Dear Ramah Berkshires Family:
As this week ends, I will officially become the Director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. By odd coincidence of Camp’s fiscal year and the vagaries of the interaction between the Jewish and secular calendar, this transition will occur on virtually the same day that Jews the world over will gather together to celebrate the New Year. (In fact, my official start date is Saturday, October 1st and the Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday, October 2nd, but we rabbis are never ones to let small differences such as that get in the way of a good drash.) The confluence of my professional transition and the personal transition implied by the arrival of the High Holiday season feel auspicious, if only because two of the themes of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur resonate so strongly with me as I set out on this new journey.
First is the theme of gratitude. As in all of our prayers, as on all of our holy days, we thank God consistently and quite floridly over the course of the Tishrei holidays. But our prayers during these days of awe take on an even more insistent and profound caste: we are thanking God for the basic fact of creation, and our gratitude knows no bounds. I too feel profoundly grateful as I transition into this new role. I am grateful to the members of the Search Committee who decided to forward my name the Board of Directors, and I am grateful to that body for confirming the Search Committee’s recommendation. I am deeply grateful to the many, many people who reached out to me over the past few months with words of congratulations and advice. I am grateful to the community of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires who have welcomed me and my family into their midst with open arms. I am grateful to the staff and campers ofKayitz 2016 who made certain to find me when I was up at camp this summer in order to share with me their love of Camp and their dreams for its future. I am grateful to the year-round staff of CRB who have been patient with me as I figure out CampMinder in all of its intricacies. And, perhaps most of all, I am grateful to Rabbi Paul Resnick who has been exceedingly generous with his time and his wisdom during this time of transition. Over more than thirty years of service to Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Rabbi Resnick has proven time and again his deep love for Camp and the people it serves. I am thrilled that his service has not ended with the end of his directorate, and I intend to continue to benefit greatly from his presence on our team.
The second theme of the holiday season which seems appropriate is that of cheshbon ha-nefesh, which literally means the accounting of the soul, but in this context conveys the sense of scrupulously assessing where one stands as one prepares to pass before the throne of judgment. There is a deep conviction in our tradition that honesty in this moment of self-reflection can set us on a path of improvement, forgiveness and ultimately redemption. That is, indeed, the religious drama of these days. For me, on this day, I feel the same imperative: to undertake an honest and forthright assessment of where we stand as a camp community. Where are we succeeding? Where are we falling short of our hopes and dreams for this place we love? Where are striving to fulfill the ideals which motivate us, and where are we succumbing to an easier path? In which moments are we the best versions of ourselves as staff, campers or parents, and in which moments are we in need of gentle correction?
Most of all, in these moments of cheshbon ha-nefesh, we ask: what sort of person do we wish to become? For me, the question is the same for us: what sort of camp do we wish to be? This is not a question to be answered in one day or one week or one year. And, crucially, it is not the sort of question to be answered by one person, or one small group of people. Camp Ramah in the Berkshires represents a sprawling and ever-expanding community: alumni, campers, staff members, parents, and supporters all must have a chance to address this most vital question: what do we want our camp to become? There will moments of disagreement, I am sure, and times when divergent visions will lead to some discord. But I trust that what binds us together will always prove a stronger bond than whatever momentary divergence we may feel. The process of self-assessment is never easy, but the reward is worth the struggle. I look forward to talking to you, to hearing from you, to struggling with you as we determine where we are and imagine where we would like to be. Camp Ramah in the Berkshires holds a new and important place in my life, and I cannot wait to hear what place it holds-or could hold-in yours.
On the eve of this holiday season, I wish you all a happy and sweet New Year, and I remind you, for I would be remiss not to do so, that on Sunday evening, as the stars appear and bring with them the first of Tishrei, Kayitz 5777 is only 268 days away.
Rabbi Ethan Linden