Engagement through Prayer: More Miriam! | Camp Ramah Northern California

Engagement through Prayer: More Miriam! An Interview with Jenna Turow, 2018 Rosh Hinuch

How does Miriam’s model of leadership in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Beshallah, resonate with your experience at camp?

Working at camp gives people a unique opportunity to lead by example, enjoy themselves, and encourage others to join in. Miriam with her timbrel is employing multiple kinds of leadership at the same time. She is leading in the quintessential camp way, by singing a song and leading a newly forming group of people in unifying ritual. She is also leading by inspiring; as she celebrates, her emotions spread to the rest of the Israelites and they are all joyous. This is how we lead through personal experience and inspiration at camp.
Where or with whom do you hope to inspire “more Miriam” at camp this summer?
I hope to inspire “more Miriam,” truly, to everyone at camp. I want staff to feel empowered to lead services and activities loudly and proudly, and I want our campers to feel comfortable joining in and trying on their own leadership. Building a unique culture of engagement at camp is both who we are as a community and a particular interest of mine, and this summer I look forward to continuing to foster that culture at Ramah Galim. Tzevet (staff) and hanichim(campers) alike should feel inspired, literally and figuratively, to burst into song and lead a dance.
Is there a story from camp that encapsulates engagement for you?
I find myself dwelling on one wonderful moment when I was able to lead by stepping back and observing. It was the first Shira (song session) of first session last summer, and I was feeling that mix of excited and exasperated at trying to get to know and build those first connections with staff and campers in the first few days of camp. I stepped to the back of the room to let all of the hanichim crowd around our song leader, and I’ll admit, I was nervous that the 9th and 10th graders would not be overly enthusiastic. I sure was proven wrong when I witnessed the Bogrim hanichim and tzevet singing and swaying arm in arm, making up dance moves and creating new traditions right in front of me. The rest of camp fed off of their energy, and soon enough there were multiple conga lines and kids dancing and singing energetically all over the hadar ochel (dining hall).

It’s not always easy to inspire teens to want to lead tefillot. How have you been successful in this area and how might it inform others in different Jewish settings?

I have been successful getting teens to lead tefillot because I guide them to find how they can personally connect and be inspired. I model engagement and enthusiasm for Jewish content, and I teach hanichim how to find their own connections, and then use those connections to lead and engage others. Teens and kids of all ages respond beautifully when being taught something that holds personal significance for the teacher and for themselves!

What are your thoughts on making tefillot accessible for all staff and campers, regardless of their background?

As an educator, accessibility is incredibly important to me, and I believe it is an integral part of any successful program. I hope to continue the work that has been done to make tefillot as accessible as possible for learners of all comfort and knowledge levels. I have begun plans to create supportive materials to go along with our Hebrew texts, and to create a series of visual aids for all prayer and singing experiences. From the very first tefillah experience of staff week, I want to foster a culture of transparency, learning, and inclusivity. The best way to create a meaningful Jewish experience is to ensure that it is fully accessible and relatable to all those participating.