Jun 18, 2019

Posted by: Emily Reilly

A Ranch Camp Shabbat

Sunday morning began as a fresh start, the Havdalah ceremony the night before separating Shabbat from the rest of the week. As campers spread across camp to enjoy their activities, their spirits were still lifted and their hearts still content from the Shabbat celebrations that began on Friday.

Though JCC Ranch Camp is, as the name suggests, a Jewish camp, not every member of the community is Jewish or even religious. This, however, does not hold anyone back from enjoying this very special time at camp. In fact, the diversity among both campers and staff alike lends itself to making Shabbat celebrations at camp a unique experience, which is hard to get anywhere else. People from all walks of life have the opportunity to discuss what Shabbat means to them. From returning campers sharing how celebrating at camp is important to them, to new campers finding another facet of camp life that bonds them more closely to their new community. Non-Jewish campers are able to connect to their spirituality in ways that are comfortable for them, and Jewish campers get to experience services they may be used to in a new environment, praying surrounded by the trees around them, the sky above them, and the roots of flowers and grass beneath.

Fridays start out the same as most other days, activity groups and cabins scattering joyfully across the camp grounds. But by lunchtime, the anticipation of Shabbat is palpable in the air. After Menucha, each unit cleans an area of camp, preparing not just themselves but their environment and their community for the Shabbos ahead. Situated as we are in so much wilderness, it’s acceptable (and sometimes even encouraged) to get a little dirty during activities, but on Shabbat, everyone gets to take some extra time for themselves, showering and dressing up before services.

The services themselves take place in the pavilions, the camp community gathered together once again. Facing away from all the other buildings, the view behind the pavilions is lush and green, pine trees rising above a large meadow where the occasional horse can be spotted – this Friday was especially memorable, as services were paid a visit by a pair of deer. As we moved through the different prayers, every voice at camp rose together in song. In between prayers, individual voices were highlighted as cabins six and seven, among others, came onstage to share what certain prayers meant to them or reasons why Shabbat at camp was meaningful to them. This camper participation is part of what makes Shabbat here so special. The kids are not merely watching the services. They are a part of the services.

Next is dinner, always highly anticipated. One of the most memorable signifiers of Shabbat for many campers, Friday night dinner is different from the rest. Cabin mates can sit together or split up as they please, perhaps taking the opportunity to reconnect with friends they have met in Chugs, spend more time with members of their activity groups, or catch up with siblings. Instead of getting up for their food, they are served a traditional Ranch Camp Shabbat dinner at their tables (brisket, potatoes, vegetables, and matzo ball soup), the delicious food made even better by the company of friends and the gathering of voices for the songs and prayers we do before and after the meal.

Every part of Shabbat at camp is unique and memorable, a clear separation between Shabbos and the rest of the week – however, the most anticipated Shabbat celebration for many campers does not come until after dinner: Israeli dance. The morning dance activities, enjoyed by all, serve a higher purpose as well. Once every activity group has participated, the entire camp knows the dances to the songs, some new and some old. This way every age group and experience level can participate in the Friday night dance together. Though the sun may edge closer towards the horizon, spotlights keep the basketball court warm and bright, a shining spot of activity and life in the otherwise quiet evening. Music blasts though speakers as the community dances together, synchronized not just physically but in heart as well. As the energy eventually winds down, spirits remain high, everyone seated in a circle together for one last song session. This is one of the only times at camp when every single person is in one place together, and the presence of everyone is felt in the words and sounds of the music.

The last song we sing is Ose Shalom, a prayer for peace. Though we may pray for peace in the world and in our lives, the peace felt at camp was already present that night. This peace, fostered by the services, the community, the wonder of the natural world, would carry the community forward to the next day. Through walk-in breakfast and services, shiur and free activities, dinner and Havdalah, the feeling of peace will always be present, making itself known through the interactions of each and every member of the community. This peace may be brought on by Shabbat, but it will stay in the mind of everyone as they wish each other shavua tov and prepare for the incredible week to come.