It’s Sunday morning and I have just returned from a short run; the sun is shining but it is deceivingly cold. Like most mornings, my run was filled with beautiful scenery and a sense of calm. It is my time to put all of the worries of daily life aside and to take a moment to be present and mindful. On my run I noticed a hare run across the path, a group of deer grazing in the meadow, and the rush of the water as I crossed over a footbridge. I took a moment and mentioned to my friends just how blessed we are to live in a place surrounded by such beauty.
I feel the same sense of peace and serenity at camp, surrounded by amazing strawberry fields just a short walk from the ocean. And as we prepare for Passover, I relate leaving my home and spending my summer at Ramah Galim to the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt and their transition to freedom. Certainly my transformation is not as dramatic as leaving oppression to move to a land of freedom, but it is a time of leaving a daily routine and responsibilities to go to a place filled with a sense of serenity and calmness.
As Pesach approaches, I want to share my impression of the story of the four children as it relates to camp. At first I struggled with this concept, as you can imagine, camp is not filled with stereotypical children that fit into only one of the four classic models from the Haggadah. Rather, camp is filled with children that, to some extent, fit into each of the characteristics described: the leader and the rule-follower; the one who questions and who requires a bit more prompting to stay on task; the one who is attentive and quietly engaged and the one who is a bit more reserved and needs support to acclimate to camp. But, as my husband reminded me, I see the positives in all children, even the one labeled as “wicked.” As Director of Camper Care, I am honored to be part of a program that values inclusivity and acceptance as key components of staff training, role modeling, and education for all our campers.
As Ramah Galim continues to grow, let us also think of the story of the four children as representing all of the children in the greater Jewish community. But let’s reverse the order and start with the last child identified in the Haggadah:
The child who doesn’t know how to ask can best be described as the child who has never been exposed to the concept or idea of camp. This child may be too young to yet know about camp or lives in a community where camp is an unknown. We know that word of mouth is one of the most effective outreach tools for camp attendance. Word of mouth is valuable to educate this child on the important role camp plays in long-term Jewish identity. For each of these children that do not know how to ask, we hope that one day they will learn about the existence of the Jewish summer camp, and will become curious about what camp has to offer.
The simple child can best be described as the child who knows about the idea of camp, but hasn’t yet been to camp. This child’s knowledge is limited and this child knows about camp only as a place that people go during the summer. This child might know that camp is located along the ocean, or that there is a drama program, or that you can surf and ride horses. This child may even have some friends that go to Ramah. But this child probably does not know that while the Pew Study of American Jewry found that only 54% of American Jews said that being Jewish is an important component of their life, a 2017 Ramah alumni study found that 83% of Ramah alumni indicated that being Jewish is a “very important” part of their lives. The Ramah experience strengthens Jewish identity, including that of my own children, and the experience may change this child’s life.
The wicked or rebellious child in the Haggadah can be described as the child who knows about camp, but questions if this child can leave behind the electronic devices and conform to the structure, customs, and guidelines of camp. The Camper Care team would help this child understand that these structures, customs, and guidelines are actually designed to give every child an outstanding summer experience and to keep every camper safe and engaged.
Finally, the wise child can be considered the child who returns to camp with eagerness and excitement. As reported in the Ramah alumni study, almost one half of alumni ages 18 to 65 reported having at least three close friends who they met at Ramah. These campers came for a fun experience, but found community, life-long friends, and a connection to Judaism that remained strong for decades.
The Camper Care team is dedicated to building an incredible summer experience for all campers; helping each child fit into the community, while valuing and strengthening the individuality of each person. Each camper will have an opportunity to share their love of camp and Jewish community with other children. As it says in Deuteronomy “You must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”