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Ya, Ya, Ya!

Reflections from The Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience

Guest blogger: Samuel Margolis, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires

Ramah Yachad is like Bigfoot–you need to see it to believe it. I was told that it was a just another Jewish summer camp, but it is so much more. No one could have prepared me for the vitality of the campers and their love of shira and rikud, the mesmerizing scenery, the welcoming Ukrainian, Israeli, and American staff, the creative peulot, and just how much I would love it here.

My day started off like usual, with a bright and early 6:30 a.m. wake up for my morning workout with Sergei, the security guard. At 7:45, I climbed four flights of stairs to wake up my campers for tefillot, which included a lot of campers begging for five more minutes in bed.

After that we had Maccabiah. The campers circulated among nine stations, including dance, jump rope, chess, and a variety of team-building exercises. At the chess station, campers had to figure out how to get “checkmate” in only one move and win the game. Throughout the afternoon sport perek, I played volleyball with my campers, which was very entertaining. However I needed to train myself to stop saying “me, me, me” when I was going for the ball, and to start saying “ya, ya, ya,” the Russian translation.

During the evening peulat, the campers simulated making aliyah to Israel. They had to run around camp gathering different signatures on their passports, all while avoiding the security forces who were looking to arrest illegal immigrants. My staff was in charge of the “visa” station, and we could only give visas to campers who had all of the necessary signatures. The campers then had to ask for their visas in English to mimic the difficulty of the language barrier. As an additional obstacle, some of the campers were questioned about whether they were actually spies. Once they got their visas and thought that they would be allowed into Israel, they then found out that they needed to collect money in order to buy their plane ticket. The campers had a fun time during this activity, and we enjoyed running the visa station. We then participated in one of Ramah Yachad’s exciting dance parties, celebrating all of the campers “making aliyah.”

Throughout the trip I have been working hard to learn Russian to communicate with campers and staff. I now know how to ask for хлеб (bread), соль (salt), перец (pepper), чай (tea), and картошка (potato), which we have at every meal.

Since my last blog post, I become even more enamored with the machaneh, campers, and staff. Ramah Yachad is a truly unique place, and as we near the end of our trip, I know I will always cherish and remember my time here.

A fantastic group of high school students from Ramah camps across North America are exploring Hungary and Ukraine through the Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience. They will be serving as counselors at Camp Ramah Yachad, run by The Schechter Institute.

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