Singing in the Rain: October 2018

Posted by on 10/04/2018

A Note from Rabbi Joel Seltzer, Executive Director


“It never rains at Camp Ramah in the Poconos (more than five days in a row.)”

Every year this is what I tell our Israeli staff regarding the weather at our particular ‘summer camp,’ and every year they arrive on a cold, June day filled with rain and gloom. As they disembark from the bus and step foot onto the wet, holy ground of Ramah Poconos, I can’t help but hear their internal monologue questioning how close they were to attending Ramah California instead?

But typically, as was the case last summer, the rains of late May and early June gave way to the summer sunshine and cool nights that is the more typical of the weather in the lovely Poconos. As we approached Visiting Day, I foolishly remarked to my colleague Bruce Lipton as to whether or not Wayne County was thinking of raising the drought level, considering the lack of rain during the first part of the summer. And so, more because of my own ‘jinx’ as opposed to any meteorological pattern, it rained practically every day of the second session.

For those that have been keeping track, in the history of the Seltzer administration, there have only been three (count ‘em three!) Shabbatot where, due to rain, we were forced to daven (pray) our Friday night services in the ‘serviceable’, indoor Beit Am Gadol, rather than the idyllic, outdoor Beit K’nesset. On the penultimate Shabbat of the season, it happened – the skies opened, and like Noah and his family, our best-laid plans suddenly changed.

But there, in that Beit Am Gadol, on the seventh Shabbat of the summer, something magical happened, and for a moment, it felt as though the entire world was about to be redeemed. Three, unique, and powerful forces combined that day to create a moment of pure spirituality, one in which I felt the potential energy of the Ramah experience unleashed.

The first factor in constructing this moment of meaning was Gesher, our oldest edah. Seeing as this was their second-to-last Shabbat as campers, they were not about to let the location of our services negatively impact their experience. In fact, they were committed to bringing even more ruach to their davening than usual (which is baseline very substantial!) and in so doing – to elevate the community. Seena Ludwig, Seena, who once davened so hard during her Shoafim summer that she sent a rain cloud fleeing from the Beit K’nesset, Seena and her friends raised their voices in prayer, and joy, and thanksgiving and led the charge in our journey.

The second, crucial factor in this moment was our staff. As a director, I am tasked with seeing the big picture; trying to float above the room to see our strengths and our weaknesses as a camp community; and unfortunately, my own eye too often focuses on the negative. But in this moment, as I scanned the room, I saw dozens of young staff members, madrichim who consciously and unconsciously serve as dugma’ot as personal exemplars for our campers, standing in their seats, clapping, signing, encouraging their campers (of all ages!) to join, which they did, joyously. And so, when they wanted to continue another verse of the ‘yei-dee-die’s’ which follow each psalm, who was I to stop them? Instead we were gladly late for dinner as we sang, and sang, and sang. As I closed my eyes, I cried a tear of pride, a tear of joy, a tear of hope.

The last factor, once which is easily lost in this (and other) moments of spirituality is keva; is routine. That is, we must not lose sight of the role that regular adherence to ritual plays in scenes such as this. If we did not daven as a community each and every Friday night, if we did not teach these tunes as part of our Shirah curriculum, if we did not use tunes which encouraged singing out loud, these first two factors in our triumph would not have been in place. In other words – it is the keva that creates the potential for kavannah (spiritual intention), the regularity which allows for moments of profundity.

And so on the one hand, it was a seemingly simple rain-soaked Shabbat at a Jewish summer camp.

And on the other – it was the secret of our very salvation.

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