How good it is to be at camp
With each visit I was reminded just how good it is to be in camp, even if only for brief moments of time. When I think about the meaningful interactions that I had during these short trips, I am energized by the deep learning, special friendships and lifelong connections to Judaism that I witnessed. I observed firsthand just how impactful camp Jewish experiences continue to be for both campers and staff, and I felt energized by the people I spoke with.
Tov Li B’Machaneh Ramah!
These words have been part of my vocabulary since a young age when I first attended Camp Ramah in New England and learned the anthem sung at many Ramah camps. Nowadays, when I post a picture, share a memory or visit one of the Ramah camps, I think about these words —Tov Li B’Machaneh Ramah— because of the way they capture the moment. As director of admissions for The Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School at The Jewish Theological Seminary, I had the privilege this summer of visiting a number of the Ramah overnight camps — New England, Berkshires, Wisconsin, and Darom — as well as the Ramah Day Camp in Nyack.
During my visits, I spoke with campers and staff about their academic intentions, exploring the many opportunities to pursue innovative Jewish leadership paths as Jewish educators, entrepreneurs, academics, communal leaders and clergy. We discussed the various educational paths available at JTS as well as in other settings that would position them to best achieve their goals. Camp had given them the chance to think about the kinds of Jewish lives they wanted to live and the Jewish values they wanted to incorporate into their future, and I was happy to help them formulate plans for continuing on this path.
I also connected with current JTS students and alumni to hear their plans for the upcoming academic year or to reminisce about their JTS experience. Much of this was accomplished thanks to the assistance of JTS’s Freiberg-Hammerman Ambassadors, JTS current students who create innovative programming and share information about JTS throughout the summer, as well as the leadership of each camp, who scheduled meetups and hosted ongei Shabbat or kiddushim (Shabbat gatherings).
With each visit I was reminded just how good it is to be in camp, even if only for brief moments of time. When I think about the meaningful interactions that I had during these short trips, I am energized by the deep learning, special friendships and lifelong connections to Judaism that I witnessed. I observed firsthand just how impactful camp Jewish experiences continue to be for both campers and staff, and I felt energized by the people I spoke with. I feel hopeful for the future generation of Jewish students and leaders, while also feeling good that such a strong #jtsramahconnection exists. Here’s a glimpse of all the good I was able to see and be a part of:
- I explored “big Jewish questions” as part of an activity with the second oldest edah at Ramah Darom. I also enjoyed multiple conversations with campers and staff curious about JTS. The questions and insight they provided was inspiring.
- I offered a training session to rising 10th graders on Jewish identity and broader Jewish connection at Ramah New England.
- I led an interactive (and competitive) trivia game about the Jewish holidays for teenage campers at Ramah Berkshires.
- I watched as two young campers at Ramah Wisconsin sat beneath a tree playing guitar and accepted an impromptu lesson from a member of the tzevet (staff) who walked by with their own instrument.
- I took part in a three-person presentation about Jewish journeys given to the tzevet during a late oneg Shabbat at Ramah Wisconsin. We heard from two staff from the former Soviet Union who shared their good fortune to end up at Ramah teaching campers and learning from fellow staff.
- Overall, I was also honored to utilize my rabbinic voice to deliver multiple divrei Torah, teach Mussar, and reach over 250 students through the camp visits.
The list goes on because of other moments like these created in spaces surrounded by the natural and beautiful landscape of camp. The same feeling I had as a child — Tov Li B’Machaneh Ramah — remains as relevant today as a rabbi/educator, as a JTS admissions director and as a Ramah visitor.
I look forward to the coming school year, after the trunks are packed away and the camps are prepared for winter, to continue these enriching conversations with many of the people I met over the summer, and to develop deeper connections throughout the year.
Tov Li B’Machaneh Ramah!
Rabbi Rafi Cohen is the director of admissions for both The Rabbinical School and the H. L. Miller Cantorial School at The Jewish Theological Seminary.