I have recently returned from my 35th summer at Camp Ramah in Canada. Summer camp is a wonderful place where many of us go to get away from the demands of the world around us — a respite, although brief, that helps us to refresh our souls and renew our sense of purpose.
How exhilarating it is to be part of a community made up of so many young and energetic people. At Ramah, it is a Jewish community where we become immersed in our Judaism through prayer, study and practice.
We live in a violent and unpredictable world. Our kids live surrounded by images of violence, many of them can not get into their schools without passing through metal detectors. Drugs and alcohol surround our children in our schools, on the street corners and in our homes. Peer pressure is intense and challenges even the strongest of our children.
Summer camp is an escape for so many. Why do so many kids count the days until the summer begins? Camp provides a sanctuary — a temporary escape from the pressures of their lives. Kids are able to be kids; they are able to grow and mature in a safe environment surrounded by the beauties of nature and with the support of their friends and counselors.
The recent tragic accident that took the life of Leah Blum from our midst begs the searching for answers where there are none. It touches our community in a very sharp and painful manner. We feel lost, we feel powerless, we turn to God and ask why. We are deafened by God’s silence.
Our sanctuary has been desecrated. Our comfort and security replaced by feelings of despair and hopelessness. Yet one who has experienced the summer communities created at places like Ramah and EKC can’t help but be encouraged. We are encouraged by the young people who approach their lives with such a sense of vibrancy — the future leaders of our communities who give us such a great hope for building a better tomorrow.
There are many things that happen that cannot be explained. Leah was a warm and loving individual who had a deep impact on those around her. She will be missed. Her memory will be preserved at EKC so that future generations may learn about the fragility of life and appreciate that which they have.
Summer camps like EKC have an exemplary record of caring and providing for our kids. Their handling of this tragedy has been exemplary and they should never have to handle such an occurrence again — ever.
We must continue our support for summer camps and other worthwhile summer experiences for our kids. We must continue to insure that every child in our community has the opportunity to participate.
We will remember Leah and pray that her memories will be for a blessing. We pray for the safe return of all of our children from their summer camps or trips from around the world. We pray for a better tomorrow.
(Rabbi Chuck Diamond is the spiritual leader of Or L’Simcha and a counselor at Camp Ramah.)