Shabbat at Three Ramah Camps

by Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and the Division of Religious Leadership, The Jewish Theological Seminary

For Kayitz 2018 I had the pleasure of spending Shabbat in three Ramah camps—Berkshires, New England, and Canada. Each of these camps feels like a “home base” for me, so it was wonderful to return and see them thriving.

At Berkshires ("CRB") we held a Shabbaton on the first Shabbat of camp for participants in the Nishma Program, an advanced Torah study program with two locations, one at JTS and one at CRB. We enjoyed high-level learning, joyous singing, and the overwhelming positive energy of so many young people. CRB has developed an outstanding outdoor education program, from the large working farm to bike and hiking trips under the banner of “Al HaGovah,” and the new arts center is stunning. I have joined the camp's long-range planning process, and the question is how to maximize the impact of this burgeoning blessing in Wingdale.

 Rabbi Daniel Nevins (front row, 4th from right) at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires

Rabbi Daniel Nevins (front row, 4th from right) at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires

At Ramah New England (CRNE) you don’t face the lake for Kabbalat Shabbat, but sit amidst a grove of tall pine trees. It feels mysterious to me, and highlights the beauty of the people and their songs. The educational center at CRNE is the heart of camp, and it is wonderful that they have Rabbi Josh Kulp (as CRB has Dr. Jason Rogoff) as scholar in residence. CRNE has its own traditions—the Nivonim kids lead an “Oh Lord” testimonial after Shabbat dinner that is hard to explain. But the Tikvah program is easy to love—I gravitated to Tikvah for several services and found new beauty in familiar prayers.

 Rabbi Daniel Nevins with participants in the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah in New England

Rabbi Daniel Nevins with participants in the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah in New England

Ramah Canada in Utterson, Ontario, is the camp I have visited most in recent decades, and through my three children, have experienced the whole gamut of camp. Only one remains there: my son is a first-year counselor (his sister is working this summer at Ramah Galim), but he is having a great time. He returned from staffing a 5-day canoe trip just as we arrived in camp. I experienced Shabbat Hazon and Tisha B’Av with camp and was impressed by the large group that gathered for Maariv and then broke fast together at 9:50 PM. I can never leave Ramah Canada without a “Canoe Boker”—at 6 AM the next morning ten of us met Ted for a two-hour paddle around Skeleton Lake. No loons this time, but Ted played tunes on his harmonica, and it seemed like the entire world was in harmony for just a while.

 Rabbi Daniel Nevins (4th from left) at Camp Ramah in Canada

Rabbi Daniel Nevins (4th from left) at Camp Ramah in Canada

Camp Ramah is an inspiration—so much love of Judaism is concentrated in this precious place. We are fortunate to have the professional leaders and thousands of staff who make this dream come to life across the continent.