I just got home from spending a month at Camp Ramah in California, a Jewish sleep away camp.
This camp has a special place in my heart; my late father was the director there for over a decade.
Every summer I have the great fortune to be an artist-in-residence there and my three children are campers.
It is a magical, extraordinary place that I could write 100 blogs about.
I got home a few days ago, and today as I drive back from a placement home for kids who have aged out of foster care, I am deep in thought about the core values of Camp Ramah, and the tremendous amount of attention and care that is put into each and every camper.
This is a Jewish sleep away camp, so, of course, there is great investment in teaching Jewish values and prayer.
But, what I experienced these past four weeks that was amazing, was that with every step I took, in every person I spoke to there was a deep concern, a deep sense of purpose and profound caring for the well being of our campers.
From what they eat, to what bunk they are in, who they are friends with, and who their counselor are—all are issues that the staff focuses on.
My cynical Israeli soul might laugh a little and think really??? This is way too much pampering and attention for every little drama that comes up, but then I think what an insane, beautiful, amazing privilege it is to be wrapped with so much love and so much care.
The placement home I visited is nice, better than the street that is for sure.
But all I can think about as I drive away is that no one, absolutely no one, ever cared for these kids—ever! And if they did, it can't even come close to what I just experienced at camp.
When I was working in the incarceration facilities, I was told again and again how the job of probation is to protect the kids.
Well, protecting and caring are two very different things. Both are equally important.
When you're protected, you're safe. When you're taken care of, you thrive.
There is something incredibly subdued, a deep sadness in the girls I meet in this placement home. They are distant and do not believe that I will come through with any type of program, let alone a theater program.
I can see they don’t think I will ever be back.
Wherever I go in camp, I am always asked, “Nomi, are you coming to us now?” Not only are they sure I am coming, they want it right now. I love it!
The door to my room is always open at camp. The staff members, who could easily be my children, come in and have long, existential conversations about religion, education, and Israel. I feed them snacks. I am there for them. This is what we do at camp. We listen, we guide, and we give a place to grow.
On every Saturday at camp 10 high school kids from the oldest division cram into my room and get dressed up as clowns to perform for the special needs group. As chaotic as it gets in my small room, I love this moment every weekend more than the one before.
My young clowns are nervous and giddy, and so happy to do something for the special needs track. Let me tell you something, I am not sure who gets more out of it, the ones that the clowns are performing for or the clowns themselves.
My camp is inclusive, and the special needs campers and staff are as typical to us as the air we breathe.
Magic, that is what happens at camp.
“What interests you?” I ask at the placement home.
“I want to learn how to play the ukulele,” one says.
This is the second time I have been asked this in these facilities.
“We can arrange that,” I say.
“I have a sweet man who said he would pay for the ukuleles.”
She rolls her eyes.
“I can’t teach you how to play, ‘cause I don’t know how, BUT,” I say, “I can get you one.”
“You do that, Ms., and I sure as fuck will teach myself.”
She says and then adds, “Why would you get me one?”
“Because I care,” I say.
“And I have people who care.”
I tell her about the man who offered to buy the other ukulele, my sweet beloved colleague who doesn’t even know yet that he is buying two.
“Why the hell would you care about me?
You don’t even know me!”
“That is true,” I say.
I think about the director of camper care at camp. She is in charge of caring for over 500 kids and staff.
She has a huge responsibility and yet is the kindest, softest, sweetest, gentlest human being you will ever meet.
Although this is her job, and she has a Ph.D. in psychology, she goes beyond the call of duty with such an abundance of love and CARE. I want to be taken care of by her too.
Ironically, her father worked with my father at this very camp.
“No, I don’t know you,” I say.
“I don’t need to know you to care,” I say.
“And my friend,” I add…
“The ukulele man?” she asks.
“Yes. He doesn’t even need to meet you to care.”
“Well, that’s messed up,” she says.
“My own mama doesn’t even know where I am, she definitely knows me and doesn’t give a fuck!”
I look at this young woman who is now 18. I am sure she has been in more foster care homes than I want to know, some of which might not have cared about her at all.
I answer, “It really isn’t messed up at all.”
I look at her.
“It is the way it should be.”
I am sitting at the light waiting to turn left, and I think about the dozens of phone calls camp gets from worried parents.
If they only knew how insanely cared for their kids are, they would be a little embarrassed.
We need to care more.
Not just for our own, but for the other.
We need to care, even if it isn’t convenient or if it doesn’t make sense.
We need to buy a ukulele now and then for someone we don’t know because that, well, that is how the world will become a better place.
Please Save-the-Date: Saturday, October 7th for an Evening Garden Party celebrating The Advot Project and the participants of our programs!
The Advot Project will be in India from July 29th to August 9th, so stay tuned for photos and blogs from the East!
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