Serious Reflections at...

…the happiest place on Earth.

I just spent my first two hours in Disneyland reading my friend Torran Anderson’s book Piñata Moon about a high school kid hanging out with his two friends searching for unreachable meaning one night in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona a week after his dear friend whom he loved killed herself.

The unique style of writing heightens the dialogical reading experience. It alternates between poems, text messages sent by the moon, and an ongoing list of reasons to live.

Throughout the book, he contrasts the empty strip-mall-like experience of high school party-seeking with the tribal rituals boys go through to become men — both drawing upon the particular imagery of desert life in Tucson. 

My reading of the book in a single sitting at Disneyland provided me with existential companionship to counter the artificial fantasy world that is commercially produced and frenetically pursued.

Reading a book by a friend who describes a common physical and emotional landscape of our youth is gripping. At the same time, the universal nature of grief, loss, and painful seeking resonates with a different time, person, and place found in Catcher in the Rye.

I would like to share this book with the teens I work with, but the raw and real nature of the experience and topic would require parental permission — all the more reason why it should be shared with teens.

To read more about the book to a write-up about it that came out today by clicking here.

-Rabbi Barkan

Camp Ramah: The Happiest Place On Earth

My family calls Camp Ramah the happiest place on earth. It is amazing how Ramah creates an intentional Jewish community that supports each child to thrive. This is an enormous responsibility that is planned thoroughly and professionally. The leadership demonstrated at all levels of Ramah is impressive and consistent.


Most of the youth from our congregation featured in this picture are in the older groups. Two of them are counselors. Yet there are two others here who are in the youngest group signaling that a new generation of Ramahniks is rising in Tucson. It is a joy to support this generational transition in our community. 

I grew up as a camper at Ramah and I returned as a counselor and teacher for five years. The greatest joy of my experience this week was witnessing how my two-year-old daughter thrived in this kibbutz-like context. When she would wake up she would be excited to see “the people.” She loved how each day we ate meals prayed and played together. It was extra special that two of my cousins from Las Vegas also came to camp. Another generation of Ramahniks is rising up in my own family. 


I had the privilege to teach groups of all ages and sizes throughout my week there as the visiting rabbi. I explored ancient texts with teens going into 10th Grade about strategies for Jewish engagement from which we gleaned insights about how we can use Social Media as a tool to engage Jewish youth today. I told stories to kids going into 5th and 6th Grades about how I started to keep Shabbat. My favorites class was with teens going into 8th Grade. We addressed in a direct way the fundamental question of why be Jewish. They shared openly about their different expressions of, and challenges with, Judaism. Through the process of affirming where each one was at in his or her development, I was able to share how Judaism provided me the framework and guidance to find my place and purpose in the world. 


My wife who also grew up at Ramah and served on staff, volunteered, as she does each time we are there, with campers who have different abilities. There are children of all ages who form a supportive group that accommodates their various abilities while being an integral part of the camp. This includes a group of young adults who are empowered to work in different roles around Camp.  This is another shining example of how the camp empowers everyone to thrive in his or her way.  The Jewish values deeply embedded in the structure of the community and daily life of Camp combined with a vibrant and supportive communal context within which kids (and adults) can be themselves truly makes Camp Ramah the happiest place on earth. 

Thank you Camp Ramah for a wonderful week and a lifetime of amazing memories.