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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
It goes without saying that Passover will look much different this year for many people, our family included. Typically at this time of year I am feeling the strain and stress of kashering the kitchen, shopping for food, developing the menu, welcoming family from near and far, and planning for an interactive Seder for our three children and our guests. Like many of you, our Seders are typically filled with blessings, stories, songs, poems and more. And as my mom has shared in years past, we’ve come a long way since the Maxwell House Hagaddah she grew up using as a child in her apartment in Brooklyn.
This article was published in eJewish Philanthropy on March 30th, 2020.
In another week, we will be sitting with our families around the virtual seder table, equipped with google docs and pdfs to keep us on the same page. In telling the story of the Exodus, we will read about four children: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. This year, amidst the uncertainty that has come to be our new norm, we also feel the presence of a fifth child. This child admits, “I don’t know,” reflecting the truth her inquiring parents hold just as much as she does. The fourth child knows not how to ask; the fifth child knows not how to act.
Dear Camp Ramah in Northern California Families,
We hope this email finds your family healthy and safe amidst the difficult times in which we find ourselves. It was such a blessing to see many familiar camp faces at our virtual Havdallah last Saturday night. We’ll be joining together again this Saturday evening, March 28 at 8pm PST over Zoom here. I hope you can join us for a camp-style Havdallah with onesie pajamas, song, and dance.