From Sapling to Staff Member | Camp Ramah Northern California

From Sapling to Staff Member

By Avram Ellner, Teen Coordinator

As Jews, we love trees and all botanical life – our tradition is replete with stories of important trees, orchards both mundane and mystical, and legal rulings ranging from “trees of the field” to the proper tending of fruit trees. We mythologize our Torah as a “Tree of Life,” whose fruits nourish our minds and spirits. Although many of our lifestyles are removed from that of our agrarian ancestors, at our core, we remain gardeners, tenders of soil, and stewards for the earth.

To be a staff member at Ramah Galim – to be a Jewish educator – is to return to our ancestral vocation; we are gardeners and farmers, and our campers are our blossoming saplings. Camp is an orchard, our very own Garden of Eden, where staff members cultivate an environment for each and every sapling, each unique camper, to grow and thrive. The work requires dedication, attention, and love, and from it all, we see our saplings develop into their own wonderful selves – elms and oaks and willows and sequoias – and create this holy orchard we call camp.

If to be a camper is to be a sapling, and to be a staff member is to be a gardener, then the transition from camper to staff member is the metamorphosis of incorporating both these metaphors into one’s personal identity. The sapling, miraculously transformed into a gardener in the orchard, now has the opportunity to tend to new saplings who are just budding up through the fresh soil. Who better to tend to these new saplings, these campers, than a sapling-turned-gardener, a camper-turned-staff member, someone who knows the soil and the needs of saplings better than most? 

It gives me great joy to see a new group of our campers undergo this metamorphosis from sapling to staff member. Over the course of this past year, they’ve participated in an array of programming such as Ramah Galim’s Advah Teen Leader program, the Weinstein Counselor Fellowship, and the Weinstein Institute in partnership with National Ramah. In the coming months, they will continue to have opportunities to learn about how to be a staff member in order to continue the cultivation of our orchard. We are also thrilled to have been recently accepted as a camp into the Tzedek Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Initiative supported by the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Jim Joseph Foundation and additional local funders, which will help us to continue to nurture teens for years to come. 

When asked to reflect on their transition from camper to staff member, we found a common root connecting our future leaders’ ideas – the desire to provide for future campers the opportunities, support, and love that their staff members provided them:

Aaron Miller wrote, “I remember when I first went to camp, I really looked up to the first-year counselors because they seemed much more relatable than some of the older ones, and I hope that I can guide campers who may not know what to expect at Ramah so they have fun and want to return.” 

Becca Weinberg responded, “Camp is such a special and important place to me, and I’m most looking forward to sharing the excitement it brings me to be there with others…I hope that I can pass that unique feeling on to future campers.” 

And Evan Steirman reflected in an essay, “On that day, I made it my mission to pay forward what all of my past counselors had done for me, and I hope that I was able to pass down the essence of what makes camp special: a community built on love and kindness…I’m looking forward to inspiring another generation of campers to become leaders in their own communities.”

May our orchard continue to flourish under the care, attention, and love of its newest cohort of staff members.