Jul 31, 2018

Posted by: Emily Reilly

Olam Chesed

Session 3, Day 18

Ranch Camp is a place rich with tradition, many of which are songs that are sung on all different occasions. One of the most treasured songs is Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game,” the melody and dance immediately familiar to anyone who has spent a session here. This song, usually present at every closing campfire, was especially meaningful to the community today. As the song tells the story of a young boy moving through the circles of his life, another circle of Ranch Camp has come to a close.

It’s been nearly two months since the front gate first swung open to accept the first session of campers for the summer. These months have been full of perfect moments, each day a living entity in the minds of those who experienced them, each hour full of meaning, each minute another opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.

Now, the last session of campers is getting ready to leave, and not long after them, the staff will as well. Soon, the camp will be empty, and though other groups will be able to take advantage of the beautiful property throughout the year, an essential element of camp will be missing.

But this is not yet the case. The community awoke this morning with excitement and energy to begin the day, the last full day of camp. After the customary walk-in breakfast of Shabbat, the camp gathered in the North Village commons to begin Saturday services. The weather was warm and sunny, a welcome respite from the recent storms, and spirits were high as everyone filed down the stone-lined pathway to Eddie’s corner. The services were some of the most energetic we’ve had yet, spirituality nearly tangible in the air as the entire camp’s voice rose in prayer together for the last time.

It is another Ranch Camp tradition to call up certain groups of people to read the blessing over the Torah during that part of the service. The last reading today was an especially important reading, as it contained the Sh’ma and the V’ahavta. The entire camp stood to read the blessing together, arms around each other and twined around the benches so that everyone was connected. It was another perfect moment, everyone held together physically and spiritually, the knowledge that we stand not just as a community, but as a family, at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

The majority of the day was dedicated to packing, each cabin working together to help out friends and clean the bunks for the next group that will come through the property. As night began to fall, everyone joined once more together by the campfire. The setting sun left the air feeling cold, but hearts were warm as the camp cozied around the fire, snuggled in sleeping bags and blankets. The heat of the fire pushed the chill from everyone’s minds as songs were sung, stories told, and slideshows watched. The open sky faded to black as the community reminisced about the weeks past and the family that was built around the experiences. Everyone, from the newest campers to the longest-standing staff members, has grown in ways that they never thought possible, their responsibility to their community at the forefront of their minds, the hope that they can change the world for the better budding in their hearts.

It won’t be long until morning, when the campers will gather the last of their belongings, and the camp will gather in the commons to say goodbye, together as a group one last time. Everyone will board the buses, and return to their lives outside of camp. But gathered around the campfire, that time seemed so far away. Arms around each other, circled tightly around the fire, the words “Olam Chesed” drifted up from everyone’s lips. At that moment, that song was not just a song, but a promise. It was a promise to their friends and their family, to their community, to Ranch Camp, and themselves. A promise to take what was learned at Ranch Camp and teach it to the rest of the world, to apply it to the rest of their lives, and to exist as their best selves no matter where they go.

Even the most fortunate only get to spend a few weeks at Ranch Camp, a few weeks to have those life-changing experiences. But if everyone takes what they do here and bring it with them when they leave, the Ranch Camp spirit will live on even when camp is not in session, and this indescribable community will encompass its members all over the world – and that is the most any of us could hope for.