Monthly Archives: June 2017

Cochavim –Week 1

Wow! What an amazing first few days we have had! Our 58 chanichim (campers) were welcomed by an enthusiastic group of Cochavim madrichim (counselors) on Tuesday morning and the fun started instantly. Some of the chanichim favorite highlights include our first peulat erev (evening activity) where we played different ice breakers and ended the night with playing “The Mostest” where we found out who could tie their shoes the fastest and who had the loudest shriek (I think my ears are still ringing). We have had lots of fun swimming in the refreshing agam (lake), playing sports, and learning in our tarbut (culture) and yahadut (Judaism) p’rakim (periods). Thursday night was  Leil Olam, or International Night, hosted by our Israeli and British madrichim  in addition to two of our American madrichim. We played games with different twists from the madrichim‘s respective countries and at the end we played three-way capture the flag (Israel vs. England vs. America)!
We are  psyched for a terrific first Shabbat as we continue to build new relationships and make new friends while experiencing the beauty of Shabbat in our beautiful machane ( camp).

Shabbat Shalom,

Jake Greenberg

Rosh Cochavim

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Nitzanim– Week 1

Nitzanim is off to an amazing start! Since unpacking on Tuesday, chanichim ( campers) have had the opportunity to take a dip in the agam, play basketball, frisbee, softball, and soccer, and learn new skills at radio, the rock wall, teva, and more! We ended our first and second days with human bingo and lots of other exciting icebreaker games which allowed each chanich(a) to get to know everyone in the edah ( division). Today’s schedule allowed us to sleep a little later and spend a special day ( Yom Meyuchad) engaged in bunk activities, eating breakfast and lunch out of the chadar ochel ( dining room) and preparing for our very first Shabbat together.

As we continue to make new friends and renew relationships from last summer, we anticipate an incredible Shabbat together in Wingdale filled with lots of ruach ( spirit) and fun for all.

Shabbat Shalom

Sarah Davis

Rosh Nitzanim

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Gesher–Week 1

This week in Gesher was full of excitement! On the first day, after the Gesher chanichim moved into their bunks and had the famous grilled cheese and fries lunch, we painted Beit Gesher, which ended up being a major edah paint fight. On Wednesday, we started play practice for our “secret” play that will be debuting next week and ended our evening  bowling! Gesher is so excited for our first 2017 Shabbat, in camp! We are now the oldest campers and have clear expectations to lead our fellow campers and become valued role models.  On Friday night, after a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat in the amphitheater, Gesher will lead shira for the entire camp in the chadar.  It’s been a fabulous week!!


Shabbat Shalom!

Deb Pollack,

Rosh Gesher

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Machon–Week 1

This week was an awesome week for Machon!  With warm embraces, we welcomed 62 chanichim on Tuesday.  We  were excited to begin getting to know each other and begin what we know will be a most memorable summer! In only four days, we have already written our Edah song, played human foosball and did a backwards scavenger hunt! Today was Yom tzrif (a day focused on bunk activities) and all of the tzrfim had fun experiences  creatively themed peulot throughout the day. We are now looking forward to the first of many wonderful shabbatot together!


Shabbat Shalom,

Emily Rebenstock

Rosh Machon

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Bogrim–Week 1

This week our chanichim (campers) enjoyed a jam packed, fun filled 4 days, including specialty activities in nagarut (woodworking), shirah (singing), baking, wilderness survival, fishing, and drawing just to name a few! With some amazing peulot erev (night activities) such as Hungry Hippos Trivia and Super Tick Tack Toe our first week together has been off to a terrific start. So many incredible peulot tzrif (bunk activites), instilling bunk bonding, were also part of the week’s program. Today, boker tzrif, a morning filled with themed bunk activities, was fun for all.  Boker Raton featured seated zumba/ pilates, and a 2:00 o’clock Early Bird Special Dinner; Boker Zombie Apocalypse; Boker Moana with paddles boarding at the agam (lake), and homemade boat races were all part of our day.

We are looking forward to completing the week with Shabbat ShaBuddy, a Shabbat where chanichim  are intentionally mixed into activities with chanichim that they might not know!

It’s been an amazing week for bogrim and we are looking forward to a phenomenal kayitz!


Shabbat Shalom.

Naama Malomet

Rosh Bogrim

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Tzeirim–Week 1

Tzevet Tzeirim was so excited to welcome our incredible chanichim to camp this Tuesday! We started off the kayitz learning our edah song and now we can sing it any chance we get! We began our swimming program on Wednesday  and had  the opportunity to use  all the new toys at the agam!

We chose our  cool new bechirot ( special activities) by watching live demonstrations  and began practicing for the Kiddush Kup. We can’t wait to play in the annual intercamp Kiddush Kup  Competition in July!

Great peulot erev ( evening activities) planned by our amazing madrichim included dressing them up in ridiculous outfits and a hilarious reverse talent show!

Shabbat is almost here and we are super excited  to be spending our first Shabbat in Camp as a kehillah ( community)!

Shabbat Shalom,

Hannah Lorman,Rosh Tzeirim

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Solelim–Week 1

Solelim had a fantastic first week in our machane!  We started off with exciting icebreakers like “thumper,” “telephone,” and “riding on a pony.” The first couple of days were packed with activities that will prepare us  for an amazing summer, like swim checks and chug (sport) selection. We were also really thrilled by the huge array of activities that were offered to us. Many of our campers participated in a host of peulot ranging from mitbachon to digital art design to basketball. We finished off the week with Boker Tzrif, where each bunk participated in many theme based program.

As we quickly learn the ins and outs of life on Machane Bet, we are beginning to feel part of a new camp experience. In fact, this week’s Shabbat theme is “ShaBeginnings (Shabbat Beginnings).” The first week in our machane was truly spectacular.

Shabbat Shalom,

Noam Kornsgold

Rosh Solelim

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Shorashim—Week 1

We had a fantastic first week in the mighty mighty Shorashim! From our joy of bringing our massive edah (the biggest Shorashim in Camp history!) off the buses, to solving a murder mystery (the Ninja did it), we had an action-packed start to what is bound to be a phenomenal kayitz ( summer).   You’ve Got a Friend in Me, is our theme this Shabbat,  in which we’ll talk about friendship and play a number of  captivating games.   We are anticipating a most wonderful Shabbat—our first this summer.

Shabbat Shalom!

Didi Kalmanofsky, Rosh Shorashim

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From the Bamat: Parashat Chukat

When we think of the period of desert wandering as described in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers) we often think of violent struggle.  And, indeed, the Israelites do spend much of the book fighting with each other and with the various peoples they encounter along their circuitous route to the border of the Promised Land.  There are battles galore in the book of Numbers; a war movie could certainly be made from this period of Israelite history.

But this week’s parasha offers a reminder that the warlike story could have been different; and, if the midrash is right, would have been so had the people of Israel had their way.  This week, we read of two different efforts by Israel to avoid armed conflict with their soon-to-be neighbors, and though neither ends in peace, both give us a sense that there was a road not taken in the desert.  First, Israel sends messengers to the king of Edom, asking permission to pass peacefully through his land.  Hoping to inspire fellow-feelings with the Edmoite kingdom, Moses refers to the Israel as Edom’s brother (Edom being the people descended from Esau) and reminds the Edomite king of all the hardships the Israelites have endured.  Though Moses promises that his people will take nothing from the land, Edom refuses, and follows up that refusal with an armed force to dissuade the Israelites.  For reasons left unclear here—Deuteronomy will indicate that the Israelites are forbidden from taking anything from the descendants of Esau by force—the Israelite turns away from Edom and head in a different direction.

Later in the parasha a similar event occurs.  Moses again send messengers, this time to the Amorite king Sihon, asking for peaceful passage through the land.  He promises once more than the Israelites will pass through the land and take nothing, but once again he is rebuffed.  Unlike in the case of Edom, the Amorite refusal ends in battle, as the Israelites route Sihon’s forces and take possession of his land.

Two offers of peace, two rejections.  The first ends with a longer path for the Israelites to the Promised Land, the second in war.  According to the midrash, there was even a third set of messengers sent during this time period, though the Torah makes no mention of the fact.  The midrash points out that the book of Judges explicitly says that Moses also sent messengers of peace to the Moabites, who, according to that account, also refused Moses’ entreaties.  Moab, of course, will next week enter into the annals of Israelite history in the role of arch-villain, hiring the sorcerer Balaam to curse the people and then having a part in enticing the people into idolatry at Shitim.  Peace, it seems, is profoundly elusive.

But there is another version of these stories—two of them at any rate.  In Deuteronomy, Moses reports that when asking for peaceful passage through the land of the king of Sihon, he asked only for what had already been granted to the Israelites by none other than Edom and Moab.  “Just let me pass through,” Moses says, “as the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir did for me, and the Moabites who dwell in Ar.”  As Jacob Milgrom points out, there seem to be two traditions here: one reflected in our parasha and also in the book of Judges wherein Israel is continually rejected as it searches for peace, and one reflected in Deuteronomy which remembers a much more gracious series of interactions with Israel’s neighbors.

Our midrash clearly prefers the latter tradition, the tradition of peace.  Using the repeated sending of messengers as a starting point, the midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah comments that the Torah does not normally require us to go out in search of mitzvoth to perform.  If the chance to perform a mitzvah comes before us we are of course required to fulfill the precept, but, in general, we need not go in pursuit of positive commandments to perform.  Not so, the midrash insists, with the commandment of peace.  We must track down, seek out and hunt opportunities to make peace.  Just as Moses sent messengers of peace wherever he went, desperately trying to find a way to avoid conflict, so too should we be active in our pursuit of the peace that so often eludes us.

The beauty of this midrash is that it finds connection within the most prominent death of our parasha, that of Aaron.  Aaron, as the tradition tells us, was the peacemaker of Israel, a man committed to bringing people together across chasms of hurt and anger.  As Pirkei Avot (Wisdom of the Fathers) famously reports, “Hillel said, be like the disciples of Aaron, a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace.”  Aaron’s death occurs prior to the events surrounding king Sihon—prior, that is, to the offer of peace—which means that his spirit still animated the people even as they journeyed on without him.  It must animate us still.  Although the narrative of Numbers is often one of strife and conflict, there are hints in our parasha and in our midrash that the story can be told a different way, or at the very least could have been.  That is the story we should tell: a story of peace, a story of coming together, not breaking apart.  A story where we strive to find what is common, not what is disparate.  That is the story we shall try to write at Camp this summer, and, as our first Shabbat together as a full Camp community descends upon us, it is a ballad of peace we sing together, a story of peace we will do our best to live.

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From the Bamat: Parashat Korach

I may as well be honest and say that as I contemplate my first summer as Director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, I am somewhat drawn to the narrative of the rebellion of Korach—certainly getting people to follow the rules of Camp would prove much easier if the ground opened up to swallow the rebels every once in a while.  And, beyond the punishment meted out by heaven to those who would dare to disobey the words of Moses and Aaron, there is the little matter of the miraculous flowering of Aaron’s staff, surely a better statement of authority than any job title could ever be.  Truly, this parasha can seem a veritable cornucopia of support for absolute and unquestioned loyalty to the leaders of the community.

But then there is this: the challenge of Korach’s rebellion, the rallying cry of the rebels, strikes me as being utterly fair.  “All the community are holy,” the Torah reports the rabble rousers to have said, “All of them, and the Lord in their midst.  Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”  While the rabbis in Pirkei Avot famously declare that Korach’s argument was not “for the sake of heaven” it is interesting to note that the midrash tends to sharpen Korach’s main claim.  According to a midrash in the Tanchuma, what Korach means here is that the entirety of the people of Israel stood at Sinai and heard God’s commands.  “You alone did not hear God,” the midrash imagines Korach to be saying to Moses and Aaron, “So where does your superiority over us come from?”  Given the fact that Korach is viewed—both in the Torah and in the midrash—as one of the great villains of our history, it is interesting that his most important claim against the leadership of Moses and Aaron is not so easily dismissed.

In the end, the problem our tradition has with Korach and his co-conspirators is not the content of their claim but the content of their character.  The rebels of our parasha are assumed to have been attacking Moses and Aaron for their own elevation, not out of any altruistic desire for the people as a whole, and certainly not as a means by which to democratize the leadership of Israel.  Korach wanted to be the High Priest (he was, after all, a scion of the tribe of Levi) and Datan and Aviram, as leaders of the tribe of Reuven, seemed to assume that their ancestor’s status as the eldest son of Jacob entitled them to rule the people of Israel.  In the end, this was a struggle over power, not over principle.

And yet the principle remains, for Korach’s claim is surely correct, whatever his own intentions may have been in making it.  God was quite explicit at the moment of revelation in Exodus 19, telling the assembly of Israel, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  God’s decision to become immanent in the midst of the people means that the people are all exactly the same distance away from the Divine.  Moses may have ascended into the cloud to speak to God at Sinai, but, by the end of the book of Exodus, God is dwelling in the Tabernacle and thus sanctifies the entire community as one.  Korach may have been wrong in his assumptions about who should lead, but his contention about the core value a leader must recognize is commendable, and remains valuable to this day.

Camp is a holy community, and, like Israel in the desert, every single member of our community is equally holy.  We must strive to make concrete that rather lofty ambition.  Whether the person is camper or staff, new to camp or long-time veteran, whether they are with us for the full summer or just visiting for the day—all those who enter our gates are valued members of the sacred community we seek to build. There are leaders of this camp of course, and such there must be.  But leadership in our Camp community cannot simply be a matter of power, nor of authority; leadership at Camp can be exercised by any person in any position who helps to build a community of passion, caring and joy.  As we begin the Shabbat of shavua hachana (staff week) here at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, it is my hope that we will find a way to create the community Korach claimed to want: a community defined not by hierarchy, but by holiness.  There are many different roles at camp, many different jobs.  But, in the end, our intrinsic value to the community is determined by only one thing: we are here, together.  This is what Korach could not understand, and why his rebellion failed.  We are, all of us, holy.  Let us begin with that, and see where this summer can take us.


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