and harmonies are beautiful and powerful.  The sense of the departure of Shabbat is apparent.  Outside the chadar ochel, the activity level is rising as the younger aidot enjoy peulot erev - evening activities - before Havdalah. Then, standing in the middle of the kikar, I will hear havdalah coming from every corner of the camp, the collective ending of Shabbat in the Northwoods.

Ask most members of our sacred camp community what their favorite day of the week is and they will, most likely, tell you that it is Shabbat.  The ebb and flow of the week is built around Shabbat, anticipation of its arrival and sadness at its departure, the ever-present hope that this will be the Shabbat that brings the advent of the Messianic era. Each successive Shabbat of the summer is one of joy tinged with just a little bit of sadness that comes from knowing that the eighth Shabbat will arrive and we will have to leave the kind of Shabbat community we wish we could live in all year long.  

Yet, Camp Ramah is dedicated to being a place where Shabbat is modeled not just for the summer but as a demonstration of what powerful Shabbat community can feel like all year long.  Sure, we can’t have Lake Buckatabon with us every Shabbat nor can we be surrounded by sixty of our closest friends and mentors when it is time for Havdalah.  We can, however, take the skills learned at and the experiences felt at camp and use them as inspiration to build and join similar communities during the months between camp.  This is part of Ramah’s approach to all things Jewish, from learning Torah to speaking Hebrew to living righteous and just lives: camp is a model for living Jewishly all year long.  

As the sun begins to set and we gather on the shores of Lake Buckatabon for Kabbalat Shabbat and as you prepare for Shabbat wherever you are, I hope that we are all inspired to make our summer Shabbat a living model for our non-camp Shabbatot.  The rest and renewal, the reconnection to family to community and to God will do us all a world of good.

We look forward to seeing those of you who are coming up for Visitors’ Days on Sunday and Monday.  We will miss those who will not be here for those days as well.  Thank you for entrusting us with your magnificent children for the summer.

Finally, the topic of this letter was inspired by an article written by Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, President of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbi of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.  A long time Ramahnik, Rabbi Skolnik describes Shabbat at camp as an inspiration for revitalizing Conservative Judaism.  I fully agree with his assessment and appreciate the inspiration I received personally from his writing and for this edition of the Director’s Letter. You can read Rabbi Skolnik's article in the Jewish Week at

Shabbat Shalom!

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