An Hour of Power to Recapture That Camp Feeling

Why can’t Shabbat services be more like the experience I remember from camp? They can, at least for one special hour.

L’cha Do-oh-di-i Likrat Kalah, Likrat Kalah P’nei Shabbat N’kablah, N’kablah. Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat Shalom. Shabbat Shalom U’me’vorach….

Words on a page, but beautiful words that usher in Shabbat. For me, though, it is a tune that has gone through my head since the age of almost 12.

Campers welcoming Shabbat at Ramah in the Berkshires.
Campers welcoming Shabbat at Ramah in the Berkshires.

For nearly 35 years, I can hear myself singing these words out loud to the sweet melody I learned in Bet Am Aleph at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. The Bet Am was not much to look at: a multipurpose wooden building where we played gaga, watched movies on rainy days, and where all of A-side, the pre-B’nei Mitzvah kids, came for special programs. But come Friday night, that unremarkable white building became a holy place. Because it was in Bet Am Aleph (the older kids would come together in Bet Am Bet) that we would assemble, 300 strong, to sing together at Kabbalat Shabbat.

I’ve written before about how camp impacted me. I would not be sitting here today at CBJ were it not for the connection to Judaism that I made at Ramah. And the soundtrack to that connection was our singing: Kabbalat Shabbat, Birkat Hamazon (the blessing after the meal), Shabbat Zemirot (songs), all sung in full voice by young people like myself.

I remember vividly returning from camp to my synagogue in West Orange and feeling so let down. I went to the Rabbi, and asked plaintively, “Why can’t services be more like camp?” We never did come up with an answer together. The camp service wasn’t a song festival; it was prayer. And it felt good.

For many years, I have wanted to recapture the feeling I had at Camp Ramah, and finally I may have found it: The Power Hour!

Every Shabbat, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., we gather in the Beit T’fillah and pray and learn together with wonderfully talented song leaders, who inject feeling and innovation into our prayers. Rabbi and I teach Torah and prayer during the service, and at the end of an hour, we all feel uplifted. Then we get to join with everyone who attends the traditional service to have Kiddush lunch together.

Yih’yu l’Ratzon Im-rei Fi, Im-rei Fi, v’hegyon Libi l’fane-eh-cha. Adonai Tzuri, Adonai Tzuri, Adonai Tzuri V’go’ali.

Words on a page, but beautiful words with a beautiful melody. I hope it’s a melody that you will experience and that will run through your heads for the next thirty-five years.