I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to return for my second time to Ramah Galim as a guest and visiting Rabbi/educator. Returning to the Monterey Bay campus felt like I was returning home to a familiar campus, culture and family. I was especially grateful that I was able to bring my 11-year-old daughter, Mina, so that she too could experience this amazing camp first hand, and enjoy it with some her friends from home in Los Angeles. Ramah Galim’s positivity, sense of adventure, and familiar spirit was felt throughout all the elements of camp, and I was especially struck by the camp’s values driven approach to crafting and delivering a truly meaningful Jewish summer experience for its campers and staff.
The very design of the camp’s program and staff structure speaks to a deep desire to empower every individual to grow and contribute as leaders, fostering Manhigut in so many ways. I was especially struck by the new addition of a Nachshon edah, which providing campers entering into their upper years of high school a richer camp adventure as they shared their experience in camp, expertise and enthusiasm with campers, whether teaching songs, dances, camp or leading Yom Sport. Beyond just these elder campers, I felt strongly the sense that every staff member, counselor and even the campers themselves saw it as their responsibility to lead others as role models and exemplars of the values and spirit that make Ramah Galim unique. Rather than shying away from opportunities, I witness campers and staff alike step up to share stories, lead skits, teach Torah and support each other in a way that makes camp a great training ground for the leaders they can be in their communities back home.
The focus on leadership evolves out of a clear sense of Kavod, in which staff and campers alike recognize the importance of shows honor and respect to others, the land and the spirit of camp. This value is modeled by camp leadership. I was particularly moved by how Howard, Marcy and Shirley go beyond their roles in overseeing specific areas of camp’s programming to seek opportunities to demonstrate for their staff and campers what it means to see each camp moment as a way of practicing kavod for other people, other living creatures and the Earth (land and sea) itself. I really appreciated witnessing counselors interacting with other counselors and campers with other campers and especially counselors with campers in a way that honored each person’s human dignity and individualism, while setting clear expectations about how each person has a role within the large camp structure. Kavod was particularly evident in the honored role that Ramah Galim’s Tikvah participants as Amitzim and Ezra campers and leaders play in elevating the whole camp experience, and how each camper and staff cares for and appreciates that Ramah Galim is special not because it creates a space for these fellow Jews, but because it ensures that they are equal participants and leaders in the camp itself.
When a camp emphasizes Kavod and Manhigut, it makes possible for everyone in camp to be able to find true Simcha, joy, in the camp experience. It takes strong leadership to design as thorough and diverse a camp experience as Ramah Galim offers its campers, from the essential of Jewish camping, to the amazing journeys of adventure, ocean exploration and drama that provide campers unique choices. What make the spirit of camp go beyond the programs themselves, and truly make camp meaningful and memorable as a transformative encounter, is that each individual finds joy in being part of the communal whole. This starts with Rabbi Sarah and Alana, who embody such joy in being a part of camp, interacting with campers and fostering growth in their staff. This flows through all the programming and staff leadership, as well as the counselors themselves, who find delight in meal menus, chanting blessings for meals, learning together, praying as a group and even the act of cleaning up a dining hall. The campers learn from the staff how to enjoy and celebrate not just the amazing highs of the wonderful environment and great thrills of the programming, but the little moments that make camp special, from cheers during a meal, to the delight of a hot dog. Every moment of camp because an opportunity to finding joy in being with each other and being a part of a Jewish camp.
I am so proud to able to be a guest Rabbi and educator for these amazing campers, counselors and staff. It is a privilege to be able to teach Torah, lead tefillot and participate in camp programming with everyone. The real gift for me is that even in just a few days I got to know these people as they immersed themselves in the truly wonderful experience of Ramah Galim, as I witnessed them celebrate life, grow as people and further their own Jewish journeys.
Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman, Ed.D.
Director of Youth Learning & Engagement
Temple Beth Am