Machon Learns about the Storied History of Ramah
Today Machon was treated to a history lesson by our very own Director, Rabbi Ed Gelb. Rabbi Gelb began to share with us his understanding of the history of Camp Ramah in New England and the mission of the Ramah camping movement.
He read to us from the first brochure of Camp Ramah in New England and the campers/hanichim were very interested in hearing about old activities/peulot like horseback riding and fishing. But after a while, Rabbi Gelb asked our hanichim, “what makes Ramah unique?” Many of them talked about our wonderful and inclusive community, friends, and special peulot. However, in order to best illustrate what we are trying to do here at Ramah, Rabbi Gelb read us an essay by Rabbi David Moginler, z”l, about when he wrote to his mother about his decision to become a Ramah Director. Here is what he wrote:
Immediately upon being ordained by the Seminary, I accepted an appointment as a Ramah director. My mother was upset; what could tell [sic] her friends when they asked about me and the pulpit I didn’t accept. She found it difficult to say that I was a camp director. After all those years of study and preparation, it didn’t sound like a “job for a nice Jewish rabbi.” She didn’t think to say I was a Jewish educator—there was no formal school building involved. She chose rather to say, “He works with youth.” She really was right; Ramah was my pulpit and my constituency was young people. . . . Through the years, whenever I would speak to a group of parents about Ramah, I would define Ramah as a “Jewish, educational institution in a camp setting.” I would talk about Ramah and not Camp Ramah. I was very careful about the words that I chose and I wasn’t playing semantic games. Yes, the “Ramah experience” takes place in a camp setting, but the notion of Ramah as “just a camp” does injustice to it as the major force it is in Jewish life. . . . Every Ramah director is the director of a “h ˙ eder under the elms”— which provides Hebrew language studies for everyone; Jewish ideas for everyone; each according to his own level, her own background and intellectual maturity. . . . Next time they ask you, Ma, tell them what I do, tell them why I do it. Tell them I have a job that befits a “nice Jewish rabbi.”Tell them I wouldn’t have done it differently if I had to start over again. But, most important of all, Ma, tell them “Ramah makes Jews.” (Mogilner 1997, 89, 90, 93)
If our history tells us anything, it is that Ramah is a special place where today’s Jewish youth are inspired and nurtured intro tomorrow’s Jewish leaders.