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Max Helfand

basic background:

Grew up in Los Angeles, went to Shalhevet high school

camp experience and leadership roles:

  • Counselor for 14 year olds
  • “Shliyach tzibor” (tefila coordinator) for my edah (organize and give divrei tefila and plan tefila programs to help the kids connect to davening on a more personal level)
  • I’ve led multiple Q&A’s and discussions where campers come and talk to me about their questions mostly about ideas in the Torah, mitzvot, and tefila.

what I find fulfilling about camp:

I love that right after my year at Orayta, where I left feeling invigorated with a new sense of purpose, I was given the perfect opportunity to share what I was given with kids who haven’t had those same positive religious experiences. Most of the kids at Ramah come from very different backgrounds than mine, and haven’t all been exposed to the same elements of our tradition and its depth that I began to find so meaningful this year. So going to camp, I have had the unique opportunity to share what I was given and open my chanichim up to the meaning in Jewish values and practice.

How orayta has influenced my work this summer and direction heading into college:
Well let’s see… Next to my bed in my tent I have three of my notebooks from Orayta, along with about five sefarim. Orayta has changed the way I think about so many things in my life, and has given me the tools to keep engaging my tradition and continuing along this path of personal growth. Going into camp I felt a strong desire to share everything I could and help my chanichim really connect to the Jewish practices we do at camp, and show them the beauty that I found this year in Jewish thought. On a more personal level, after learning at Orayta I feel a profound desire to make a difference and to continue growing in my learning. I see Torah not as a historic remnant of our tradition but as a vehicle for my own personal growth and as a guideline for values today. Orayta showed me what living a value-centered life, what a Torah life could be, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I had the opportunity to spend the year there. I definitely plan on staying connected to Orayta, which I hope to do through being an ambassador at my college campus this year and coming back to the yeshiva for the alumni shabbaton.
me to want to make more of an impact when I get to college, and do whatever I can to help make the Jewish community of where I am more inclusive and appealing to my peers.


Other “points of light on the way”

After first session ended, the director of camp forwarded me an email that my chanich’s parent sent:

“[Our son] is telling me about his experiences, about his counselors, and how he wants to continue his Judaism at a more intense level at home. I am so very grateful to the camp and please know that your hard work, dedication, and love shine through in at least one boy who is returning home stronger and richer in spirit because of Ramah Ojai”

The other day when I visited this same kid, he told me that the day after camp ended he was eating at a non-kosher restaurant and suddenly felt extremely guilty so he threw away his burger.

The thing about being a counselor is you rarely see the effect you have on your kids – it comes out more in small traces after camp. When he told me that, it was so powerful for me because I got to see a little bit of inspiration come out in him because of the connection we made this summer.

On the last day of camp I gave a former camper one of my pairs of tzitzit. Two years ago when he was in my bunk I did the same, but by now those tzitzit are pretty worn out, so I thought he would like to have another pair. He told me that he still has the one from two years ago and that he’d always hold on 

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