I am joining your ranks. I too am sending a child away to a Jewish summer camp for the first time this summer. The mutual trust required is immense. In an effort to expand the depth of that trust and relationship that you have with us at Ramah, we have created eitzah l'derech. Our intention is to provide some thoughts and musings for parents as you prepare to send your children off to camp. We have incredible experts and educators in our community who will share their insights about the nexus of Ramah, camp and parenting. We expect to touch on issues that we all struggle with as parents such as technology, resilience, preparing campers for healthy decision making at camp and more! You can expect to see a few installments between now and the beginning of the summer. We hope you enjoy.
Thoughts, feedback, or suggestions are always welcome.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Joe Menashe
Fun, Growth, and the Benefits of Camp Ramah
by Gregory Keer
When it came to overnight camp, I was a dismal failure. Everyone else was having a good time, but all I ever seemed to do was embarrass myself by dropping food trays to thunderous applause, lying awake nights watching spiders make plans to eat me alive, and pining for girls who would never give me the time of day let alone make lanyards with me. I only went for a week each time, but those seven days seemed like months of torture.
So, when my wife told me we’d be sending our kids for a month when they were old enough, I got a little anxious. OK, a lot anxious.
“Our kids are not as awkward as you were,” she said. “And you know I was a counselor at Ramah, so I’m positive they’ll have an amazing time.”
Fortunately, I trust my wife’s opinion more than I appreciate her frank assessment of me as a fearful child. So, nine years ago, my oldest son started going away to Camp Ramah. First it was for two weeks, then for a month. My middle and youngest children followed suit. All of them usually came home caked in grime and resoundingly happy from their time away. They even returned with better table-clearing skills.
In his last summer as a camper, my oldest child played the part of the senior camper who savored all the “last chances” to bond with his buddies from all over the country, some of whom he only saw at camp. He went on the overnight-within-overnight camp – a week of sleeping under the stars and roughing it before returning to base like warriors from battle. Upon that return, he and his cohort covered themselves in wet dirt and gave “mud hugs” to the younger campers and some of the counselors. The biggest, muddiest embrace was for his middle brother.
Aside from unintended mud baths, my second son availed himself to both sports and arts, particularly ceramics and the camp play. He’s the more extroverted of our two older kids and he grabbed every chance he could to befriend all kinds of campers, at varying age levels. We used to worry about our middle child, socially speaking, and coached him relentlessly on how to talk and play with people. So we really credit his overnight camp experience for allowing him the space to be himself, without us analyzing every move, and the results have been wonderfully positive.
For our youngest, we fretted about sending our youngest boy at such a young age (he was eight), but he was rarin’ to go, especially with the opportunity to be there with both of his big brothers. Having learned a lot from the tales his siblings told, he was so comfortable at camp, he helped the other kids in his bunk make their beds and not feel so homesick. He even made sure to smile for pictures so his anxious parents could see proof on the camp web site that our boy wasn’t huddled somewhere in a corner, cursing our names.
There are so many benefits to sending a child away to overnight camp, especially one as rich in opportunities for fun, character building, and Jewish traditions as Camp Ramah. What are most significant, though, are the long-term gains we all receive from overnight camp. For us as parents, it’s the satisfaction that we have afforded our kids opportunities to practice independence in a safe environment, to take “technology vacations” that free them for more interactions with live people and nature, and to collect memories of great times and friendships. For them, it’s the chance to enjoy all of those benefits, without ever having to know that a parent was worried about food trays, spiders, or romantic lanyard-making. Different versions of this piece have previously appeared in other publications. All content copyrighted by Gregory Keer.
Gregory Keer is a teacher, arts department chair, and grade-level dean at de Toledo High School (formerly New Community Jewish High School) in West Hills. After many years of being a Ramah parent, he joined the staff last summer as a yoetz to the Machon edah. As a writer, he has won four Parenting Media Association awards for his columns and articles that have been published nationwide, including his Web site, FamilyManOnline.com. He and his wife have three sons.
SAVE THE DATE
DON'T FORGET TO MARK THESE RAMAH
WEEKENDS ON YOUR CALENDARS!
Friday, July 3rd
10:30AM - 2:30PM
Ohr Lanu Family Camp2015
Thursday, June 4th - Sunday, June 7th
(Ramah Young Aumni Weekend)
Friday, August 14th - Sunday, August 16th 2015