Yom Sport: Rites of Passage and the Power of Ramah

They stood on the stage, a diverse team ranging in age from eight to sixteen, a quarter of the camp, pouring their hearts into song and dance during the exhilarating closing competition of Yom Sport, our vibrant version of color war. The atmosphere was charged with joy and intensity, exhaustion and exhilaration, and care and compassion. A wide-eyed eight-year-old girl marveled at the prowess of a sixteen-year-old Nivonim camper, who effortlessly executed a backflip, undoubtedly thinking to herself, “someday, that will be me.” 

This encapsulates the essence of Ramah in a nutshell (although we are nut-free). Ramah reaches its pinnacle in the Nivonim summer, an eight-week leadership training program where sixteen-year-olds drive the ruach (spirit) and ambiance of the camp. I often tell people that campers don’t aspire to be like our counselors; they aspire to be our counselors. Today’s Nivonim campers once stood in awe of their counselors on the very same stage when they were young. Since their early days, they have absorbed the core values of ruach, sportsmanship, teamwork, and belonging. When we filmed our Ten For Roo Summer Video edition for Yom Sport, nearly every Nivonim camper proclaimed these values as the crucial elements of Yom Sport. 

Did they desire victory? Absolutely! However, while observing the Nivonim and Machon campers (entering 10th grade) teaching the dances to the younger campers earlier in the day, there was no berating for mistakes—only encouragement and cheers. Were there moments of fierce competition on the basketball court? Yes, but simultaneously, everyone had an opportunity to play and experience the support of their teammates. 

Each team creates a banner that is proudly displayed during the closing ceremony. These banners, crafted within a short timeframe, are truly works of art. I heard a counselor recount a heartwarming story about a team working on its banner. A Tikvah camper, who was a member of the team, contributed freestyle art to the banner. Rather than reacting with anger, the Nivonim captain encouraged the Tikvah camper to collaborate and make the design work. At Camp Ramah, everyone belongs. 

Our most potent asset lies within ourselves—the embodiment of our personal midot (characteristics) and how we utilize them. On Wednesday night, I witnessed our 11th graders transform into Nivonim 2023. After leading the entire camp for more than twenty-four hours and witnessing the announcement of the winners, they stood there, drenched in glorious perspiration, embracing, laughing, and even shedding a few tears, fully comprehending their remarkable accomplishment. While the winners relished their victory, no one dwelled on defeat. They understood that the day held far greater significance. An hour later, as I deep-fried French fries for them and they sipped on ice-cold seltzer, their jubilation was palpable. A job well done.  

Somewhere in Machon, I’m certain that several campers discussing Yom Sport themes and relay race strategies, eagerly anticipating their turn in just one year when they, too, will be Nivonim. And I bet that eight-year-old camper, along with many others, is dreaming of the dance moves they will do when it is their turn to lead the camp. 

The power of Ramah lives on.