Introduction: Kesharim 2017

ethanRabbi Ethan Linden

Well, I guess the author of Ecclesiastes was wrong. “There is nothing new under the sun,” that provocative pessimist famously wrote, and there are certainly times when those ancient words seem to have been written for our present moment. But this is not such an occasion. I’m definitely the new guy, and, as we all, know being new at Camp is no problem at all. In fact, if there is anything Camp loves, it’s newness. “Change more stuff!” is the cry we so often hear from our campers and staff. “Why are you always keeping everything the same?” (Not really)

Actually, the author of Ecclesiastes would have loved Camp, if only because it so often accords with his view of how the world works, “What is occurring occurred long since, and what is to occur occurred long since.” The author of Ecclesiastes actually means those words to sound despairing—the fact that nothing changes is part and parcel of his sense of futility—but any good Camp person knows that part of what makes the place impactful and transformative is the sense that what is great about Camp never does change. Programs change. Tunes change. People change. Buildings rise and fall—though hopefully more the former than the latter. But Camp stays the same. As a new director, my main responsibility is to keep Camp evolving and changing in ways that meet the current needs of its community without altering one iota the essence of the place itself. That is, of course, a deeply daunting task.

This summer, for example, a new Art Center (which we of the unchanging sort would refer to as Omanut) will stand in the very center of camp. The newness of the building is important: we will finally have the facility we need to really advance our art programming at camp. But what is also important to me is that the building represents something that is not at all new: Camp’s commitment to excellent programming in the service of a transformative camper experience. Here, as elsewhere, what is new must be in the service of what is old; our mission remains, the means of achieving that mission must change with the times in which we find ourselves.            
In the end, the author of Ecclesiastes is both right and wrong. There are new things under the sun, and what is happening now is not always a pale reflection of what has already been. But, at Camp at least, the concept of “newness” must always be tempered by an appreciation for those values and traditions which are integral to why people love the place. In this sense, there should be nothing new under the sun. I look forward to working closely with our alumni community as we all seek to make certain that Camp always changes, but never feels entirely new. It is a complicated task, to be sure, but we are blessed with a strong and dedicated professional staff, an engaged lay leadership and a deeply committed alumni community. Camp will change. Camp will stay the same. There is, in the end, nothing new under the sun.

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machon 2 week 6 Miriam Hertzson

I recall the first show that I saw at CRB. There was one ineffective spotlight held together by the operator as he/she tried to light up the actor on stage. With all the lights on, there were few areas that were lit on stage. Performers held corded or cordless handheld mics that they passed to each other when they had finished saying the lines that were written on their hands. Sets were painted paper taped to the back wall. Nothing made sense. The chanichim lay on the floor talking and playing games until one of their friends was on stage and then would scream and drown out that chanich.

2011 began a reformation in the performing arts at CRB. We now call the performing arts department Hofa’ah. This includes dance, music, theatre and A/V. There have been physical changes, staffing changes and programming changes during the past six years.

Although Beit Am Bet might look the same from the outside, inside is much different. There are permanent functional theatrical systems in place. Technically; there has been a new grid built to support the lighting instruments (2/3 of the package in place) and soft goods (curtains), a sound system with wireless body mics, towers with working spotlights, two huge fans, new house lights, a working trap door, side exit to the stage and entrance to the alcove, a dressing room and costume storage below. Props, flats and set pieces are stored in a new shed out back.

Hofa’ah consists of song-leaders, dance teachers/choreographers, instrumental music teachers, drama specialists/directors, musical director, stage manager, A/V specialists, set designer/builder, and a costume designer.

We are seeing a resurgence of chanichim being involved with the plays. The Shorashim/Tzeirim play had close to 50 performers and 30 stage crew. Around camp, chanichim are writing music, and creating dances. There is even a small group of chanichim, self-initiated, who are learning technical theatre and helping run the shows (sound/lights/sets).

Shows are dual-edot to allow for less pressure, higher quality and bonding between groups. The shows are all bilingual, allowing for all campers to engage more fully in the experience as actors and audience. The structure of the zimriyah has been updated. Tarbut (literally culture – in camp terms folk dance and song leading) is being overhauled to engage participants in authentic experiential education.

We work inter-departmentally as much as possible. Song-leaders often will visit overnight camp-outs, guitar/ukulele/drums in hand. Songwriting will have chanichim write and teach their edah new tunes for tefillot. Drama will write and record a murder mystery radio show. Costumes are borrowed for other events, there are live dance/music performances every Kabalat Shabbat and you should hear the makaylah!

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Alumni Spotlight

Shira Grosman (Gesher ’09)shira-grosman

Omanut holds a unique place at Camp, tucked away at the farthest northern edge of B-side and visited by only a small portion of the Camp population. Omanut holds a unique place in my memory because it allowed me an artistic outlet during a day otherwise filled with athletics and outdoor activities. Omanut has always been a secluded and quiet space, allowing me to forget about all the hectic activity of Camp happening around me.

As a camper, I always signed up for Omanut peulot and cherish many items I created over the years. I have vivid memories of coating my arm in Vaseline before applying layer upon layer of plaster to create a cast of my arm and hand. After spending many summers in Omanut peulot, I was excited to see the program from a different angle as an Omanut ozer my Gesher summer. I spent many afternoons shredding and soaking paper to creating paper mache for Miri Sela’s z”l peulot. Being an Omanut ozer also gave me access to the expansive supply closet, creating the sets for our edah play and painting chug banners. This ozer role provided an outlet that nourished my creativity throughout the summer. As a staff member, I brought one of my favorite Omanut projects from my camper days back – string bowls, made by blowing up a balloon and draping glue covered string in ethereal patterns, creating a dense network of lines that, when dry, forms a rigid bowl.

Working in Omanut my first summer on staff provided the most creative experience I had during my time at Camp Ramah. In conjunction with the Al Hagova staff, I painted the high rock wall and traverse wall adjacent to the Omanut building. This project fell at the intersection of art, Judaism, politics and acrobatics (have you ever tried belaying while holding a paint bucket and roller?). The project was rewarding in many ways, notably because I was able to combine my love of outdoors with my Omanut job, while also providing a unique feature wall and a climbing tool. In talking with the campers I was a live-in for, I decided to paint the wall with dark shadows to look like people climbing. My campers were happy to act as models for this and even participated in the painting. For the high wall, we looked to combine a Jewish element, selecting the map of Israel. As a new staff member learning about how the ‘other side’ of Camp operates, figuring out how to represent the map of Israel was especially interesting. The Israeli staff members on Al Hagova had opinions about which cities to highlight (the places they were from) and everyone else on the Al Hagova/Omanut team had a perspective. Then came the physical act of painting a geographically accurate map 20 feet in the air. Ultimately, the project took multiple people (both painters and belayers) and some headlights to complete. The process of painting the walls was unlike anything I’d ever done at Camp and a wonderful opportunity to leave a mark on Camp doing something I love.

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A Case for the Arts in Jewish Education

julie-wohl-2016 by Julie Wohl

There is an old Robert Frost poem that says  “good fences make good neighbors” in which two neighbors spend their time mending the walls between them. As we read, Frost guides us to wonder: just because conventional wisdom says walls and fences are good, does that make it true?

When it comes to the arts and Jewish education, I have come to think that good fences make for neighbors who are cut off from each other, who don’t work together, and are weaker for it. Since we have no cows that need to be fenced in, I find myself, prompted by Frost, thinking that perhaps we don’t need fences at all*.   

The prevailing ethos in general education is blending– engaging in multimedia experiences, using technology and integrating subjects to create a more holistic learning approach.  We know from the research that human brains are not wired with fences between subjects.  Our brains are glorious connection making machines.

This is why, when talking about the arts in Jewish education, it is so surprising when they get shrugged off.  As a synagogue educator and a teacher of Judaics at Camp Ramah, as well as a working artist, I KNOW that in most Jewish learning environments we are faced with a lack of time, a paucity of resources, and a crisis of disconnection.  When forced to make choices, it is easy to see why the arts often fall off the list of offerings.  And yet, ESPECIALLY because we are so limited, we NEED the arts even more.

Our twenty-first century socially connected children are digital natives in a constant state of seeking. They spend their days communicating and connecting in ways that previous generations could not have even imagined. They are passionate and discerning and accustomed to the regular search for meaning. They want to learn about things they see as personally relevant.  It is precisely in this context that we must recognize that while skills and content literacy are building blocks that we cannot do without, if we do not provide our students with context, with an opportunity to slow down and consider their relevance, then we are providing only half of an education.

In an age where facts and information are readily available, all educators must rethink our approach to learning. Our only choice is to educate towards greater spiritual engagement, to explore moral education, to present our tradition in terms of the great human desires: for belonging, for creative exploration, for moral development, for connection. When viewed with this lens, we know that Judaism and Jewish education have much to offer. And there is no field more ready to help take this on in real, human ways, than the arts.

When we look at practicing artists and craftspeople in the world, we primarily see the results of their creations. We see that the potter molds the clay and creates the vase. What we may not see, unless we are intimately involved in the act of creation, is that the reverse is true as well. Just as the artist molds the clay, the clay also molds the artist. During the act of creation, the maker is fully engaged—they are thinking, analyzing, making choices, trying, failing and trying again. When they are done, they see the world a little bit differently. The maker is transformed during the act of making. Doesn’t that also sound like our goals for Jewish education?

I would argue that in any Jewish educational setting our primary goal is that of transformation. We want our community members to be engaged, to make meaning and to find relevance in practice. As teachers, we are in search of ways to engage the whole person—mind, body and spirit. Our students are also in search of ways that they can reflect and learn in deeply personal and meaningful ways. So, what does this look like in Jewish educational and camp settings?

When we think creatively and integratively, we can find endless ways in which the arts can be employed to help us build compelling and rich Jewish environments. When we teach Torah and reflect on relationships by acting them out, this is Jewish art education. When we create prayer based meditation collages that reflect on and inform our kavanah (intentions), this is Jewish art education. When we find natural objects around camp and bring them together to create a communal mosaic, and reflect on what it means when we all share a small piece to create something larger (like in the creation of the Beit Hamikdash or in the building of our edah community) this is Jewish art education. When we bring Jewish ideas into the art room and onto the stage, and when we bring art-making and reflection into our praying, playing and living spaces, when we break down the walls dividing the arts from everything else, we can find incredible opportunities to enrich our learning experiences and environment. Jewish art education is, simply, the exploration of Jewish values, texts or ideas, through the act of creation.

When you think about it, the integration of art into the whole of Jewish education seems like an obvious choice. The arts help us to think about meaning in metaphorical terms. They inspire us (even require us) to make our own connections. When our Jewish settings allow us space and time to create visual imagery, dramatic interpretations, perform, build, communicate and create, we make our learning and our Judaism our own. We find our voice and add it to the voices that came before us, and those that will come after us. I don’t think it is too bold to say that engaging with the arts can be life altering, and when we build that practice into our learning, the effects can be truly dramatic. In truth, I think we are all thirsty for this kind of learning. Our job is to break down those fences, grapple with our limitations of time and resources, and find innovative ways to make it happen.

(*Note: I originally came across this analogy in an article by Connie Dalke on art education and special needs inclusion, “There Are No Cows Here”, 1984)

Julie Wohl is a Jewish Educator and artist living and working in Central Pennsylvania. She is the owner and lead educator of Jewish Learning Thru Art, a Traveling Creative Arts Beit Midrash, and the author and illustrator of several books and resources for Jewish children, families and schools. She has spent the last four summers as a Yahadut and Omanut teacher at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. You can find out more about Julie and her work at http://www.juliewohlfineartandjudaica.com.

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Omanut: Art Opens Doors

Ricki's photo.jpgby Ricki Gorman

In only a few months, Kayitz 2017 will inaugurate a brand new state of the art Omanut facility in the center of our machane. With no more shlepping to the furthest end of B-side, campers and staff will have easy access to the new Omanut Center consisting of multiple work spaces designed specifically for each specialty. During the past 10 years, as Rosh Omanut, I have witnessed the introduction of polymer clay, PMC silver clay, printmaking, glass fusing and metal working with enameling, in addition to new tools, including eight pasta makers, a special kiln, six pottery wheels, six sewing machines, a slab roller and a printing press. Offering the old favorites (lanyard, duct tape, paper mache, beading and mosaics), while incorporating new mediums has given every camper a certain joy and appreciation of art, engaging campers in limitless creativity. Chanichim (campers) now have the opportunity to choose from a variety of activities during each perek, including nagarut (woodworking), photography and video.

The new Omanut Art Center will be divided into several areas.  Clay and pottery will have their own much larger space downstairs to allow for more pottery wheels as well as hand building and sculpting.  Nagarut (woodworking) will be located downstairs as well in a more open space. We envision several new dimensions this summer, including a separate space for graphic and digital design as well as glass fusing, and the installation of a glass kiln.
The new Omanut Art Center can reach as far as our dreams, imagination and inventiveness will take us. I am both honored and excited to be a part of omanut’s growth and journey. It breeds endless inspiration for current and future chanichim.

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Machane on My Mind: A Message from Ethan


*Note this is a rather long e-mail.  I hope you will read it, because I think it’s nice. (But of course, I would say that!)  If you want to skip to the last few paragraphs, you will get a sense of some exciting programmatic innovations we are working on for this summer.  Then, when you’ve done that, you should still go back and read the whole thing. (But of course, I would say that!)

What I Did on My Summer Vacation 

One of the first things I asked the Board of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires to do after they hired me was to put me on the payroll and pay me a salary not to be at camp for the summer.  Admittedly, this was an odd—and perhaps even chutzpadic—request.  But I had the benefit of not needing to run the camp last summer, and it seemed important to me to get started in my directorate, even if starting meant being many places other than Wingdale, New York.  The Board agreed to my rather odd proposal, and so began what I have come to think of as Ethan’s Summer of Listening and Learning.  Instead of running a summer camp, I spent my first summer as the director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires traveling the country to fifteen different overnight camps, meeting with educators and rabbis in our community, and listening to parents, campers, and staff.  I want to tell you a little about what I learned and what I heard.

First and foremost: we have a community that loves Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.  Campers, parents, alumni and staff could not stop telling me how much they loved the place, the people, and the spirit of Ramah.  Alumni who had been in Camp forty years before could still recall the friends they had made, the Torah they had learned, and the staff members who had changed their lives.  Current staff and campers made sure to find me when I visited this summer just to tell me about all the things that should never, ever change, because to meddle with certain things would do irreparable harm to a place they loved.  Parents recounted stories of their children coming home inspired by the Jewish experience they had received, and telling them, before any other words were spoken, “I am going back.”  This summer, I heard and saw a great and deep and profound love of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and it was thrilling to think that I was becoming a part of such a special community.

But.  I heard some concerns as well.  I had the opportunity to see the results of our parent surveys from the past few summers, and more recently from this summer, and the results of those surveys mirror many of the comments I heard this summer as I listened and learned.  Nearly all of these more critical comments come from a place of love for Camp, and are motivated by a desire to help Camp Ramah in the Berkshires continue to be a place that provides an indelible experience for its community.  In addition, some of the great things I saw at other camps got me thinking about ways in which our camp could grow and prosper over the next few years.  From time to time this year I will write about these areas where we have work to do, and I will reflect on how what I heard and saw this summer is being processed among our off-season team.

If you are skipping down, start reading here

Today, for a moment, I would like to focus on our program.  We have many wonderful program areas at Camp and, during any given moment of the day, one can find an exceptional moment of outdoor education happening next to a field where kids are learning great skills in soccer right across from a raging (but well-controlled) fire where kids are having a great time learning about outdoor cooking.  To list all of our successes in the area of programming would be cumbersome, and I would inevitably leave out something great.  But I did hear many concerns about our programming as well, and I want you to know what we’re working on for this summer to make our programming better.

The most important change we are making is this: we have hired an amazing camp professional named Laura Hanft to be our full-time Program Director.  Laura comes to us from the JCC in New Orleans, where she was the Director of Youth and Camping.  In fact, the JCC Day Camp, which Laura ran, has been selected as the Best Day Camp in New Orleans for three consecutive years.  Laura has a BA from Emory University and a Master’s Degree from Bar Ilan in Curriculum Development.  She is extremely talented, and her full time job is to help us improve our programming across the board: from peulot erev (evening programs) to trips to sports to arts.  Laura comes to us with fresh ideas, tremendous energy, and an innovative spirit.  We are lucky to have her, and I think campers, parents and staff will see the results from the first day of kayitz 2017.

One consistent theme that I have heard from our current campers and parents is that our programming on Machane Bet (the older side of camp) can, at times, be repetitive, and that we do not give campers enough leeway to determine the course of their programming day.  To address this concern, we are currently working to re-imagine the scheduling of electives to provide both more choice and more time for the chosen areas so that campers have the opportunity to really develop skills and complete projects.  We are still working out the details of this new idea for Machane Bet programming, but I think campers (and their parents) will like the results of this innovation.  We are aware that campers sometimes feel as though they “never” get their first, or even second, choice of elective options, and we hope that this new block scheduling will alleviate those concerns as well.

Finally, for both our younger and older campers, we are working on ways to stabilize the camp routine. One of the concerns I have heard from parents, campers and staff is that it can be hard to know what is going on at Camp on a given day and, therefore, hard to make a coherent plan. The special days are a lot of fun—after all, what would Camp be without Yom Sport (color war)?—but routine is important for our campers and for staff.  Again, the details of this effort have yet to be entirely fleshed out, but the direction, at least, is clear: more “normal” days at Camp will allow for greater depth in our program areas and will also help the “special” days feel more special.

Of course, I have to put “normal” and “special” in quotations, because anyone who has ever been at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires knows that there is no “normal” day.  Every day is special, and that is the beauty of the place.  My hope is that enhancements I have outlined above in the area of programming make each day and each moment even more special, even more impactful and even more elevated.

I want the rabbis and educators of our community to know that I appreciate the time you took with me to talk about Ramah. I want our parents who filled out the survey to know that we heard you. I want the many people who have given me precious minutes and hours to share both their love of Camp and their critiques that come from that love to know: I heard you.  And I thank you for your feedback.  It will make us better.  The Camp Ramah in the Berkshires team is comprised of people who care deeply about Camp and who are dedicated to the pursuit of excellence.  We are working hard, and we look forward to sharing more of that hard work with you.  Please do not hesitate to be in touch with me about anything in this letter, or anything at all about Camp. The Listening Tour began on my “summer vacation.”  As long as I am the Director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, it will never end.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Ethan Linden

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A Rosh Hashanah Message from Rabbi Ethan Linden

ethanDear Ramah Berkshires Family:
As this week ends, I will officially become the Director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. By odd coincidence of Camp’s fiscal year and the vagaries of the interaction between the Jewish and secular calendar, this transition will occur on virtually the same day that Jews the world over will gather together to celebrate the New Year. (In fact, my official start date is Saturday, October 1st and the Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday, October 2nd, but we rabbis are never ones to let small differences such as that get in the way of a good drash.) The confluence of my professional transition and the personal transition implied by the arrival of the High Holiday season feel auspicious, if only because two of the themes of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur resonate so strongly with me as I set out on this new journey.
First is the theme of gratitude. As in all of our prayers, as on all of our holy days, we thank God consistently and quite floridly over the course of the Tishrei holidays. But our prayers during these days of awe take on an even more insistent and profound caste: we are thanking God for the basic fact of creation, and our gratitude knows no bounds. I too feel profoundly grateful as I transition into this new role. I am grateful to the members of the Search Committee who decided to forward my name the Board of Directors, and I am grateful to that body for confirming the Search Committee’s recommendation. I am deeply grateful to the many, many people who reached out to me over the past few months with words of congratulations and advice. I am grateful to the community of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires who have welcomed me and my family into their midst with open arms. I am grateful to the staff and campers ofKayitz 2016 who made certain to find me when I was up at camp this summer in order to share with me their love of Camp and their dreams for its future. I am grateful to the year-round staff of CRB who have been patient with me as I figure out CampMinder in all of its intricacies. And, perhaps most of all, I am grateful to Rabbi Paul Resnick who has been exceedingly generous with his time and his wisdom during this time of transition. Over more than thirty years of service to Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Rabbi Resnick has proven time and again his deep love for Camp and the people it serves. I am thrilled that his service has not ended with the end of his directorate, and I intend to continue to benefit greatly from his presence on our team.
The second theme of the holiday season which seems appropriate is that of cheshbon ha-nefesh, which literally means the accounting of the soul, but in this context conveys the sense of scrupulously assessing where one stands as one prepares to pass before the throne of judgment. There is a deep conviction in our tradition that honesty in this moment of self-reflection can set us on a path of improvement, forgiveness and ultimately redemption. That is, indeed, the religious drama of these days. For me, on this day, I feel the same imperative: to undertake an honest and forthright assessment of where we stand as a camp community. Where are we succeeding? Where are we falling short of our hopes and dreams for this place we love? Where are striving to fulfill the ideals which motivate us, and where are we succumbing to an easier path? In which moments are we the best versions of ourselves as staff, campers or parents, and in which moments are we in need of gentle correction?
Most of all, in these moments of cheshbon ha-nefesh, we ask: what sort of person do we wish to become? For me, the question is the same for us: what sort of camp do we wish to be? This is not a question to be answered in one day or one week or one year. And, crucially, it is not the sort of question to be answered by one person, or one small group of people. Camp Ramah in the Berkshires represents a sprawling and ever-expanding community: alumni, campers, staff members, parents, and supporters all must have a chance to address this most vital question: what do we want our camp to become? There will moments of disagreement, I am sure, and times when divergent visions will lead to some discord. But I trust that what binds us together will always prove a stronger bond than whatever momentary divergence we may feel. The process of self-assessment is never easy, but the reward is worth the struggle. I look forward to talking to you, to hearing from you, to struggling with you as we determine where we are and imagine where we would like to be. Camp Ramah in the Berkshires holds a new and important place in my life, and I cannot wait to hear what place it holds-or could hold-in yours.
On the eve of this holiday season, I wish you all a happy and sweet New Year, and I remind you, for I would be remiss not to do so, that on Sunday evening, as the stars appear and bring with them the first of Tishrei, Kayitz 5777 is only 268 days away.
Shana Tova,

Rabbi Ethan Linden
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Gesher – Week 7

gesh 1 week 7
This week was a crazy one for Gesher! On Sunday, we met with alumni from Gesher ‘06 to discuss how to stay connected with Camp after Gesher. The evening was capped with the camp-wide rikkudiah where Gesher performed two dances; one as a group dance and the other as couples. Gesher continued dancing the night away after the other edot returned to their tzrifim. On Tuesday, Gesher organized a special dinner to celebrate and honor everyone in the edah. We ate hors d’oeuvres and desserts on the sundeck accompanied by live music! The annual Gesher Chesed sports tournament took place on Wednesday, as Gesher led all of Machaneh Bet. Thursday, Yom Palmer, was a big day. Every chug played so well and had a wonderful day. This week comes to a close with Gesher’s last Shabbat in Camp. We plan to talk about the impact Camp has played in our lives and celebrate our edah.

Shabbat shalom!

Deb Pollack
Rosh Gesher

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Machon – Week 7

The final full week of Machon 2016 was a crescendo of fun! Chanichim went waterskiing and on a canoe trips. Machon could not stop dancing at Sunday night’s  camp wide rikudihah and stole the show with a hip hop dance routine. On Thursday, our campers experienced their first Varsity Palmer day. It was incredible to see their hard work and dedication pay off and watch as the two opposing  teams became families. This Shabbat we will transition from Machon to our place as Gesher ‘17, when we lead the chadar ochel  in  Friday night shirah.

Shabbat Shalom.

Gideon Weiss
Rosh Machon

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Bogrim – Week 7

bog 1 week 7.jpgBogrim is coming off of a really special week that started off with the Rikkudiah, new activities, a great Yom Daled, and our last sports practices. Our Yom Daled was “Yom Tov”, in which we celebrated a few chagim. The Purim Carnival and Prince of Egypt sing-along were great hits! Thursday followed with an amazing Yom Palmer. Full of high energy and sportsmanship, the chanichim competed so well– whether they won or not.

This Shabbat  will be devoted to the excitement, anticipations, and fears of entering high school.  We’ll study  Jewish traditions and texts that deal with transitions, growth, and tough choices. This should be a great segue to the new year, and a meaningful conclusion to a summer of development and growth.

Shabbat shalom!

Hannah Kober
Rosh Bogrim

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