I am sitting at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, holding a text that brings me back to my summers on the beach of Monterey Bay. I am surrounded on both sides by Ramahniks from several camps who interpret the text based on their unique life experiences. The energy in the room is palpable. Our group is eager to absorb as much as possible to bring back to our respective camps. Over the next 10 days I will have the chance to explore the complexities of Israel and Germany through the lens of Camp Ramah.
I have been given the opportunity to travel with Ramahniks to Israel and Germany as part of the Kerem young professionals program generously funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, and Germany, which changed the Jewish world forever, contain traditions that continue to profoundly shape the ways in which Jews engage with their communities. As I move from one community to the next, seeing the similarities and differences between Jews who live in different cities, I become more and more aware of how this experience shapes my Jewish identity.
I have been placed outside of my comfort zone for the sake of learning what it means to be a Jew outside of the American Conservative model. This experience alters the lens in which I view the past, present, and future Jewish world.
I begin my travels in Jerusalem, studying Bava Metzi’a at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. I am stricken by a text that presents a dialogue between Rav Yohanan and Resh Lakish who argue over the moment in which a tools’ manufacture is complete. “Rav Yohanan ruled: When they are tempered in a furnace. Resh Lakish maintained: When they have been refurbished in water” (Bava Metzi’a 84a).
What is significant about this text? At Ramah Galim we are lucky to have the Pacific Ocean in our backyard. Each summer, members of our community enter the water for the first time. They conquer their fears and learn new skills, in a sense, becoming new people as a result of the water. Like Resh Lakish remarks, “when they have been refurbished in water,” “their manufacture is complete.” (Bava Metzi’a 84a)
Next, I have the opportunity to attend the Ramah Shabbaton in Jerusalem. This is my first Shabbat in Israel in over two years and I am spending this time with Ramahaniks from all over the world, representing all Ramah camps, speaking multiple languages. It is amazing to see that despite our geographic differences, we all share a common tradition that continues to develop over time.
The next leg of this trip takes place in Berlin. Germany once witnessed an attempt to destroy the Jewish people. Relics of the Holocaust can be found on streets throughout the city. Buildings that once housed Nazi offices, homes that hid Jewish families, and memorials that keep the memories of a once rich Jewish community alive can be seen throughout this modern city.
As a group, we walk along the streets where Jews were rounded up, where Nazi marched, and where today, a Jewish community is thriving. We spend Shabbat at a beautiful synagogue whose attendees are excited about the Jewish future of Berlin. Members of this community are becoming teachers, rabbis, cantors, and raising Jewish families. Housed in one of these Berlin homes is even a 10th grade camper who dreams of attending camp this summer to horseback ride along the beach with Jewish friends. A country which saw such horror is now home to Jews like Leah who are proud of their tradition and optimistic about their future.
What impact has this experience had on me? I now see the wealth of diversity that Judaism has around the world in practice, language, and community. There are great opportunities in Jewish collaboration. I have learned that dialogue is a path towards progress. Having the ability to engage with these communities has opened my eyes and my heart. I am excited to share the stories of what I have seen in conversations with campers on the beach and in the bayit at camp. I know that this experience will change the way I engage with Ramah and refurbish my own Jewish perspectives, and I look forward to seeing how that manifests this summer and beyond.
Ari Friedman is Program Associate at Camp Ramah in Northern California, and serves as Assistant Waterfront Director during the summer season. If you would like to learn more about Ari’s experiences in Israel and Germany, feel free to reach out to Ari directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.