In the first line of Parshat Chayei Sarah, we are told that Sarah, our first matriarch, lived to the age of 127. The wording in the very first line of the parsha is a bit unusual—it says Sarah was “one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years.” Rashi explains the repetition by saying that her life was divided into three distinct period, each with its own uniqueness and particular characteristics. I suspect all of us could divide our lives into distinct periods, some more memorable than others!
In my 25 plus years working with the Tikvah Program at Ramah New England, Galim and National Ramah, I have observed that families lucky enough to discover Tikvah might also describe their children’s lives as having distinct periods—life before Tikvah, where their children often did not have a meaningful, inclusive Jewish communal experience, and during Tikvah, when they fully experience what Jewish camping and community has to offer.
But that is only two periods. I would like to suggest a rather important third period in the life of some of our Tikvah participants—the period of seeing and experiencing Israel in person!
This week’s parsha speaks at great length about Abraham’s commitment to Israel and the great pains he takes to secure a burial place for Sarah—and for future generations—in Israel. The Ramah Camping Movement has always been strongly committed to Israel—we bring many shlichiim (Israeli emissaries) to all of our camps each summer, we run Israel programs, use Hebrew daily, and we send hundreds of teens to Israel each summer for Ramah Israel Seminar.
Our Tikvah campers often discover Israel for the first time at Ramah camps-through meaningful programming, and through their special relationships with our shlichim. While some Tikvah campers in Ramah camps have traveled to Israel on TIkvah Ramah Israel Trips over the years, 2017 marks a major development in Israel programming for Tikvah participants: Our first ever Tikvah Ramah Birthright Israel trip. Tikvah participants and alum ages 18-29 from our various Ramah camps have the opportunity to participate in a December 18 to 29 Ramah Tikvah Birthright Israel trip.
What makes a Tikvah Ramah Birthright Israel trip unique? In addition to visiting the important historical and religious spots—the Kotel, Yad Vashem and Har Herzl, the Dead Sea and Masada, the Golan Heights, Safed and Tel Aviv, we will really experience Israel through our senses—planting trees, petting animals at the Biblical Zoo, going on a jeep ride, and participating in a chocolate making workshop. We will experience the sights and sounds of Jerusalem on Shabbat. And we will have a special peulat erev (evening activity) with Herb and Barbara Greenberg, Reenana residents who founded Tikvah in 1970 and served as directors of Tikvah at Camp Ramah in New England for 29 years.
This third special chapter in the life of a Tikvah participant—the Israel experience—helps explain a verse I have always found curious. In Genesis Chapter 24, verse 1, it says, “God had blessed Abraham with everything.” What could “everything” suggest? For Tikvah participants lucky enough to experience camp AND Israel, they truly have everything! And as the group leader lucky enough to bring 25 participants to Israel, I feel blessed with everything!
Howard Blas is the Tikvah director at Ramah Galim as well as the director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network. Howard has been affiliated with various Ramah Tikvah programs almost continuously since 1984.