Friday, June 17, 2005

Shabbos At Ramah In California

Yetta's recollection of life at Tawonga made me think of my time at Ramah in California. I was there in one form or another from 1981 through 1997. By one form or another I mean that I was a camper, counselor, and or a staff person for not just Ramah but USY and Los Angeles Hebrew High School.

So when I think of camp I have a wealth of memories that I can draw upon, Summers, Winters, Fall- I really have been there throughout every season and even been there in the snow, which is not all that common in Ojai, California.

So many Shabbatot, or Shabboses depending upon your Ashkenazim or Sephardic background. So many memories of a place which really was transformed by the people there into something magical and mystical.

We looked forward to Shabbos all week long. It was special. I suspect that for those of you who are FFB or should I say have been Shomer Shabbos all your life this sounds a little bit like old hat, but I ask that you continue the journey for a few more moments and consider something.

Ramah attracts all kinds of Jews, many of whom have little or no Jewish education, practically no experience in celebrating Shabbos or any of the chagim. So for many people this was there first experience, their first chance to be among people who loved the opportunity of changing from the busy work week into the slower pace of Shabbos. People who loved the introspection and chance to set aside the daily concerns to look elsewhere.

I know quite a few BTs who can look back at their camp experience and say that it was a key piece of the puzzle, the place where their journey to find the derech began.

I am having trouble coming up with a smooth transition into my next thought so I am just going to lay it out there. As a counselor one of my favorite moments was the preparation, specifically Staff Showers.

In the boy's shettach we would assemble. At a predesignated point in time there would be a mass entrance of men into the shower hut and then the singing would begin. There would be clapping and banging on the walls as somewhere between 15-25 men would raise our voices together in what could only be described as a joyous outburst.

We would sing Shabbos songs and camp songs. We would belt out tunes by various secular artists and we would do it for a good 15 minutes. I am told that you could hear us from almost any place in the camp. And throughout the Summer the girls would ask us about this time. They would want to know just what went on in there that was so much fun and so enjoyable.

Even now, years later I am still occasionally asked what happened. My answers are usually very short and nondescript. If you were not there you probably won't get it, and you might even think that this is a dumb story. But it has meaning to me in large part because of the feeling it generated.

This was a weekly ritual in which we prepared for Shabbos, in which we threw off the dirt and aggravation of the week and prepared to enter Shabbos with a new attitude and a lot of Joy.

Friday night would come and fresh from staff showers we would join our campers in trying to welcome Shabbos, in trying to create a moment in time that we would all remember.

There is so much more to share, but so little time to do it now. So I think that I'll end this by mentioning another one of my greatest joys at camp.

Shabbos Basketball.

After we finished davening Shacharit there would be a rush back to our tents so that we could change clothes and shoes. Out on the court we would assemble and for several hours we would play on the blacktop.

It is one of the things that I miss most about camp. I miss the first game in which we would line up and say Shehecheyanu. I miss the camraderie and the joy of playing with some of my closest friends.

I miss the time out on the hill. I miss the discussions we would have with our campers and the big sticks that accompanied them.

I miss my Shabbos afternoon nap and Gorp.

I miss being in a place where time really did stand still. I miss so many other things, too many to list.

It is time to get back to work, to end my daydreaming and return to life. Good Shabbos to you all.


Anshel's Wife said...

I hope that someday my children will feel the same way I feel about camp, which seems to be about the same you feel about camp. I was so excited about the Tawonga blog, I had to call my husband and tell him. He can't understand why, after all these years, I still care and think about it. Could be that his communist-era camps in the Ukraine just weren't what our California camps were. But then, they weren't Jewish either.

Stacey said...

Sounds really awesome. Beautiful memories and a wonderful place to instill and build your Jewish identity.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun time. Being allowed to play basketball on Shabbos probably helped keep it enjoyable... I remember those days in the summer as being very, very long! ;)

Jack Steiner said...

It was great. So much fun and such wonderful memories.