I have to admit, sometimes I feel intimidated by the number of years my colleagues have been going to the camps they lead. I was not a counselor or Rosh Edah at Ramah Galim back in the 80’s or 90’s like many other Ramah Directors. There was no Ramah Galim back in the 80’s or 90’s to attend! Yet at the same time, I feel lucky to be a relative “newbie” to Ramah. Why? Because I am able to truly appreciate the blessing of finding one’s home at camp for the first time and to welcoming new members into our community as leaders.
This week in Parshat Nasso we read the words of the famous Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), which was given as a tool to the Kohanim so that they could be conduits of blessing for their community:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָֹה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
יָאֵר יְהוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
יִשָּׂא יְהוָֹה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
May God bless you and protect you.
May God deal kindly and graciously with you.
May God uplift you and grant you peace.
The words in this blessing resonate each Friday night as we recite them over our children (and campers) at the Shabbat table. For such is the ambition of the parent and the counselor: to bless, protect, deal kindly, be gracious, uplift others, and be peacemakers. But what’s perhaps most striking about the Hebrew words in this ancient blessing is that they increase with each verse from three to five to seven words, teaching us that it is the nature of blessings to expand. To bless is to share and expand holiness through connection.
And so I couldn’t be happier that this summer we welcome many more “newbies” to Ramah, both campers and staff — many of whom come with vast experience at other camps — to share in moment after moment of sanctification with our expanding community from the breakfast table to bedtime Shema. In fact, already the process of expanding blessings through holy connections has begun for kayitz 2017 as our staff collaborate and prepare for the arrival of session one campers in just a few weeks. Miriam Lichtenberg, Rosh Nitzanim (incoming 3rd and 4th graders), shared with me the power of partnering with new and returning Ramahniks in this transformational process after returning from the National Ramah Spring Training Conference:
“On the second day of the Louis and Shoshana Winer Institute for Rosh Edah Training, during our zman chofshi (free time), we were escorted by the staff representing Camp Ramah in New England to the local ice cream shop, Rondeu’s, where we got to experience what one rosh edah (head counselor) called “the best ice cream in the country.” I spent the walk with friends from Ramah Wisconsin discussing the things we learned from the many sessions we had already attended and anticipated the ones to come. We bounced ideas off each other, shared ice-breaker games and creative peulot erev (night activities) we wanted to bring to our camps, mulled over the tips we learned on how to properly run a staff meeting, and the essential do’s and don’ts of being a rosh edah. We quickly reached the ice cream shop and realized there was so much more we wanted to learn and share. This conversation was not unique; rather, it was the essence of the Winer conference to foster an environment that allowed ideas for the summer to flourish, and give us the tools to begin to sketch them into a reality. The relationships we made at this conference would ensure we will be supported and successful in the process.”
Lichtenberg explains, “As a “newbie” to the Ramah Camping Movement, despite spending over a decade as a camper and counselor at other Jewish camps out East, I was unsure what to expect from my first Ramah event. What I found was a group of dedicated, passionate, young Jewish leaders’ eager to make their mark on the Jewish world.Bringing together approximately 45 passionate Ramahnicks, it was inevitable that the conference would serve as a camp idea incubator, where one Ramanick had the opportunity to learn from another; this I expected. What I did not anticipate was the drive held by each person to figure out how to best implement and participate in Ramah’s core mission, and to do so with warmth, grace, and a smile.”
She concludes, “We spent four long and wonderful days at Camp Ramah in New England gearing up for the summer and learning from Ramah Greats about how to excel in the rosh edah position. It is no small task we are undertaking in our work with children, but with the tools we have been given, the support system we built for ourselves and the one that is already in place at our camps, the skills we’ve been taught over the years at camp, it is clear that we can succeed in our rolls and make kayitz 2017 the best one yet for our campers.”
I look forward to watching Miriam and others shine this summer as they become new agents of blessing who share and expand holiness through fostering sacred relationships and inspiring connections as leaders at camp. I hope that each of us can find moments of blessing to share with those around us in the coming week no matter how busy or challenged we are; you never know who you are going to touch forever with your blessing.
Rabbi Sarah Shulman
Camp Director, Camp Ramah in Northern California