Reflections from The Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience
Guest blogger: Nathan Pitock, Camp Ramah in the Poconos
Last summer at Ramah in the Poconos, my edah had a catchphrase to deal with the sadness of ending our final year as campers: זה לא נגמר; זה רק הסוף – it’s not over; it’s just the end. After spending the past week at Ramah Yachad, this phrase has again been on my mind. The camp’s 10-day session was drawing to an end, but there’s much more to take away from the experience than immediately evident.
On Monday night, many campers were visibly upset as it hit them that camp is almost over. They were dreading leaving their friends who live all over Ukraine. It marked the end of camp, but the beginning of lasting friendships. Phone numbers were scribbled on arms in pen, as campers promised to keep in touch. Their friendships aren’t over; it’s just the end of living with their friends until next year.
Today was our last day at camp. We had our last peulot, exchanged gifts, and ate our last potatoes. We packed and prepared for our goodbyes. Dinner came, dinner went, and we shared a short video expressing our gratitude to the camp. Seemingly out of nowhere it was time to leave. The day, for the most part, had been a regular day, but instead of heading to our evening activity, we were driving to the Budapest airport. Campers ran back and forth hugging us all goodbye and once we boarded, they waved at the bus until we drove away.
Coming into this experience, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that we would spend about a week and a half at a Jewish camp called Ramah Yachad in the Carpathian Mountains. Leaving the camp, I have valuable memories and experiences. I had to learn to communicate and bond with campers; I had to learn to work with other madrichim; I had to learn to balance being a counselor and a friend to my campers. All the while, I had to deal with the language barrier of working with children who knew little to no English. For me, it’s the end of this experience, but just the beginning of learning to work with campers and peers in the coming years.
More importantly, though, it marks the end of the first year of a lasting Ramah partnership. The relationship between Yachad and the American Ramah camps will grow and strengthen. The American schlichim will know better what to expect. The Ukrainian madrichim will know how to work better with the Americans to give the campers and even better camp experience.
Rather than thinking of this day as just the end to deal with the sadness of leaving, I see it as only the end because of the bright future of this program, working to help the camp grow and thrive as more campers come and meet more friends, and the American group works more with the Ukrainian staff to make a week that is unforgettable for everyone. The partnership between the American Ramah camps and Ramah Yachad isn’t over; it’s just the end of this session.
I’ve made close friends during this experience. I’ve learned valuable lessons about being in unfamiliar and strange positions. I’ve learned valuable lessons about being a madrich. I’ve made memories I will never forget. For me, without a doubt, this experience isn’t over; it’s just the end.
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.