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The Torah of Hosting

I absolutely LOVE cooking. From zucchini bread to tacos, whether in cooking chug or solo, I never tire of clanging pots and pans or the beep of the oven timer. For me, the joy in cooking comes from being able to share food with others. Feeding people is my favorite way to demonstrate hospitality, something that Abraham and I seem to have in common. 

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Stepping Outside Towards Joy, by Howard Blas, Director, National Ramah Tikvah Network

If the holiday of Sukkot took place during the summer, when camp is in session, it would surely be a Tikvah favorite!  Sukkot teaches so many of the values that we live each day in all of our National Ramah Tikvah Network camping and vocational training programs.

Sukkot is a time for experiencing joy (the holiday is called Zman Simchateinu, the holiday of our joy).  It is also a time for going out of our comfort zone, for radical inclusion, and for being good guests and hosts.

Sitting in a sukkah—whether in the cold (sometimes snowy!) northeast or Midwest, the hot South or the sometimes smoky northwest—is not always comfortable. We leave our comfortable homes for 7 days—and sit in temporary booths.  Tikvah campers leave the comforts of home for camp.  It is not always easy, but it is sure worth it!

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Facing Elul Anew by Heather Renetzky, Rosh Chinuch

This week, I made a huge change. Instead of zooming into classes from my favorite armchair, I actually sat on the couch! Okay, perhaps it wasn’t such a huge variation. But in these days of endless Zoom calls, my routine has become so fixed that the tiniest alteration feels huge. Lately, I have found that newness and excitement are hard to come by. This feels particularly challenging while we’re in the month of Elul, and “newness” is exactly what we’re supposed to be preparing for. During Elul, we reflect on our decisions and actions in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, a brand-new year. In a time of so much sameness, I’ve been feeling a little lost. Will anything really feel new this year?In my skepticism, I turned to my experience at camp for inspiration.

Each Shabbat morning at Ramah Galim is marked by the excited shouts of “Hafoch ba! Hafoch ba! Hafoch ba!” – “Turn it and turn it and turn it again.” As we spin our “Gal gal shel Torah,” (Wheel of Torah) to explore the week’s parsha, we shout these words from Pirkei Avot 5:22, a reminder that no matter how many times we read the same stories, the Torah always has something new to offer. 

This week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, offers a similar piece of wisdom. Just as the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land, Moshe reminds them of the blessings and curses contingent on their adherence to God’s commandments. He frames the list with these words: “Adonai your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul” (26:16). The commentator Rashi suggests that the words “this day” are intended to tell us that each and every day, we should treat the commandments as if we are receiving them for the very first time. Even though they are ancient, even though we strive to follow the same commandments all the time, we should find novelty in them every day.

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Mentor Relationships Provide Calm During the COVID-19 Storm by Rabbi Sarah Shulman

When Camp Ramah in Northern California made the same painful decision as other Jewish camps around the country to cancel our 2020 camp season, we knew that our anticipated vision of campers running into the arms of old friends and, by the end of the summer, putting their arms around new friends, would be lost.

We also knew that campers would miss out on being embraced all summer long by staff and madrichim. In addition to keeping our camp running like a well-oiled machine, our staff – from song leaders to bunk supervisors to those who prepare our food each day – serve as role models to our youngsters and teens.

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Shabbat Nachamu: The Comfort of Camp By Ilana Sanberg, Founding Staff Member and Summer Assistant Director

As we transition out of the mournful days leading up to Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, we seek comfort. This Shabbat, for that very reason, is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort. On Tisha B’Av, we are meant to mourn our loss–we mourn the destruction of the Temples and many other tragic events that befell the Jewish people over the course of our history. Then we move into comfort-mode, we think about caring for one another and about how to rebuild. 

 

This trajectory mirrors how I see these past few months. We lost many things, things that are worthy of mourning: we lost in-person communities and we lost experiences. We lost camp as we knew it. Right after the loss, right after our time of mourning we read in the Haftarah this week from “נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י”, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40.1). Why is the word Nachamu repeated? According to Spanish commentator Ibn Ezra, it means we must comfort immediately and repeatedly. When we lost in-person camp, we, the Ramah Galim community, quickly turned to comfort one another. We reached out to each other, we sent videos acknowledging our feelings and speaking words of comfort. With time, we also pushed ourselves to rebuild and reimagine.

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The Perspective We Get With Distance, by Rabbi Sarah Graff from Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, CA

As I read our double Torah portion of Chukkat and Balak this week, I am struck by the different perspective one can gain when looking from a distance. Parashat Chukkat reminds us of the struggles of life in the Israelite camp. Miriam dies, the community is without water, and they complain to Moses, saying, “Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place?” Their complaints, coupled with the loss of Miriam, bring Moses to his breaking point. He hits the rock to bring forth water, rather than following God’s instruction to speak to the rock. And Moses is punished for his behavior. The Israelites have problems!
Yet in Parashat Balak, we get a totally different picture of the Israelite camp. We are transported to the land of Moab, where King Balak is terrified of the Israelites and their power. He tries to get the prophet Bilam to curse the Israelites, but Bilam has only blessings for the Jewish people.  From up on the mountain top, Bilam proclaims, “Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael,” “How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.” It’s strange that the Torah is suddenly letting us into the minds of foreign kings and prophets. But what a powerful gift it is, to see ourselves from a different perspective, to view our lives from a distance.

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Nachshon Project Counselor Fellowship: Blog Post by Alli Moses, Assistant Director

Ongoing training and professional development is an integral part of the summer experience for our Tzevet. Unfortunately we are not able to be together in person at camp, immersed in an environment that promotes the growth and development of our staff. We are grateful for the Nachshon Project’s Camp Counselor Fellowship, which trains our young Jewish leaders, and we are excited that five of our counselors have the incredible opportunity to be a part of this inaugural program. 

Over the course of the last two weeks, our counselors have been a part of a cohort of camp counselors both from within the Ramah movement and across the Jewish camping network. Together they have learned from professionals throughout the Jewish world, and worked on developing and honing their skills as leaders in our camp community. “Being one of hundreds of teens and young adults who are dedicated to improving our leadership skills is truly inspiring. I know that I will take everything I learn with me back to camp – both virtually this summer, and hopefully in person next year. I am glad that I have this opportunity to grow, so that I can come back to camp with a new set of tools to make it the best that it can possibly be,” writes counselor Eliana Saidel. This interactive learning experience engages our staff in conversations around child psychology and camper care, Jewish learning and Israel engagement. Counselors also have the unique ability to hear keynote addresses from major Jewish personalities. The experience culminates in the creation of a final project, where each counselor will reflect on their experience, take inspiration from what they learned and translate it into a camp project that they will implement for our campers to enjoy this summer, as a component of our virtual programming.

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Parshat Naso: A D’var Torah by Natalie Rochman, Rosh Edah

Much as days in quarantine can flow one into another without much variation, the chieftains of the Israelite tribes gave offerings to God, one after the other in similar succession. Parshat Naso concludes with God receiving offerings as twelve gifts accepted through the hands of Moses. Though all very similar in content, the Torah still describes each gift separately, as each gift is unique. They are unique because of the significance not for God who is receiving it, but for the chieftain and their tribe. Routine, in gifts or daily activity, the Torah teaches us, promotes a different point of view. It is important in these times to not dwell on the uniformity but celebrate the unique opportunities and perspectives every day provides.

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Finding Holiness on a Zoom Call by Avram Ellner, Rosh Nachshonim

Now more than ever, we need reminders, and not just that we have another Zoom call in 15 minutes and should eat and drink something beforehand! While we need those reminders too, we also need to be reminded of the larger context of our lives. We need those words of encouragement and love from friends and family – the phone calls, the group virtual game nights playing Psych!, the “I love you” text messages. We need these relationships to be reminded, and to remind others, that while now we are separate, we are not isolated. 

 

We read two Torah portions this week, Acharei Mot and K’doshim, and they too serve as reminders of the larger context of our lives, of why we do the things we do, and who we are. In K’doshim, we are reminded of our holiness three times:

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