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Ramah Stands with Israel

by Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director

“This summer my head is here at Camp Ramah, but my heart is at home in Israel.”

– Nava Isseroff, Ramah Poconos Shlicha and Rosh Mayim

Members of the Ramah community are deeply concerned about the current fighting in Israel, and are struggling to cope with the situation on many levels. Three groups immediately come to mind.

First, our shlichim. Over 220 young Israelis, most of them just having completed their army service, are at Ramah camps to instill a love for Israel and Judaism among our campers and staff. While their presence at Ramah does more to accomplish this goal than almost anything else we could do, they are feeling conflicted about being away from friends and family members who are either under sporadic missile attack or are actually in combat in or near Gaza.

Second, our Seminar participants. At 250 strong, they are experiencing a wonderful summer in Israel while at the same time understanding the necessity of making itinerary changes due to security concerns.

Third, there are many members of our community, including recent alumni, who are currently fighting in the IDF to protect Israel, including former shlichim and North Americans who have made aliyah. As we pray for their safety, we recognize that the danger is extreme.

Numerous others at Ramah are directly concerned, and everyone seems closely connected to friends and family living or traveling in Israel. As educators, we are faced with some dilemmas. How often should Israel dominate discussions and programs with our campers? Should 10- or 12-year-olds talk about the danger, or should we limit the frank conversations to our older teen campers and staff members? How do we go on with our usual joyful Israel programming? And how can we best support our Israeli staff who are naturally glued to the news and often succumb to bouts of tears and sadness?

All of these variables are playing themselves out at all our camps. At my recent visit to Ramah Canada, shlichim publicly recited prayers for the safety of the IDF before Kabbalat Shabbat services, followed by an emotional camp-wide singing of Hatikvah. Similar events are taking place across the Ramah movement.

I have been amazed at the support of our Seminar parents. While understandably concerned for their children, the overwhelming majority have expressed appreciation to our wonderful Ramah Israel leadership for their thoughtful and frequent parent updates, and confidence in Ramah decision-making. Monday morning a Seminar mom told me, “I am proud that my son, who is having the time of his life, is spending the summer with Ramah in Israel.” That feedback has been typical. There is also a feeling of helplessness. Somehow, prayers are not enough, and we recognize that on some level we feel better in Israel, where mostly regular life continues, than far away, relying upon the news and social media for constant updates.

As a Ramah movement, we can take pride in the depth of the interconnectedness between our North American communities and Israel. This stands in stark contrast to recent demographic data on the disconnect between Israel and a majority of Diaspora Jews under the age of 30. But this also leaves us vulnerable during times of peril.

As we pray for safety and security, we will continue to grapple with these educational and emotional challenges, proud to be part of a Zionist camping movement that instills a deep love for Israel among our participants.

After completing my summer visits to all of our Ramah camps, I look forward to being with our Seminar participants in Jerusalem for their final Shabbat. May we all find ways to cope with our concerns and dilemmas, may we be privileged to continue to inspire others to take pride in their Jewishness and in their connections to Israel, and most of all, may we see a time very soon when Israel, and all of the residents in the region, can live free from the fear of violence.

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