Chancellor Eisen on Why Ramah Works — And Why it is Essential
Arnold Eisen, the Chancellor and President of the Faculties at the Jewish Theological Seminary, recently posted an article entitled “Why Ramah Works — And Why it is Essential” in which he reflects on his visits to Ramah camps this summer, including Camp Ramah in New England.
Here is a brief excerpt:
I chat at Shabbat dinner with a married couple who met at camp 60 (!) years ago, and are en route to visit friends they met there as well. We agree that the greatest argument for Shabbat at camp is not the words or melodies of the tefillot we have just uttered by the lake, but the fact that counselors and staff are observing these rituals with the campers, who are in turn joyfully inhabiting this Jewish time and space with their friends. Heschel’s book on the Sabbath, for all its beauty, cannot compete with the weekly experience of doing Shabbat in this way.
The basketball and swimming that I observe at Camp Ramah New England likewise take place in Jewish space and time. The budding romances and intimate conversations of which I catch glimpses are Jewish, too. So are the experiences of fun and friendship that Tikvah program campers with disabilities share with others. Text study and tefillah, both standard at camp, are different than they are elsewhere because here they take place in the context of all the rest of what is Jewish. So too the use of Hebrew. The Jewish community of North America does not have the billions to spend on selling Judaism that retailers routinely expend on advertising. What we can do, though, is provide experiences of community and meaning, one person at a time, summer after summer.