One Last Swing by Rabbi Marc Israel
Since Mordecai Waxman’s publication of Tradition and Change: The Development of Conservative Judaism in 1958, these two words have come to define our movement’s approach to Judaism and accurately describes much of what happens at Camp Ramah New England. I began my journey here in 2007 and watched many cycles of traditions come and go (and sometimes come back again). During these years, I’m proud to have contributed one tradition that has now become ensconced in the cycle of camp.
Nivonim Night Swing began as an idea in 2009 when I watched as the oldest unit of campers stayed up all night, savoring every moment of their final night as campers, but with very little structured activity. I suggested that we open the Alpine Swing for everyone in the edah (division) to go that night. And so it began. The following year, Nivonim 2010, each tent (yes, they were still in tents at the time) came at a scheduled time on the final night. The campers loved it, and despite spraining my ankle on that first one, I have helped run it every summer since (without any further injuries).
Over the years, the timing has changed (there is now a more structured all-night experience on the final night), but the tradition of Nivonim Night Swing has become one of the capstone events of that final summer, and campers look forward to participating in it.
Oren, my youngest child was a 4-year-old in Gan when this began and is now in his Nivonim summer. This past week, he finally took part in Nivonim Night Swing. As it turned out, his group was the last one to come to us, around 12:15 a.m. Realizing this, and knowing it might be my last time running it, I asked Oren if he would mind going last, and he agreed. But before he went, after being cajoled by my staff, I agreed to Swing also, ascending for the first time in a few years and my first time ever during a Nivonim Night Swing. Thus Oren became the penultimate swinger and I was the final one of the night. Like always, I screamed a scream of pure terror as I let go of the rope and went racing down from 30 feet up in the air at nearly 55 miles per hour for the first swoop and again on the second, before settling down to enjoy the experience.
During these past 15 years, it has been a true privilege to witness the way camp has molded my own children and their Jewish identity, as well as children from my congregations and schools, and so many others I have met along the way. It has been an amazing journey. I often say that my time at camp energizes me for the year ahead. While this is likely my final summer (for now) as a full staff member, I plan to stay connected to Ramah and the ropes course. I’m proud to know that the change I introduced 12 years ago has now become a tradition. I look forward to watching Ramah New England continue to balance its role as the preserver and the innovator of Jewish tradition in North America.
And, who knows, maybe one day I will even have the privilege to have a grandchild who will look forward to their Nivonim Night Swing. I pray that if it happens, I will be there and able to lock them in.