Al HaGovah – A More Robust Ramah Experience

What a privilege to be ‘Rav Govah!’ This is the first year that camp has a rabbi embedded in Al HaGovah. We continue to integrate Jewish role modeling into the experiential areas of camp, and we are already celebrating successes.

Let me share from a personal perspective-       

Weeks before campers arrived, I worked with Seth Adelsberg to imagine where Jewish spirit, content and language from our tradition could be integrated into trips, farming, bishulim, teva, ropes and the like.

During staff trainings on the Appalachian Trail, on day hikes, out in the woods for survival skills training, or getting the farm set for first session, I worked with staff members to help them access Jewish texts and concepts, or narratives from our history, to make connections between their activities and our tradition. We saw great planning unfold for the camper experience, especially when staff was ready to expand their own Jewish knowledge and adopt a ‘Jewish outdoor educator’ mindset, as they gained know-how to run their pe’ulot.

A great example of this coming to life was when one madrich was ready to take the liturgy of the morning blessings – “HaNotein L’ya-ef koach – who gives the tired strength” – and use it for a motivational spark on the trail. He now asks those with weary legs “Where does your strength come from?” – as chanichim ascend the heights of the Appalachian mountains.

The Jewish part of a tiyul needs to be more than an outdoor t’filah (though, also great!). The Yahadut at a bishul should not only be “remember to wear your kippah!” So much more is possible!

The leader, after having the group cut, chop and stoke the fire, says: “Look closely at the fire, concentrate on its beauty and power…what does it make you think about? Feel?” A chanich offers a question: “why don’t we cook anything over the candles we light for Shabbat?” A discussion ensues – “why do we light candles?” “What is it about fire that we use it for both cooking but to mark different celebrations?” While the Rocky Mountain Toast is cooking, conversation about our tradition is possible, among the fun, song, chatter, team-work, and meal preparation.

Add a source (introduce in a fun way, like having it as part of the menu…): The Baal Shem Tov (founder of Hasidism, spiritual movement of the 18th Century) teaches that the flames rising in a fire are there to remind us of both God’s presence and our potential to bring out our own power from what lies deep within, as long as we fan the flames. Guided properly this conversation and integration of our sources stitch outdoor experience and Yahadut together, while having a blast cooking at the igul!

Al HaGovah experiences build character and create unity among our staff and campers. The pe’ulot are perfect places to integrate even more – lessons that we know are essential to building deeper character and making Judaism relevant. To look at it midrashically, using the English word: recreation. Don’t think about it as just recreation, read it as RE-creation. When we are out hiking the trails, take time to contemplate the beauty, our existence, our role as Earth-keepers, thinking about how we want to grow, what we want to contribute to community, and finding motivation we are becoming the best people, the best Jews we can be.

Simply by inviting the presence of a rabbi within the program, and adding Jewish elements, but not forcing them, the Ramah staff and camper experience in Al HaGovah will continue to become more mission-based. More training will be necessary and an openness from staff nourished – and then the cool, able leaders of Al HaGovah will help bring out the best of our tradition through outdoor adventures, climbs, bike and canoe trips, archery, farming and all Al HaGovah has to offer.

From the Al HaGovah shack,

Rabbi Scott Bolton of Congregation of Or Zarua, who proudly served as Rav Al HaGovah this summer at Camp!

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