“Wheel! Of! Torah!” That’s what campers were shouting at Camp Ramah in Northern California, their eyes fixed on the one lucky kid who got to spin the brightly colored rainbow wheel in front of the crowd.
Well, it was actually “Galgal! Shel! Torah!” but the energy was the same, as kids last summer got ready for a camp activity that turns analyzing Torah portions into something very much like a game show.
“This is 100 percent shtick, I acknowledge that,” camp director Rabbi Sarah Shulman laughed.
Getting children as excited about Torah as they would be about a fun game is exactly what Shulman was going for when she invented the learning tool. Over the past two years it’s become a treasured part of the camp experience, but its success has surprised even her.
“I’ve literally never seen kids so engaged in reading the Torah,” she said.
On the surface, it’s simple. The “Galgal Shel Torah” is a wheel marked in sections. A lucky camper is picked to spin. The wheel will stop on one of six concepts, like “question,” “connection” or “value.” Then the kids have to figure out how that relates to the week’s Torah portion. It could be about how sacrifices worked, or a way the story of a holiday is connected to their own experiences.
“You really need to think creatively,” Shulman said.
The exercise is intended to give the campers a way to think about Torah — a direction for their thoughts — but also something to say if they get picked. And everyone wants to get picked.
“Every hand shoots up,” she said.
That’s because Shulman isn’t leaving it to chance. With a sensible practicality, she distributes candy or camp hats or sweatshirts to children who get up and, say, perform a monologue in the voice of a sheep (that would be for the category of “voice in Ramah”).
Shulman’s enthusiasm for “Galgal Shel Torah” is contagious. A former middle-school teacher, she’s alive to the need to keep kids from boredom. And she said the wheel has been so good at getting the children to open their minds to the meanings of Torah that Shulman has bigger plans. She wants to get a larger wheel built of wood, with swappable categories to keep kids interested.
But so far that hasn’t been a problem. After two years of “Wheel! Of! Torah!” campers are still more than happy to play along.
“It seem so simple but it really is quite profound,” she said.