The Sounds of Shabbat: A reflection essay

This is my fifteenth kayitz at Machane Ramah. I have watched my children grow up here—starting in Ilanot and Gan and becoming tzevet members, Roshei edot, programming tzevet. The beauty of Shabbat never ceases to amaze me and the sense that often is most attuned to the uniqueness of Shabbat is the sense of hearing.  Below is my snapshot of the sounds of Shabbat. While grounded in one particular week, it also represents every week.

The sounds of Shabbat start Friday morning as we set up the Shabbat Gates. The sound of the gates being carried into place, the melodies of Shabbat playing over the sound system, and the happy chatter of the tzrif assigned to great Tzad Aleph on their way to the chadar ochel.  “Shabbat Shalom!” we call to the chanichim and tzevet as they pass through.  The sounds of flags, flowers and banners waving in the air, keeping time to the music and to the footsteps of those passing under the gates.  The giggle of our youngest community members as they run through again and again, soaking up the happy knowledge that Shabbat is on its way.

Fast forward through a busy Friday until the world seems to slow down.  Edot gather outside their tzrifim and the soft murmur of the Rosh telling a story and the chanichim exchanging good wishes, everyone dressed for Shabbat.  We all gather from the our different corners of camp in the Chorsha before Kabbalat Shabbat, and a tzrif sings and dances joyously to welcome Shabbat.  The davening, even when interrupted by a move to the Beit Am Gadol because of rain, is beautiful and spiritual. Everyone is all in, ready to welcome Shabbat.

After aruchat erev, Nivonim lead birkat and z’miro and Tzad Bet explodes with song.  The chanichim sing like their lungs might burst and they dance and bang on the tables, keeping beat to the songs.  Dror Yikrah, Gesher Tzar Meud, and more…

As singing finishes, the Nivonim leaders of “Oh My Lord” stand on benches while the rest of Tzad Bet gatheres around.  To shouts of “Oh My Lord…Hey, Hey, Hey” and “Can I get an Amen…Amen”, Nivonim regale the rest of Tzad Bet with stories from their week, each with a moral lesson attached.

But wait, the joyous festivities never finish there.  Each Tzad Bet Edah move from the Chadar Ochel to their moadonim for Tish. From my room overlooking the Tzad Bet Migrash, I am serenaded with singing and dancing from both Bogrim and Machon. The happy noise of jubilant singing lulls me into a peaceful Shabbat sleep.

On Shabbat morning, I wake up early to run.  It is quiet except for birds chirping, waking up to greet the day.  I run with two of my best friends, Anna and Bryan, and we talk quietly as we weave our way around tzad bet and then tzad aleph and back again.  The rhythmic sounds of our feet hitting the pavement punctuate our quiet laughter, the three of us are always just so happy to be running together on Shabbat morning at camp.

As we make our third sivov (circle), others start to wake up as well. On one tzad aleph mirpeset (porch), three chanichim are up and quietly talking. We wave and smile and say Shabbat Shalom as we run past.  They smile back, happy for a quiet moment with their friends.

By 8:45, I am making my way, now clean and dressed in Shabbat clothes, from Tzad Bet to Tzad Aleph As I walk, I hear the beautiful sounds of shacharit davening—first from Ilanot, sitting outside their moadon, next from Shoafim who daven on the mirpeset, third from kochavim who daven in their moadon and lastly from Solelim who daven in the amphitheater.  As I pass one davening spot, the sounds fade out and the new sounds swell.  It is like a beautiful symphony, with harmony and melody all blending together.

On my walk back to Tzad Bet to daven with Nivonim, I hear the final sounds of Magshimim davening in the Beit Knesset and of Rabbi Gelb’s d’var torah.  As I come close to the Chadar Ochel, the sounds of Tzad Bet gathering for aruchat kallah (small meal) between shacharit and the torah service come into focus. Magshimim, Bogrim and Machon converge on the chadar, hungry after davening.

As I walk towards Nivonim, I am greeted by the sounds of Tikvah davening, loud and proud. I glance over towards the Beit Am Gadol and see their hands in motion as they sing “Emet Atah Who Rishon.”  Nivonim, who like Amitzim, eat aruchat kalah before davening, just finished pesukeah d’zimra when I arrive, and I am welcomed in to the their moadon by the chanting of “Nishmat Kol Chai”.  The sounds of 96 voices davening shacharit help inspire my d’var torah.

Nivonim starts their Torah service and I travel again, this time to daven with Bogrim.  I hear Machon start their davening in that gaga pit on Tzad Bet after returning from aruchat kalah and I arrive at  Bogrim’s spot in time to hear Rabbi Jeff Arnowitz talk about leadership models from the parsha and about his experience on a Navy ship.  He taught that the best leaders engender respect not fear.

As I listen to chanichim chant from the torah and haftarah, have alyot, and serve as Gabaim, I am awed once again by our grassroots Judaism, as I am every week on Shabbat. There are no Rabbi’s or older adults running our tefilot. It is the 18-22 year old madrichim and the chanichim who create Shabbat davening for each other.  Shabbat davening at camp embodies community in a way that seems impossible to recreate in the “real world.”

After a restful mid-day nap, my room fills with laughter and chatter from my daughter, a machon madricha, and her friends.  They leave to set up a joint peulat Shabbat between Machon and Amitzim and I go to the chorsha to set up for Mincha.  Adults are studying Jewish texts and the sound of engaged, intelligent conversation wafts our way as we enter the Beit Knesset to take the Torah out for davening.  And once again the quiet chorsha fills with the joyous sounds of Tzad Bet, all coming from their peulot Shabbat.   Voices rise as we sing fun 50’s style melodies and unique Mincha nusach and then off to Seudah Shelishet, where Nivonim, once again, lead shira.  On Tzad Bet, each tzrif sings with their arms around each other, or holding pinkies, connected physically while their voices tangle together in beautiful harmonies. The birkat concludes our seudah and the Tzad Bet migrash bursts alive with one final peulah for Shabbat.

Assigned pairs of Nivonim and Machon chanichim walked around together quietly talking and answering questions.  On the Migrash, each Magshimim tzrif sits with a special guest and talks quietly and tells stories. When I ask my group why they think Machane Ramah is special, they explain that “we get to unplug from our electronics and really connect with each other; “ “it is a place to really live Judaism in a joyous way, through rikud and shira and other activities; “ It is a special place that is set aside from the real world, like a bubble that we get to escape to for one or two months each kayitz;” It is a place that just has a special happy feeling that I can’t quite explain, but the minute you walk through the gates you can feel it….it is home.”

Shabbat ends with the sound of Havdalah, on this Shabbat the entire camp gathered together in the chorsha.  Check out the video on facebook at Ramah Palmer to hear for yourself.

And finally, for me, I get to hear the sound of Micah, our shira leader, play his guitar for a tzrif in Solelim for harga’ah (good night peulah) and of course the singing of Shema and a final “Laylah Tov Banot.”

Shabbat at Machane Ramah sounds like Shabbat is supposed to sound: a glorious, joyous, exuberant celebration of Jewish ritual, observance and tradition.