Jun 23, 2019

Posted by: Emily Reilly

The Songs of Ranch Camp

Saturdays, like Fridays, are different from every other day at camp. The continuation of Shabbat celebrations from the previous night transforms the day into a space separate from the rest of the week, a time in which campers are able to reflect on the achievements and successes of the previous few days while spending quality time with friends and newfound family. This Saturday, however, was especially different; it was not only Shabbat, but the last full day of Session One.

The day broke on a community filled with a quiet but tangible energy, the excitement of going home mixing with a reluctance to leave camp to create that bittersweet feeling many experience during the last few days of the session. A traditional walk-in breakfast of bagels and lox preceded the gathering of the entire camp in North Village, where voices one again rose in song together before everyone took the journey to Eddie’s Corner. Saturday services, like those held on Friday nights, take place outside. Eddie’s Corner is an alcove of trees and flowers, cool morning air warming off the wooden benches with bright rays of sunlight streaming through the branches above. The morning started out a bit cold and gray, but the music of prayer that joined everyone together seemed to draw the blue sky out from behind the clouds. The sun itself broke through and shone down with a sudden beauty just as the Torah was taken out of its ark.

Just like last week’s Shabbat, campers and staff alike felt the sense of community even more strongly after services ended, but the ties that connected the community were even stronger this week. As everyone reentered the main campgrounds and split off into their cabins to begin packing, shouts of joy and laughter echoed from one building to the next. Though the day was dedicated to packing, time was easily found for one last game of gaga or trip to the art room. Campers packed with determination, already looking forward to the afternoon and the promise of chocolate canteen and free activities. Though clothing and bedding had been already packed up, enthusiasm and excitement had not, and campers jumped at the chance to participate in their favorite activities once more.

The afternoon, already going by too quickly, soon became evening. Coming straight from their activities, campers reunited with their cabin mates outside of the Chad as everyone gathered for dinner. The last dinner of the session would be one to remember – as the doors of the dining hall opened up, a transformed room was revealed. Glittery banners adorned the walls, stars hung from the ceiling, and glow sticks decorated the tables. It was Hard Rock! Named after the well-known café, this program is a staple on the last day of camp, a themed dinner to end the session with a bang. The theme of this particular Hard Rock was “Galaxy,” and campers enjoyed a meal of baked ziti and garlic bread while watching their counselors, dressed as aliens, act out the story of the Ranch Camp planet.

The meal eventually came to a close, but the camp did not yet split back up into their cabins. Instead, everyone gathered in the Mo once more for the last program of them all: campfire. The only evening activity held twice a session, campfire is an integral part of camp. With one at the beginning of the summer and the other at the end, it brings closure to the summer, the completion of a circular journey. Campfire began with Havdalah and then moved seamlessly into the many songs that have made their place as tradition at Ranch Camp: Mountain Dew, Lean on Me, Riptide, and The Circle Game, to name a few. In the Mo, a building already rich with history, the many voices of the Ranch Camp community echoed off the walls instead of dissipating into the evening. Though it was cold outside, everyone was warmed by the sound of the community together for the last time, a sound rich with memory and meaning.

It seems, sometimes, like the singing at camp never stops. We sing the welcome song when campers first arrive, we sing while we pray before and after meals, we sing when someone says the word “announcement” in the Chad. We sing to celebrate birthdays and lost teeth. Services on Shabbat are full of song, as are the Havdalah ceremonies and song circles on Friday evenings. We sing at Degel before breakfast and again before bed. Programs like Maccabiah and capture the flag are marked by songs of ruach (or spirit) and camaraderie. We sing at campfire at the start of the session, and we sing at campfire at the end of the session.

Though the campers may pack their bags and leave the camp property, the tune of these songs will stay with them. When they eat their next meal or lose their next tooth, the songs they learned at camp will remind them of these experiences here. Next Friday, the camp Shabbat services will rise up in their minds. These songs are so much more than just words and tunes. They hold memories in their lyrics, purpose in their melodies. They cannot be held in hands or packed away, but kept in spirit, something that brings comfort when next summer feels too far away. On Sunday morning, as the last goodbyes are said and the front gate swings shut, the words that we have sung here together will hold ties strong as everyone goes their separate ways, hearts full with the songs of Ranch Camp.