VOICES OF THE RAMAH C AMPS & ISRAEL PROGRAMS
INSIDE National Ramah Commission winter programs “Ramah World Outreach” Solidarity with Israel Special needs programs Nyack hanichim prepare for the climbing wall.
Tzeirim sailors learn boating skills on Skeleton Lake in Canada.
Ramah Israel programs Programming innovations Impact on mishlachat Camp anniversaries and reunions Camper reflections Outdoor adventure
First-time California campers already feel the ruach.
All gather on the kikar for Kabbalat Shabbat at Wisconsin.
Hebrew and tefillah initiatives Yom Sport highlights Performing arts
Poconos campers and staff enjoy water aerobics.
Israel Seminar bikers prepare for a Negev desert adventure.
Campers share friendship and smiles at Ramah Darom.
The rainbow waterslide provides hours of fun for Berkshires campers.
National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027
N O N P RO F I T U . S . P O S TA G E
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New England’s rosh agam instructs a young camper.
KO L O T R A M A H From Rabbi Mitchell Cohen National Ramah Commission Director
his has been a wonderful year of celebration for Ramah camps. California’s 50th, Wisconsin’s 60th, and Darom’s 10th anniversaries are all being celebrated this year, and our other camps have much to celebrate as well. More children than ever attended a Ramah program last summer, as over 8,500 campers and staff benefited from the 2006 Ramah experience. And we are growing! Ramah in the Rockies, merely a dream for many years, is closer than ever to reality, as 360 gorgeous acres have been purchased near Denver, and we are now working closely with Jewish community partners to build support for this venture and to hopefully open our eighth Ramah overnight camp in 2010. As I speak about this new Ramah camp with our Conservative Movement families and rabbis in Texas, Colorado and other parts of the mid-continent/southwest regions of the United States, as well as Mexico and the Rocky mountain section of Canada, it becomes clearer to me that Ramah camping can have such a positive impact not only on the individuals attending, but on the synagogues, youth groups, day schools, and other Jewish institutions in each community. What started in Conover, Wisconsin in 1947 with 90 campers has had such an incredible impact on world Jewry! We will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Ramah camping movement with a major conference and celebration at JTS on October 14, 2007. For a new publication on Ramah camping, we have been analyzing the impact of Ramah on our alumni in general, and on specific segments of our community. We find, over and over, that Ramah camping leads to
greater positive Jewish identity, increased levels of religious observance and better educated Jews. We also know, among other findings, that (1) so many families of our special needs campers have drawn closer to Jewish life; (2) hundreds if not thousands of couples fell in love and married someone they met at Ramah; (3) funders have become inspired because of the impact they see from their generous donations to Ramah camps; (4) Zionism at Ramah has created deeper and longer-lasting connections with Israel, and (5) so many former Ramah shlichim lead more religious lives in Israel due to their Ramah experiences! As we begin the next 60 years of Ramah camping, we must not pat ourselves on the back, but we must face today’s challenges with strength and ingenuity. We must continue to build excellence into every aspect of our camps’ educational and recreational programming, we must rebuild and renovate more of our facilities, we must train our staffs to be even more skilled in dealing with the wide range of issues our campers present, and we must sharpen our message to the Jewish community that Ramah camping is the absolute best option for more and more Jewish families. The Torah describes in Exodus 14:8 that the Children of Israel left Egyptian bondage b’yad Ramah - with their heads held high, proud to identify as a free nation. Thousands of years later, Ramah still signifies pride. We are proud to continue pursuing our vision of a passionate yet open-minded commitment to religious observance, and we are especially proud of our unique brand of creating intensely Jewish camp communities.
Ramah Celebrates 60 Years of Camping Sunday, October 14, 2007 The National Ramah Commission is hosting a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Ramah Camping Movement on Sunday, October 14, 2007 at The Jewish Theological Seminary.
Onward from 60
vtkvu vba ohaa
Visit www.campramah.org for more information and to register.
From Dr. Arnold Eisen Chancellor-elect of The Jewish Theological Seminary
s I prepare to assume the leadership of The Jewish Theological Seminary, I am excited about working with all the Ramah camps, which have contributed so significantly to the leadership of our movement. Our Ramah camps are shining examples of inspiring Conservative Jewish communities which continue to motivate thousands of young people each summer. Camp Ramah is among the best experiences available to our young people. Ramah is one of the great achievements of JTS, and I look forward to helping our camping system grow and thrive in the coming decades.
From Morton M. Steinberg National Ramah Commission President
y term as president of the National Ramah Commission will conclude in the beginning of October, just as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Ramah. Serving as president over the past four years has been a true privilege. Ramah has been a major influence throughout my life. It is good to be able to give back to an institution from which so much was received. The NRC has made great strides over the past four years. Here are a few highlights: • Ramah in the Rockies, with great commitment from its leadership in Denver, is well on the road to becoming our eighth overnight camp; • the Israel Seminar, and indeed all of the Ramah Programs in Israel, are stronger than ever with full enrollments; • the Ramah Day Camp in Nyack is at capacity and major capital improvements are being made annually, all under the guidance of its dynamic director, Amy Skopp Cooper, who also serves as the National Assistant Director; • our new international programming has been exceptionally well received, with counselor/staff trips to Germany and Argentina and plans for further expansion; • NRC is now a member of the Leadership Council for Conservative Judaism, giving Ramah greater exposure to the senior leadership of our movement; • our warm relationship with The Jewish Theological Seminary, and in particular the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, has been enhanced and has matured professionally; and • we are developing programs in cooperation with all of the Ramah camps to focus on national fund raising opportunities, marketing and recruitment. Our camps are healthy; the outlook is very good. Ramah will continue to provide inspiration and, in the words of Himnon Ramah, a pathway through life for our campers and staff. The credit for these accomplishments must be shared with the officers and directors of the NRC, all of whom are devoted to the success of Ramah. And none of this would have been possible without the inspiring leadership, tact, diplomacy and vision of our National Director, Rabbi Mitch Cohen, and his professional staff, with whom, without exception, it has been a pleasure to work. May they continue to go from strength to strength in the years ahead.
Editorial Staff Nancy B. Scheff, Editor Aleeza Paul, Assistant Editor Sarah Chabon, Graphic Designer National Ramah Commission Morton M. Steinberg, President Dr. Charles T. Mann, Senior Vice President Rabbi Mitchell H. Cohen, National Director Amy Skopp Cooper, National Assistant Director Jeffrey M. Goodman, National Business Manager
Kolot Ramah is published by the National Ramah Commission, Inc. 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027 (212) 678-8881, fax (212) 749-8251 www.campramah.org
Spring 2007 2
Ramah Wisconsin celebrated its 60th anniversary with an alumni Shabbaton and a festive community-wide Saturday night event on March 10, 2007. Standing beneath the banner in the photo below are (l-r) Rabbi Burton Cohen, Wisconsin Director 1960-74 and National Ramah Director 1974-89; Rabbi Hillel Silverman, Wisconsin Director 1949-50; Rabbi David Soloff, Wisconsin Director 1975 - present; and Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director 2003 - present.
Directors from 50 years of camping at Ramah California were the honored guests at a gala celebration in Ojai on December 3, 2006.
KO L O T R A M A H Ramah leaders travel to Buenos Aires
R A M A H YA C H A D UKRAINE
A M Y S KO P P C O O P E R
s part of the “Ramah World Outreach,” a new venture of the National Ramah Commission, I accompanied a group of ten senior Ramah counselors to Buenos Aires this past December. The purposes of the trip were to work in Argentinean Masorti summer camps, create social connections among young adults, and encourage meaningful dialogue between two vibrant Diaspora communities. The trip was an unbelievable success. The Ramah staff quickly integrated into Argentinean camp culture, led activities, taught songs and dance, and served as phenomenal Jewish role models. There are new friendships, promises to meet up in Jerusalem, and hopes of reuniting at Ramah camps this July and then again in Buenos Aires next DecemThere are new friendships, ber. As one Argentinean promises to meet up in rabbi said, “We are thirty Jerusalem and hopes of years late starting this rereuniting at Camp Ramah lationship but start it we must.” this July and then We cannot underestiagain in Buenos Aires mate the power and impact that a Ramah experience next December. will have on our future
idreshet Yerushalayim at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies sponsors Jewish education in the Ukraine, in Hungary, and in Israel for the large Jewish populations who were deprived of any connection to Jewish heritage under Communist regimes. Camp Ramah Yachad, located near Kiev, has since 1993 become the pivotal Jewish “life-changing” experience for thousands of children living in the Ukraine. Each summer 200 Jewish children, most of them pupils in Midreshet Yerushalayim schools, share a joyous Jewish experience that stays with them all their lives. Camp Ramah Yachad has earned a reputation for providing the highest level of Jewish experiential learning guided by a philosophy of religious pluralism and strong Zionist values in a warm, nurturing environment.
leaders both here and in Argentina. During my time in Argentina, I saw young people begin to connect, observed collaborative work, participated in engaging dialogue and shared an inspirational Shabbat. And, imagine the scene two years from now, at emotional Ramah/Masorti reunions in Buenos Aires, Wingdale, Conover, and Nyack. Amy Skopp Cooper is the assistant director of the National Ramah Commission and the director of Camp Ramah in Nyack.
Counselors attend NRC’s Weinstein Institute in Ojai
ounselors from all the Ramah overnight camps and Ramah Nyack attended the National Ramah Commission’s 2007 Bert B. Weinstein Institute for Staff Training, which took place January 1 through January 4 at Camp Ramah in California. These 46 counselors, representing some of the best young leaders in the Ramah movement, were treated to a trip to sunny Ojai for four intensive days of learning, training, and program sharing. Their itinerary included a visit to the campus of the University of Judaism. They all went home with greater Jewish inspiration and an eagerness to get back to camp. Some of the Ramah directors and assistant directors also attended the Institute, both as instructors as well as to work closely with their own madrichim.
Camp Ramah-NOAM in Israel
he Masorti youth movement in Israel, NOAM, runs youth programming throughout the year, as well as a three-week Ramah summer camp in the Galil. Pictured below are enthusiastic participants in the Summer 2006 camp program. Unfortunately, the entire camp had to be evacuated last summer when Hezbollah missiles fell on the nearby town of Hadera. All campers and staff returned home safely and look forward to a peaceful and joyful Summer 2007 experience. NOAM director, Ze’ev Kainan, former Ramah and USY shaliach, came to the Ramah Shabbaton in Israel this past January and spoke to Ramah shlichim about the ongoing partnership between Conservative youth programming in Israel and North America.
NAT IONA L R A M A H COMMISSION HOLDS W I N T E R SH A BBATON IN ISRAEL
North American staff in Germany
amah directors came together at Neve Ilan near Jerusalem for a Shabbat in February, where they were joined by 65 North American Ramahniks studying in Israel for the year, 85 Israeli shlichim who worked at Ramah in 2006, and Ramah Israel staff members. Spirited singing, davening, and discussions on the impact of shlichim on Ramah took place during these 25 hours of reconnecting with old friends and making new friends, all dedicated to the mission of Ramah. Overall, 185 people experienced this Ramah movement-wide Shabbat.
F Romance at Ramah: We Want Your Story! Since 1947, thousands at Ramah have fallen in love and married someone they first met at a Ramah camp or Israel program. If you’re one of these lucky people, please register at www.ramahmarriages.org and tell us your story.
Guess who’s coming to dinner? Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, pose with Ramah Nyack staff members, who were gathered for a reunion in Jerusalem.
or 10 days in May 2006, senior summer leaders (mostly rashei edot) from all the Ramah camps explored Berlin, Germany in a program sponsored by Bridge of Understanding, a German organization dedicated to bringing North American Jews to Germany for educational seminars and touring. The program culminated with a Shabbaton, organized by Ramah in conjunction with Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, Masorti rabbi in Berlin. She invited youth leaders and members of Berlin’s newly-forming Masorti community to join the Shabbaton for meals, services, singing and extensive discussions on a wide range of subjects. Participants grappled with the many difficult issues presented by this trip and were inspired by the growing Masorti community. All of the participants returned home re-dedicated to Ramah camping and eager to share their experiences with campers and staff. Spring 2007 3
KO L O T R A M A H Tribute to a fallen hero Ramah Poconos honors the memory of Michael Levin
ichael Levin z”l, a very special member of the Ramah Poconos family, lost his life in combat in Lebanon last summer. Michael spent many years as a Ramah Poconos camper and staff member. On August 2, 2006, Ramah Poconos director, Rabbi Todd Zeff, sent the following letter to the Ramah Poconos community: With great sadness we write to tell you that Michael Levin, a long-time member of the Ramah Poconos community, who went on aliyah and was serving in the army, was killed on August 1 in Lebanon. Michael had joined an elite combat unit of paratroopers who fought a fierce battle with Hezbollah terrorists in the southern Lebanese village of Ayta-al-Shaab. Michael was killed in battle, together with two other Israeli soldiers. Michael was deeply connected to Camp Ramah, having attended as a camper for many years, and having worked here until his aliyah after camp in “Mike was such a good 2002. Mike also worked friend. His community was at the Ramah Day Camp in Philadelphia. Ramah, made up of friends from Ramah and USY. ... I can’t and Conservative Judaism, were central aspects of his believe that he’s gone.” life, and the basis of so many of his friendships. Michael came to visit Ramah Poconos on Visiting Day. His friends took such pride in his decision to live in Israel and fight to defend Israel from its enemies. He was a driven, wonderful young man who pursued
his Zionist dreams. He had a wonderful, warm heart and an infectious smile. The impact of his life, and death, is reverberating throughout our camp and the wider Ramah community. He will be greatly missed. Michael is survived by his parents, Mark and Harriet Levin, and by his two sisters, Dara and Elisa. Dara, his twin sister, has been working this summer at the Ramah Day Camp. According to Michael’s long-time close friend from Ramah, Lital Rashi, “Mike was such a good friend. His community was made up of friends from Ramah and USY, as well as the new friends he made in Israel. Mike believed in the Jewish community, and our need to dedicate ourselves to our future. I can’t believe that he’s gone.” Kevin Waloff, another close friend, said, “Mike did what he believed in. We should all be so fortunate to follow our dreams and pursue our Judaism passionately.” In Michael’s Nativ yearbook, he is pictured with an Israeli flag, with the quote, “You can’t fulfill your dream unless you dare to risk it all.” As the campers at the Ramah Day Camp and Camp Ramah in the Poconos continue to laugh and sing and enjoy everything about Camp Ramah as Michael once did, many in these communities will recall, with great sadness, the ultimate sacrifice made by a close friend.
The entire camp gathered together on the migrash to say “L’hitraot” to the dozens of hanichim and tzevet from Ramah Nyack who were traveling to Israel after camp ended.
Campers and staff have never been happier to be blue at Ramah Darom. During Yom Sport, participants make the letter f (kaf ) with their hands to symbolize the word kujf (kachol - blue).
T H E I M PA C T O F R A M A H ON SHL ICHI M A Darom mishlachat member expresses her feelings
sther Brownstein was a second-year shlicha at Ramah Darom last summer. Her parents are olim from Britain. Esther worked with Gesher, the oldest edah, last summer because she wanted to encourage them to spend time in Israel. She wrote this letter to Rabbi Loren Sykes, director of Ramah Darom, at the end of last summer. Rabbi Sykes, Shalom! Well, now that I am back in Israel I have had a few days to think about this summer. People keep asking me—“How was it?” “Was it worth it—going just for camp?” And I have one clear answer to everyone. “Yes.” And I want to thank you. To thank you for giving me the opportunity to return to the place I forgot I loved so much. A place that lets me discover the real Jew within me. A place that lets me express my thoughts and feelings and share them in a learning experience. A place that makes me confident I have made the choice in studying—among other things—Jewish education. (Even if this does mean the chances of my coming back next summer are even smaller.) Thank you for letting me experience all that once again this summer. Looking forward to seeing you in Israel soon!!
Funding new staff initiatives Wisconsin’s Kikar Society adds innovation to programming
he Kikar Society, established in 2003 and funded by contributions from many families, has become a major programming resource for Ramah Wisconsin. In Summer 2006, fourteen projects proposed by staff members were prepared and implemented, greatly enriching the camp experience. The Kikar Society is the ultimate win-win situation: 1) Staff members propose programs that they would like to develop in the off-season and implement the following summer; 2) Programs that are selected
Ramah Wisconsin’s kikar is one of the most well-used and well-loved locations in camp. Spring 2007 4
receive funding from the Kikar Society; 3) The staff members return the following summer to implement the program; and 4) Campers and staff benefit from an enriched Ramah experience thanks to innovative programming! One 2006 Kikar Society project was a new course in “Exploring Israeli Culture Through Its Popular Music.” Senior counselors Mathew Rotenberg and Avi Herring spent the 2005-2006 year in Israel on the USY Nativ program. They developed a course on Israeli popular music which they taught to Machon campers during Summer 2006. Matt and Avi systematically gathered lyrics from popular singing groups in Israel, attended their concerts and discussed the music with groups of students and other attendees at the concerts. Their course analyzed the lyrics and helped campers understand the context of the songs. They analyzed the audience for each song, and the singer’s background, as well as the cultural, political, and spiritual values embedded in the lyrics and music. Campers studied the songs in the original Hebrew and learned many of the nuances of the spoken language. The course helped campers understand and explore many of the challenges facing modern Israelis.
Immediately visible to all who enter through the gates of Ramah California is a 30-kilowatt solar panel installation on the roof of the Gindi Dining Hall. The system, donated by Ramah alum and parent, Dr. David Braun, is the first of a three-stage effort to bring solar power to Ramah. The solar panel system will save Ramah California more than $30,000 in annual energy costs, will prevent thousands of pounds of harmful gases from entering the environment and will be a teaching tool for educating Ramah campers about the Jewish imperative to take care of God’s world.
KO L O T R A M A H What I learned as rosh drama Lessons from my first summer at Ramah Berkshires SHIR A FREIDLIN
his entire summer was an eight-week learning experience for me. I came in with very little idea of what to expect, especially when it came to the drama department. What would it mean for me to teach drama at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires? What is Jewish about drama? I learned I can make things happen and that people really do come together to see things through. I learned that children have natural reserves and will work hard if they feel that the outcome is worthwhile. The confidence I gained this summer is due to the confidence that the camp leadership had in me to make my programs run effectively. I worked with some really great kids this sum-
mer. I was impressed by their Hebrew and their I learned that children have natural reserves and understanding of Jewish tradition. They worked on will work hard if they their own, choreographing feel that the outcome is musical numbers, memorizing lines, and trying to worthwhile. fit bulky Hebrew translation into songs written for English syllabification. I discovered, not to my surprise, that Ramah camps are important. They create a Conservative Jewish cocoon that engenders Jewish feeling and practice in campers and staff alike. It sparks and kindles interest in Jewish subjects of all kinds. I overheard conversations about Judaism that I doubt I would hear at a secular summer camp or a public school: Three staff members, lounging in a hammock by the agam, read books from three different periods in Jewish history; a boy practices his Torah portion on the bleachers during a baseball game; a conversation initiated by a camper leads to a discussion of the lack of Jewish values displayed in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. I like Camp Ramah. I fit in. Issues that concern me and a way of life The outdoor amphitheater at Ramah Berkshires sets the stage for Tzeirim’s production of that I find meaningful are Machazemer, the Hebrew-language version of High School Musical.
A special reunion
Ramah Wisconsin’s basketball program received a great boost when Ramah Wisconsin Committee member David Sherman arranged a visit to camp by NBA player Mark Madsen of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Mark shared with staff his experiences in the NBA as a devout Mormon and led a fantastic basketball clinic with campers.
practiced here. At Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, on Visitor’s Day, when the first-month campers were going home, I realized that I wanted to buy a camp sweatshirt. I realized I am invested. I’m proud to be part of the Camp Ramah in the Berkshires community, to be invested in improving the experience for campers and staff for years to come. Shira Freidlin was a Shapiro Fellow at Ramah Berkshires last summer. She is currently studying at The Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem and will begin studies at the University of Judaism’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles this fall.
on the shores of Skeleton Lake
Ramah Canada alumni reunite after 40 years Excerpted from articles by J A N E PA Z N I K- B O N DA R I N
n June 2006, an extraordinary reunion took place at Camp Ramah in Canada, as alumni from the 1960’s gathered at camp to reminisce and reflect…
About a year ago, a friendly but unknown voice on the telephone asked, “Is this Janie Paznik?” I laughed. It’s been a long time since anyone called me that, and even then, mostly at home. The voice belonged to Johnny, now Jonathan; actually Rabbi Jonathan Panitz, USN, Retired. We’d attended Camp Ramah in Canada together in 1960 and 1962, an experience I remember fondly if faintly. Ramah is an educational camp run under the auspices of The Jewish Theological Seminary, “the camping arm of Conservative Judaism.” You could learn to swim and to speak Hebrew at the same time. As I remember, one had to do the latter in order to do the former. The camp did a good job then, as I hope it still does, inculcating a pride in identity that shaped lives. We returned on a Sunday in June, trekked up the
Ramah Day Camp in Philadelphia’s three oldest edot experienced Pennsylvania’s natural surroundings while camping out in Hickory Run State Park in the Pocono Mountains. Campers, staff and mishlachat are pictured here in the park’s Boulder Field, taking a break from rock climbing and hiking within the 16 acres of boulders created by glacial remains in the area.
hill to the Machon bunks in a drizzle that became a rain, found the staircase that was only being built toward the end of our summer, and walked into our tzrifim (bunks). We came on a pilgrimage to find ourselves, and we did. We go all the way back, back to the first year of camp, 1960. Might as well be 1860, right? We know… it’s a long time ago. We were your age then, and now we have turned into your grandparents. Scary. And it happens so fast. Trust me on this one: You’ll look in the mirror one day, and the person staring back at you will be a lot older than the person looking out. We were between fourteen and sixteen years old, students at public schools and yeshivas (they were not called “day schools” yet). Americans who’d attended Camp Ramah in the Poconos, we knew the “ropes,” so the camp director, Levi Soshuk, and the educational director, Aryeh Rohn, asked us to join with the new Canadian campers to start this new place. For most of us, it was the longest trip we’d yet taken, and to the most beautiful place we’d ever seen. That place—the campsite and the lake—has stayed in our hearts for nearly half a century. We wondered if they would look as big and beautiful as they had when we were young. They did. We have traveled to many places, exotic places, but this place is still one of the places of our hearts. Our voices from 1960 join yours in 2006.
At Ramah New England, camper Daniel Spektor relaxes in Kfar Nivonim, playing the guitar.
Spring 2007 5
KO L O T R A M A H
Rebuilding in New Orleans Poconos Gesher campers journey to perform mitzvot
he Gesher edah (entering 11th grade) from Camp Ramah in the Poconos spent nine days this past summer traveling from the Poconos through the southern United States and back again. After a stop in Whitwell, TN to visit the Children’s Holocaust Memorial & Paper Clip Project, Adat Ha’Gesher continued to the deep south. The journey culminated in a three-day volun-
Our trip began with a drive to Columbus, Ohio, where we stayed overnight. Along the way we stopped in Louisville, Kentucky and toured the Louisville Slugger Museum. We drove for a few more hours until we reached a small, hospitable synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we were served a wonderful BBQ dinner. The next morning we woke up early to deliver numerous books to a synagogue attempting to rebuild its lost library. We also had the opportunity to meet with a representative from the local JCC and hear about the Jewish community in New Orleans. Although we have spent a great deal of time aboard the bus, it has proven to be fantastic bonding time and each of our stops have provided memories which add to our Gesher experience. —Sam Balakirsky
One of the highlights of Ramah Day Camp in Chicago’s 2006 summer season was the debut of brand new sports courts. Adjacent to the already existing sports fields, the courts were constantly in use and allowed for concurrent games of basketball and tennis. Campers also enjoyed playing hockey on the courts. The overall sports program, which includes baseball, football, kickball, newcomb, and a myriad of other sports and games, was greatly enhanced by the addition of the new courts.
teer project with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, where campers learned how to clear some of the damage from Hurricane Katrina and assisted in rebuilding homes. On the way back to Poconos, the Gesher edah experienced the warm hospitality of Ramah Darom for a relaxing Shabbat. Two Gesher campers write about their journey: Today was a very busy and rewarding day down in New Orleans. We began our day at the crack of dawn and quickly left our hotel to begin our first day working with Habitat for Humanity. As soon as we got to the site, we all knew that we were in for a day of hard, yet rewarding work. At the site, we split up into two groups: One group organized the warehouse, and one group painted bunk beds for future volunteers to use for later projects. Although we were hard at work for most of the day, we still found time to make our own fun with our Ramah ruach at hand. —Brandon DeShields
Kol Ramah, the cutting edge media outlet for camper and staff creativity at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, broadcasts throughout each program day, filling the camp airways with fascinating interviews, modern and traditional Hebrew music, and important public announcements. Shown here are campers broadcasting from the radio station studio of Kol Ramah.
Tisha B’Av: An opportunity for Programming at Ramah Palmer creates a powerful learning experience BEN HERMAN
uring my first summer at Camp Ramah in New England, I gained great insight into the Ramah educational approach, particularly on Tisha B’Av. In previous years, the only way I had observed Tisha B’Av was reading Eicha in synagogue. At Ramah, however, we had a very powerful day of programming that greatly moved me and which I will remember for years to come. We began with the Ma’ariv service and Eicha reading. Each edah was given candles and when it was time to read Eicha, the lights were turned off and the candles were lit. I generally do not cry, but I did after this Eicha reading because it enabled me to empathize with the history of my people and the communal mourning. The following morning, the hinuch (teaching) staff
Campers celebrated Ramah Wisconsin’s 60th season with t-shirts proclaiming “60 in ’06.”
Spring 2007 6
did a simulation of the 1492 expulsion from Spain. We divided the staff into three types of individuals: cardinals, to speak for conversion; Jewish rebels, to speak for going into exile; and crypto-Jews, to speak for becoming Marranos. Each tzrif heard presentations by the cardinal, rebel and crypto-Jew and decided at the end which to join. They then received a fate card describing their group’s fate. In the afternoon, we showed the film Remember the Titans to the older hanichim. We saw the sinat hinam (baseless hatred) depicted among the African-American and Caucasian members of the football team in the movie, Campers pray in the grove at Ramah Palmer. and how individual players really had to struggle to come together to make a successful team. attended the learning sessions that were held during We had breakout discussions where we talked about breakfast and lunch. There were so many hanichim at hatred we have faced in our hometowns and if we have the lunch session that Rabbi Josh Kulp had to make tried to combat that hatred. extra copies of his materials! Perhaps the most moving program of all on Tisha These programs enabled me to experience TiB’Av was a ceremony that took place at sundown. We sha B’Av at Ramah in a fuller way than ever before. I sat on the beach and listened to several Israeli shlichim learned that at Camp Ramah, Tisha B’Av is not only a discuss the ongoing war with Lebanon. Then we saw day of mourning but also one of reflecting on how to a video of Jewish musicians singing Hazak, Hazak, a move ourselves from despair into hope, from sorrow song about being strong in times of conflict. Finally, into joy. I feel privileged to have been able to take a we saw boatloads of people on the far side of the agam role in raising the awareness of these hanichim and in create fire over the water. It was an extremely powerful working with a dedicated staff. effect. The ceremony only lasted twenty minutes, yet it Ben Herman is a JTS Rabbinical School student and had a great impact. was a Shapiro Fellow at Camp Ramah in New England last One last aspect of Tisha B’Av at Ramah that summer. amazed me was seeing how many people fasted and
KO L O T R A M A H Tza’adah at last California Machon camper reflects on her final summer N ATA L I E K AT Z Excerpts reprinted with permission from the LA Jewish Journal
had been waiting seven years, and my Machon summer at Camp Ramah in California was finally here. It would be different from every other summer, because we would finally be the oldest group. I looked forward to making every moment of this incredible summer count. There is one program in particular that embodies all of the emotionalism and meaning of the Machon summer: Tza’adah. Tza’adah is a five-day, four-night overnight trip that takes campers far from the boundaries of camp and into the nature of Northern California, where we bond with friends while experiencing the outdoors. We drove for what felt like a lifetime to Big Sur in Northern California. The next morning, I set off with the rest of the adventurous campers on a hike. We trekked all the way up a beautiful cliff overlooking Even though I will never the ocean, singing songs to pass the time and admiring be a camper again, the the scenery. Later that memories I created this evening, after arriving at summer will last forever. Lake Casitas, our campsite for the next three nights, we sat around the bonfire and sang camp songs, aided by packets of the best songs hand-selected by our wonderful counselors. I will keep the songbook forever as a memento of this journey. The last day, we were given a choice between kayaking, rock-climbing and mountain-biking. I
could feel the adrenaline pulsing through my veins. The counselors yelled, “Charge!” and we sprinted for the doors. It was complete pandemonium inside. I ran around yelling, cheering and hugging all my friends, making sure to squeeze extra tight. Tza’adah defined my camp experience, and I know that even though I will never be a camper again, the memories I created this summer will last forever. Natalie Katz, a 10th grader from Manhattan Beach, CA, has attended Camp Ramah in Ojai for seven years.
chose kayaking. The group leader gave us the task of fitting as many people in one kayak as possible without it tipping over. This may not seem to be difficult, but it was unbelievably hilarious and so hard! On our last day, we hiked eight miles back to camp from Lake Casitas, singing, laughing and stopping for Powerade on the way, a necessity in the sweltering heat. Tza’adah had finally come to a close, but we were not going to finish without our last hurrah. As is tradition at Camp Ramah, the Machon campers run into the hadar ochel, the dining hall, at the end of lunch, giving hugs to friends and family. We formed platoons and began to march to the hadar. The platoons lined up at different entrances. I
Solelim campers (entering 8th grade) at Ramah Berkshires take a break from an exciting bicycle excursion in the lower Berkshire Mountains.
Seven summers of transformation A Ramah Darom camper speaks on her last Friday night at camp L AU RE N ME NDE L
grew up here. As far as I’m concerned, my childhood didn’t really start until my first summer at Ramah Darom. I was a very shy, very scared Sollelimer—the first Sollelim in camp. I could not yet embrace the family in all of the friends, counselors, and Rabbi; and I could not yet see the memories created at any given moment. But by Cochavim, I understood completely; my life timeline adjusted accordingly from B.C. (Before Camp) to A.C. (After Camp); and I had been changed because of it.
Ramah Darom Gesher campers enjoy each other’s company.
That summer in Cochavim was a complete turnaround for my camp experience. I don’t know what did it, but I returned to camp the next year with excitement and a love for camp that had not been there in previous summers. Camp had transformed from just something to do for the summer to a second home full of silliness, fun and best friends. I cannot pinpoint any moment as the most meaningful, as the instant that affected my life to the greatest degree. It is the culmination of all my summers here at Ramah—and the experiences which they brought me—that have made me who I am today. My friends from home think that practicing Judaism is a burden because of all the rules and regulations. Camp has instilled in me a love of Judaism that I could not have gotten anywhere else. It has taught me that there is more to being Jewish than halakhah. Judaism is fun, interesting and thought-provoking. After camp I bring home with me everything I’ve learned here and continue to observe kashrut, go to services and look for opportunities to learn more about Judaism. Camp is my getaway from the real world. Home is so fast paced and at camp we have the time to enjoy the little things that aren’t as important at home, or even possible sometimes. So, to the camp: Never take a moment for granted. Every moment you waste being mad at a friend, skipping programs or complaining will be moments of your summer that you can never get back. When you get to Gesher, and it’s your last days as a camper, you will look back and treasure every moment you spent here.
To the younger edot: Keep coming back to The culmination of all my camp, because every year summers here at Ramah it gets better and better. have made me who I The bonds you will make here are impossible to am today. make anywhere else. To all my tzevet: Our Gesher counselors have made so many sacrifices for us and worked so hard all summer. I want to let you guys know that your dedication, hard work, love and friendship has made a huge difference in all of our summers. I can’t wait to be back on tzevet so I can make an impact on campers’ summers like you all have done for me. In ten years, when we all look back on our Gesher experience, we might not remember specific peulot erev or y’mei meyuchad, but we will all remember how the summer made us feel. We’ll remember the excitement of the first day, the ruach we had on Friday nights. And we’ll all remember the sadness we’re feeling this Shabbat and the tears we will shed when we have to leave our home. We aren’t the first Gesher, and we won’t be the last. But we are Gesher ‘06 and we have a bond that no one can take from us, a bond we will never forget. Monday morning will be one of the hardest things I’ll ever go through. But as much as it hurts, I know that this is our
time to close one door at Ramah Darom while we wait for another door to open. We’ll be back in two years as the best tzevet ever. I started camp seven years ago knowing no one, and I’m leaving with the best group of friends I’ll ever have. Shabbat Shalom, Gesher 2006. Lauren Mendel was a Gesher camper (entering 11th grade) at Ramah Darom last summer.
Nevonim campers (entering 5th grade) at Ramah Nyack share the experience of reading Torah, many for the first time.
Campers enjoy tubing fun at Canada Ramah.
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KO L O T R A M A H
Ramah camps show
solidarity with Israel
Ramah Darom’s Gesher edah attends D.C. rally R AFI LEHMANN
he temperature was a sweltering ninety-seven degrees and the entire edah was feeling very sweaty. We embarked upon a relatively short fifteen-minute journey on foot from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to Freedom Plaza where Ramah Darom’s Gesher edah (entering 11th grade) would take part in a Washington D.C. citywide pro-Israel rally. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington planned the rally in under thirty-six hours and we were not exactly sure what to expect. As the group approached the plaza, we started hearing shouting and cheering accompanied by
the waving of myriad Israeli flags. Gesher, the oldest campers at Ramah Darom, had the opportunity to hear impassioned speeches from leaders representing all major world religions along with legislators on their lunch break. The edah waved signs and banners showing its support for Israel in this difficult time and made its presence at the rally very palpable. As the rally was winding down, Adat Ha’Gesher came together arm-in-arm and began to sing and cheer with incredible passion. We began by singing Od Yavoh. As the singing
increased in volume and excitement, a crowd be- For Gesher, the words gan to form around us. “Next year in The group was comprised of journalists, other Israel Jerusalem…” are much activists, and a number more than a messianic of unassuming passers- hope. Next year, at this by. Many of them asked, “Who are these folks?!” very time, they will be We would answer their dancing in the streets of question very proudly, Jerusalem while on Ramah “We are Adat Ha’Gesher Israel Seminar. from Camp Ramah Darom!” Eventually, the singing would be accompanied by dancing. The song Am Yisrael Chai was not at all unfamiliar to me; however, this time, the words resonated in a way unlike any other. Fifty-eight 16-year-olds representing a wide array of communities in the South were singing very spiritedly. The last song that Gesher repeated over and over again was L’shanah ha’ba’ah b’Yerushalayim! — Next year in Jerusalem. This time, the context in which it was sung gave the words much more meaning than usual. For Gesher, the words “Next year in Jerusalem…” are much more than a messianic hope. Next year, at this very time, they will be dancing in the streets of Jerusalem while on Ramah Israel Seminar. As the edah stood in the plaza after the rally and davened Minhah, Gesher knew that what we experienced would stay with us for a lifetime. Rafi Lehmann, a JTS Rabbinical School student, was a Shapiro Fellow at Ramah Darom last summer.
Canada’s Alonim volunteer at Toronto rally CHANIE ANTFLECK
n Wednesday, July 26, 2006, Ramah Canada’s Alonim edah (entering 11th grade) was privileged to participate in an amazing, spirit-lifting and thoughtprovoking event. They were accompanied by mishlachat, who added some “authentic Israel” to an Israel rally organized by members of Canada’s Jewish community. A rally under the slogan “Stand with Israel” was held at the Toronto Centre for the Arts that night. In front of 3,000 people in the main hall, 1,800 in another auditorium, and over 5,000 at Mel Lastman Square, speakers from many organizations spoke about what needed to be done concerning the war raging between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The main focus of the rally was to unify in support of Israel, particularly in the face of harsh international criticism. The Ramah Alonim volunteers assisted with ushering and staffing the rally, handing out Israeli and Canadian flags, which were waved throughout the night.
One of the special moments during the rally was a live broadcast from Israel, including a successful two-way conversation between Israeli soldiers and the people attending the event. In one instance, two brothers spoke — one at the rally and the other in Israel! Certainly, that was the emotional highlight of the rally. The rally stressed the importance of supporting Israel in her time of need and really proved how help from afar can boost morale in Israel. There was also considerable press coverage at the Centre for the Arts. Ramah really left its mark on the National Post, as our camp was commended for having 50 volunteers at the event and Alonim camper Ethan Eisen was quoted. A little further down the page, mishlachat members Yehudit, Alex and Noa were featured in a large photo, wearing giant Israeli flags as capes. All in all, cheering, singing and applause filled the air, showing spirit, Canadian pride and solidarity with
California Machon campers show support at Los Angeles rally SETH GOLDMAN
his past summer, Israel faced a deadly crisis with Hezbollah terrorists. More than ever, the Jewish homeland was in need of support from Jews around the world. On July 23, 2006, Camp Ramah in California sent about 40 campers to participate in a pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles. The rally, which included speeches by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and prominent religious leaders, attracted 10,000 Israel supporters. Each speaker was greeted with thunderous applause, and after each speech the crowd proudly waved Israeli and American flags. Being part of such an important event was a highlight of the summer for many of the campers. Much of the world is against Israel, and she needs all the support she can get. Most importantly, Israel should be a huge part of any Jew’s identity. Jewish people throughout southern California had a responsibility to be at the demonstration, and we were proud to represent Camp Ramah at this important event. Seth Goldman was a Machon camper (entering 10th grade) at Ramah California last summer. Spring 2007 8
Israel. It was an incredible evening that Israel, Toronto and Adat Ha’Alonim 2006 will never forget. Am Yisrael Chai! Chanie Antfleck was an Alonim camper at Ramah Canada last summer.
KO L O T R A M A H Staying close during adversity Ramah Wisconsin connects with Israel
he effects of the war last summer were felt throughout Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. There were senior staff from Israel whose children were serving in the IDF, shlichim whose units were called up, and camp staff and campers with family and friends called up or living in the north of Israel. After July 12, Ramah Wisconsin invested a great deal of attention informing its camper and staff community about daily news events in Israel. The camp administration facilitated communication with home for 35 shlichim Ambassador Dennis Ross (right) with Ramah Wisconsin director Rabbi David Soloff. and 12 Israeli campers, and designed programs for each camper division about the impact of the events. For many, every day began with checking the internet. Special tefillot were added to the daily morning minyanim. A centralized information board located in the entrance to the Bet Am summarized daily news from Israel. Programming staff developed appropriate options for each age group. The camp established a phone link with the Ramah Israel Seminar group, enabling the Wisconsin Nivonim campers to ask their Seminar friends about their experiences. Dennis Ross, former U. S. Ambassador to the Middle East, spent a Shabbat at Ramah Wisconsin, sharing his experiences and insight into the situation unfolding in Lebanon and Israel. He met with the oldest campers and taught several sessions for American and Israeli staff. Most importantly, Ramah Wisconsin came together as a community to support its Israeli families.
hj ktrah og
Magshimim and Bogrim campers (entering 8th and 9th grades) at Ramah New England participated in a program entitled “So You Think You Can Israeli Dance?” Sub-groups of each edah choreographed Israeli dances with specific criteria. Each group performed its dance and each edah picked its own champion to perform at a Tzad Bet (B-side) performance. In addition to dancing, each edah made signs and decorations to support its winning team at the main event.
Ramah Nyack held an Israel solidarity gathering for campers and staff this past July. Children created posters to demonstrate their support of and love for Eretz Yisrael.
My friend from Nahariya A Ramah Berkshires camper learns important lessons when her bunkmate’s hometown is bombed S Y D N E Y A P P E L B A U M Excerpts reprinted with permission from the New York Jewish Week (www.thejewishweek.com)
hat was so indescribable about my summer was that on the bus to Camp Ramah in the Berkshires I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no clue that rockets would rain on my closest friend’s town and when she returned to Israel, she would have to live miles away from her home in the northern town of Nahariya. Ayala has been my best friend since we were 10 years old. I became friends with her because she slept on the top bunk as my bunkmate at Ramah Berkshires. We never felt a language barrier because even when she would speak in fast Hebrew, I seemed to understand her anyway. Ayala says that part of the reason her English is decent is because I helped her. I will never forget the day Ayala told us about the rockets fired by Hezbollah. My whole edah, all 38 of us and some counselors, was on a six-hour bus ride to Canada, our big trip. After hearing from a counselor that Hezbollah had fired rockets into Nahariya, Ayala rose from her seat and sat in the back of the bus where
Ramah instills Zionist feelings among campers and staff.
there were three empty seats. I heard muffled cries and some of my friends suggested that I go over there and talk to Ayala. I walked over expecting to talk about her boyfriend, who had broken up with her, so when she told me what happened, I was shocked. It proved hard to connect with our devastated best friend because we couldn’t experience anything close to what Ayala was going through. We tried our best though. We tried to reassure Ayala when she was This summer, I learned terrified of the thought that her brother and sister were Israel is my home too. fighting in the army and wondered if her home was still standing. It was such an awful thought to try and put myself in Ayala’s shoes. Ayala felt tragically helpless since she was safe in America. I then realized that from safety we could help Israel’s soldiers. I knew that I had an unopened bottle of soap and that my other best friend had two closed bottles of shampoo and conditioner so I could only imagine how much the rest of camp must have had. Ayala and I talked to our counselor and the director of camp about starting a supply drive for the Israel Defense Forces. It was very rewarding to be able to support the troops in Israel with our Venus razors, Burt Bees lip balm and Crest toothpaste. But it was even more rewarding to be a good friend to Ayala. When Ayala left camp a week early (she leaves early every year to return to Israel), I was so upset that I almost wanted to leave too. The Upper East Side of Manhattan is my home. This summer, I learned Israel is my home too. Ayala taught me that her brother is in the IDF not only fighting for Israel but for us, for me, as an American Jew. Watching my best friend go through something that most lucky people haven’t faced in their lifetime changed me. Not only did it make me feel
thankful for my home but it made me realize that the worst thing in life is to feel helpless and the most precious thing is to try and overcome that. Ayala returned home on August 15, days before the cease-fire. Her life is as normal as it can be for now. I learned many things from Ayala; I have her to thank for the Land of Israel. We are certainly dreamers; we dream our generation will be the first to live in Israel in peace. Sydney Appelbaum was a Machon (entering 10th grade) camper at Ramah Berkshires last summer.
Tamir Goodman, who plays professional basketball in Israel, spent three days at Camp Ramah in the Poconos last summer. Here he is teaching Notzetzim campers (entering 4th and 5th grade) basketball drills. Tamir also spent time talking with Poconos campers about how he juggles being religious and playing professional sports. In 2007, Tamir will help launch the new Ramah Basketball Academy at Ramah Poconos.
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SPECIAL NEEDS PROGRAMS A special arrival and first day in Jerusalem Ramah Wisconsin Tikvah grads travel to Israel R A B B I E LY S E W I N I C K
en of the 17 travelers on this year’s Taglit-birthright israel trip for young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome were graduates of the Ramah Wisconsin Tikvah Program. This trip was organized through the cooperative efforts of KOACH, Hillel, Taglit-birthright israel and Ramah Wisconsin. The following is excerpted from an email written by Rabbi Elyse Winick, associate director of KOACH, who accompanied the group and provided families and friends back home with daily updates about the group’s travels. We are finally here!! After multiple delays on “This was the best service the ground and even in I ever went to. No one the air, our group has arrived, safe, sound and made me feel stupid and I cheerful. They were real even got to put on tefillin troopers under circum- for the first time.” stances which would make a seasoned traveler chafe. Arriving late on Wednesday, we checked into the Shalom Hotel, our base for the next several nights, in time for dinner and well-earned rest. In addition to Rose Sharon, co-director of the Ramah Wisconsin Tikvah Program, who is overseeing the program, our group is staffed by Wisconsin Tikvah staff members Lior Baruch, Emilie Botbol, Ari Gleicher and Tal Michaelis. (Rabbi Jonathan Schnitzer made a surprise appearance to say hello, too.) D’ror Kidron of Israel is serving as their very gentle and able tour educator.
Bright and early they joined the other KOACH group for Shaharit at the Haas Promenade, overlooking Jerusalem. Marvelous and uplifting davening followed two parallel siddurim, Siddur Sim Shalom and the siddur of the Ramah Wisconsin Tikvah Program. The seamless calling of pages led to a truly inclusive davening. In the daily journal, one student wrote: “This was the best service I ever went to. No one made me feel stupid and I even got to put on tefillin for the first time.” For us on the staff, these are days of smiles and tears. Following Shaharit, the group descended the mountain to tour the Old City of Jerusalem, a breathtaking experience for everyone. They seem to know all the answers to the obscure historical trivia questions D’ror asks and they soak up new information with a beautiful thirst. Visiting the Kotel, two girls commented that as they touched the wall they felt a direct connection to the past. It was a full and exhilarating day. After dinner, those who liked were able to participate in a discussion with Dr. David Mendelsson of Hebrew University, learning about the current political situation. The rest made an early night of it, preparing for another day’s adventures tomorrow. It is glorious here in Jerusalem, even though the air is filled with winter’s chill. And we can think of nowhere better to be.
Twelve inspiring days New England Tikvah trip to Israel
dozen members of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England and their chaperones visited Israel from December 20, 2006 – January 3, 2007. Howard Blas, director of Ramah New England’s Tikvah Program, expressed his feelings about this special experience.
“The trip was a dream come true. This was my third Tikvah Ramah Israel trip, and the 10th trip to Israel in the history of our Tikvah Program. We enjoyed seeing places of historical significance, davening in so many different places—the Kotel, outside of our guest houses in the Negev and Galil, and at different synagogues, purchasing souvenirs for ourselves and friends, and supporting the Israeli economy. But, most of all, we enjoyed seeing our many Israeli friends. Our group was like a magnet, and the Israelis were like iron filings — drawn to us everywhere we went. I am pleased that our campers and program alumni (age range: 17-31) felt comfortable in Israel and will return to their homes, schools and communities as great shlichim and hasbara members for Israel.”
R A M A H BER KSHIR ES BR EIR A B’R A M A H P RO G R A M
An image from Camp Yofi Ramah Darom’s inspiring program serves families with children with autism R A B B I LO R E N S Y K E S
n Summer 2005, Ramah Darom established Camp Yofi, a five-day family camp for 20 families of Jewish children with autism. Ramah Darom’s executive director, Rabbi Loren Sykes, was recognized by the Covenant Foundation for Darom’s work with this innovative program. It is Shabbat afternoon at the Mar’gam, the lakeside pavilion at Ramah Darom. A light rain falls on the lake as the geese swim along, undisturbed. Everyone watches as Zeev approaches the bimah. Zeev reads his bar mitzvah speech, written with the help of his mother, adorned in a tallit hand-woven by his mother. His father smiles broadly. Zeev’s mother reads one word in Hebrew, from the Ashrei, and then Zeev repeats the word, leading the entire congregation. It is not silent during the service; in fact, there is a cacophony of talking, singing, shouting, sometimes in sentences, sometimes just fragments. Nobody blinks nor glares nor gives a “shush;” there is an understanding that these seemingly random voices are the voices of God on earth, to be shouted and not silenced, to be loved and not rejected. There are free flowing tears throughout the service. A year ago, I watched a conversation between Zeev’s father and another parent. They were participating in a seminar about bar mitzvah ceremonies for children with autism. One parent expressed fear that her son might never be able to have a bar mitzvah. Zeev’s father looked that parent in the eye and said, “If all Zeev can do is say the one word of Shema, that will
Spring 2007 10
be enough and that will be his bar mitzvah!” The other parent melted, sank to the couch in the Mercaz Aryeh and cried. I did not ask why. I did not have to. I just understood. We have images of what the bar mitzvah is “supposed to be.” If a child does not fit that mold, then we feel—or worse, are led to believe—that they cannot have such a ceremony, that we cannot joyously mark the level of “adulthood” that they have reached, that they are somehow inferior. The truth is that a child turns bar or bat mitzvah on a specific birthday. The ceremony, an invention, can and should therefore be
reira B’Ramah at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires is a system of supports provided to campers with learning and social challenges. Breira campers are able to participate and benefit from all aspects of the Ramah experience. Each child’s Breira program is unique and depends on his or her individual needs. Campers enrolled in the Breira B’Ramah program are supported by counselors and specialists in camp who receive training and supervision by a licensed psychologist. Over the years, the presence of Breira at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires has changed the camp community in its acceptance of individual differences and its awareness that we are all created B’Tzelem Elokim (in God’s image).
what is appropriate to the child with autism, not to some ritual committee standard. But realizing that, for the parent, for the committee, for the clergy, for the community, is far from simple or obvious. If it were, there would be no need for Camp Yofi. We return to Aleinu, standing in the Mar’gam, watching Zeev exceed expectations, his smile from cheek to cheek, read a Devar Torah, stand and be blessed. We cry with pride embracing Zeev, his radiant smile, and Zeev’s family as our own. The rain, which Zeev loves, stops just long enough for all of us to walk to the hadar ochel for se’udah shelishit, the third Shabbat meal, where a bar mitzvah cake and celebration awaits.
SPECIAL NEEDS PROGRAMS
A wonderful place to stay Ramah New England’s guesthouse is staffed by Tikvah “Post-Voc Eders” H OWA R D B L A S
he Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, now celebrating its 37th year, continues to grow and evolve, offering the Ramah experience to people of many ages with a wide range of special needs. Last summer, we initiated a program to hire “post-voc eders” — graduates of our Tikvah Program — as salaried employees to work in the newly-dedicated Herb and Barbara Greenberg Tikvah Guesthouse, a six-unit motel-quality facility. The guesthouse not only offers meaningful work opportunities for Tikvah campers, Vocational Education Program participants, and Tikvah graduates, but also allows guests to experience Shabbatot and y’mei ragil at camp. This summer, our guesthouse welcomed its first guests — and it was filled to capacity every Shabbat and many mid-week days (for Y’mei Iyyun, the board meeting for the Foundation for Jewish Camping, visits by rabbis in our communities, etc.) Each room is airconditioned, with two double beds, a bathroom, and a sitting area. The hallmark of the Tikvah guesthouse is the fact that it is 100% Tikvah run and operated. While a Tikvah staff member serves as overall supervisor, her main role is to run daily staff meetings, oversee assignment of jobs, help workers figure out how to solve
problems, and serve as a liaison to the camp director and to the office staff member responsible for booking guests. Each morning, following the staff meeting, the “post-voc eder” assigned full time to the guesthouse opens the building for work. He and his staff (one to two members of the Vocational Education Program) begin the day by finding out how many rooms will be occupied that night. The team then moves into action! Guesthouse workers strip beds of dirty sheets, collect towels, and clean each room. They sweep the floors, clean the bathrooms, do all laundry, make up each room, clean the porches and water the beautiful hanging flower baskets on the porches. Our Voc Ed supervisor was instrumental in securing a cleaning and room preparation protocol from a major international hotel chain, and our in-camp head of the laundry volunteered his time to model and teach proper techniques and steps for cleaning and making up a guest room. Guests consistently raved about the service and overall quality of the guesthouse. We are proud that guests of Camp Ramah in New England can now experience the beauty of camp in the finest of accommodations, lovingly prepared and
Herb and Barbara Greenberg stand at the entrance to the guesthouse run by Ramah New England Tikvah graduates.
maintained by some of “Palmer’s Finest.” And many of our Tikvah families pray and dream that we will one day become a year-round guesthouse — one that offers quality service and a place of employment and camaraderie for their children. Howard Blas is the director of Ramah New England’s Tikvah Program.
Reflections on Brian A special friendship develops at Ramah Canada DON COLLERMAN-ELIAS
hortly after I began my first summer working as a Judaics teacher at Camp Ramah in Canada, my wife and I were approached by Dr. Mitch Parker, director of the Tikvah Program. Mitch informed us of a dilemma with a former Tikvah camper named Brian, who had participated and thrived in the Tikvah Program since its inception 13 years ago. For the last few years, Brian had been too old to attend Ramah as a camper and had been participating in the Avodah Vocational Education Program, helping staff in the hadar ochel, in the laundry room, etc. This past summer, Brian had once again returned to camp. After less than one week, he had missed some of his work shifts and had been observed wandering around camp. Mitch informed us that the camp was considering sending Brian home unless it could find someone to assist and support Brian. My wife and I agreed to allow Brian to move out of staff housing into our cabin, and to undertake the responsibilities of guiding him to his various jobs and ac-
Don Collerman-Elias (left) with Brian
tivities. While we expected this to result in more work for the two of us, which it certainly did, we did not expect that taking care of Brian would be so rewarding for us. Yet, along the way we came to realize what a remarkable man Brian is. First of all, Brian has an infectiously warm personality. He was almost always happy with a smile on
his face and a hug for everyone he encountered. Jewish tradition teaches Moreover, the enthusiasm us that every person is and friendliness that he created in God’s image. extended to others was not dependent on their Brian actually lives as status or stations in life. if that were true. To Brian, everyone was important and worthy of a smile and a kind greeting. Every encounter was an opportunity to make or renew a friendship. Jewish tradition teaches us that every person is created in God’s image. Brian actually lives as if that were true. Secondly, Brian always takes pride and experiences joy in his work. Throughout the summer, Brian was unquestionably the happiest when he was helping others, always helping to the absolute best of his abilities. Once a task was explained and demonstrated to Brian, he would consistently perform it correctly and meticulously. He understood that each task, however small, was necessary for the good of the Ramah community. Brian was also often the first to offer unsolicited help. He demonstrated a strong sense of community responsibility. Finally, Brian celebrates life, viewing each day as special, as the start of something new and another opportunity for more joy, laughter, and friendship. The joy he experienced even when participating in what most of us would consider mundane activities reminded my wife and me to recognize and appreciate aspects of our lives that we often take for granted. As we spent an increasing amount of time with Brian, we were gradually drawn into Brian’s world — a world in which one saw and treated life with love, kindness, and compassion. And we knew that our relationship with Brian was making us better people. Don Collerman-Elias, a JTS Rabbinical School student, was a Shapiro Fellow at Camp Ramah in Canada last summer.
Ramah Canada Tivkah campers and staff enjoy special time together.
Building skills for the future Ramah California has great success with Ezra Program
amah California’s Ezra Program is a vocational training and independent living program for teens and young adults. “Café Ezra” is a college-style café at which Ojai staff members can spend their free time. By working at the café, Ezra participants have the opportunity to develop their vocational and social skills. In particular, participants learn essential skills for working in the food service industry, including cash register operation; preparation and service of iceblended coffee drinks, snow cones, and soft pretzels; and set-up and cleaning.
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There’s a Ramah Israel program for everyone! Participants in Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY) and USY High spend the spring semester at the Ramah Jerusalem High School, studying Zionism and contemporary Israel, along with their secular academics, taking tiyulim throughout Israel, interacting with Israeli teens and families, and learning Hebrew. On Ramah Seminar, participants spend six weeks of the summer in Israel, in an intense program that bridges the years between being a camper and being on staff. There is an option for Seminar participants to spend ten days in Poland prior to the six weeks in Israel. The Ramah Israel Institute (RII) custom builds two-week programs in Israel for schools, synagogues and other community organizations.
The power of Ramah Seminar Record high enrollment; great inspiration
pon their return to North America, Seminar participants wrote about their summer experiences. Here are excerpts from their essays: A trip to Poland brings new meaning to a visit to the Kotel I have gone to Camp Ramah in California for seven summers. There was never a doubt in my mind that after the last summer as a camper I would continue on with my friends and spend the next summer on Ramah Seminar. I signed up for Ramah Seminar 2006 thinking I was signing up for a touring trip around the land of Israel with my best friends. I could not have been more wrong. The summer started off with a ten-day trip in Poland. We visited concentration camps including Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdonek, and Treblinka. However, the focus of our time in Poland was touring the remnants of old Jewish cities and towns. I learned of the extent of Polish Jewry prior to the war. This made our visits to the different camps so much more meaningful. We saw how and where people had lived before their identities were stripped from them and they were killed. In Majdonek, there is an exhibit of shoes. As I walked down the seemingly endless hallway with containers filled to the ceiling with shoes on either side of me, I began to think and then to cry. I was now seeing six million as more than a number. I then pressed my face against the glass container and saw everything from a second perspective. I could see each shoe so distinctly. Some were leather dress shoes, some were sandals. Some were black, some were brown. Some for a grown man, some for a toddler. To me, it was no longer a group of six million who were killed. I now saw the Holocaust as the murder of six million individual people. A couple of days later, we flew to Israel and within 24 hours, we visited the Kotel. This was when I knew this trip would be something far more special than I
Davening Shaharit at Masada
had ever imagined. I have been fortunate enough to have visited Israel frequently with my family and have been to the Kotel many times. My bar mitzvah, for example, was at the holy wall. But this time was different. I was hesitant as I approached the Kotel, scared as infinite thoughts flooded my mind. Every image I had seen in Poland rushed through my head like a movie. I could see all the shoes and pictures of young children confidently and unknowingly leading their little siblings to what was eventually their deaths. And then I walked up to the Kotel and touched it. I thought about how fortunate I was to be on such an amazing program and how amazing my life is. I thought about how I was not only here for myself but also for every person that had perished in Europe in the war. I then realized I was crying, but a kind of crying I had never experienced before. I did not feel the tears Spring 2007 12
Michael Levin z”l hit particularly hard in the Seminar community. Many knew him, as he was a former USYer and Ramahnik. My tour guide had served as a counselor, a boss, and even a host to Michael when he first made aliyah to Israel. Even as my eyes were opened to the horrors of daily life in Israel, my connection to the land continued to grow. Through the destruction, I watched as the Israeli spirit stayed alive. Even with the war, I was still able to see the entire country and feel safe doing so. I really wish I could have seen Israel in peace. I know I still would have been impressed with Israeli dedication through seeing her incredible army and learning all about Israel’s history. But what I have gained from experiencing Israel during conflict has greatly increased my love for the country. I left for Israel hoping to grow some sort of connection to what the Jewish people calls the Promised Land, and I returned calling it a home and the most beautiful place I have ever seen. – Rachel Becker, Camp Ramah in New England
At Banyas, at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Golan
leaving my eyes, I only felt them once they ran down my cheeks. I did not know if I was crying out of sadness or happiness. I just knew I belonged right there right then for so many reasons. – Alexander Beren Jefferson, Ramah California Viewing the past, building for the future Last summer, I stood at the gravesite of David Ben Gurion and learned a little about his life and work. What I remember most is one of Ben Gurion’s quotes that our tour guide told us about that struck me as very meaningful. He told us that Ben Gurion’s goal for Israel was “to build a country whose future is worthy of its past.” This summer, my group traveled all over Israel — north, south, east, and west — and we learned and experienced all kinds of things about Israel’s history and modern culture. We saw the sunrise and davened Shaharit at Masada and rafted down the Jordan River. We visited the Ayalon kibbutz, which was built in 1945, along with a secret, underground factory that the kibbutznikim used to produce up to 40,000 bullets a day for the Haganah, right under the noses — and feet — of the British. We had Kabbalat Shabbat overlooking the Kotel and read Eicha on Tisha B’Av overlooking the walls of the Old City. We swam in all four of Israel’s seas: the Red, the Dead, the Med, and the Kinneret. One of the coolest things we did was ride bikes through a place called Timna, an ancient copper mine in the Negev. When the Jews left Egypt, they gathered Egyptians’ valuables, including things made of the copper from Timna. Later, that same copper was melted down and used to build the Mishkan. I was there! I stood at one of the sources of copper used to build the Mishkan. To me, that’s pretty incredible. Looking back on all I did this summer, Ben Gurion’s quote means more to me now than it did when I was standing by his grave with my friends in the sweltering heat of the Negev. This summer I learned so much about Israel’s past and present, and now, more than ever, I, and every one of us, must be dedicated to Israel’s future. – Lily Feinberg, Ramah Darom Experiencing Israel in times of war Being in Israel during a time of war helped me to feel more passion and love for the country than I could have felt at any other time. As difficult as it was, I witnessed reservists being reactivated and leaving their jobs on Seminar to go fight. I witnessed other staff members terrified for friends and family in the north, and I even had to hear of staff members losing friends who were fighting or just trying to live their lives. The loss of
TRY and USY High This spring, there are a record high number of participants in TRY and USY High. Forty-six of the 69 students on TRY and USY High are Ramah veterans. They are enjoying a semester of inspiration. Many will return to Ramah this summer and share their experiences with staff and campers.
Visiting the site of the ancient biblical city of Gezer
Enjoying a camel ride and visit to a Bedouin tent in the Negev
KO L O T R A M A H New perspectives and warm community in the summertime Feeling connections at Ramah Nyack S A R A H LO PAT I N
s clichéd as it sounds, the past four summers have been the best of my life. I followed a pretty traditional USYer track — Wheels, Pilgrimage and two summers working at Camp Ramah in Nyack. Each summer was a totally different experience for me. USY on Wheels was my first real USY program, Pilgrimage was my first group Israel trip, and my first summer at Nyack taught me a work ethic and responsibility. This summer taught me something more: I learned about the intensity and importance of community. Ramah Nyack, like most Ramah camps, places incredible importance on bringing an amazing mishlachat, Israeli staff, to camp each summer. This summer, there was an especially remarkable group of Israeli staff. While an incredible mishlachat is always an enormous benefit to camp, this summer it had a particularly large significance. As the situation in Israel changed, the presence of the mishlachat impacted the atmosphere and greatly improved the way American staff members understood the problems in Israel. The day that the problems in Lebanon began happened to coincide with our Zimriyah, when the campers perform songs about peace for parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. It is a huge celebration that everyone looks forward to every summer. Because the tensions in Lebanon started, there were some questions over how to deal with Zimriyah, primarily, was it right to have a celebration the day a war began? In the end, we continued with Zimriyah because we were singing songs of peace and trying to send a message that we were standing strong in support of Israel. It was a beautiful night. After all the campers were picked up, the staff stayed behind to clean up. As we tried to gather to-
gether for a staff picture, spontaneously, we formed a giant circle, hundreds of staff huddled together. Someone began singing Acheinu, and slowly but surely, hundreds of staff were singing together. We felt the most unbelievable sense of community and interconnectedness. The community I joined this summer truly changed my understanding of togetherness. This is the beauty of summer: the opportunity to branch out, reach new people and change your perception of a community. Sarah Lopatin, a counselor at Ramah Nyack last summer, was the 2006 USY Religion/Education Vice President. This article was originally published in the Fall 2006 issue of the USY news magazine, Achshav!
“Siddur Wars” An innovative educational program at Ramah Palmer J E R E M Y R U B E RG
t Camp Ramah in New England, siddurim are a very common sight. They seem to appear all over the place. It is almost guaranteed that if one were to walk into a moadon, tzrif, binyan (building), perhaps even the hadar ochel, one would find at least one siddur lying around. This is because Ramah is a living Jewish environment, an environment in which prayer takes place in a variety of settings and not just “in synagogue.” While it is true that almost everyone at Ramah can identify what a siddur looks like, familiar with its exterior, sadly, not all become familiar with its interior, the words, and the tefillot. We learn in Pirkei Avot, “Al tistakel b’kankan, ela b’ma sheyesh bo,” “Don’t look at the jar, but rather what is contained in it.” Therefore, in true Ramah fashion, the hanhallah of Tzad Bet at Ramah New England decided to create a peulah for all of Tzad Bet with the goal of familiarizing hanichim with the contents of the siddur. We called it “Milchamot Hasiddurim,” or “Siddur Wars.” There were two extremely successful aspects to Siddur Wars: the development and the implementation. Although planning peulot can at times be stressful, planning Siddur Wars was extremely fun. Since this peulah was intended for the entire tzad, all the members of the hanhallah of Tzad Bet worked together. We laughed
Hanichim engage in group building activities at Ramah Poconos
R A M A H C A N A DA L OV E S T H E G R E AT OUTDOORS
the entire time as we created some of the wackiest questions, scenarios, and activities all using the Siddur Sim Shalom. We couldn’t help but laugh as we thought about how funny it would be when a hanich would need to rap the Ashrei, or perform an interpretative dance of the prayer for dew. Additionally, we eagerly awaited what promised to be beautiful original compositions of Adon Olam as well as original versions of a halleluyah poem which we hoped would eventually be included in daily tefillot. Planning Siddur Wars was not only fun; it was inspiring. However, never in our wildest dreams did we actually imagine the incredible success that was Siddur Wars. When we brought the hanichim together and told them that they all needed siddurim, we had no idea that after an hour and a half, almost all the hanichim would be begging us to keep going. The peulah was a tremendous success. Although one tzrif technically did emerge victorious, in the end everyone won because we all came out knowing more about the siddur and had fun doing so. Jeremy Ruberg, a JTS Rabbinical School student, was Rosh Nivonim and a Shapiro Fellow at Ramah Palmer last summer.
Ramah Canada’s unique outdoor tripping program includes extended canoe trips at some of northern Canada’s most beautiful provincial parks. Teenage campers choose from a variety of trip opportunities up to six days long, developing outdoor skills and inspiring a love for nature and spiritual development. The entire Nivonim edah gathers at the entrance to “Kfar Nivonim,” the village for Palmer’s oldest hanichim. Spring 2007 13
KO L O T R A M A H
There is intense concentration in center field at Ramah Palmer.
It’s never too late A mishlachat member celebrates her bat mitzvah at Ramah Berkshires
Campers at Ramah Darom enjoy lounging at the pool with their bunkmates.
Excerpted from an article by R A H E L M U S L E A H
n August 4, 2006, Lital Shaltiel was called up to the Torah at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires as a bat mitzvah. No big deal, right? We have plenty of b’nai mitzvah at camp! But Lital is not a typical bat mitzvah of 12 or 13. She’s a returning member of our Israeli mishlachat. Only a few weeks earlier, Lital decided to start wearing tallit and tefillin, though last year she thought it “very strange”—even forbidden—for women to do so. “This year I decided I’d try new things,” says Lital, 21. “Camp Ramah is the only place I can do that. When she puts on her tallit, Lital says, she feels as if she is more committed to the tefillah. “I’m participating—not just taking the siddur and reading. Because I am more immersed in it I can concentrate better.” Lital took the next step—being called up for an aliyah—and then the next—learning to read Torah. Though she had practiced innumerable times, Lital says: “My heart was pounding like I had stage fright. My voice trembled. When I was done, the candy started flying at me. The entire mishlachat got up and danced, Siman tov u’mazal tov, and David melech Yisrael, and lifted me up in a chair. It was one of the best days of my life,” she adds, her face glowing. Lital, who lives in Herzliyah and wants to be a tour guide in Israel, grew up in a secular family, though her father used to be an assistant hazzan. She worries
that her parents might be offended at her new-found observance. “I will explain that it makes me feel good. Getting up in the morning and praying makes my day go better, purer. When I say Elohai n’tzor l’shoni me-ra [My God, guard my tongue from evil], I say it aloud so I really mean it and then try to put it into practice. Saying the bracha, ha-noten la-ya’ef ko’ah [God gives strength to the weary], gives me energy to continue the day.” When she returns to Israel, she hopes to attend services at Masorti congregations near her home. “This is the age when you discover yourself,” she says. “I’m still in the process of learning.”
Kadur sal (basketball) is a major sport at Ramah California, where campers compete, learn new skills, and develop increased self-confidence from nurturing coaches.
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On the important art of Small conversations have great meaning at Ramah RABBI DAVID SOLOFF
n the Northwoods of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, nature announces the waning of summer with subtle changes. An acorn falls from an old oak tree by the trail. The sun sets a little earlier. Summer flowers begin to fade. Campers and staff are holding on to every minute. There are the big events—the Machon-Nivonim girls’ and guys’ basketball competitions, the all-camp Rekudiah (dance festival), the campwide tennis tournament. The radio station is broadcasting an impressive final week of programming from morning through night. There are many smaller happenings which tie the summer together. Interspersed with finishing projects, studying for the lifeguard training exam and playing basketball, tennis, and swimming, campers and staff do a lot of schmoozing with each other. At camp, schmoozing is an art form—the art of conversation. It takes a lot of skill for university-age staff to figure out how to engage each of their campers in conversation. It also takes a lot of skill for campers to refine their own conversational skills with peers and with staff. I asked groups of senior counselors to share their experiences schmoozing with kids. During the first weeks some campers had difficulty making eye contact when they spoke with staff. Some boys began the season only speaking about sports. Some girls started the season unsure of how to break into conversations swirling around them between groups of girls who had been to camp before. Counselor by counselor, they shared with me conversations from the summer that emerged from living together with these campers. As the cabin groups grew closer and the staff and campers learned to enjoy each other, the conversations flourished. When do campers and staff schmooze? On the kikar during free time, during the break after lunch (sha’at menuchah), after lights out in the cabin or on the cabin porch, on Shabbat walks after the davening, during an
art class, after a tennis lesson, watching an inter-edah sporting event. Many counselors described conversations involving Israeli shlichim reflecting about the events in Israel. Campers and staff still enjoy talking sports and popular culture but many also described conversations about being Jewish during the year, challenges at school, ideas about faith, world politics. Campers have shared favorite poems and short stories. They have shared experiences about their home communities and daily living in Israel, South America and cities across the Midwest. Several counselors described how during the first week there were campers in their cabins who talked at, not with fellow campers or staff. These campers have made huge strides in learning to speak with each other. At the heart of the camp experience at Ramah is this encounter and engagement with others. As the staff shared these conversations they each had huge smiles as they recalled those special “breakthrough” moments when they connected with campers. They also spoke with pride about how campers learned the skills to engage each other as friends—especially campers who began the season distant and apart from each other. Rabbi David Soloff is the director of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.
During 2006, Ramah Wisconsin was once again vibrant with performance and visual arts. The visiting performers included Neshama Carlebach, Brian Gelfand, Joel Chasnoff, and the Northwoods Ramah Theatre Company. These professionals supplemented and enhanced the work of resident artists Jonathan Adam Ross (performing arts), Paul Palnik (visual arts), Leehe Matalon (studio arts), David Sherman (photography), Yehezkiel Mizrachi and Marsha Rosenson (music) and the university-aged staff. Artists met together weekly to study Judaica and share insights about the artistic culture at camp.
KO L O T R A M A H Siblings of fallen Israeli soldiers come to Ramah Friends of the IDF (FIDF) sponsors Israeli children’s stay at Ramah California J U L I E G RU E N B AU M FA X Excerpts reprinted with permission from the LA Jewish Journal
ster was hoarding her snacks. Each day after canteen at Camp Ramah in California, Ester, a 12-yearold Ethiopian Israeli, would take her potato chips and chocolate bars and squirrel them away in her suitcase back in her bunk. She was saving the free treats for her seven younger brothers at home, because she was worried that they weren’t being cared for. Since her older brother was killed two years ago while serving in the Israeli army, her parents haven’t been the same. Living with the trauma and sorrow of losing a brother or sister in the Israel Defense Forces has scarred all of the thirty 12-13 year olds who spent ten days at Camp Ramah in Ojai earlier this month. The Legacy/Moreshet Program, sponsored by Friends of the IDF (FIDF), gave kids who lost a sibling or parent in combat a bar or bat mitzvah present that allowed
for $18,000. The Men’s Club of the Jewish Federation of Palm Springs donated more than $60,000, and promised more if FIDF needed it. Ramah camper Ethan Wolens sponsored a child as his bar mitzvah project. “I have a blast here at camp, and it’s like a home away from home for me. I wanted the Israelis to have camp as a home away from home also,” Ethan said. “When we got here, the Americans were so welcoming and so warm. They really embraced us and it made it so much easier to become a part of things,” said Miri, whose brother was killed last year. On the day the group arrived, Ramah’s Israeli staffers welcomed them with songs and signs, and the entire camp stood to sing “Hatikvah” after their first lunch. The Israelis joined up with a unit their age to swim, sing, and play and even to go to daily prayer—a
Ramah Day Camp in Chicago exploded with excitement during Yom Sport. The whole camp was separated into a rainbow of colors. Each color participated in five exciting sports: swimming, basketball, newcomb, kickball, and dodgeball. Teams won extra points for creating and singing team songs and cheers, and for waving their banners proudly. Campers displayed excellent sportsmanship and radiated spirit throughout the day.
A summer of leadership Gesher campers at Ramah Poconos reflect on their last summer before Seminar
aron Wolff and Shira Friedman (see photo below) were Gesher campers (entering 11th grade) at Camp Ramah in the Poconos last summer. Below, they reflect on what it meant to be leaders as members of the oldest edah in camp. We, as an edah, are next in line to take on the responsibility of leadership. Ramah is a place where we Gesher campers have learned many leadership skills. In this coming year, many of us will be in Israel on Ramah Seminar. Israel is described as a land flowing with milk and honey. Ramah is a place flowing with goodness, spirit, and friendship. Gesherniks would not be able to go on and become great leaders wherever we go without the guidance of our past and present tzevet here at Ramah. Israeli campers sponsored by FIDF are greeted warmly at Ramah California upon arrival.
them to have an American-style summer blast — if not to forget, then at least to enjoy a respite from the sadness that follows them at home. But despite the fact that Ester and her friends were having a great time, one morning Ester cried to her counselor that she needed to go home to take care of her family. “I told her, ‘your family wants you to be here. You are entitled to enjoy life,’” said Rachel Binyamin, the overseas coordinator for FIDF in Israel, who accompanied the kids on the journey. Binyamin packed up a box of goodies for Ester to take home to her brothers, and told her, “This is for your brothers. What you get, you eat — it’s for you to enjoy.” For most of the trip, enjoyment wasn’t hard to come by. The kids raved about the packed days at Ramah and special trips to Universal Studios, the California Science Center and the Santa Monica Pier. Those trips, along with spruced-up gift bags, got added into the program after sponsorships kept pouring in even after the $3,600 per child price tag had been raised. Marci Spitzer, chair of the Southern California region of FIDF and a staff member at Ramah, said there is enough money left over to seed a program for next year or to contribute in other ways to FIDF’s widows and orphans programs. One donor wrote a check
Kochavim campers (entering 4th grade) excitedly begin their Ramah Berkshires experience.
— Aaron Wolff
first for about two-thirds of the Israeli group. The Israelis didn’t talk with the Americans about why they’re here — about the huge holes torn into their lives. Instead, they talked about regular teen stuff. “I don’t want to bring it up, because I don’t want to make them sad,” said Hanna Port, an American camper who practiced her Hebrew and became good friends with the Israelis. “They’re sad enough that they have to leave soon, and we’ve become such good friends.” But among themselves, the Israeli kids — who met each other through this trip — have talked about their losses, and, along with counselors trained to deal with their trauma, the kids offer each other an important network of support. Seeing this group at camp gave a renewed sense of mission to the 25 Israeli shlichim, also mostly army-aged, who spend their summer bringing a little bit of Israel to Ramah California—a difficult task as Katyushas fell at home. “They are struggling with being here and representing their country, knowing what their brothers and sisters are doing back in Israel,” said Zachary Lasker, assistant director at Ramah California. “For them to feel they are again connected, and that they have their eyes on these kids, has been very powerful.”
Kfirim campers (entering 7th grade) at Canada Ramah prepare to learn new boating skills.
As Adat Ha’Gesher, we are the leaders of camp. Although we have had to work hard in order to become leaders, it is both a privilege and a responsibility. We have carried with us the wonderful leadership lessons that we have learned from our counselors, JCs and CITs. As we planned Yom Sport, performed a great play, interacted with our CIT kids, led zmirot in the hadar ochel, or just helped out around camp, we acted as true leaders and role models. There are also many other leaders. As campers of Ramah we all feel a strong connection to Israel. Summer after summer we have a large mishlachat and many people go on to Seminar after their Gesher summer. Many of us hope to come back to camp as counselors. It is a place to create lasting memories and learn traditions which we then bring home with us as a piece of Ramah. As future counselors, we hope to use our leadership abilities in order to impact others in the same way that camp has positively impacted us. — Shira Friedman Spring 2007 15
KO L O T R A M A H
Digging the past Philadelphia day campers make archeological finds at “Tel Ramah”
el Ramah” replicated an Israeli excavation site at the Philadelphia Ramah Day Camp. Campers of all ages learned about Israel’s ancient past by excavating a simulated dig site under the guidance of archeologist Aaron Greener. Digging in an outdoor, life-size tel (archaeological mound), participants found artifacts and learned about their uses in the period of the Second Temple. Through various learning stations including ‘excavation and sifting,’ an archaeology lab (pottery restoration), and a daily life station, participants gained a better understanding of life in ancient times. They used real archaeological tools, and learned professional excavation
techniques. Tel Ramah opened on Tisha B’Av. Participants in the dig developed a sense of the value of recovering the sources of Jewish history, something especially significant around Tisha B’Av. It is important to see that while destruction exists in Jewish history, the Jewish people have persevered throughout time. Visit www.digthepast.org for additional information about Aaron Greener’s “Dig the Past” Israeli Archeological Experience, visit Funding for the Philadelphia Day Camp’s Tel Ramah project was partially provided by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Israel Engagement Grants.
Machon campers (entering 10th grade) at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires had a unique specialty experience, “chavaya,” taught by talented visiting professionals. The “Adventures in Waterskiing” chavaya took place with the help of Ramah Canada waterski staff alumni.
Bogrim campers (entering 8th grade) at Camp Ramah in the Poconos work with Jonathan Magen, radio specialist, to prepare the radio broadcast for the day.
A special moment in time The importance of Erev Shabbat at Ramah Nyack
Ramah Celebrates 60 Years of Camping
S TAC E Y C O H E N
t’s not one story I have to share, but an entire adolescence, a series of events that have guided me in maturing into the young woman I am today. Camp Ramah in Nyack has given me love and nourishment for five years and it will continue to be a part of me for the rest of my life. When I think of camp, my mind instantly races to any given Friday. It is a hectic workday for everyone. For swim staff, the day begins early, classes are jumbled with free swims, and you only get five minutes to eat lunch, which you have to eat in the pool house instead of at the hadar ochel. While the rest of camp is at the Friday afternoon oneg, swim staff is in a meeting, assessing the past week, making preparations for the one to come, and admittedly goofing off in the water before the pool reopens for after-camp swimming. As the end of the camp day approaches, the lifeguards collectively cross the gesher to join the rest of the hanichim and tzevet to dance our hearts out. As per tradition, Friday afternoon dancing always finishes with Mikey Edelstein lowering the flag, everyone singing Hatikvah, and of course, dancing to Amen. When dancing to this song we open up our
R A M A H : Spring 2007 16
minds and hearts, physically open our arms, and welcome Shabbat. The hours between hanichim leaving campgrounds and lighting candles are always filled with delightful fast-paced activity: visiting the local old age home, decorating the hadar ochel, handing out Shabbat-o-grams, racing to shower while there is still hot water. I know I personally fill time by waiting on the migrash with a friend for the hustle and bustle to clear as we lie on our backs in the shade and enjoy each other’s company. At 6:15 p.m. every Friday while Camp Ramah in Nyack is in session, a miracle happens. Everyone in camp is in the same place, at the same time. Everyone has showered. We are all dressed in our summer’s finest, and with that well-known approving smile of director Amy Skopp Cooper, the community opens their siddurim and begins to chant Yedid Nefesh. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it is very possible that this is the moment I live for. It’s not just a moment I look forward to at the end of each summer week, it is an experience I cling to during the year as well, when the reality of life pulls apart our community and we spend our Friday nights singing Yedid Nefesh in separate places, with different communities. No matter where I might physically be on any given Shabbat, my heart is in the Beit Knesset of Camp Ramah in Nyack. Camp is my home. I have spent some of the most influential years of my life there and made the longestlasting friendships I will probably ever come to know. Ramah has not just been a change in my life, it has been a catalyst in forming it. Stacey Cohen was co-Rosh Mayim last summer at Camp Ramah in Nyack.
Y E A R S
C A M P I N G
October 14, 2007
Visit www.campramah.org for more information and to register.
The tefillah experience at Ramah is peer-led and inspiring. Pictured here is Torah-reading during a weekday service at Ramah California.
Ramah Wisconsin campers prepare for their three-onthree basketball game as part of their special campwide “Gus Ramah” tournament.
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