Stepping Outside Towards Joy, by Howard Blas, Director, National Ramah Tikvah Network | Camp Ramah Northern California

Stepping Outside Towards Joy, by Howard Blas, Director, National Ramah Tikvah Network

If the holiday of Sukkot took place during the summer, when camp is in session, it would surely be a Tikvah favorite!  Sukkot teaches so many of the values that we live each day in all of our National Ramah Tikvah Network camping and vocational training programs.

Sukkot is a time for experiencing joy (the holiday is called Zman Simchateinu, the holiday of our joy).  It is also a time for going out of our comfort zone, for radical inclusion, and for being good guests and hosts.

Sitting in a sukkah—whether in the cold (sometimes snowy!) northeast or Midwest, the hot South or the sometimes smoky northwest—is not always comfortable. We leave our comfortable homes for 7 days—and sit in temporary booths.  Tikvah campers leave the comforts of home for camp.  It is not always easy, but it is sure worth it!

Each day of the chag (except for Shabbat), we use the lulav and etrog.  We bring together four very different plants—and the rabbis offer all sorts of explanations.  Each of the 4 species is equally important, and the mitzvah doesn’t “count” if even one is absent.  All, regardless of shape, scent or size, must be included.  Camp is the same way—everyone is included! And each edah camper, each staff member, offers something special. 

Tikvah campers have a range of disabilities, though like everyone in the camp community, they also have tremendous abilities. One exceptional ability Ezra participants demonstrate in all of our camps is their capacity for hachnasat orchim, being good hosts. At Ramah NorCal, Ezra participants make and serve cholent during Shabbat staff limmud (staff learning), and they operate Café Ezra, serving special coffees and drinks to staff members for an afternoon “pick me up.”  In some Ramah camps, Ezra participants bake and host an oneg Shabbat each week for staff friends. 

Sukkot is a holiday of hosting—we symbolically invite biblical guests into our sukkah each night. And (in non-Covid times!), it is a time for being guests.  Traditionally, we accept invitations to celebrate the joy in the sukkahs of others.  Our Tikvah campers have learned to be hosts, and they also enjoy being guests—of other edot during their special programs and during informal hanging out time.

Sukkot teaches us to be happy, to challenge ourselves, to be extra inclusive and to be good hosts and guests.  I am proud our Tikvah participants and the entire Nor Cal camp community have internalized these lessons.  Chag Sameach!