A Space of One's Own
Sep 11th 2015

Since the beginning of my tenure at Beth Tzedec in 2009, without fail, I have visited Camp Ramah in Canada every summer and the approximately 60 campers and staff for whom Beth Tzedec is their shul. Beth Tzedec is one of the camp’s founding synagogues and we maintain a very strong relationship with the camp to this day. I must admit, though, that I make the four and half hour roundtrip drive not only to further the connection between shul and camp but also between myself and the Ramahniks. I head up to Utterson, Ontario because I myself was a Ramahnik. I travel to Camp Ramah because there is something special about that place—a place that for me was a second home for countless special summers. 

When there, I always take stock of the many physical changes since my first summer in 1986, always aware of the tremendous efforts supported by the Jewish community to continuously upgrade the facility. I also smile at the signs and other permanent markers created by my friends and campers that have stood the test of time—artwork done in collaboration with David Moss, Yom Sport (Colour War) plaques affixed inside the Hadar Okhel, or hastily created cabin plaques complete with inside jokes whose origins no one can now recall (not to mention the illicit writing of one’s name on the cabin wall beside one’s bed). 

Recently, I was thrilled to read that the Camp Ramah brand is once again expanding its reach, this time to Northern California. Sitting on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, Ramah NorCal will be situated on the campus of the Monterey Bay Academy, a Seventh Day Adventist boarding school. While I have no doubt that in considering their options, the leadership of Ramah NorCal went with the best choice, I wonder what is lost in not having a space that they can truly call their own? I wonder how a camp changes when campers (presumably) are limited in what marks they can leave for their future selves (if not, at least in theory, their children and grandchildren)? How much of camp (if not life itself) is about the permanence and proprietorship of the place itself? 

As I ask these questions, I think also about our space at Beth Tzedec. It is a building, a sacred space, to which we are intimately connected. When we sit in the pews, many of us remember sitting with relatives and friends now gone. We recall the B’nei Mitzvah and the weddings. We reflect on the funerals. It is a space, seemingly unalterable, that at seminal moments punctuates our lives. Though it has an air of timelessness, like all spaces, it has been continuously updated—a new gym one year, a renovated Lower Hall the next. 

As we continue to re-envision our synagogue, we re-imagine our sacred space. Though Jewish worship can take place almost anywhere, we know that a well designed sanctuary fosters a deeper connection with the Divine. We are required to ask: How can we best honour the past 60 years, while creating the right space for the next 60? I don’t have an answer, but I look forward to the conversation.