Building Heartfelt Community – One Year to The Next: New Year Aspirations by Rabbi Sarah | Camp Ramah Northern California

Building Heartfelt Community – One Year to The Next: New Year Aspirations by Rabbi Sarah

אָנֹכִ֛י אֲכַלְכֵּ֥ל אֶתְכֶ֖ם וְאֶֽת־טַפְּכֶ֑ם
“I will sustain you and your children.”
Genesis 50:21

The Torah has a funny way of perpetually being relevant to our lives. Indeed, it is probably no coincidence that as we reflect on the year 2017 and look forward to sustaining some habits and changing others in the year ahead, so do our ancestors Jacob and Joseph undertake this endeavor in this week’s Torah portion. Before his approaching death, Jacob reflects on the family’s mishaps and then blesses his progeny through Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menashe. Then as the life of his father draws to a close in Parshat Vayehi, Joseph himself turns to his remorseful brothers and speaking from the heart, pronounces:

“וְעַתָּה֙ אַל־תִּירָ֔אוּ אָנֹכִ֛י אֲכַלְכֵּ֥ל אֶתְכֶ֖ם וְאֶֽת־טַפְּכֶ֑ם וַיְנַחֵ֣ם אוֹתָ֔ם וַיְדַבֵּ֖ר עַל־לִבָּֽם.”
“‘And now fear not, I will sustain you and your children’,” he [Joseph] comforted them and he spoke to their hearts” (Genesis 50:21).

In English we often use the idiom “speak from the heart.” What I love about Joseph’s pledge of sustainability is that it is heartfelt and reciprocal:  spoken to the heart, and at the same time, spoken from the heart.  This too is the language of camp and the rest of our communities at their best:  a promise of sustainability and care that, like Joseph’s pledge, is clairvoyant, reciprocal, and responsive to changing times.

When we opened Camp Ramah in Northern California in 2016, we made a pledge to families of safety and security, engagement and care.  That pledge we make anew each and every camp season.  But what I hadn’t anticipated yet in 2016 was the extent to which our campers would be making that same pledge to each other, and in turn to the rest of us, and to the Jewish community at large.

This past weekend while attending the bat mitzvah of one of our campers, I had the pleasure of witnessing many Ramah campers who had driven and flown from all over to celebrate together.  Several campers even came up to me during the bat mitzvah to mention, “Rabbi Sarah, we’re texting with this person or that person from camp right now.” The bat mitzvah also described an impactful walk-a-thon she led at her school in honor of a dear camp friend. Campers are sustaining one another from their hearts and to their hearts in every way imaginable.

As the days begin to get longer and the sun of summer creeps back into our lives, I for one will be looking forward to witnessing moments of miraculous encounter between these young people who, by caring for one another, care for the future of our people. “My boys cannot imagine their summers without Ramah,” a parent shared with me recently.”   And you know what? Neither can I.

May this new year of 2018 be one in which we all find new ways to partner heart-to-heart with the children in our communities to sustain the world.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year,

Rabbi Sarah Shulman

Camp Director, Camp Ramah in Northern California