Jun 13, 2019

Posted by: Emily Reilly

Welcome Home

Session 1, Day 3
June 13th, 2019

As the sun rose over the 400 beautiful acres of JCC Ranch Camp, the community that had just gathered the day before slowly began to wake. Birds chirped and rays of sunshine floated through the windows as each cabin emerged from slumber, refreshed and ready for the full day ahead. The cool air of the night quickly dissipated as the excited voices of campers drifted across from North and South Village. Though most weekdays at camp follow the same schedule, every activity is unique, so the campers were both ready to settle in to the schedule and excited for the new experiences each day has to offer.

The morning always begins with the whole camp together at Degel, a Hebrew word meaning “flag.” Every voice at camp rises together in song, first to sing Modeh Ani to welcome our souls back into our bodies, then for the American and Israeli national anthems as the flags are raised, and finally for a song called Shigaon, or “crazy.” Each morning the song gets a little bit longer as a new Hebrew word is added and translated, teaching campers and staff alike new words while warming up for the day. Now fully awake, the camp heads up into the dining hall, known as the Chad, for breakfast.

The morning is one of the most exciting times at camp for many. After a quick cabin cleanup, it’s time for activities, each group getting an opportunity to try everything that camp has to offer. While the youngest unit, Chalutzim, travels to activities in their cabins, the two older units, Metapsim and Toshavim, split up into activity groups for the morning. Still within their age groups, they get to mingle with campers from other cabins – since activity groups have been implemented, the camp community feels even more like a family, as campers make bonds with their peers not just in the cabin, but with those from all different parts of camp. Once in their groups, they split from the commons to their morning activities. Some trek down to archery to practice their skills and cheer on their teammates, others make their way to the art room for some traditional camp crafts, and still others find their way to the ropes course for some adventure-filled group bonding. Then there’s mountain biking, Teva (or “nature”), Israeli dance, and more, enough activities to make every new day an adventure.

The morning activities ensure that everyone has an appetite for lunch, after which is Menucha, another Hebrew word meaning “rest.” After the energy-filled morning, the break time is much appreciated, and campers have a chance to write letters, read books, work on friendship bracelets, or nap, engaging in activities that are relaxing to them. Though the camp may seem quiet in times like these, the strong sense of community is still felt, a silent but noticeable energy in the air, a fullness indicating the presence of camaraderie.

Once Menucha has finished, the cabins are nearly bursting with excitement for the second set of activities of the day: Chuggim, or free activities. Like the activity groups, these Chuggim give campers an opportunity to interact and spend time with peers of all genders and age groups, and since they are free to choose any Chug they wish, they often end up with like-minded people and spend the hour developing new friendships. The options for Chuggim usually change every day. This specific set included soccer playing, lanyard making, hiking, and yoga, to name a few. The campers choose two Chuggim, with a snack in the middle, and before they know it, it’s dinner time.

Dinner, like lunch, is a lively affair, the Chad ringing with the music of children’s voices, songs and chants displaying camp and cabin pride underlining the animated conversations between friends old and new. The rising energy is ultimately funneled into the evening program, for many campers the most anticipated event of the day. Though cabins and activity groups may have the chance to go to an activity more than once, every evening program is unique, a different surprise every night. Some are active, some are creative, all are inclusive to every ability level. Tonight’s evening program was campfire, a camp tradition as well as a camp favorite, often the image imagined by those pining for camp on the off season or those excitedly anticipating it for the first time. After running back to cabins to change into warmer clothes, everyone gathered in South Village to walk down to the campfire together. Though the sky was slowly darkening, the community stayed warm with the singing of songs and telling of stories.

Halfway through, the campfire continued in a different way, as the Chalutzim, Metapsim, and Toshavim units moved to different campfires throughout the camp for unit initiations. While spending time in these smaller groups, each and every camper felt the ever-present sense of community even more strongly. The scent of kosher marshmallows roasting mingling with the burning wood, the soft sounds of nature and drifting voices of the other groups, the shining of the stars in the newly darkened sky, all came together to send one message: welcome home.