Late-night giggles in a bunk bed, lazy afternoons in a cool pool, sweet summer Shabbats with friends that will last a lifetime -- to Rabbi Daniel Greyber, the new executive director of Camp Ramah in California, the Jewish camp experience is a delicate balance of athletic, social and artistic adventures, all peppered with soulful Jewish traditions.
"There's a Jewish way to play basketball, to paint, to write, to do everything in life. And camp is the perfect place to learn that Judaism can enrich everything you do," said Greyber, a 2002 graduate of the University of Judaism's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. "Ramah is a place for campers to discover what Judaism means to them in their own everyday life."
With this philosophy in tow, Greyber prepares to head up his first summer at the Conservative camp in the Ojai Valley. "At Ramah, our staff doesn't supplant a fixed form of Judaism on the campers. Instead, they help each camper uncover their own personal Jewish vision," said Greyber, who lives in West Los Angeles with his wife, Jennifer, and their two young sons, Alon and Benjamin.
Greyber first embraced his own Jewish vision while competing at the 1993 World Maccabiah Games. Ranked 33rd in the world in the 100-meter backstroke, he gold medalled in the event at the international Jewish competition. "Being in Israel, winning the gold while surrounded by so many other amazing Jewish athletes -- at that moment, I felt for the first time how important my Judaism was to me," said Greyber, who captained the Northwestern University swim team while earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in communications.
The University of Judaism (UJ), which owns Camp Ramah in California, is thrilled to welcome Greyber into his new career. "The board is delighted with the selection and unanimous in their approval" UJ President Dr. Robert Wexler said. "In Rabbi Greyber, the board found someone who could serve as a role model for both campers and staff, a deeply spiritual individual and the type of person who can connect with young people."
Greyber envisions Ramah as a place for adults as well as youths, a place for campers of all ages to explore their own spirituality. "I see Ramah and its programs as an invaluable resource for the entire Los Angeles Conservative Jewish community," Greyber said. "It's an incredible summer camp, but it's also a place for family education, for adult retreats and young adult experiences," said Greyber, who will continue Ramah's tradition of family camps, Israeli dance weekends and winter week. Greyber also hopes to expand the yearlong programming to include para-rabbinic training.
Greyber contributed to Camp Ramah's expansion long before he accepted the executive director position. Inspired by his own experience at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Greyber proposed that Ramah establish a similar study environment in Southern California.
A former media buyer and planner with The Leo Burnet Agency, Greyber gathered grant money, recruited faculty and spearheaded fund development. While still a rabbinic student, Greyber watched his vision become a reality. Lishma (from the phrase "Torah studied for its own sake"), Ramah's egalitarian yeshiva study summer program for young adults ages 18-25, opened in 1998. Greyber spent his past two summers at Ramah, overseeing the newly created program. For his work with Lishma, Greyber was selected as a Joshua Venture Fellow.
Greyber not only brings his rabbinic knowledge, Lishma experience and athletic prowess to Ramah, but a true, deep-rooted belief in the camping experience itself. "If Shabbat is a respite from the chaos of the week, then Camp Ramah is a respite from the craziness of life. Both provide time to spend with family and friends, to study Torah, to celebrate soulful Judaism and to do this all in an environment that promotes peace and contentment," Greyber said.
For more information on Camp Ramah in California, call (310) 476-8571 or visit www.ramah.org .