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The Magic of Machaneh by Avram Ellner

My inner geek loves this week’s Torah portion, Balak, because it seems like something out of Tolkein’s Middle Earth. We read the story of sorcerer-extraordinaire, Balaam, and his foiled attempt to curse the Children of Israel. Instead of using his powers to curse Israel at the behest of the Moabite King Balak, he blesses them. How strange is it that the Torah implicitly acknowledges the existence and validity of magic? What are Balaam’s magical powers, and why is the sight of the tents of the Israelites enough for his magic powers to not just be nullified, but to be reversed entirely?

This parshah presents magic as Balaam’s ability to manipulate the world around him for his own agenda. Balaam’s magic is more than just coercion – he uses his will, in conjunction with ceremony and ritual, in order to break the laws of the natural world for personal gain. Yet, after his encounter with an angel and seeing the tents of Israel, Balaam’s magic fails miserably. Why? The holiness of the community of Israel, with its beautiful tents and networks of lives lived in holy relationship with one another, is something which could not be touched or manipulated by Balaam. This magic – the palpable experience of the sacred – causes Balaam to not curse, but bless, “מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ – How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!”

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The Physical and Spiritual Waters of Ramah Galim

I will never forget the first time I came to visit Ramah Galim. It was the year before camp opened. Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the National Director of Ramah asked me if I wanted to walk down with him to see the ocean. That in and of itself was remarkable: a summer camp, let alone a Jewish one, with access to the great sea. Unthinkable. And now, five years later and in our fourth full summer up and running, I still have my breath taken away every time I walk down to the beach to watch the sunset, to light the Havdallah candle after Shabbat, to watch our chanichim (campers) praying tefillot afloat or biking on the sand or boogie boarding through the waves. A magic fills the air when you get to see your children dance on the sand as the waves brush over their feet while one edah roasts marshmallows in the background and another looks out over the seas from the bluffs. This is our Ramah Galim.

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Lessons on Unity from the Scouts A Dv’ar Torah on Parshat Shelach Lecha by Amy Skopp Cooper, National Ramah Associate Director

The story of the meraglim (scouts) who are sent by Moses to scout the Land of Israel is an intriguing and complicated tale of espionage. All the scouts are impressed by the quality of the land and its bounty. When they return from their 40-day mission, two of them, Calev and Joshua, say that the people would be able to overcome the challenge of entering and inhabiting the land. But the other 10 scouts are not as sure. They spread fear and anxiety among the people. They say in the presence of Moses and all the people, “It is a land that eats up its inhabitants and all the people we saw there are of great stature. We were in our own sight as grasshoppers compared to giants.” God becomes angry and seems to punish those who could not believe that it was the destiny of the Jewish nation to inhabit the land. Moses finally persuades God to forgive the people. The whole episode turns out to be a catastrophe for nearly everyone involved.

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Cultivating a Bounty of Resilience, Perseverance, and Swiss Chard by Rabbi Philip Ohriner

We all have moments when it is difficult to appreciate the bounty in our lives. Perhaps this is most palpable in life’s transitions or the moments of newness when that which is familiar changes in some way. While wandering through the wilderness at Taverah, the Israelites struggle to appreciate the manna falling before them. They yearn for the delicacies of Egypt, the bounty they experiences while enslaved. As we read in the Torah this week, the Israelites’ collective resilience is tested along with their ability to persevere. They struggle to appreciate the bounty God provides them in the form of manna. They are in a new place, with a different source of food, and a new reality.

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Reflections in Tikvah at Ramah Galim and Nationally

Tikvah changed my life.  In 1984, I was hired to work in the kitchen at Camp Ramah in New England.  A day before my arrival, I was asked if I would fill a last minute opening in the Tikvah Program.  “What is Tikvah?” I asked. My experience that summer led to my pursuing a career in disabilities inclusion.  I spent a total of 21 years working with Tikvah at Ramah New England and have been working as the director of our National Ramah Tikvah Network for five years.  In that capacity, I work with the Tikvah directors of all Ramah camps, sharing best practices, discussing vocational training, staff recruitment, Israel trips and more.  Three years ago, I was privileged to have my Ramah affiliations include Ramah Galim.

When I speak about Tikvah nationally and internationally, I point out that there was a lot of pushback in the late 1960s when Herb and Barbara Greenberg proposed the idea for Tikvah.  Tikvah opened in 1970 in Glen Spey, New York and soon after moved to Ramah New England. Camp by camp, Tikvah was incorporated in to each camp. We recently celebrated 50 years of Tikvah in Israel during our recent Tikvah Ramah Bike Ride and Hike.  

At Ramah Galim, Tikvah was fully a part of camp from the outset.  Rabbi Sarah Shulman and the board of directors felt strongly that Ramah Galim should not open its doors without Tikvah.   How far we have come in four years!

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Empowering Blessings- A D’var Torah on Parshat Nasso by Rabbi Sarah

Empowering Blessings

A D’var Torah on Parshat Nasso by Rabbi Sarah

My daughter Lielle was born a few years ago on a Thursday morning. I pressed the doctors to discharge us on Friday so we could return home for Shabbat dinner. Above everything else, I was hungry for a bracha:  

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ׃

May God bless you and protect you.

יָאֵ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה ׀ פָּנָ֛יו אֵלֶ֖יךָ וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ׃

May God shine God’s light to you and be gracious to you!

יִשָּׂ֨א יְהוָ֤ה ׀ פָּנָיו֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְיָשֵׂ֥ם לְךָ֖ שָׁלֽוֹם׃

May God lift God’s face up to your direction and grant you peace (Numbers 6: 24-26).

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Astray By Deanna Neil

Two goats

not the one bought for two zuzim

but they were sacrificed just the same

They are in the field now

chewing on grass

thinking they have perfect bodies

ears perked

They listen for the approaching footsteps

The violence to come

One cuts, drips back to the divine

an offering

the other

noble

will hold the weight of wrongs done by others

they’ll put their hands on him

don’t lay a hand on me

hush. not to injure

just to transmit

to give away

an escape

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Tazria: From Seed to Thrive, By Rabbi Sarah

What a gift it is in life when we can nurture a project, a plant, an idea, or a human being from seed to a state of thriving.  In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Tazria, we read about the instructions for birthing rituals including circumcision. Interestingly, the Torah does not use just one word for the birthing process, but instead two – tazria (to seed) and yalda (to birth). In a text where every addition and repetition is full of meaning, rabbinic commentaries notice the significance of the presence of both these verbs. Their presence reminds us that any birthing process is just that, a process, one that can be full of stages and milestones, setbacks and miracles.

My greatest joy over the last four years has been witnessing all the milestones and miracles in the seeding and development of Ramah in Northern California, and doing so in tandem with the development of young leaders and of my own daughter who was born just a few months before camp opened in 2016.  When I first walked along camp’s shores and dreamed of Havdallah on the Beach, I scribbled down the following words:

Years from now when my children ask where we came from-

I will point here to these waves of familiarity

where the nuclei of any summer

are the unexpected leaders we make of each other.

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Bringing Israel to Camp, By Alana Tilman

Close your eyes and imagine an auditorium full of 500 people dancing our favorite Ramah Galim Rikud Dances -Lo Normali and Ba Kalil…. Do you feel the energy? The passion? The excitement?

I personally experienced this incredible image first-hand last week at the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Annual Shlichim Training Seminar. This intensive 5 day Seminar at Kibbutz Shefayim is designed for the young Israeli leaders who are dedicating their summer to working at Jewish Summer Camps across North America. Ramah Galim along with all Ramah Camps are privileged to participate in this program. This summer, we can’t wait to welcome 12 incredible Shlichim to our Ramah Galim community through this powerful partnership.  

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Ari’s Blog: Kerem Goes to Israel and Italy

As I stand in the pews of the Great Synagogue of Rome, surrounded by Ramah colleagues and friends, I feel humbled and inspired by the significance of this building. The Great Synagogue of Rome stands in neighborhood where Roman Jews have lived in peace and under oppressive rule for hundreds of years. Throughout this time, the Great Synagogue has continued to be a haven for Jewish practice and tradition that continues to this day. Listening to the prayerful melodies, which are both foreign and familiar, reminds me of just how much Judaism and Ramah have been key pillars in my life.

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