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Parshat Noah, Sukkot, and Performing Arts by Mark Lazar

As I sit here in Tel Aviv, contemplating this week’s Torah Portion, Noah, and its relationship to Camp Ramah Galim, my mind rattles with endless connections. Obviously the grand Pacific Ocean, and the sightings of nature above and below, reminds us of the endless flow of rain showering down from the heavens. Whether it be whales, dolphins or seals, one can’t help but get excited about these glorious beasts. And occasionally, we are reminded of the flood with light drizzle which keeps the scenery green.

What did Noah contemplate on the ark in terms of building a new community after the water receded? What values did he dream would replace the old selfish and destructive society which God found to destroy as per the ancient text? 

At Ramah Galim, community, based on love and respect of each and every individual and love of Jewish values permeates the environment. The goal is to provide a safe haven for each and every camper (and staff member) to explore themselves, others, Judaism and their personal course of exploration whether it be around nature, water or, in my case, performing arts.

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Beginnings and Endings, by Rabbi Jaymee Alpert

This Shabbat, we conclude our reading of the Book of Numbers with the double-portion Mattot-Mas’ei.  At the beginning of Parashat Mas’ei, Moses recounts the places the Children of Israel have encamped along their forty-year journey through the wilderness.  While the list might seem a bit dry to us as readers (there is not a lot of detail as to what happened where), I imagine that for the Israelites, it was a reminder of all the places they had been and the things they had experienced in each place.  What a fitting parashah for the end of camp!

By now, it is likely that your child has shared some camp memories with you.  Perhaps they have told you about the places they went, the friends the made, or some of the things they experienced.  Spending two or four or six weeks at Ramah Galim, after all, is a journey filled with growth. At camp, kids are encouraged to try new things and to take risks that will help them stretch and evolve.

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The Value of Leadership by Branden Johnson, Program Director

The culture of Ramah Galim is founded on four primary midot  (values), which influence our programming and relationships at every level. Those four midot are: Kavod, respect; Ahavat Yisrael, a love of Israel; Simcha, joy or happiness; and Manhigut, leadership.

Two years ago, I moved to Israel, where I study in the Center for Jewish Educators at Pardes in Jerusalem. Ramah Galim has become my home away from home, the place where I spend the most time outside of Israel. I always look forward to my time here, where I get to connect with this incredible community and witness, in real time, the preparation of the next generation of leaders.

This week’s parasha, Pinchas, focuses on manhigut. It presents a series of three vignettes that show different types of leadership, each with unique merits and each with a unique outcome. Everything is framed by the context of the narrative which, at the end of the book of Numbers, finds Moses looking for a successor to lead the people into the land.

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ShacharitALIVE: Reflecting On Meaningful Worship This Summer by Julian Brenman

It’s 7:30 on a typical July morning, and a band of 50 middle schoolers are found out of bed, conga-lining theirs souls out to a festive, upbeat song. No, Taylor Swift hasn’t made a surprise appearance, neither has a corn-dog truck pulled into town. The young lads and ladies are, gasp, in their morning prayer services, or “Shacharit” as we say in Hebrew. Over the past few weeks here at Camp Ramah in Northern California, campers in Edat HaSollelim (seventh-and-eighth-grade boys and girls) have been at the core of a thrilling shift in regard to the way we pray. With the expert and generous guidance of Rosh Edah, Alli Moses, as well as other talented members of our community, I feel so lucky to have been allowed the privilege of collaborating with various tzevet (staff) and chanichim (campers) with the goal of making morning prayers more educational, engaging, and meaningful. The results? Campers are at the center of prayer, proudly embracing their Judaism.

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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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