Experiencing Israel at Camp Ramah

Cheesecake Slims Down
May 28, 2014
The Gift of Eating
September 8, 2014

It is not an easy time to be Jewish. Israel has been fighting in Gaza to protect its citizens from daily rocket attacks. Media coverage is completely unbalanced and anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head worldwide. At the same time, here at Camp Ramah in New England, Judaism and Zionism are thriving.

Someone once joked that Ramah is like Israel without Palestinians, a place where you can fully celebrate Israel without constant reminders that your neighbors plot your destruction. I was supposed to be in Israel for two weeks this August and cancelled my trip because my father has been in the hospital. Clearly it is not an ideal time to be there and I am profoundly sad that I had to postpone.

This is the view from the back of the guest house

My annual week of teaching cooking and baking to campers at Camp Ramah New England is one of my summer highlights. My husband, daughter and I arrived just in time for Kabbalat Shabbat services outside in the grove. As I hugged my sons and greeted their friends, life started to slow down, as over 600 people sang the songs of generations in the middle of the woods.

Shabbat at Ramah is the way Shabbat should be – no agenda other than food, prayer, walks, rest and time with friends. I hosted my twins’ friends and staff members on the back porch of the guest house and had brought up challah, babka, cherries and avocados to nosh on.

The other highlight of Shabbat is that after dinner Saturday evening the older campers take out the Camp Ramah songbook and sing for about 40 minutes. They either have their arms around each other or are banging on the tables and sing Hebrew songs at the top of their lungs.

Shabbat ended with an all camp Havdalah back in the grove. Each edah (age group) forms its own circle and has a lit braided candle. Once again the campers have their arms around each other, someone plays guitar as they sway and sing the prayers. I stood up on a tree stump to have a view of the entire camp. The joyous sight of 600 smiling faces brought tears to my eyes.

For 8 years I have come here as part of an artists-in-residence week at camp where specialists in tennis, ultimate, jewelry making, mural painting and cooking provide high school age campers with intensive sessions. I teach an introduction to Jewish and American baking and cooking and the campers leave with a cookbook of recipes they can bring home and use to cook for their families.  We bake favorites such as cupcakes, babka, challah and even French profiteroles. We made two soups a kale and mango salad, tabboule, several main courses, and had a pizza making competition. Add re recipes

My four children have all grown up spending their summers at Ramah. This year only two are here, but I love being at camp so I can meet their friends and see them in their happiest place. I

made pancakes and pain au chocolate for my 14-yearl old twins’ bunk one morning.Thursday night their edah had a bonfire and my boys brought their instruments and played.

One evening, I baked raspberry and apricot bars with the Vocational Educational program of Tikvah where special needs young men and women are trained for jobs in camp and beyond. This summer they started their own bakery and are taking orders. Together we baked the bars to add another dessert to their menu. The idea was to do stripes of two colors of jam but ended up with more of a swirl of the jams, which still tasted great.

sweet pizza made during pizza wars

My last day here is Friday morning and on the way to the dining hall for breakfast, all the younger campers walk though wooden gates painted to look like Jerusalem as one of the edahs greets them with plastic flowers. Hebrew music blasts from a boom box and the campers start getting into the spirit of Shabbat. And the cycle starts again. I’ll be back in the real world for my next Shabbat, but will carry the spirit of camp with me. As I listen to the news from Israel on the way home, I’ll remember what the Israelis are fighting for. I may not be in Israel, but Ramah gave me a taste of it for a week.

Jam Bars – makes 35 square bars

You can also make these easier using just one color jam, but the multiple flavor ones are even better.

Crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) parve margarine, frozen for 15 minutes, or butter, plus extra for greasing pan and parchment
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk

Filling

  • ¾ cup seedless red raspberry jam
  • ¾ cup apricot preserves

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with some margarine. Place a piece of parchment in the pan that is large enough to go up the sides and hang over a few inches. Grease the top and sides of the parchment.

To make the crust: Place the flour and sugar into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and mix for 10 seconds. Cut the margarine or butter into pieces and add to the bowl. (You can also make the crust by hand by cutting the margarine into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two knives.) Process or hand mix with a wooden spoon for another 10 seconds. Add the vanilla, egg yolk and water and then process or mix until the dough comes together. Divide the dough in half, making one piece a little bigger. Wrap both pieces in plastic; flatten and place the smaller one in the freezer. Take the larger piece and break it into pieces and scatter over the parchment. Press the pieces into the pan as evenly as you can. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Use a silicone spatula to spread either 2-inch stripes of each jam, alternating the colors, or just drop dollops of the jams all over the crust in the pan. Remove the other dough piece from the freezer and, using the large holes of a box grater, grate the remaining dough over the filling. Use your hands to spread the grated dough all over to cover the filling.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top starts to brown. Let cool. Trim off about ¼ inch of the sides and then cut into squares or long bars.