Lasting Light: A D’var Torah | Camp Ramah Northern California

Lasting Light: A D’var Torah

By Ilana Sandberg

Hanukkah is one of my favorite weeks to spend in Jerusalem. For in the weeks leading up to Hanukkah, the sun sets earlier and earlier and we see less and less daylight, and then all of the sudden, my walk home after school is illuminated by candles! I pass by taxis with electric hanukkiot on the roof; I pass coffee shop owners lighting in their shop windows; I pass families gathering together to light and sing Hanukkah songs; the city grows brighter both physically and emotionally. 

On the first night of Hanukkah I joined together with my community at the Conservative Yeshiva, a learning community where I am studying Jewish texts for a year as part of my preparation to become a rabbi. As we lit candles and sang Hanukkah songs, one of them stood out in particular this year—“Banu Choshech L’Garesh”, the words of which translate as such:

We have come to banish darkness…

Every individual is a small light,

All together a mighty light

As we all know, this past year and a half has been filled with all sorts of darkness, darkness that each of us have experienced on different levels and in different ways. Yet in the darkest month of the year, we are accustomed to singing about the light we can make for ourselves, that each of us can bring to one another. 

For me, camp is filled with these moments in which our individual small lights come together to create a mighty light. We each, campers and staff alike, bring with us our unique form of light, our individuality that elevates the community. With these hundreds of different little lights that show up to camp each summer, we create so many moments of greatness, moments of mighty light.

As I reflect on the summers I’ve spent at Ramah Galin and look forward to returning in the summer to come, a number of these elevated communal moments come to mind. As I dream of camp, I am transported to our gorgeous beach as we end Shabbat with Havdallah. In that moment, we bring literal light to the darkness of a late summer evening with our candles. We pair that physical light with the power of community—we are uplifted by the song and dance we share, arm in arm ushering out the week full of memories and welcoming a week of new things both expected and not; activities that would have much less power if we were on our own. 

Another moment in which our community becomes mighty through the merging of our individual strength is on Yom Sport—a day of celebrating sports and community dedicated in memory of Jeff Astor, the son of members of our community. Throughout the day, campers join together to swim and play games, working as a team of all ages with diverse talents. We learn songs and cheers to join our voices together and dress in coordinating colors to create team spirit. It is only by working together that each team is able to succeed. 

Finally, I am brought to the last night of the session when the brave campers in the Al Habama (Performing Arts) track get up on stage and perform for the community. The show they create is done as an ensemble, each camper’s voice being heard from the script to the lighting. Each camper involved in the show, whether on the stage or behind the scenes, gets to bring their own talents to create this piece of art they share with the whole community. As the lights dim and the show comes to a close, the community is once again lifted not by physical light but rather by the standing ovation and endless applause that says we are proud to be in community with you. 

While the lights of the Hanukkah candles burn out within the hour, the light we gain from these unforgettable moments at camp carry us through much longer periods of darkness. While I was not able to be at camp this past summer, I have heard a number of staff members reflect that it was one of our most powerful summers yet. As a community, we overcame the darkness and rekindled that mighty light we had all been missing.

May this Hanukkah be one filled with light, both literal and figurative as we continue to navigate a period of darkness and may you find communities with whom you can create a great light, whether virtually or in person.