A Healthy Summer is a Successful Summer – and More Torah! | Camp Ramah Northern California

A Healthy Summer is a Successful Summer – and More Torah!

by Dr. Irene Moff 
In this week’s parsaha, Re’eh, Moses gives his last speech to the Israelites before they enter the Land of Israel. He starts off by imploring the Israelites to “See” (“re’eh”) all of the blessings and curses laid out before them. And as a parent might do (or want to do!) before sending their child off to camp, Moses gives them A LOT of rules – what to eat, how to treat others, how to pray, what rituals to practice. We get our laws of Kashrut, guidelines for tzedekah, prohibitions against idolatry, and rules around the three pilgrimage festivals all from this week’s parsaha.

As in much of the entire book of Devarim, many of the laws in this parasha are a repetition from prior portions in the Torah. But they are given to us from a different perspective. As part of his introduction, Moses sets up the context. “You shall not act at all as we now act here, every [person] as [they] please…” The implication is that, now, we must follow these laws for the good of an entire people, not just each individual for themselves. Many of these laws are meant to teach us how to behave as part of a community and to be responsible for one another. As Camp Ramah’s medical teams prepared for a summer like no other, we were constantly aware of the tension between decisions that individuals make for themselves and their household versus behaviors that we would ask everyone to commit to in order to create a safe camp community. Our families understood and embraced that we were no longer acting as individuals, but rather for the safety of the entire community. Medical directors from all 10 North American overnight Ramah camps, as well as the day camps, met monthly at first, then bi-monthly, then weekly as the summer approached. We scoured available medical data, we consulted with trusted sources, and we followed constantly changing guidelines in order to create the safest bubbles we could at camp. But we also remembered Moses’ entreaty in this parasha, to “not add or subtract from these commandments.” We knew that we should neither create such strict rules that they could not be followed, nor be so flexible as to create unnecessary risk at camp. In this most unusual of summers, we had both – we had times when we were able to loosen up a bit and other times when we had to tighten restrictions.

We were thrilled to have a fully vaccinated staff and even many older campers who squeezed in two vaccine doses just in time for camp. We were less thrilled when Delta variant cases were rising in the world outside of our treasured camp bubble. But with a commitment to prioritizing our camp community, a strict adherence to our ever-evolving protocols and a little bit of luck, we remained COVID-free and sent our last campers home for Kayitz (Summer) 2021 with amazing memories of an unforgettable summer camp experience. I am so grateful for the partnership of our incredible Ramah Galim medical team, for the collaboration of thoughtful colleagues at every single Camp Ramah in North America, and for the commitment of our own camp leadership to ensure a safe and healthy camp experience this summer for kids and adults who desperately needed it. And mostly, I am grateful for all of the blessings that we were able to see this summer.

Dr. Irene Moff is a Pediatric Specialist and the Medical Director of Ramah Galim.