Nivonim 2020 Speeches
We are proud to share these reflections from Nivonim 2020 campers!
I’d like to show everyone two pictures that I took last summer.
The first photo you see here is of the agam from the tzad bet (B-side) medurah (fire pit) by the beach. It was taken on a regular evening at camp; the sky is blue and orange and cloudless and you can see the tzad aleph agam in the center surrounded by the silhouettes of nearby trees. Quite frankly, if I didn’t know what camp looked like… you could tell me that this was from literally any other lake and I would agree. It looks almost ordinary.
The second photo was taken from the exact same location, facing the exact same direction, during the exact same time of day, just thirteen days later. But instead of a mundane lake photo the sky and its reflection have been lit up with clouds and marvelous colors. Instead of the rather plain and monotonous blue and orange in the first photo, we see bursts of pink and purple and orange and yellow and even the slightest bit of blue. It’s magnificent. It is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite photo of the ones that I’ve taken. Because it was taken at camp? No. Well, yes; but not entirely that. This photo is my favorite because it has a hidden, unintentional, message.
This summer was my seventh with Ramah. I remember my first, that two-week trial run, very vividly… because I hated the first week. I was homesick, I couldn’t stop thinking of my family some 400 miles away from me, and I wanted out. But as soon as I felt better I couldn’t get enough of camp. And when it was time to go at the end of every summer afterwards I lamented over the closure of another month at my second home. And when I arrived back in DC, as many a child would do, I rushed to regale my friends with tales from my summer… but they didn’t get it. No matter how much I told them “no, you aren’t getting it! This is funny! That’s what happens!” They would sit, baffled, and then proceed to tell me about their summer camps; and the tables would turn so that I was the one sitting baffled.
That’s when it clicked for me. Each summer camp presents its own unique experiences to those who go. While some camp traditions overlap, there will always be some things that you’ll have to tell your friends, “are just Palmer things.” On the same note, Ramah Palmer holds a very unique place in the hearts of those who experience it. Others will be confused with how reverently we discuss our summers here. And I do say here because Ramah Palmer isn’t a place; it’s a community. It’s a feeling. It’s not a house, it’s a home.
This is where I bring us back to the two pictures. The first picture is how those who have never experienced camp see Ramah Palmer. It’s a beautiful place, but rather simple; nothing that makes it stand out. But the second photo, god, that second photo, is how we, or at least I, see Ramah Palmer. The same beautiful skyline has been dipped in a paint bucket of experiences and wonder, of unique friendships and unbreakable bonds, of summer nights under the starry skies and ruach-filled afternoons on yom sport. When I see that second photo I see my Palmer Ultimate teammates and I rushing onto the migrash after winning Yom Roo. I see myself sitting on that very agam in a kayak, floating in blissful silence as I look at my fellow chanichim on the water toys. I see my edah sitting amongst tzad bet, singing at the tops of their lungs during Friday night shira. But when I go home and even begin to explain to my friends the unbridled joy I feel at the machane, only one sentence leaves my mouth:
“You just had to be there.”
Because Ramah isn’t really just a place, or a community, or a feeling, or a time of year, it’s an experience that I feel so incredibly lucky to have been a part of. So thank you, to everyone who reads this, because you have helped make my Ramah experience special.
Parshat Va’etchanan is packed with significance. The text includes three iconic passages: the Sh’ma, Veahavta, and the ten commandments. However, when I read the parsha to find what I wanted to talk about, I realized that it wasn’t the words themselves that meant the most, it was why they were included.
I’ll set the scene: A couple parshiot ago, Moshe disobeyed G-d, and G-d decided that he cannot cross into the Promised Land with his people as punishment for his defiance. Thus our parsha opens as Moshe gathers the Children of Israel to recount how, despite his pleading, he cannot stay with them. “Pray, let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side” he begged G-d. Alas, G-d remained adamant.
“I implored G-d to let me see this promised land,” Moshe tells Israel. Even though I’m reading the English translation in my head, I can hear the heartbreak in Moshe’s voice. For decades, Moshe united the Israelites. He freed them from their bonds in Egypt. He guided them through the bitter heat of the desert. He taught them how to love and trust each other. He maintained their faith in HaShem. But, in the end, he must watch the nation he helped create walk away from him. Thousands of years later, I can still feel Moshe’s hurt.
My edah and I prepared for years to become Nivonimers. But now, we will feel the heartbreak of watching our friends carry on to their Nivonim summers, after so much anticipation for our own.Whether we came to camp in Gan or Bogrim, each person in my edah had a vision, maybe even a plan for their Niv summers. Some of us were already lined up to be Roo captains, Oh My Lord captains, or Laundry captains. Like many edot, we’d been thinking of color war themes since our first one on A-side. Some of us dreamed of being Rosh Judges, writing team songs, or tie-dying our captain shirts. We wanted to audition for the Niv play, learn the Miriam dance, lead seudah shlishit, be minis, make Niv Promposals, play our edah-wide game of Assassins, and finally, FINALLY, go on etgar. Instead, we will figuratively “die in Jordan” while our younger friends rejoice in Israel.
But now think of the Israelites. Moshe’s leadership in their arduous pursuit of a better life devoted the people to him. It was painful for Moshe to lose them, but in the end, the Israelites were the ones who had to continue on without the person they most trusted and adored. In taking their leader, it seemed that G-d was beheading them. They felt blind and helpless, left to fumble into the darkness of their final struggle alone. In one of his last acts as their leader, Moshe reminded the Israelites of the roots of Judaism: to live by G-d’s ten commandments and hold the sh’ma in your heart the way the ve’ahavta tells you to. With this final advice in mind, the Israelites continued to the Land of Milk and Honey on their own.
When our Nivonim summer was cancelled, it was easy to feel like Moshe. We felt abandoned. Although camp will continue for the younger edot, it felt like all hope had been lost for us and our chapter ended. Moshe had no choice. G-d told him it was the end of his journey, and so it was. The only thing Moshe could do was bestow his best advice on the Children of Israel and let them leave.
But, Nivonim 2020, we do have a choice. By seeing ourselves only as Moshe, our story ends. So, we must also see ourselves as the Children of Israel. We took a painful blow. But, we can let this heartbreaking moment become transformative. By recognizing ourselves as Israel, we can see the ways in which our journey shifts. We do not have to “die in our Jordan.” Instead, we can hold onto each other tighter, so that our bond brings us into the next phase of our camp experience as a stronger edah. Maybe we will be the edah to make Seminar a Palmer tradition. Maybe our first summer on staff will feature a record-breaking number of junior counselors. Or, maybe we will just be the edah who are still in touch with each other when we’re sixty. I do not know exactly what lies ahead, but I know we, unlike Moshe, have a choice. We can move past our “Jordan” and into our “Promised Land,” whatever it may look like.
So here’s to The Niv That Never Happened; I miss you so much. Shabbat Shalom!
I’ve spent 7 summers at Camp Ramah. I’ve seen seven Nivonims come and go. Seven Uf Gozals. Seven Niv speeches. And since my first moment at camp I’ve been waiting for my turn. My turn to stand on the benches in the Chadar and lead benching and ruach on Friday nights. To be a Yom Sport captain. And, most importantly, to dress in white and dance to Darkeinu and sing Uf Gozal. Last year, my Rosh, Emma Neusner said something that I will always remember. It was on the last night of camp. We were in the BAG and she opened the screen behind the stage so we could all see the K’far. She said, and forgive me if I mess up the exact words, “Right now there are Nivonimers over there staying up all night, soaking up every last second they have in this beautiful place. But you, you still have one year.” She couldn’t have known. No one could’ve. But I’ve been reflecting on those words a lot over the past several months. Is there anything I would’ve done differently if I’d known what would happen? Anything I should’ve committed to memory? I don’t think so. Because the truth is, you always try and soak it up. In Machon I knew it was my last for many things no matter what, but even before then. At camp we try to soak up every moment. We grab every little detail to help us get through the year.
In reflecting back on camp, I remembered Moshe. Moshe is one of the most revered people in the Jewish faith. He led the Israelites out of Egypt and proceeded to put up with them for another 40 years in the desert. But, he didn’t get to see the end of that story. He didn’t get to go into Eretz Yisrael. He had to watch everybody else go, but he couldn’t. So as he prepares the People of Israel to go into the Promised Land without him, he reviews all that has happened. That’s basically what Deuteronomy is, Moshe telling the Israelites everything that has happened over the past 40 years. It’s his recollections of the experiences that shaped the Nation of Israel. Just as Camp shapes us. The experiences we soak up at Ramah will influence us for the rest of our lives. Even though I and my peers didn’t get the whole Niv experience, just as Moshe didn’t despair and continued to guide the Israelites, we too will shape the next generation of campers. We will continue on, even after tragedy.
The idea of moving on from tragedy while remembering is shown in Vaetchanan, this week’s parsha, which is why I think it pairs so beautifully with the Haftarah. This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year. The Haftarah is the first of the seven Haftarot of consolation. It begins “Nachamu nachamu ami yomar elohechem.” “Comfort comfort my people- says your God.” These words remind us that even in the midst of the greatest tragedy, God will be there to comfort us. It reminds me of the comfort I get from everybody. I will never forget something said by the Nivonimer who gave the first Niv speech I ever heard. She said, “On my first Shabbat at camp I looked around and realized the grove was in the shape of a heart.” Ever since I heard that, I’ve carried it with me. But virtual camp has made me realize that the heart isn’t just in the grove. It is carried with us throughout the year. We can always turn to the image of the heart of camp, the grove, a literal heart, for comfort. I may never have my turn to do the hallowed Niv rituals I’ve looked forward to, but camp will always be in my heart, and the many memories I have here will always give me comfort. I wish that God will comfort you as God comforted Moshe and the People of Israel during this difficult time, and I wish that you soak up everything you can, just as Moshe soaked up his time leading the Israelites, because you never know when you will need those memories to give you comfort in your time of need.
Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom.
Machane Ramah is a transformative place. It’s a place where every single memory is crafted into the most perfect stories that we can share with our family and friends during the year. As soon as you drive into camp there is this instant warmth and instant magic like no other place on Earth. Before I attended Machane Ramah, my purpose as a young Jewish teen seemed scrambled and blurry. It was hard for me to find a place in the community. But as soon as I experienced my first Tefilot in Shoafim, everything just clicked. Every part of me tingled with joy and excitement as everyone’s voices lifted up and acted as the breeze between each leaf. Machane Ramah encouraged me to take chances within my Jewish self. It allowed me to dive into the complexity of what that means, it allowed me to come home with millions of different tunes and variations of classic Zemirot that I now consider some of my favorite songs.
In this week’s parsha there is mention of the shema prayer along with the ein od milvado song. Now, I could go into details of each of these songs, but I’m gonna keep it simple. Just like camp. These prayers and words brought the Jewish people together. It made their connection even stronger than it was initially. When you put words to tunes everything makes sense. Everyone is reciting the same thing, but making it their own. With their arms around their family, they are anxious to come up with new harmonies, but decide to try and sing out anyways. That’s beautiful. It’s simplistic and authentic and real. That’s what I miss most about camp. This week’s parsha shows us the power of words. Ultimately, these words are incredibly powerful since the most incredible teenagers are singing these words every day at camp.
So with that in mind, even though the summer might seem long or dreary, you still have the words and prayers and harmonies in your back pocket. And that in itself can bring you right back to home.
Thank you SO much, and Shabbat Shalom.
On May 20th, it was announced that camp was cancelled. While this news was devastating, May 20th ended up being one of the best days of quarantine. I spent that night on Zoom with camp friends playing games and reminiscing about the amazing memories we have had at camp.
When the virtual Nivonim program was introduced to us, I was very skeptical about it. I did not think a two hour zoom sounded fun at all or that it would make up for not being able to go to camp any whatsoever.
However, throughout the virtual Nivonim program my fellow Nivonimers and I have gotten to create memories that will last a lifetime. Whether it was doing mad libs, hearing from interesting speakers, planning peulot for younger campers and the rest of the edah, shabuddies, or just getting to talk to each other, these zooms became something I looked forward to.
I believe that this just goes to show that while the traditions, the trips, and the peulot are fun, camp is really about the community. Throughout the past five months it has become even more evident that the friends I have made over the last eight years I have gone to camp will be there for me always, and the memories I have made with them will never fail to make me happy.
Shabbat Nachamu marks the beginning of hope and consolation following Tisha B’Av, and as we head into Shabbat Nachamu it is apparent how much it relates to now. We are in midst of a pandemic that has taken the lives of many, caused job losses, and have caused the kayitz of 2020, my Nivonim summer, to not happen in person. This pandemic has caused us pain, including the loss of Nivonim 2020’s final summer as campers. However, the Ramah community has remained a source of consolation and hope.
Our Nivonim staff along with the rest of the Camp Ramah staff have worked their hardest to make sure that our Zooms could be the most fun and most memorable they can be. They have tried their hardest to give us the best Niv summer despite the circumstances. I am extremely thankful for everything they have done to help us during these imprecented times.
So while this summer is not how I expected my time as a camper to end, it has made me appreciate camp even more. Camp has always been a source of happiness and comfort throughout my life and this summer was no exception. While we were not in the physical place of camp, we still found ways to come together as a community and support each other which truly speaks to how strong and absolutely incredible this community is.
In the future I want to come back to camp on staff and become a source of consolation and hope for younger campers, and I look forward to celebrating Shabbat Nachamu with them. I want to teach my campers that Ramah is not about living ten for two, but rather that the community will always be there throughout the year and throughout the rest of our lives whenever we need them for hope and consolation.
Before it was recognized as a health concern, tzad alef used to gather once a machzor on the lower migrash, wait for the signal from the madrichim lined up in front of them, and, as soon as they could, sprint into a huge pile of foam. I miss it. In some ways, life is like yom foam. Not just because it’s a delightful surprise. I still remember my solelim kayitz, my tzrif had just placed second in the Evelyn Games, and got the announcement that today was the day. That was an awesome feeling. But it’s like life because wading through the bubbles out there, finding friends, reminds me a lot of the way people work. We all have little bubbles stuck to us. They’re a collection of the experiences we’ve had over the course of our lives. As you wade farther into the foam, you collect more bubbles. They’re memories, lessons learned, favorite books or movies or songs, loved ones, people who have influenced you. I can confidently say that one of my most prominent bubbles is camp.
And the bubbles are sort of mentioned in this week’s parsha, va’etchanan. Va’etchanan is where we get the shemah and the “Ve’ahavtah” from. It tells you to love G-d, with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your possessions: and to remember G-d, because adonai is one. It tells you to bring the words that moshe speaks, the story and the commandments of the Jewish people, with you. To discuss them, to teach them, and carry them, when you wake up, when you go to sleep, and when you’re walking down the street.
I think that love for G-d, and the commandments in the Torah, manifest themselves differently in different people. These are our bubbles. Our experiences shift and change, and that’s how we apply them to our faith. G-d is the foam. Yep, I went there. As we wade through it, sometimes laughing and sometimes getting grassburn, we collect the experiences (bubbles) that translate to our following of the Torah and loving G-d , to our interactions with others, to our choices (the foam).
Walking along in the foam, one of the most important bubbles I’ve collected is camp. I love camp, with all my heart and all my soul, and all my possessions. I discuss it, and I teach my friends and family about it, and I carry it around with me, when I wake up and when I fall asleep. When I’m walking down the street, I am reminded of camp in the faint breeze or the sight of a pine tree like the ones that skirt the migrash.
Camp is a bubble all of us have in common. Everyone in edat haNivonim has come to appreciate it, I think, whether this was going to be their second kayitz or their tenth. And we are all so lucky to carry around the lessons we’ve learned there, the songs we’ve sung, the friends we’ve made, in our hearts, and our souls, and our possessions.
Though we will never return to the machaneh as campers, we keep it with us. And I know all of us have thousands of other bubbles. They guide us in our lives in countless ways, they constitute our foam. We have our own memories, our own stories and our own hardships outside of the camp bubble. But the machaneh bubble connects us, and it always will. And for that I will forever be grateful.