Jun 20, 2019

Posted by: Emily Reilly

Yom Yisrael

JCC Ranch Camp is located on 380 acres of land in the Black Forest of Colorado. With the exception of the trips programs, most members of the camp community spend the entire two weeks of the session on this beautiful property, surrounded by nature, tucked away from the worries of the outside world.

This may make Ranch Camp feel secluded, but in truth, the campers who come here often get the opportunity to learn even more about the world around them than they might in other places. This education comes largely in part from our diverse group of international staff. From England and Ireland to Uganda and, most notably, Israel, campers are able to interact with these staff members in a day-to-day way that helps them put faces and personalities to the nameless nationalities they learn about in school. Spending time with so many people of different backgrounds (including other campers) fosters acceptance and the idea of normality in diversity in a way that is effortless and natural.

The Israeli delegation, known throughout camp as the Mishlachat, add another layer of Jewish experience to camp. From the Shigaon song to the Israeli culture activities, the Israeli staff add their own special touch to Ranch Camp. Of all of these contributions, one is perhaps most notable: Israel Day, or Yom Yisrael. This Thursday marked the first Israel Day of the summer, a day dedicated to learning about the faraway country through up-close activities.

The campers woke with no inclination that today would be any different from the others. Degel, the morning circle, began as usual at 7:45, and the community moved through the songs we sing together, voices rising in unison, the perfect way to start the day. As soon as everyone entered the Chad, excitement began to rise in the air, the white and blue decorations and delicious smell of a traditional Israeli breakfast hinting at something special. Though the announcement soon came, many placed their guesses correctly, returners especially enthusiastic to take part once again in this classic camp holiday. Breakfast was shakshuka, eggs cooked in a sauce of chopped tomatoes and spices, paired with pita and potatoes. Campers dived in with adventurous tongues, finishing fueled and excited for the rest of the day.

The morning activities continued on as planned, campers engaging in friendly competition on the sports field, getting colorful at tie-dye, or taking a dip in the pool. After a filling lunch and relaxing Menucha, the Israel Day activities started for real. Instead of the usual chugs, or free choice activities, campers had an opportunity to participate in each of the four activity blocks offered. They learned some traditional Israeli dancing, made their own traditional pita bread, competed in a trivia challenge, and participated in some more active games to express their enthusiasm.

Dinner came all too soon, but the adventures of Israel Day were far from over. All of the knowledge and eagerness gained by the campers in the afternoon tied in perfectly to the evening program, the Shuk. As the previous meal was cleared away, campers left to their own cabins to prepare, and arrived back into the Chad to find the dining hall transformed into a traditional Israeli marketplace. Every cabin set out their own handmade goods to sell to their friends, ranging from pocket Hebrew-English dictionaries and friendship bracelets to face painting and snacks. Campers spent faux shekels at the stations that called to them, rotating with their cabin-mates to “sell” their own products as well. The night ended with a feeling of satisfaction, everyone heading to bed with the contentedness that comes with the knowledge of a day well spent.

The opportunity to learn about the world in an environment free of judgement or expectations is something that is rare to come across in most people’s daily lives. That’s not true here at Ranch Camp. Days like these make sure that campers have those safe places, that they know they are welcome and encouraged to ask questions and make observations that will be accepted and validated. Israel Day highlights this aspect of our community, but this acceptance doesn’t disappear on regular days. Learning happens every day at camp, and it’s only natural for that knowledge to come with questions and concerns that are different for every person. Each one of those people knows that here, their questions will be answered, their backgrounds respected, their opinions accepted. Here, they know that they are safe to be themselves.