Blog | Camp Ramah Northern California - Part 4




Chanukah, the Holiday of Chinukh by Rabbi Josh Berkenwald of Congregation Sinai

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.


D’var Torah: Learning Through Tears & Songs of Joy

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.”


Guest Reflection: Ramah in my Heart, Ramah on my Mind

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).


Guest Reflection: Creating Sacred Spaces

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:


Guest D’var Torah: Camp Holidays

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.


Guest D’var Torah: Teach Your Children Well

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?


M’Shana L’Shana: From Year to Year

“הבו לכם אנשים חכמים ונבנים וידעים לשבטיכם ואשימם בראשיכם.”

“Pick people who are wise, understanding, and known by their tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads” (Deuteronomy 1:13).

Amidst the lingering hugs and luggage schleps of the last day of Session 2 this week, I couldn’t help but notice a 4th grade camper wearing a staff radio while walking out of the Hadar Ochel one last time. When I inquired with his Rosh Edah, she explained, “That’s Rosh David; he’s been appointed our Rosh Edah for the last few minutes of camp.”  I smiled at both the theatrics of this moment, and the underlying truism of her words.


Guest Reflection: I Choose Camp

On Thursday, June 7th, I touched down at S.F.O. for the last time on my gap year. I felt a sense of loss and sadness, knowing that my most incredible, lifechanging, challenging, introspective year was coming to a close. 12 countries, 7 months, 16 books, 2 rounds of parasites, & endless memories later, I planned to have a relaxing summer at home with friends and family, as I prepared to head off to college. However, on my last day in Norway before heading home, I got an email from Camp Ramah Galim, where I worked last summer, inviting me to come back to camp for two weeks (one session). Just thinking about getting home and leaving for camp a week later made me utterly exhausted, but upon receiving the email, I began to scream and jump with joy and excitement. I knew in my heart that I had to go.

Last summer, I spent one of my last Shabbats before my gap year at camp, and this summer, I spent one of my first Shabbats home from my gap year at camp. It was truly a magical experience to return to camp this summer, the place that both sent me off on my gap year and received me after my gap year. So, I wrote this piece.


Guest D’var Torah: Journeying and Memory

As a rabbi and educator, there is nothing more fulfilling than to watch children and teens expand their horizons of perception in new and different places—allowing new experiences and environments to imprint themselves in the form of memories.

Among a whole host of exciting moments at camp this week, I was struck by the joy our hanichim (campers) expressed about their masaot—the journeys they embarked upon away from our beautiful campus.


Guest D’var Torah: Give it up for our future leadership!

What’s scarier than being the person in charge?  Well for me, it’s being the number two.  I don’t know about you, but there is a certain anxiety that I experience knowing that I’m the second in command because at any moment if the person in charge is unable to continue in his or her capacity, all eyes suddenly turn to me….Oy! Most organizations in the world have a plan for succession.  Not only is it good planning, but it also creates a sense of stability and confidence that everything is in order if, God forbid, we have an emergency.  But where did the line of succession come from?  Well, I think that there is some strong evidence that points directly to this week’s Torah portion.