Let me tell you how Ramah changed my life By Talia Caine, Niv ’19
When asked to describe their Niv summer in one word, I think you could expect a lot of different responses from Ramah alumni. You would probably hear a lot of “life-changing” with a little “transformative” and just a dash of “indescribable” thrown in. For me, my Niv summer was BUSY! It was an incredible whirlwind of friends, Yom Sport planning, chugim, hadracha (leadership program), softball, machazemer (musical) rehearsal, summer homework, and a lot more. But the one place I would go every time I could was the Keshet club.
Keshet is a nationwide LGBTQ+ Jewish organization. I had realized the year before that I was bi, came out at camp during my Machon summer, and promised myself that I would come out to my friends and family at home that year. I had only come out to one person by the time I went back. I was scared of their reaction, and I didn’t know many other LGBTQ+ Jewish teens. Upon reading through the Roosletter at the first Aruchat Boker (breakfast), I learned that there was a new club during Bechirot (free choice activities) – a branch of the Keshet organization (started by the incredible Magshimim madricha (counselor) Adira Blumenthal) for LGBTQ+ and allied campers to hang out, do crafts, and talk about the issues that were important to us.
The first time I went, I was honestly really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, or how many people would be there, or anything about the club. But instead of the empty gagarena or bored faces I feared, I found about twenty people- painting pride rocks! I jumped in immediately, and after an hour, we had at least thirty rocks with a ton of different flags! Everyone was happy to be there, but a little nervous like me. Still, we quickly settled into an easy flow, and I became a regular of the club for two months.
I was also able to discuss with the other members a lot of issues that I couldn’t talk about anywhere else. Being LGBTQ+ Jews, for instance, brings with it a lot of baggage that is difficult to discuss in everyday life. A lot of other people had not yet come out to their families and friends, and some were only out to the other people in the club. We spent the whole second session working on a zine to be distributed to the rest of camp, and our drawings and short articles allowed us to convey much of what we had been trying to express. The positive and supportive reaction from the larger camp community made the experience all the better.
Upon going home, I knew that no matter what happened, I had a safety net around me, even if they lived far away. So I came out. It was slow at first- person by person, little by little. I’ve now become comfortable simply referring to myself as bi and being able to say that I am part of the LGBTQ+ community. Everyone has been very kind and supportive- my father simply said that it was good that I had more options. I think that had it not been for Camp Ramah, the Keshet club, and the friends and mentors I found there, it would have taken me a lot longer to have been able to share who I was with the world.
Camp has given me a lot over the years, a deeper connection to my Judaism and friends that will last me a lifetime being among them. But the Keshet club gave me the most important thing of all: the confidence to be myself, and the knowledge that wherever I go, I will have people to catch me if I fall. That’s not something that I could get just anywhere, and I am so grateful to Camp Ramah for giving me that. Looking forward, the only thing I ask of camp is that it does everything possible to offer the same experience to other young people that it did for me – make sure that Keshet continues, encourage madrichim (counselors) to become mentors to their chanichim (campers), and bring chanichim together in a place unlike any other on Earth.