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I am sitting at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, holding a text that brings me back to my summers on the beach of Monterey Bay. I am surrounded on both sides by Ramahniks from several camps who interpret the text based on their unique life experiences. The energy in the room is palpable. Our group is eager to absorb as much as possible to bring back to our respective camps. Over the next 10 days I will have the chance to explore the complexities of Israel and Germany through the lens of Camp Ramah.
I have been given the opportunity to travel with Ramahniks to Israel and Germany as part of the Kerem young professionals program generously funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, and Germany, which changed the Jewish world forever, contain traditions that continue to profoundly shape the ways in which Jews engage with their communities. As I move from one community to the next, seeing the similarities and differences between Jews who live in different cities, I become more and more aware of how this experience shapes my Jewish identity.
How does Miriam’s model of leadership in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Beshallah, resonate with your experience at camp?
Working at camp gives people a unique opportunity to lead by example, enjoy themselves, and encourage others to join in. Miriam with her timbrel is employing multiple kinds of leadership at the same time. She is leading in the quintessential camp way, by singing a song and leading a newly forming group of people in unifying ritual. She is also leading by inspiring; as she celebrates, her emotions spread to the rest of the Israelites and they are all joyous. This is how we lead through personal experience and inspiration at camp.
Where or with whom do you hope to inspire “more Miriam” at camp this summer?
I hope to inspire “more Miriam,” truly, to everyone at camp. I want staff to feel empowered to lead services and activities loudly and proudly, and I want our campers to feel comfortable joining in and trying on their own leadership. Building a unique culture of engagement at camp is both who we are as a community and a particular interest of mine, and this summer I look forward to continuing to foster that culture at Ramah Galim. Tzevet (staff) and hanichim(campers) alike should feel inspired, literally and figuratively, to burst into song and lead a dance.
At camp and other educational institutions, we have become accustomed to relying on a rhetoric of empowerment: we strive to help our students, campers, and staff “take ownership,” “be empowered,” and “feel at home.” While I’m certainly all for teaching a person to learn to fish, as we say, and empowering the next generation of leaders with inspiring ideas and relevant skills, I think we may at times overemphasize the language of ownership to the detriment of the equally important counter-rhetoric of “it’s not mine.”
The Torah and Rabbinic texts teach us that the earth does not in fact belong to us humans, and in doing so, presents a strong countercultural message about the power of being a guest in another’s world.
Knowing that the tzevet play such a key role in a camper’s experience, staff training and staff development is one of our top priorities.
אָנֹכִ֛י אֲכַלְכֵּ֥ל אֶתְכֶ֖ם וְאֶֽת־טַפְּכֶ֑ם
“I will sustain you and your children.”
The Torah has a funny way of perpetually being relevant to our lives. Indeed, it is probably no coincidence that as we reflect on the year 2017 and look forward to sustaining some habits and changing others in the year ahead, so do our ancestors Jacob and Joseph undertake this endeavor in this week’s Torah portion.
In this week’s Torah portion, the story of our forefather Joseph and his brothers reaches its dramatic climax. Joseph frames his younger brother and his father’s most beloved son for a crime he didn’t commit, then jails him in an Egyptian prison. Judah desperately pleads for his younger brother Benjamin’s freedom for the sake of their father. He even asks to replace Benjamin in prison! Judah appeals to Joseph’s emotions by describing his father’s suffering, and then he takes personal responsibility, which is one of the clear morals of the Torah’s lengthy story of sibling rivalry. Joseph finally breaks down and calls out: “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?!” It’s a made-for-film moment in the Torah, and by the end of the portion, the entire family including their father Jacob, is reunited. The scene ends with all of the brothers weeping and hugging.
Camp is a place where such emotional connections are forged…
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Camp Ramah in Northern California operates under the educational guidance of the National Ramah Commission and is supported by an accelerator grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Avi Chai Foundation. Camp Ramah in Northern California also receives financial support from the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. Camp Ramah in Northern California is a proud partner of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.