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Chanukah begins in just a few days. The Festival of Lights celebrates the victory by the Maccabees over the forces of the Greek King Antiochus IV. Antiochus had outlawed Jewish religious practices and introduced pagan worship into the Temple in Jerusalem in an effort to force assimilation upon the Jews of the land of Israel.
I have always believed that each of us is a rabbi inside, because “rabbi” after all means “my teacher.” At camp we have the opportunity to learn from everyone. Just the other day a staff member reflected to me after our last session of campers left on Wednesday, “Thank you for modeling that to be a leader is to be a learner.”
After my first year of rabbinical school, I knew I had to find my way to Camp Ramah. As a child and a teen, I had not gone to overnight camp, but I knew about the magic of Camp Ramah. So in June of 2001, I piled all three kids into the car and headed to Camp Ramah of California where I served as a Morah (teacher) of Judaic studies for the various edot (age divisions).
When we talk about the concept of sacred spaces, we often think about the obvious – synagogues and holy sites. At Ramah Galim, the concept of a sacred space has taken on a whole new meaning for me.
This week’s parsha, Va’etchanan, includes Moshe’s retelling of the Ten Commandments and the famous Shema prayer. The first words after the Shema are the V’ahavta paragraph, or in English: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might (or means).”
At Ramah Galim, I can honestly say that these words come to life every single day and I’d like to briefly share what I witnessed:
This week’s parasha is one of the more camp-appropriate parshiot for the summer. Va’etchanan has the Shema and the second announcement of the Aseret HaDibrot, the 10 commandments. Before the people come and hear these 10 sayings to live by, there is a verse that illustrates “you came near and stood tachat the mountain” “tachat ha’har.” Tachat means under though is often translated as “at the bottom” since standing under a mountain is rather impossible and undesirable. Chizkuni, Hezekiah ben Manoah of 13th century France, uses the translation of “standing at the bottom of the mountain” to interpret that the people stood at attention, as compared to a verse in Exodus 19:17.
However, the Gemara cites a rabbinic discussion claiming that the people really were tachat, under, the mountain.
It has been a privilege to spend the past week up here at Camp Ramah Galim. I have witnessed beautiful acts of hesed, inspired moments of learning and Torah in action. Of course, this camp is uniquely positioned in the landscape of Jewish camping: where else are campers davening Shacharit in the morning and Birkat HaMazon after meals, while filling their days with scuba instruction, surfing, biking, horseback riding, and kayaking?