A Note From Camp Ramah, A Heart In Israel

Two men's hands forming heart shape by ocean, cropped
Two men's hands forming heart shape by ocean, cropped

I stand on the beach, surrounded by children and staff of the brand new Camp Ramah in Northern Calinfornia. We sway to the rhythm of our singing and the ocean waves, just yards away. The havdallah candles placed in the sand reflect the joy in our eyes, the smell of the spices mix with the sweet smell of the ocean... I have spent the last two weeks in heaven, as part of this beautiful place. We have created nothing short of a miracle here. Outdoor adventures, ocean explorations, and performing arts, each track of this new camp meeting each child right where they are, lifting their souls ever higher.

I've been part of the Ramah Camping Movement for the last 27 years. The traditions of this transformational place, born from the vision of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, are in my blood. And so, this summer I brought deep - and my own children - to Ramah, the new jewel in the Bay Area Jewish community. I am thrilled to report that every expectation has been more than exceeded. I am so very inspired by what I've witnessed here. And, as rabbi of a Bay Area synagogue, I look forward to our partners at Ramah bringing the magic of the summer to our community in the coming year.

But I also write to name the hard moment our sisters and brothers in Israel - and we all - are in. Just moments ago, a rocket fired from Gaza landed on a kindergarten in Sderot. (Thank God, the classroom was empty for Shabbat.) Just this afternoon, there was a shooting attack on a family driving home for Shabbat, and the father, Micky Mark z'l, was killed. He was 48. Just yesterday, Hallel Yaffa Ariel z'l, was stabbed repeatedly to death by a Palestinian terrorist while asleep in her bed at home. As the New Israel Fund's response made clear: "There is never an excuse for any murder." As our teacher, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, wrote:

"It doesn't matter now what I think about the settlement in Kiryat Arba. Murdering a 13 year old girl who was celebrating summer by sleeping late is evil."

How can I share the rapture of my first two paragraphs and the horrors of my third? How can I not? It's all true, and we haven't even mentioned the terrorist attack in Turkey, which most deeply affects my Turkish Muslim sisters and brothers in the Pacifica Institute community, with whom my synagogue just shared a holy Iftar. I encourage us all to reach out to Muslim friends with thoughts and friendship. Annual events aren't enough. We must build real relationships if we are to make real our professed values.

There is so much happening. And the truth is: there will always be. We can be both singing and grieving. We celebrate our children's glee and mourn our lost sisters and brothers. It's all true.

All this is to say: the heaven of Camp Ramah is a gift of sacred space, of deeper breathing, of loving Israel, of making new friends - a place where Jewish values are nurtured with passion and love. Our fragile world needs much more - much more - of these blessings. So, as Shabbat begins here in a few hours, I pray that we soak in all the strength and beauty we can, so that we might share them in return with the world we call home.

May this Shabbat bring comfort and healing to our sisters and brothers - namely, all people. May our children inherit a better world, thanks to the actions we commit to take.

May our laughter outpace our tears.