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Ramah Yachad: Familiar Yet Different

An hour before arriving at Ramah Yachad, my mind became engaged in an intense debate. I pondered, reversing my position every few seconds, if this was actually camp. The dirt road on which we drove seemed familiar enough, but the surrounding Ukrainian signage and obvious poverty of the land made it obvious to me that this was not my safe haven in the Poconos. As the coach van we rode in slowed to a permanent stop in the parking lot of a giant green hotel complex (I soon discovered this was in fact Ramah Yachad), I was open minded, but the struggle continued. I had yet to determine whether or not the experience I was about to walk into was camp by my definition, or something else entirely.

IMG_7197We agreed to leave the van singing and dancing. As we did this, luggage in hand, Yachad’s Ukrainian staff began to follow our lead, free of any inhibition. This reaction was an immediate check in the “this is camp” box. The welcoming community (that was surprisingly fluent in English) exceeded my expectations entirely and I, along with the six other American teenagers with me, felt warm and fuzzy going to bed that night.

Staff week began the next morning, and the atmosphere instantly shifted from celebratory to focused. Everything we did was centered on making sure the campers arriving Wednesday night would have the best 10-day summer camp experience that Yachad could offer. Between American hadracha and whole-camp meetings sprinkled with intense amounts of unfamiliar Russian, I began to once again wonder if Yachad was camp. In the back of my mind I felt that something was missing. The activities we engaged in outside of traditional work were reminiscent of my time at Poconos (we had an amazing hike in the Carpathian mountains), but all the prep for campers seemed remote to me in ways I couldn’t articulate.

IMG_7137Things changed when the first bus of campers pulled up. That group of 15 or so Ukrainian children that stepped onto the brick road that night immediately lifted the spirits of everyone on campus. The campers’ arrival instilled in everyone a sense of purpose. At once, we were all reminded of the amazing experiences we were about to have as a community of campers and staff. All at once, I was thoroughly convinced that this was camp like any other, and that up until that point we had just been missing our key ingredient: the campers.

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Sam Caplan is a rising senior at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. He attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos for seven summers as a camper and participated in Ramah Israel Seminar 2017. Sam enjoys spending time with friends, reading, and volunteering in his local community.

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