Ramah Goes to Argentina – by Sophia Jacobson
This past December, I had the privilege and honor to travel to Argentina with the National Ramah program Maslul Argentina.
The group was made up of eleven returning madrichim (counselors) from Ramah camps from across the country. One of the main goals of the trip was to connect with Jewish children and teenagers at summer camp. A second goal was to learn about the Jewish community of Argentina.
The first few days of the trip were spent in Entre Rios, a province about four hours north of Buenos Aires. Those days were spent touring historical sites where Eastern European Jews traveled through and settled when they immigrated. We visited synagogues and went to an active Jewish cemetery which we helped clean and beautify. It was especially meaningful because we got to meet a living descendant of a family buried there. He happened to be the current caretaker of the cemetery, and was personally invested in and appreciated our visit and help. He could see that the history and traditions would not end with him. For me, it was meaningful because he will always associate our kindness with Ramah, and we were able to honor Jewish generations that preceded us in a way that gave back to the community by leaving the cemetery cleaner than when we arrived. Like shoveling the dirt into a grave at a funeral, which is viewed as a chesed shel emet – a righteous act that cannot be returned – cleaning the graves felt like we were fulfilling that mitzvah. It was clear that this act also brought comfort to the caretaker.
On Friday morning we woke up and headed to Bnei Tikvah where (not Ware, Palmer!) we would get on the bus to take us to camp in time for Shabbat. Our group was excited to meet new people and to be at camp. While Friday afternoons at camp are familiar, I knew that this Shabbat would be a new experience. I was not as ready, however, for how foreign and different this one would feel. Walking around camp with others in my group, we kept talking about how we felt so out of place. We tried to introduce ourselves to the chanichim (campers) and madrichim but they were too engrossed in their peulot (activities) to do more than wave and say a brief “Hi.” I felt like an outsider and wondered about the value that we could bring to this camp.
After a pre-Shabbat group debrief, we knew that if we wanted to experience camp to the fullest we would have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and be more outgoing and proactive about being part of their Noam camp. We joined the Inoa community for Hanukkah candle lighting and Kabbalat Shabbat. As we started to daven, I closed my eyes and listened and it felt as if I was sitting in Palmer, Massachusetts at Camp Ramah New England in the Chorsha (Grove). At the same time, I still felt that I was in an unfamiliar place with people who spoke an unfamiliar language, had different traditions, and some uniquely different tunes. It was surprising how similar and yet different it could be. I reflected that maybe this is how mishlachat (Israeli staff) and new campers feel at Camp Ramah New England.
Throughout Shabbat, as we experienced Noam traditions, I was amazed at how their own chanichim and madrichim took the time to explain what was happening. The fact that they came over completely unprompted showed that they wanted us to be included in the community. Following Shabbat, we all felt more comfortable and formed relationships with both Noam madrichim and chanichim. During our time at camp, we participated in lots of games of futbol (soccer) and even more peulot. When Monday afternoon rolled around, we were sad that it was time to say goodbye.
On the ride back to Buenos Aires, I reflected on all that I had experienced at camp. Prior to this trip, the only overnight camp I ever attended was Camp Ramah New England and it was all I ever knew. I now was able to compare it to the Noam camp and I was able to see how lucky I am to be a part of the Ramah community. From my experience of feeling out of place at the Noam camp in South America and by seeing the impact of the kindness and patience of their staff and campers, I believe I can help Ramah New England to be more welcoming to the mishlachat and new chanichim who are joining our community.
The Jewish education and values that I have learned at camp have helped shape me into the person I am today. Camp Ramah New England has forever changed my life and I am so grateful for that.