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Issue II

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Spring 2006










Canada campers experience boating thrills on Skeleton Lake Ramah Nyack celebrates its love for the Land of Israel

Paddling the lake at Ramah Darom

Israel Seminar participants “reflect� on their amazing summer of growth & enjoyment Celebrating Yom Yisrael at Camp Ramah in New England

Wisconsin campers gather for a pre-Shabbat activity: Kikar dancing!

Berkshires bikers embark on a mountain trail

Machon girls from Ramah Poconos enjoy a peaceful break from their 3-day Appalachian Trail camping trip

3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027

Ramah California 4th and 5th graders camp out at Lake Casitas

Spring 2006

Issue II

Kolot Ramah

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Argentina outreach

Ramah young leaders meet movement partners By Nancy Scheff


rom December 26, 2005 through January 4, 2006, the National Ramah Commission sent 15 senior Ramah staff members to visit Argentina to connect with the Conservative Jewish community in Buenos Aires, and to spend time with the leadership of the Masorti youth programs and the summer camps known as Ramah camps. Jewish camping in Argentina does not follow the “full summer” model. Eytan Hammerman, a JTS rabbinical school student and a former Ramah Berkshires staff member who led the NRC trip, explains, “Campers (janijim) and counselors (madrijim) spend their entire year building relationships that culminate in the ‘camp’ experience. … They meet every single Shabbat during the year for activities. ‘Camp’ in Argentina is truly a year-long program with one- to three-week programs serving to end the year with a celebratory, intensive session in a beautiful setting far from the city.”

Ramah participants spent three days at camps organized by two of the Masorti communities in Buenos Aires, Lamroth Hakol and Benei Tikvah. The camps are located at the beach-side town of Necochea, and the National Ramah group members thought it was just wonderful that sand-castle-building was one of the camp activities. Members of the North American group were particularly impressed with the enthusiasm of the madrijim and the depth of their relationships with their campers. Sara Stave, a long-time Ramah Berkshires tzevet member, notes that, “There was a sense that [the madrijim] were determined to devote as much time and energy as possible, out of love for camp and the transmission of Jewish values, to make this year’s camp the best week ever!”

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KOLOT RAMAH Executive Editor/Publisher Nancy B. Scheff Design/Production Manager Michael J. Edelstein National Ramah Commission President Morton M. Steinberg Senior Vice President Dr. Charles T. Mann National Director Rabbi Mitchell H. Cohen National Business Manager Jeffrey M. Goodman Kolot Ramah is published by the National Ramah Commission, Inc. We welcome letters to the editor, a selection of which we will include in the next issue. Please address all correspondence to Kolot Ramah, NRC, 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. Tel: (212) 678-8881, Fax: (212) 749-8251. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity.

For Ami Hersh, summer assistant director of Ramah Nyack, interacting with the madrijim and janijim was a highlight of the trip, despite the fact that few of the campers spoke English or Hebrew. “We started singing in the chadar ochel with the Argentine campers. We found some songs that we could all sing together and then we taught them a few. Some of the campers were very excited to show off their English skills with some American songs. … I was struck by the fact that music can connect despite language barriers.”

The group spent a wonderful Shabbat in Buenos Aires, where they sang and danced during Kabbalat Shabbat services and over Shabbat dinner at Fundación Pardes, with Rabbi Baruch Plavnik and a number of youth leaders. The North American group also enjoyed an uplifting Shabbat morning service at a large congregation, Comunidad Amijai, where Rabbi Dario Feiguin gave the group a tour of this beautiful facility, and explained many of the unique aspects of Argentinean Jewry. Julie Berger of Ramah Poconos described the group’s warm reception during Shabbat: “Judaism is like an international family. … On both Erev Shabbat and Shabbat morning, the rabbis at Pardes and Amijai were overjoyed to welcome us into their communities.” Participants also saw the terrible economic struggle of many Jews and many synagogues after the financial devastation in Argentina earlier this decade. The group visited the AMIA, the cen-

tral agency for the Argentinian Jewish community, and the Seminario Rabbinico Latinamericano, the “JTS” of Argentina, where many students train to be rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators. Members of the group felt very much at home eating at several of the almost two dozen kosher restaurants in the city, and lighting Hanukah candles in a mall food court near a kosher McDonald’s. The participants spent many hours sharing programs and stories from each camp, and discussing the impact of this trip on them as individuals. Rabbi Paul Resnick, director of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, who participated in this experience, commented, “It was wonderful to see our youth leaders expand their minds as educators and gain so much insight from visiting a foreign community with a strong Conservative Jewish presence.” Julie Berger was struck by the strength of the connections that developed during the trip. “We all share a devotion to and love for Ramah and Jewish education. We very quickly and easily became a cohesive group, laughing, sharing ideas, and proud to represent Ramah and North American Conservative Jewry.” Rabbi Mitch Cohen, National Ramah Director, accompanied the group for part of the trip. He observed that the Argentina trip had many positive benefits for the participants and for Ramah. “Each of the participants returned from South America with a better sense of the strength of the Conservative Movement in other parts of the world, and a renewed appreciation for the importance of Jewish camping in strengthening a youth community. Our hope is that the ties among the young leaders created during this trip will lead to other opportunities for partnering, and will provide each of our delegates with the basis for fascinating programming opportunities at Ramah during this coming summer.”

From the NRC President


n 2006 the Ramah movement marks its 60th consecutive summer of Jewish camping. This is a wonderful achievement of which we can all be proud. The first Camp Ramah opened in 1947 in Conover, Wisconsin with 90 campers. The establishment of that camp was the result of an innovative partnership between The Jewish Theological Seminary and lay leaders of the Chicago Jewish community. The educational creativity and foresight of Moshe Davis and Sylvia Ettenberg of the Teachers Institute (now Albert A. List College) provided the vision for summer education through camping. The practical know-how of lay leadership, inspired by Rabbi Ralph Simon (z”l) and headed by Reuben Kaufman (z”l) and Louis Winer (z”l), provided the business talents and resources needed to acquire and fund the camp. That model of partnering between lay and professional leadership has proven to be the cornerstone of Ramah’s success for six decades. The growth of Ramah camping has been dramatic, and its importance within the Conservative Movement and the Jewish community in North America and Israel has been profound. This summer, Ramah, through its network of resident and day camps in North America and its programs in Israel, will serve approximately 8,500 campers and staff in enriched Jewish programming. Since 1950, the National Ramah Commission has been at the forefront of Ramah camping, providing leadership and assistance to all our constituent North American camps. NRC also directly operates the Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, New York, provides staff leadership programs, and oversees the growing Ramah presence in Israel. All of us at NRC point with pride to the many dedicated lay volunteers and Jewish professionals who are, and over the past sixty years have been, committed to their individual Ramah camps and whose work has made Ramah camping such a resounding success. It is this continuing partnership that assures a bright future for the Ramah movement. Morton M. Steinberg, National Ramah Commission President

From the National Director


e are pleased to present to you this year’s issue of Kolot Ramah, whose title reflects this newspaper’s mission: to share some of the many voices of Ramah camping. While the strength of the Ramah Camping Movement is the individual loyalty which exists for each camp, we are stronger when we recognize that we are also part of a movement of seven overnight and three day camps in North America, as well as outstanding Ramah Israel programs, including our Summer Seminar, our TRY and USY High School Semester Programs, and our RII two-week school and synagogue educational trips. Overall, more than 8,500 children, teens and young adults participate in a Ramah program each year, and in turn we are part of a larger Conservative Movement with many wonderful partner organizations. Throughout the year, when we bring together groups of people to share Ramah successes and work on our common mission, people often comment on how satisfying it is to know that their incredible Ramah experiences are taking place in other settings as well. This year, in addition to the ongoing movement-wide meetings of Ramah lay leaders, directors and assistant directors, and business managers, we brought together all of our camps’ medical leadership, psychologists and social workers for a powerful conference on the mental health issues facing our campers and staff each summer. We also held conferences for all Ramah educational directors at JTS, sponsored by the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education; brought 40 madrichim to the Weinstein Institute for Staff Training in California; and sent delegations of senior staff members from each camp to visit Masorti communities in Argentina and Berlin. Each May, our camps’ roshei edot come together for a training seminar. During one Shabbat in February, 230 Ramahniks from all the camps came together for a wonderful ruach-filled Shabbat in Israel, with Ramah directors joining with shlichim and North Americans spending the year in Israel. The sharing and networking among the camps is stronger than ever! As Summer 2006 approaches, we look forward to another incredible season of “magic moments” of growth and inspiration throughout our camping movement. Ramah produces passion, and that is the key to our overwhelming success—passion for friendships, passion for so many activities and camp events, and ultimately, passion for Jewish life and Zionism. Trying to capture that passion in one publication is a lofty goal, and I hope that you will enjoy reading about Ramah programs throughout North America, Israel, and the world. Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director

Issue II

Spring 2006

Kolot Ramah

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Shema at dawn

Bringing ancient texts to life at Ramah Canada

Sports program at Ramah Poconos is on the move

by Eliav Bock


n the last night of a 4-day canoeing and camping trip at Ramah Canada, I slept out under the stars with six campers. At 4:30 a.m., we all woke up because the wind had picked up and the temperature had started to drop.

Dawn was breaking. I thought that this would be a good time to teach the campers about the mishnah in Masechet Brachot in which different opinions are presented regarding the earliest time at which one may recite the Kriat Shema. As we

began packing up in the dawning light, I stopped them every five minutes to ask the campers whether they could differentiate between two colors I was holding up. In the beginning the two colors I held up were pieces of blue and green fabric, but as the dawn continued to break, I started showing them pieces of blue and white. Once it was clear daylight, I explained to them that we had just reenacted the mishnah. The rabbis were well aware of the various times of the morning light. When studying this mishnah in camp or school, it is often hard for campers to grasp the nuances between the different arguments in the text. On that morning, all the campers understood the logic and better comprehended the relevance of this text to their own lives. Eliav Bock was a Shapiro Fellow at Ramah Canada last summer.

Family, friends and alumni of Ramah Poconos joined together for the dedication of new basketball courts in memory of Adam Port, a former Poconos camper and staff member.


amp Ramah in the Poconos has been implementing wonderful improvements in sports facilities, staffing, and programming. Last summer, Ramah Poconos campers and staff had a great time playing on new basketball courts (see photo). In 2006, campers and staff will enjoy the use of a new softball field and tennis courts. Senior staff from the well-known Julian Krinsky Camps are consulting to Poconos Ramah on ways to identify and hire “pro-level” sport

coaches and staff, as well as train staff in methods to make the Poconos sports program more innovative. The Ramah Poconos camp community is also eagerly anticipating a visit from famous Jewish athlete Tamir Goodman, the “Jewish Jordan” of basketball, who will be a coach-in-residence this summer. In addition to helping campers develop their basketball skills, Tamir will also have the opportunity to visit with each edah and speak about his journey as an observant athlete.

New director at Palmer

Theatre in the making

Professional actors create original drama in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and observe. Sometimes we would have Q&A sessions afterward where they could pick our brains about what we were doing and how the writing process works for a play like this.


A scene from The Underwater Palace

e’ve all heard of people moving to New York to pursue theatre, but what about New York actors moving to Conover, Wisconsin? It happened last summer, when three New York actors made the unusual move to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for the first-ever Northwoods Jewish Theatre Festival. Organized by Rosh Drama Jonathan Ross (“JAR”), the festival—made possible through a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camping—brought the actors to camp for the summer to create an original piece of Jewish theatre and to become part of the camp community. Franny Silverman, who was Rosh Drama at Ramah Poconos in 2002, is an actress and the associate artistic director of Storahtelling, a Jewish ritual theatre group based in New York City. Annie Levy is a writer, theatre educator, performer, designer, and director who also performs with Storahtelling. Matt Walters, a professional actor, has done offoff-Broadway plays, commercials, and voiceovers. Annie, Franny, Matt, JAR and Betsey Parker collaborated to

create an original drama called The Underwater Palace, which is based on a Kabbalistic folk tale of the same name. Performed by JAR, Franny, Matt and Betsey, and directed by Annie, The Underwater Palace tells the story of a young woman who walks into the river to be reunited with her secret love, and whose aunt, a midwife, finds her again. The conversation below is excerpted from an entry in the Ramah Wisconsin blog (web log), where you can read the complete dialog online at www.ramahwisconsin. com. Annie: We arrived at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin with nothing but a short story. The first week was spent in the writing collaboration process, taking the short story and actually turning it into a full-length theatre piece. M a t t : One of the neat things through our creative and rehearsal process was bringing in campers in small groups to come

Franny: Both campers and staff have been involved throughout the entire process. It’s been really great. We’ve been integrated into camp in a really nice way. It’s great to be able to share what we’re experts in with the people at camp. Annie: It’s also important for campers to see that the term “Jewish artist” is not an oxymoron. This camp is based very much on the idea of modeling behavior, and if the campers see us creating art and taking it seriously, they will also take their art seriously and see that it is actually something that can sustain them.


d Gelb has joined the Ramah Camping Movement as the director of Camp Ramah in New England. Ed joins CRNE after a successful five-year tenure as director of Camp Alonim, which is affiliated with the Brandeis Bardin Institute in California. Originally from Wyoming, Ed is a longtime Ramahnik, having been on the staffs of Ramah California and Ramah Canada for many years, including service as the assistant director at Ramah Canada under Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, the current National Ramah Director. Prior to becoming director of Camp Alonim, Ed was a teacher, administrator and basketball coach of Yeshiva University High School in Los Angeles. He will be ordained as a rabbi at the Conservative Movement’s University of Judaism this May. Ed has an obvious passion for Jewish camping and particularly for Camp Ramah. “I believe Jewish camping is critical to cultivating a strong and enduring Jewish identity. Camp Ramah is the gold standard in Jewish camping. Camp Ramah holds a truly special place in my heart as Ramah played a pivotal role in my life, leading to a career choice of becoming a rabbi and working with young people in a Jewish environment. I look forward to leading Camp Ramah in New England and working with its wonderful staff and community leaders to ensure that the camp continues to grow and develop in many new ways.”


“Colours” in Canada

nthusiastic campers at Ramah Canada dress in special colors for Yom Sport activities. Each year, Yom Sport is a programmatic highlight at camp, as the oldest campers, Alonim, show remarkable leadership skills while planning and running a day of drama, song, art, and of course, athletic competition for the entire camp community.

Franny: And that it can be Jewish art—that there’s a place for Jewish art. This program is very unique in the sense that there are not many theatre companies in the country that focus on creating Jewish performing arts. It’s important for the campers to see that the two pieces can coexist.

Spring 2006

Issue II

Special Needs Programs The right choice Breira B’Ramah adds another dimension to Ramah Berkshires


A very special chair


hen returning mishlachat member Tomer Nachshon of Haifa (pictured) saw that a Ramah New England Tikvah camper had a difficult time sitting at the table in the chadar ochel due to serious difficulties with muscle tone and balance, he took action. Tomer was both a member of the nagarut (woodworking) staff, and a live-in staff member in an Amitzim bunk. At a staff meeting, the Tikvah staff discussed seating options for the camper. Some suggested that she use her wheelchair for meals; others suggested that she sit between two counselors. Tomer had something entirely different in mind. He took out his sketchpad and got to work. Within three days, Tomer had used his free time in the woodshop to build an elegant chair with a blue cushion, rich wood stain, and a footstool. Instead of being singled out as the camper in the wheelchair, this camper was soon sitting like dignified royalty in a throne! – Howard Blas, CRNE Tikvah Director

Café Ezra open in Ojai


n 2004, the Ezra Vocational Program at Camp Ramah in California established “Café Ezra,” a college-style café open one evening a week at which staff could spend their free time. By working at the café, the Ezra participants, young adults with special needs, had the opportunity to develop their vocational and social skills. During the summer of 2005, Lee Chernotsky, Rosh Ezra, worked with Ezra participants to expand the operations of Café Ezra from a

By Tammy Arnow

he Breira B’Ramah program—Hebrew for “Choice at Ramah”—is designed to allow campers with certain challenges the ability to attend Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. When Breira B’Ramah began in 2002, no one knew whether it would work. People wondered whether it would be possible for campers with social and learning challenges to be integrated into bunks and camp activities. Today those questions are long gone. “People now just accept the program as a part of camp,” says Ralph Schwartz, the former director of the program. “That means it’s working, because it’s obvious that these kids, regardless of any challenges they have, are just as much a part of the fabric of camp as other campers.” “These kids would not be campers without Breira,” continues Schwartz. Berkshires director Rabbi Paul Resnick adds, “Before this program began, parents had to make the choice between a place that would support their child’s needs and a camp with a Jewish soul.” In many ways, the program is hidden from the rest of camp. Each Breira camper is “mainstreamed” into regular camp programs and bunks. At the same time, the proone-night-a-week staff activity to a store open daily. The effort was funded in part by an Ikar Grant for innovative programs envisioned by summer staff. The store was open during hours in which staff had time off. This provided counselors with an opportunity to have a “coffee house” experience while at the same time serving as a tool to foster the growth and development of the vocational and social skills of the Ezra participants. Each participant learned essential skills for working in the food service industry, including cash register operation; preparation and service of ice-blended coffee drinks, snow cones, and soft pretzels; and set-up and cleaning. At the end of the summer, many staff members reported that Café Ezra became an integral part of their camp experience at Ramah. Participants in the Ezra program also gained marketable vocational skills, enabling one Ezra participant to get a job in a local supermarket. – Tara Reisbaum

The Cafe Ezra staff at work at Ramah California 

gram provides the needed support services—like specially-trained counselors and social skills workshops—that also help to build self-esteem. “The counselors have made me more comfortable with the camp setting,” says a Breira camper. “Because they’re there, I get to do everything with the bunk, and I’m better able to enjoy things. They’re also helpful when I have problems.” Counselors in the program say that in addition to the satisfaction that comes from helping the campers succeed at camp, they have learned a lot from them. “It was really rewarding to see a Breira camper become more independent and social and also to see the bunk take care of this camper,” says one counselor. “I can’t imagine camp without this program.” Because the Breira campers share the intimacy of living in bunks, friendships develop in ways that might not otherwise. “My friends can notice my changes inside,” says a camper. “And I’d be lonely without them.” Friendships are often sustained throughout the year, and the camper tells with pride that many of his bunkmates attended his bar mitzvah. When campers reach the

vnrc vue, Bogrim (14-year-old) edah, they have the opportunity to become “Bogrim Buddies” with a Breira camper and spend an hour on Shabbat together. Bogrim camper Jonny Gottlieb comments, “It’s nice to give back, and it helps me appreciate what I have.” It is common to see both Breira and non-Breira campers playing board games and relaxing on the porch of Beit Breira, which is the official home base for the program.

comes together and we can talk about how we’re all different and that’s okay. How we act as Jews starts in the bunk.” Dr. Beth Jaret, who is the new director of Breira, says that she is looking forward to a fabulous summer working at Breira B’Ramah. “Staff, parents and campers have shared wonderful memories as well as their gratitude to Ramah for making such a program available to them.”

Schwartz has used harga’ot— bedtime discussions in bunks— to emphasize three important themes. “We’re all created bt’zelem elokim, no one is more special to God than anyone else, and although we’re all different on the outside, we’re very similar inside. Sometimes we forget that we all have strengths and areas we’re working on,” he says. “During a harga’ah, a bunk

Jonny Gottlieb says his work as a Bogrim buddy has helped him realize something very important. “Being different is sometimes good,” he says. “Being unique may give you insights that other people don’t have.” And one of the Breira campers states a basic truth about campers everywhere, regardless of the challenges they may face: “It feels good to be treated like any other kid.”

Softball game honors memory of New England Ramahnik


he Tikvah and Camp Ramah in New England family were saddened when one of their beloved campers and Voc-Ed program participants, Jake Shapell, died unexpectedly on December 7, 2004. Many staff members attended the funeral in Maine, and smiled during the eulogies that described Jake’s funny, playful ways, which everyone remembered from so many summers at Ramah. To help keep Jake’s memory alive, the entire camp participated in the First Annual Jake Shapell Classic Softball Game, held after lunch one Shabbat afternoon. Tikvah staff members shared memories of Jake, an avid softball player who was legendary for his solid hits up the middle and for his pitching, complete with slow, deliberate wind-up. The entire camp sang Hatikvah and The Star Spangled Banner, and Jake’s dear friend, camper Eliana Friedman, threw out the first pitch, as Amitzim campers, in their “Jake Shapell Classic” t-shirts, lined the base paths. – Howard Blas

Mitzvah mission: summer carnival!


t Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, 12- and 13year-old Solelim campers took part in a variety of mitzvah projects this past summer. Some campers volunteered at PARC, a nearby center for adults with developmental disabilities. Towards the end of the summer, Solelim campers created a carnival for 20 participants from the PARC program. Booths at the carnival included a bean-bag toss and a photo-taking station. “The whole experience made me feel good about helping someone,” said Jeremy Ney, who spent much of the time with a man named Marty. “I could tell everyone was having a good time.” Most people don’t think of volunteering as a regular part

of summer camp—at least not beyond offering to refill the water at the lunch table—and this point has not been lost on the campers.

“It’s fun, said Jonathan Haber, “but it’s also unique and we get the satisfaction of knowing we’re helping other people.” – Lawrence Szenes-Strauss

Issue II

Spring 2006

Special Needs Programs

Chaverim “buddies”

Tikvah at Canada

Wisconsin program helps to create lasting friendships


articipants in Ramah Canada’s Tikvah program enthusiastically celebrate their presentation in appreciation of the kitchen staff. Canada’s Tikvah program, begun in 1993, continues to serve many families with children and teens with special needs by including them in the wonderful camp environment each summer. Some Tikvah participants now continue to serve camp in staff roles. In addition to the incredibly positive influence Tikvah has on these individuals and their families, the Tikvah program also inspires the entire Ramah community. In 2005, Canada’s Tikvah program benefitted from outstanding staff and great programmatic innovation.

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amah Wisconsin campers Yael Zinkow and Mike Becker spent a lot of time together this summer. They ate lunch together, went swimming, took walks throughout camp, played board games and just “hung out.” What makes their friendship so special is that Yael was a camper in Machon, Ramah Wisconsin’s program for campers entering their sophomore year in high school, and Mike was a camper in Tikvah, Ramah’s nationally-recognized program for Jewish teens with special needs. The two campers got to know each other through a special program called “Chaverim” (friends), which pairs Machon and Tikvah campers. This last summer, 40 Machon campers volunteered to be a part of the program. According to Rose Sharon, Wisconsin’s Tikvah director, the goal of Chaverim is to build friendships and provide a means for Tikvah campers to feel in-

By Tami Warshawsky cluded. “Even though campers in the Tikvah Program have special needs, they have something to share with others,” says Sharon. “Machon campers also gain skills they can use throughout their lives such as compassion, patience and tolerance.” For Yael Zinkow, participating in Chaverim was an awesome experience. “In the beginning, I went into Chaverim thinking that I was the Machon camper and Mike was the Tikvah camper. But by the end of the summer I realized that there was no difference; we were just friends hanging out together,” she says. “I learned so much from Mike and I really value him as a friend.” Adam Broms, one of seven Tikvah counselors, coordinated the Chaverim program this past summer. Broms, who is currently a freshman at George Washington University, first became involved in the Machon-Tikvah partnership when he was a junior counselor in Machon. “I believe this

partnership adds so much to the camp experience for both Tikvah and Machon campers,” he says. “It gives Tikvah campers a way to feel connected and to have fun with other kids at camp. Machon campers gain a sense of satisfaction that they are doing something good for other people, and they have a great time in the process.” Rose Sharon literally beams when she talks about the Tikvah program. “Each summer, Ramah enables Jewish campers with special needs to participate and flourish in a Jewish community,” she says. “What could be more important than that?”

Camp Yofi a huge success at Ramah Darom

The mother of an autistic child reflects on her family’s experience in helping to establish a new family camp program at Ramah Darom


hen most kids in Chattanooga were starting their second or third week of school, the SalomonSadowitz family was packing the van to drive to Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia. Last year I received a call from Rabbi Loren Sykes, director of Ramah Darom. While we had not been at Ramah Family Camp for the last couple of summers, Rabbi Sykes said that he had never forgotten my family and the struggles he had witnessed in raising children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). He wondered what I thought about having a family camp just for families who had one or more children with autism. At that moment the tears spontaneously streamed over my cheeks. … Of course, I jumped at the chance to be part of a new program with Ramah, and the opportunity to help and give back even if only a fraction of what Ramah had given to me and my family. … Ramah family camp director Susan Tecktiel was asked both to work on the development of the new camp—Camp Yofi—and to serve as its first director. Susan was thrilled to help make this a reality. … We were one of the 20 pioneer families at Camp Yofi and so proud to have been the inspiration for this new undertaking. It was an honor that most could not possibly comprehend. We do things very differently than the average family. Great care must be taken when planning activities or outings, and socializing with other Jewish families is not something we do regularly. Many parents take for granted

by Rachel Sadowitz

the simple pleasures of growing up, like making friends, having sleepovers, boys wrestling in the yard, and girls talking incessantly on the phone with friends. Those are social skills that we are still working on in our home. My son Phillip has severe autism and his behavior struggles are obvious. But his siblings, Sammy and Rebecca, experience silent struggles that are sometimes even more heart-wrenching.

...there we were in front of the main dining hall standing and breathing the Ramah air as the tears fell... The subtleties of other autistic spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome and highfunctioning autism, are not obvious but sometimes can be more difficult to address. Children with Asperger’s syndrome often do not process and understand body language, idioms, sarcasm and jokes. It may not seem like a big deal, but it can be devastating to a preteen and teenager. What an opportunity it was for these children to have Camp Yofi! The mountains so clear and crisp, the lake calm and inviting, and there we were in front of the main dining hall standing and breathing the Ramah air as the tears fell again over my cheeks. We were back. … Phillip met his chaver (buddy) and counselor Shoshanna Brown…and they slowly bonded.

… We greeted families as they arrived, and I was thrilled to meet a family with a 13-year-old sibling, Kara, who became great friends with Rebecca. Another family had three boys—the oldest with Asperger’s syndrome, the middle a typical developing child, and the youngest autistic. Both Sammy and Rebecca made friends with boys with Asperger’s syndrome and it was so interesting to see how they all just gravitated to each other. Parents were so grateful for an emotionally safe and healthy environment facilitating not just friendships, but Jewish friendships. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by other Jewish families who didn’t judge me or my children, or think us strange because we “didn’t get it.” All three of my children were in an environment where they were not merely tolerated, but instead celebrated. We all had great milestones at Ramah. For the first time, Rebecca climbed Jacob’s Ladder, the most difficult structure on the climbing tower; Sammy caught for the first time a huge 7.2 pound large-mouth bass; Phillip climbed to the top of the tower for the first time; and me, well I got to kvell openly in a way I have never been able to. I am so very proud of my children, their triumphs and successes because I know the struggles intellectually, emotionally, and socially that they continue to work to overcome. I will be forever grateful to Rabbi Loren Sykes and Ramah Darom for taking a chance on a group of families that are often left out… Yasher koach, and todah rabah from the bottom of our hearts.

The Salomon-Sadowitz family with Camp Yofi staff member Shoshanna Brown


here is nothing small about each victory for a child with autism, a sibling, or a parent. Each win is major and significant. … As we entered Shabbat that week, it became clear that I had never been involved in anything more meaningful or moving than Camp Yofi. I met an incredible group of families parenting at a level most of us can never understand. The first gathering of Jewish families with children with autism had, in a very short time, created one of the most spiritual communities I have ever joined.” – Rabbi Loren Sykes, Ramah Darom Director

A family at Camp Yofi enjoys a campfire 

Spring 2006

Issue II

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Kolot Ramah

Poconos Stars

The value of free play at camp Reflections from Summer 2005


t the end of each season at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin I sit with the oldest campers and schmooze with them about their many years as campers. One response that I hear year after year is that at camp the pressure is off; they tell me they feel so little stress at camp. As staff we often speak with each other about how intense the work is: the long hours and the stresses of programming, being responsible for campers, dealing with the myriad group and individual issues that come up each season. These are all very intense experiences for the staff. But the oldest campers keep telling me there is no stress. I have listened carefully to their descriptions of their Ramah experience, and I think they are saying the following: During the year their lives are highly programmed. Almost every waking hour is busy with school, afterschool activities, homework, carpools, youth groups, etc. Every outing involves arrangements and even getting to shul on Shabbat means coordinating family schedules. Everything requires arrangements. When the kids finally are home for a breather, they are on the computer or on the phone. Few campers live in neighborhoods with close friends who live in walking distance or next door. At camp the day is also structured with activities all day long, but in between and before and after there are spaces of free time to hang out and play. In some ways these play times are the special moments that enrich all the highlystructured activities. One thing at camp that is different from home is that there is always someone to play with. But free play doesn’t just happen. Not all the campers know how to appropriately handle transition times. The staff very consciously works with kids to guide them to free play opportunities and to include everyone in the game. The staff members learn how to link campers and encourage play by organizing a Frisbee game or a pick-up basketball game or by showing someone how to play a guitar.

by Rabbi David Soloff

A casual lacrosse catch at Ramah Wisconsin The camp is full of wonderful spaces to play: fields, shady areas of the kikar, screened cabin porches. Even when it rains there are many great indoor places to play. Some of the campers have discovered “cup stacking,” a new challenge introduced by the sports staff, which requires eye-hand coordination and quick reflexes. Some campers have been seen photographing sunsets, watching eagles soar over the shoreline, and observing places where turtles are laying their eggs. A camper came running up to me one day to describe a flying ant. Someone else was watching dragonflies catch mosquitoes. (This really happens.) I often see groups of kids rolling down the incline of the kikar. Several campers and staff have invented a version of “shoe golf,” which transforms the entire campus into an 18-hole course with many intricate rules. After a pic-

nic lunch one Wednesday, the oldest campers formed a large circle on the kikar and attempted a new record for continuous volleyball hits to keep the ball from touching the ground. Some of the younger campers have adapted Harry Potter games to play at camp. Sometimes campers make poor decisions. What seems like fun is actually inappropriate. Campers have to take responsibility for their decisions and sometimes receive logical consequences and learn to apologize. Camp is not an amusement park. It is a setting for real kids learning to live and play in groups, in a nurturing Jewish community. As parents we think a lot about play for younger kids: play groups, play dates, developmental markers for how to play. However, at home we often focus far less on the need for free play for kids in the camper age group. At camp, free play is a time for campers to learn about being collaborative. With much patience and a ton of creative energy, the staff members help kids to recapture the fun of playing. In the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot, the third mishnah states, “There is no person who does not have his hour/ And there is no thing without its place in the sun.” Through our camp activity program, we try to provide rich options in sports and the arts, enabling everyone to shine and have his or her “hour.” But it is through free play that each camper can learn to find a place in the sun—as an individual and as part of a group. Rabbi David Soloff is the director of Ramah Wisconsin.

A ginat besamim grows in Nyack


ampers really got their hands dirty in Teva last summer at Ramah Nyack! With the help of Nyack’s nature tzevet, they built a giant dirt-making machine (a.k.a a composter). Campers and staff combined an ancient recipe of hay, topsoil, worms, and leftovers from the chadar ochel to be magically transformed into compost, an effective soil enhancer. In the process, campers learned that composting is a natural form of recycling. Another project was the creation of a ginat besamim, a havdalah spice garden, in the shape of a Magen David. Campers discovered that they loved digging, planting and watering, and with each garden visit said the blessing for the gift of fragrant plants. When Teva’s monarch butterflies took flight, they found delicious nectar in the flowers of the new garden. Many campers also saw the miracle of how Avraham and Sarah made fire without matches! Teva’s current project is the development of a new nature trail for the summer of 2006. – Aaron Philmus, Shapiro Fellow

At Ramah Poconos, Halutzim (entering 7th grade) campers star in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Halutzim is the youngest edah at Poconos that perfoms in its own edah production. Some of these campers have been waiting years for their turn in the spotlight!

Philadelphia Day Camp moves to new site


amah Day Camp celebrated its tenth year with record-breaking enrollment at its new site on the Mandell Education Campus in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania at the Perelman Jewish Day School. The new facilities provide a large campus with great outdoor sports facilities. Indoor areas include air-conditioned bunk and programming space, allowing camp to operate fully in all weather conditions. In

addition to an in-ground pool on campus, campers benefit from the use of a nearby swim club with an Olympic-sized pool. At this site, Ramah values the opportunity to develop an even closer relationship with the Perelman Jewish Day School, strengthening the links between Conservative Movement partners. – Sue Ansul, Philadelphia Ramah Day Camp Director

Ramah California dedicates new treehouse


his past summer, five members of the Salkin family came to Ojai for the dedication of the newly-completed Salkin Family Treehouse. Below, Dorothy Salkin reflects on her family’s close ties to Camp Ramah in California and their reasons for dedicating the treehouse. “[My husband] Avram and I feel very closely connected to Camp Ramah in California because our children Valerie and Ken both were Ramah campers and because for more than fifteen years we have enjoyed the Ramah Academy weekends. We are Founding Regents and take great pride in that fact. Our family is passionate about philanthropy in very specific and tangible ways that will encourage future generations of Jews to be connected to their Judaism. We believe that Camp Ramah, synagogue affiliation, Jewish day schools and trips to Israel will ensure the continuation of Judaism in the generations to come. The Salkin Family Treehouse is a special place for the youngest Gesher campers to experience the out-of-doors and for them to have a real Jewish overnight camping experience. And, as we have learned, even the older campers seem to find a way of getting to the Salkin Family Treehouse and enjoying it too. We loved seeing the mezuzah made by Ramah campers on the treehouse entrance. If we are ever blessed with grandchildren, we hope that they will enjoy being in the Salkin Family Treehouse at Camp Ramah and that they will feel proud and be happy to know that their grandparents and parents made it possible for them, their friends and other children.” Valerie, Michal, Ken, Dorothy and Avram Salkin and Rabbi Dan Greyber at the dedication of the Salkin Family Treehouse

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Kolot Ramah

Shavuot at Ramah Darom

The unusual 2005 calendar gave the Darom community a unique opportunity to celebrate chag at camp


or the first time in Ramah Darom history, and I believe in Camp Ramah history, we celebrated Shavuot during camp. Having yom tov in camp was one of the most magnificent and memorable moments of my entire camp career. Following camp-wide tefillot and dinner, the two oldest edot, Nivonim and Gesher, joined together for the traditional Tikkun Leyl Shavuot. The custom of staying up all night in anticipation of the giving of Torah goes back many generations. What was truly amazing was that campers didn’t just stay up and schmooze; rather, they participated in a wide variety of activities, from “Ramah Darom Torah Idol” to “Torah Ga-ga,” to small-group study sessions and activities. At around 4:00 a.m., a group of about twenty people took a walk around the lake. We stood silently on the road between the pavilion and the omanut building, listening to the sounds of night, the rain dripping off the trees, and the occasional bullfrog honking through the night. The mist was rising off the lake, and the sky was just starting to turn from pitch black to darkest blue. As we stood, I recounted a midrash about the moment of revelation at Sinai. According to the midrash, as God began speaking, the people were too overwhelmed to listen. In the end, they heard only the sound of the alef in anochi. I wondered aloud about the

By Rabbi Loren Sykes

rising mist, and the drops of rain, that perhaps as the sun was starting to rise, that the moment of revelation may have looked and sounded something just like what we were experiencing. We stood for another moment and then returned for tefillot. At tefillot, two miraculous things happened. First, over half

Gesher campers ran the program, and it was absolutely amazing. The camp studied the entire Torah all at one time. Campers of different ages were grouped together to study a different parashah of the Torah, and then they made up short songs summing up the major themes. We ended the first day by

Campers at Ramah Darom read from the Torah on the Monday after Shavuot the room actually stayed awake and tefillot were beautiful. Second, the rain stopped, the sun rose, and the sky turned blue for the first time in five days. Campers and staff all returned to their respective tzrifim for a few hours of sleep. In the afternoon of the first day of yom tov, the entire camp gathered to play “Ramah Darom Torah Idol.” The Nivonim and

“Wrapped” in Torah

As part of our Shavuot experience, we gathered all of the chanichim in the middle of the Beit Am. Donning tallitot and rubber gloves, the entire tzevet formed a circle around the campers. Slowly, with great reverence and chanting niggunim, the staff members unrolled two Torah scrolls and passed them around the circle until the chanichim were actually surrounded by the Torah, completely enclosed and protected by it. For those of us who had never seen a Torah completely unrolled, this was a deeply moving experience. I felt a part of something bigger than myself. At first, small groups of chanichim, led by Gesher campers and by staff members who acted as tour guides, simply walked around the circle, singing and taking in the sight of Torah all around them. Some of the chanichim searched for their bar and bat mitzvah Torah portions. Others tried to read a few words in the scroll for the first time. The campers behaved with the reverence and respect one might expect in front of the Torah. It was truly an experience of Matan Torah different from any other. For me, and I expect for others who were a part of it, this Shavuot at camp underscored our connection to the Torah and our connection to each other as members of Am Yisrael like I had never felt before. – Cecelia Beyer, Shapiro Fellow

Lights out at Poconos

bringing the whole camp together in the middle of the Beit Am. The staff encircled the campers, and then two sifrei Torah were brought out and unrolled. (See sidebar, right.) The entire experience, from watching the camp studying the complete Torah to watching the camp actually surrounded by the Torah, was powerful and moving.


Creativity in the woodwork at Poconos

s opening ceremonies for Yom Yisrael began at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, the sky above camp grew darker and darker. The winds picked up and then, without notice, came a big clap of thunder and pouring rain. All chanichim and staff were quickly accounted for, safe and dry in their tzrifim. The storm caused a power outage, however. Everyone found flashlights and laughter and screams were heard all around camp. Although the rain stopped rather quickly, the lights remained off. Flashlights


agarut (woodworking) is a popular activity at Poconos Ramah, where campers develop new skills creating their own projects. Here, Halutzim and Bogrim campers proudly display their latest creations. Many other specialty choices are offered, tapping into each camper’s interests and talents.

Wisconsin waterfront activities keep campers active

in hand, the entire camp soon headed up to the chadar ochel and the adjoining Beit Am Gadol, which had an emergency generator. Lital Rashi, Rosh Rikud, quickly organized an all-camp harkada (dance) in the Beit Am Gadol, where hundreds of raincoat-clad campers and staff circled the room doing all of their favorite Israeli dances. The atmosphere was festive and there were smiles all around. Despite the interruption to Yom Yisrael, it was a great way to light up a dark evening.

Chicago Zimriyah creates a world of song


he Ramah Wisconsin waterfront was the site of non-stop activity last summer! Twenty-one Machon campers (entering 10th grade) passed a summerlong course in lifeguard training. • The Bogrim campers (entering 9th grade) choreographed their own synchronized swimming acts, which they performed for the entire camp (see photo). • Fifty-six campers and staff members awoke at 4:30 a.m. on a beautiful July morning to do the annual “Polar Bear” swim

to Lake Buckatabon’s island. • Sixty-seven campers used every watercraft in the fleet to boat around the island. • Twice a week, cabins were at the waterfront participating in peulot tzrif in kayaking, greased watermelon contests, sand castle building, and free swim.


he Zimriyah is always one of the summer’s highlights at the Chicago Ramah Day Camp.The theme of the 2005 Zimriyah was Briyat Haolam (creation of the world). Each group performed a song reflecting a different aspect of creation. Here, kindergarteners and their madrichim are pictured joyfully singing “Mayim.”

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Berkshires campers and staff enjoy the camp’s new water toy: the aqua jump

Seminar participants explore northern Israel

Smiling faces permeate the atmosphere at Palmer

Swimmers at Ramah California enjoy an afternoon at the pool

Developing new skills on Nyack’s rope course

At Ramah Nyack, campers and staff love to dance together to start each day

Rick Recht entertains campers with a concert at the Philadelphia Ramah Day Camp

Campers at the Chicago-area Ramah Day Camp enjoy learning about Israel from shlichim

“Shaping “ our future: budding artist at Berkshires

Campers at Ramah Darom enjoy rock climbing excursions

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Notzetzim/Tzeerim campers from Ramah Poconos balance high on the Etgar course

Ramah California 8th graders prepare for a 15-mile bike ride to the Pacific Ocean

Mastering sailing skills at Ramah Wisconsin

Philadelphia Ramah day campers experience outdoor tefillah

Wisconsin campers and staff learn teamwork in their new leadership training park

New England campers warm up before a big game

Camper camaraderie in Canada

Halutzim campers give their all during Yom Sport at Ramah Poconos

Fun in the sun with Ramah Darom’s blob and water trampoline

Canada campers enjoy the “hurdles” of Yom Sport competition

Fun in the pool for swimmers at the Chicago-area Ramah Day Camp

Spring 2006

Issue II

Israel Programs

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Ramah Programs in Israel reach new heights There’s a Ramah Israel program for everyone! At Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY) and USY High, participants spend the spring semester at the Ramah Jerusalem High School studying Zionism and contemporary Israel, 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. The Ramah Israel Institute (RII) custom builds two-week programs in Israel for schools, synagogues and other community organizations. Read on to find out what participants had to say about these programs.

Israel Seminar Aliza Romirowsky and Danielle Natelson were participants in Ramah’s Poland Seminar, which includes 10 days in Poland prior to six weeks in Israel.Upon their return to the United States, Aliza and Danielle spoke about their experiences in their synagogue communities. These are excerpts from their speeches: If my last summer at Camp Ramah Poconos was called Gesher, meaning bridge, then this summer landed me on a new side of life, a more mature place; a place of responsibility. Two days after rushing to finish finals early, I found myself in a very different world: Poland. Our Chasidic leader, Alan, explained to us on the very first day that in no way were we in Poland to re-create or re-experience the horrors of the Holocaust—that often, people come to Poland expecting to feel what the six million Jews felt, but that is an impossible goal. The purpose of our trip is to remember, memorialize, and honor all that occurred in Poland. Most of our time in Europe was spent in cities like Warsaw, Lublin, Lodz, and Krakow in order to explore the rich Jewish life that was there, but is left without witnesses to testify to its existence. By davening in shuls that haven’t seen a minyan in 50 years, we awakened the Jewish neshama that used to meander through the streets of Europe and thrive there. Imagine this: Krakow at havdalah time. We rush down to the square shouting songs like Am Yisrael Chai, and we join in circle dancing as we do havdalah. It was such a poignant moment because I could feel the combination of my passion for Jewish life and also my mourning for those who were murdered for living it. The local Krakow citizens must have been shocked to see such energy

because they stood to watch and photograph us as we danced and sang. As people took pictures and videotaped us, I was proud to know that someone would have me in their album with the picture labeled “Jews dancing in the street.” This means that the Jews exist, that we’re real and not just phantoms lurking in their past. Along with such moments of profound happiness, Poland also brought such sadness that I can still feel as I recall trips to Treblinka, Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Majdonek. I couldn’t feel what the people went through at the death camps, but I still felt them. I heard their silent prayers as we davened Shacharit next to the barbed wire in Birkeneau, and I was with them as they wept and said the shema in the gas chambers of Majdonek. Leaving Poland was just as important as going because it

...I see my trip to Poland and then to Israel as a responsibility fulfilling dreams that were lost for centuries... showed how I had the privilege of leaving the death, and surviving the horror that so many people were lost to. I see my trip to Poland and then to Israel as a responsibility fulfilling dreams that were lost for centuries. I needed to really understand the horrors, happiness, and hopes of my past, and to live through them myself. My whole summer experience wasn’t only a delight and luxury, but it was my mission. -Aliza Romirowsky, Kvutzat Agnon

Flying to Israel, or more importantly, landing in Israel was very powerful. It really felt like we were coming home. When we hit the runway cheers rang throughout the plane. We were so happy to be in a country that we could call home. We got off the plane right on to the ground, and a group of us who had never been to Israel bent down and kissed it in tears. We closed our week in Poland with a visit to the Kotel as a group. Although it was the first time for only some of us, we treated the visit as the first for all of us, as if each of us was visiting the Kotel for some one who never got the chance to. The Israel part of Seminar officially started in the North. We descended down Mount Arbel, swam in the Kinneret, visited a Druze village and saw the northern borders, among other things. But we truly felt like we were in Israel when we got to Jerusalem. I have never felt more comfortable being a Jew anywhere than in Jerusalem. A few highlights of Jerusalem were our 2:00 a.m.climb up Masada for sunrise; swimming, or shall I say floating, in the Dead Sea; the “Kotel” tunnels; seeing all of the quarters; and Yad Vashem. In the South, we stayed on two kibbutzim and in a Bedouin tent. We went mountain biking, ziplining, snorkeling, and on a camel ride, which was so much fun. It is truly amazing how much life there is where there seems to be nothing. In the South, the dream of Ben Gurion to make the desert bloom is coming true. It wasn’t until we were in the South that it really hit me how amazing it is that such a small country has such a large variety of climates and landscapes. By the end of the trip, we had been in every body of water surrounding Israel! - Danielle Natelson, Kvutzat Nachshon

TRY & USY High Participants in Ramah Jerusalem High School programs were asked, “Is there any ‘added value’ in experiencing Israel in an academic framework?” • You get to experience what it’s like to live in Israel and not just feel like you’re in Israel as a tourist. The entire time in Israel isn’t just based on tiyulim but also just being in the land. • Although there is more structure, it helps you learn in an independent environment and interact much more with kids your age. It makes you learn how to deal with many new situations that might not arise during a summer program. They were also asked, “When you get off the plane and your


friends ask you: ‘How was your year at TRY?’ What will you say?” • My year was amazing. I came back from my first time in Israel feeling like I know so much about the country, and it is definitely a place I want to go back to. I also learned a lot about interacting so closely with people and things about myself. • It was a wonderful growing and learning experience and the best thing I have done so far in my life.

• I really feel so much more connected to Israel than I did before. I will for sure come back as soon as possible. • What I ended up getting out of the program was a huge background and personal involvement in Israeli politics, society, and culture.

Seminar 2005 participants explore Mount Arbel overlooking the Kinneret

Ramah Israel Institute (RII) Every RII program is carefully designed to fit the needs of the group, based on their previous background, trip goals and knowledge of Israel. RII designs and leads trips for Jewish day schools, family groups, supplementary schools, and adult groups. This December, a group from Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, NJ traveled to Israel with RII. The following article contains excerpts from a letter written by Rabbi Ron Isaacs, spiritual leader of Temple Sholom. My wife Leora and I have been actively involved in Jewish family education for the past 20 years. We have also had the good fortune of taking ten trips to Israel with families in our congregation. We recently returned from a two-week synagogue family trip to Israel in December 2005, and it was by far the most carefully-designed trip, meeting all our goals, so we wanted to share our delight in having worked for the first time with Ramah Programs in Israel. We planned our trip with the help of Dr. Joe Freedman (director of Ramah Programs in Israel), who holds a doctorate in education from Columbia University. Joe first met with us many months before the trip to talk about our vision and goals. From our discussion and his presentation, it was obvious to us that he is a remarkable educator who understands the complexities and intricacies involved in planning a family trip to Israel that will be experiential and interactive. From the outset we realized that his vision for our trip and our vision and goals made for a good “shidduch” and that we were just the right clients for a Ramah family trip. Rather than a sightseeing trip with a few educational activities

sprinkled in here and there, our trip enabled us to use each of the sites as a living text for exploration of Jewish identity, history, connection and values. It was true family education at its best – mutual, engaging, fun and transformative. There were a variety of handson and minds-on activities throughout the two weeks, including tree planting, an archaeological dig, a boat ride and home-spun talent show on Lake Kinneret, a nature hike, and a b’nai and b’not mitzvah ceremony at the ancient synagogue of Tzippori, just to mention a few. Learning became discovery, and discovery was always relevant to the lives of all of our participants. During the trip, our families used a custom-designed sourcebook crafted by Ramah, which included readings, poems, songs and historical facts of interest. Many of our families remarked that they were going to continue to use the book upon returning home. Everyone has been transformed into a community of learners! We are already excited about planning our next excursion to Israel, and intend to use the experts of the Ramah Israel Institute. - Rabbi Ron Isaacs For information about creating your own school or synagogue Israel experience, please contact RII Director, Richard Eisenberg, at richard@ramah.

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Kolot Ramah

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Weinstein Institute for Staff Training

Ramah + USY


his year’s National Ramah Weinstein Institute for Staff Training brought together 40 counselors, representing all the Ramah overnight camps and the Nyack Day Camp, from Monday, January 2, through Thursday, January 5, 2006 at Camp Ramah in California in Ojai. Many of the Ramah directors and assistant directors also attended the Institute, both as teachers as well as to work closely with their own madrichim. This year’s Institute focused on two main topics, tefillah and hadracha (counselor training). The topics covered during the hadracha sessions included: • Appropriate discipline at Ramah; • How to mentor one’s junior counselor; and • Issues of body image/social and sexual pressures facing campers. Our tefillah educational program included: • Two outstanding presentations from Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism on “Finding God in Prayer,” and “Why We Pray;” • Director-led small-group discussions focusing on the deeper meaning of specific prayers, and how to teach them in camp; • Spirited davening each day, with inspiring divrei tefilah; • Outdoor mincha/ma’ariv at the beach on the Pacific Ocean during a gorgeous sunset; and

By Rabbi Mitch Cohen

A Winning Combination


“I had an awesome time meeting people from other Ramah camps, learning lots of new ideas for peulot at camp, and especially being able to spend great time with my camp director. I only wish camp was sooner!” -Weinstein 2006 participant • An outdoor mincha service during a hike into the mountains surrounding camp, overlooking the Ojai Valley. Other sessions included the sharing of programs among the various Ramah camps, including ideas for pe’ulot erev, Shabbat programming, pe’ulot tsrif, and y’mei meyuchad. Overall, the 2006 Weinstein Institute was a wonderfully inspiring Ramah experience. These counselors, some of the best young people in the Ramah movement, were treated to a trip to sunny California for four intensive days of learning, training, and program sharing, and went

home with greater Jewish inspiration and an eagerness to get back to camp. In an on-line survey conducted after the Weinstein Institute, the participants evaluated the program, and in general were very appreciative of this experience: • “I enjoyed the program sharing very much. It was very interesting to see how the camps are so different programming-wise but also how there are the same standard activities that all camps do. I am very excited to bring new ideas to the table.” • “If nothing else, being at Weinstein pushed me to start thinking about camp earlier. Now that I’ve thought about being a better counselor. I will constantly be thinking of goals and ways to achieve them. The learning was useful and the activities fun, but more than anything else I am happy to be thinking about camp with a good six months before I put it into practice.” • “It was an awesome experience where I learned so much about all the other Ramah camps. I loved how this program was about everyone’s love for their camp and not a competition between camps.”

Reflections on the Weinstein experience


eing a student at JTS, I am fully aware of the challenges that face Conservative Judaism. Recently, I returned from the Weinstein Institute where I was reminded why I choose to embed myself so deeply in Conservative Judaism. It is quite an astonishing feeling to know that you are surrounded by young, Jewish adults, around the same age as you who are all at Weinstein for the same reason. We are there because we not only care about our individual Ramah camps, but we care about

the future of Judaism. Ramah camps continue to amaze me. From stepping off the bus at age nine, I knew that Ramah would be the place I consider my second home for the rest of my life. What is even more incredible is seeing that seven other Ramah camps aside from Canada have campers and staff that share the same sentiments. Our week at Weinstein was one that helped refine our skills as counselors as well as give us new insight to tefillot. However, as any typical weekend with the Ramah

community goes, we always take away so much more than what is being taught. Several counselors have taken away pride in what Ramah sets out to do. As I leave Weinstein, I leave refreshed with Judaism and still amazed with everything that Ramah does for its youth. After all, Ramah has reminded me just how strong Conservative Judaism is and just how much I am determined to live my life being proud of the movement I belong to. -Jeremy Pappas, Ramah Canada attendee at Weinstein Institute

By Nancy Scheff

he relationship between Ramah and United Synagogue Youth (USY) is strong and getting even stronger! Cooperation on the national, regional and local levels helps fortify Conservative youth, and bodes well for the future leadership of our synagogues and Conservative institutions. This partnership takes many different forms. Every summer, Ramahniks enjoy spending time with the many USY youth directors and advisors who work at or visit Ramah camps. “I’m a familiar face that these kids see not only during the school year, but also during the summer,” says Yoni Shear, regional youth director for the Hagesher (Delaware Valley) region of USY and a long-time staff member at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. According to Rabbi Todd Zeff, director of Ramah Poconos, “USY and Ramah work together to develop a close-knit Jewish youth community in the Philadelphia area, and Yoni’s being here for the summer helps us to work in partnership towards this common goal.” During the summer, Ramah is an ideal setting to “recruit” for USY. Camp Ramah in the Berkshires often holds a “Yom USY,” at which METNY (Metropolitan NY) and Hagalil (Northern NJ) regional youth directors speak to campers about the importance of getting involved in Conservative Movement youth activities once camp is over. Rabbi Paul Resnick, Berkshires director, says, “It is always great to host USY. After all, we are both in the same business—inspiring Conservative Jewish youth.” A Year-Round Jewish Experience During the school year, USY kinnusim, conventions, and other events provide Ramah campers with opportunities for ongoing contact. Tamara Kochberg, former advisor to the ECRUSY (Eastern Canada) region and onetime head of the Canada Ramah swimming program, says, “At a kinnus or Shabbaton, it just naturally happens that after havdalah, all the Ramahniks from the different camps gather together in a big circle and sing, always ending with the Camp Ramah song. It’s really very special.”

Ramah directors visit Conservative Yeshiva


ast February, Ramah directors had lunch with the staff and students at the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel, encouraging many of them to attend Ramah this summer. After the lunch, Rabbi Jim Lebeau, Director of United Synagogue programs in Israel, gave the group a tour of the beautiful new facilities at the United Synagogue Fuchsberg Center in the heart of Jerusalem.

Hanegev / Seaboard / Darom reunion Ramah California works in conjunction with the Far West Region and Los Angeles Hebrew High School throughout the year to run a program called “Shabbat United.” According to California’s assistant director, Zach Lasker, “The program aims to bring together Conservative Jewish youth

through the three main education organizations in which they may take part.” Beth David Synagogue in Greensboro, NC hosted a North Carolina/Ramah Darom Reunion Shabbaton from February 3-5, 2006, with attendees from the Hanegev and Seaboard regions. Said Ross Sadoff, Darom’s assistant director, “USY does during the school year what Ramah does during the summer. USY keeps the Ramah kids connected.” Regional USY encampments take place at most of the Ramah camps, including Berkshires, New England, Poconos and Wisconsin. The Far West Region holds its annual leadership Shabbaton at Ramah California, along with a weekend kinnus for Kadima-aged students. A Formula for Leadership It is no surprise that Ramah staff members are often found at the highest levels of USY leadership. Five of the six members of the 2005 USY Executive Board were Ramahniks, four of whom were staff members at Camp Ramah in Nyack. Amy Skopp Cooper, director of Ramah Nyack, observes, “When I get staff applications, I always look forward to interviewing the applicants who have been active in USY. They re-

...Ramah and USY stand shoulder to shoulder in our commitment to the future of Jewish leadership and our commitment to Conservative Judaism... ally understand our goal of getting campers to be excited about their Judaism.” Such shared experiences facilitate the working relationships between senior Ramah and USY staff and leadership. Rabbi Mitch Cohen, National Ramah Director, often describes how important USY was in his life as a teenager. As well, many adult USY advisors and directors, including USY International Director Jules Gutin, speak of Ramah as the formative experience in their lives. USY Staff Training at Ramah Throughout North America, USY leaders come to Ramah for Jewish learning and youth training. According to Jules Gutin, Ramah camps are “a fantastic setting for youth directors because of the resources available in one place at one time.” This past summer, Ramah Wisconsin hosted a Youth Directors’ Leadership In-Service week for professionals from the CHUSY (Chicagoland), CRUSY (Central States), and Emtza (Central States and Provinces) regions. “We show the USY leadership different program initiatives around camp and introduce them to staff members, many of whom go on to Continued on page 14


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Kolot Ramah Magic moments for Shapiro Fellows at Berkshires

JTS students spend summers at Ramah


hapiro Fellows are graduate students at The Jewish Theological Seminary who spend one or more summers at Ramah camps. The fellowship provides the students with an extra stipend for their summer work—and it also provides the camps with some fantastic teachers, specialists and Jewish role models. The following stories come from three Shapiro fellows who worked at Ramah Berkshires this summer: Fred Elias (The Rabbinical School), Kate Palley (The Rabbinical School) and Sarah Chandler (graduate student in Bible and an alumna of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education). It was a Monday morning on the Appalachian Trail, at the Mt. Algo Campsite, a few miles from Kent, CT. I was with six Bogrim (14-year-old) campers and one other staff member from Al Hagova (outdoor adventure). I was excited to share one of my favorite divrei tefillah regarding the prayer Mah Tovu in the context of a camping trip. I was about halfway through the discussion when I asked the group: “Why do you think I am taking so much time to discuss with you the first line of this prayer?” Although I expected a short response referring to tents, I was pleasantly surprised by our reflective discussion about tent setup and maintenance as com-

munal activities. Usually students must imagine what it is like to live in tents; on that morning, we connected the text directly to our surroundings. On Monday afternoon, some campers left the campsite with the co-leader of the trip to pump, filter and treat water for our next day of hiking. On their way back, they began chatting with the group setting up at the campsite next to us. Suddenly, my campers came running toward our site, jumping up and down and yelling: “They’re from [Ramah] Poconos!” And without missing a beat, another asked: “Can we please ask them if they want to do Shacharit with us tomorrow? That way we’ll have a minyan!” When the two groups came together for Shacharit, one of the Poconos counselors asked about Mah Tovu. I felt immeasurable pride in hearing my campers answer, one by one filling in the blanks about the origin of the story and their current living situation. Unlike the Israelites wandering into their enemies, when we entered the wilderness we found Jewish souls with whom to connect. – Sarah Chandler This past summer, I served as the director for the first ever Ta’am Ramah program at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, a1-week program for 26 third- and fourth-

graders who wanted to get a “taste” of the Ramah Berkshires experience. The “Ta’amim” enjoyed climbing at the rock wall, swimming at the agam, cooking at the mitbachon, making several art projects, and playing sports. They sang and danced in the chadar ochel and davened with wonderful enthusiasm every day. As I prepared for the program, I was blessed with a baby girl, Kayla, born during staff week. I was lucky enough to have my wife and baby up at camp during the Shabbat of Ta’am Ramah. Kayla, who like most babies can be fussy, loves the Ramah song. At the end of the Ta’am Ramah week, when Shabbat came to a close, we gathered on the softball field for havdalah. Wouldn’t you know it—Kayla was a little fussy. Without music, the Ta’amim took matters into their own hands and they sang Shir Ramah to Kayla. As Kayla smiled, the campers smiled too. Never did the words of Shir Ramah feel as powerful as they did at that moment, as these new members of the Ramah Berkshires family, both the Ta’amim and my daughter, smiled and laughed together. – Fred Elias

Bogrim outdoor adventure at Ramah Berkshires it meant learning the finale and singing along with Joseph and his brothers. Chanichim were involved with every part of the productions, from building sets to making costumes. Those with experience helped direct and choreograph musical numbers. My days were also packed with drama activities for all age groups. I had a group of Solelim girls for the whole second month, and we had an intensive playwriting workshop.

Another group of Tzeirim campers wrote their own radio play and performed it on our camp radio station. The play was so clever and each camper added something to it. I loved my summer at camp. I had fun with the campers, and I think they had fun with me. I’m hoping to have my brother and sister join me this summer as counselors. It’s never too late to become a Ramahnik. – Kate Palley

Solelim theatre production

I was incredibly lucky to be Rosh Drama at Ramah Berkshires this summer, directing the plays each edah performed in Hebrew. Every single camper in the edah had to be involved somehow in each edah’s play. For Solelim (13-year-old) campers, this meant that every camper was one of the 101 Dalmatians: Everyone got a white shirt with black spots and participated in a fantastic chase scene around the Beit Am. For Tzeirim (12-year-old) campers,

A CRNE Shabbat tradition


Ta’am Ramah 2005

Tallitot of many colors

Campers at Palmer engage in hiddur mitzvah project


amp Ramah in New England hosted artist, camp parent and former Rosh Omanut Anita RabinoffGoldman for a week-long Artist-in-Residence program to work with Shoafim campers. Together with current Rosh Omanut Bonnie Cramer, campers learned both the artistry and the halakhah of tallit making. Their work included knot tying, sewing, fabric painting and embroidery. At the end of the summer, campers celebrated their artistic accomplishments and are now wearing the tallitot in good health!


ix years ago, Camp Ramah in New England’s business manager, Joel Stavsky, started a Shabbat afternoon chullent tradition to nourish staff members’ sprit and soul. Joel and his wife, Ronnie, prepare the chullent in their lakeshore cabin every Friday afternoon. By mid-day on Shabbat, the enticing aroma of chullent is wafting from their cabin. This tradition has grown from one pot of fleishig (meat) chullent to over four large pots of chullent, with variations that include vegetarian and non-traditional flavorings like hot sauce. Chullent has become such a trademark of hospitality at Camp Ramah in New England that the recipe has been highly sought after by Ramah parents seeking to recreate the camplike Shabbat vibe at home. Parent Marla Scott contacted the Camp Ramah office in September with a report after making the Stavsky recipe, “Sarah walked in, looked at the chullent, stuck her face in to smell it and started to cry because it made her miss camp so much. She and Ariel even asked for paper bowls to eat it from. They want me to make it again this Shabbos.” The recipe for the Stavskys’ famous chullent is available at

A tale of four cities


t Ramah Darom, campers who are entering 10th grade have a program of different electives, Nivonim University, where they declare a major. Nivonim University art majors learned a variety of skills this past summer, including ceramics and cutting and welding steel. They built and glazed ceramic houses reflecting the cultures depicted in Jewish stories about four different stereotypical cities: Sodom (the evil city), Chelm (the silly city), Zion (idealized Jerusalem—the righteous city) and Jerusalem (the actual, modern-day city). The Nivonim campers also built a steel structure to hold the houses.

Issue II

Spring 2006

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Kolot Ramah Securing our future A rabbi reflects on Ramah’s impact on Jewish youth By Rabbi Michael Panitz


visit to Camp Ramah is good medicine for anyone worried about the Jewish future. During my visit to Ramah New England last summer, I saw many reassuring sights. I saw hundreds of Jewish children enjoying themselves—playing ball, creating arts and crafts, going on hikes and overnight trips, singing camp songs, and falling in love. There were another hundred-plus Jewish college and graduate students guiding them as counselors and specialists. How is this different from any other camp in America? At Ramah, the culture and programming of the camp are Jewish. Every day, the children take part in Hebrew prayer. The raucous after-dinner singing, as well as the sweeter songfests on Friday night, is also in Hebrew. The arts and crafts specialists help the children make Torah pointers, silk tallitot and tallit bags, and hamsa necklaces. Young teens make and send each other “Shabbat-o-gram” friendship cards on Friday afternoons—just one way that Shabbat at Ramah combines the advantages of home and community, often in a way many of our children do not experience year-round. During my visit, I had the privilege of conducting a Friday night study session with the special needs vocational education students. These are teens and early twenty-somethings with a variety of developmental disabilities, who are all eager to develop as Jews and as individuals. The cognitive abilities of my charges varied widely, but they were united

in a love of Torah and Jewish living. One student offered the following comment during our discussion of the mutiny by Korach against the leadership of Moses: “Give me the bitter truth and not a sweet lie. At least I can build my life on the truth.” Hearing him, I thought that I would be proud to hear a sentiment of that depth voiced in any of our Hebrew high school discussions. As in years past, I had my eye open for campers I knew. One sought me out to tell me that he had a starring role in The Lion King. One sold my wife, Sheila, flowers on Friday afternoon, as part of a tzedakah project. A couple of our kids waved and kept on walking—which, in a way, is the most reassuring message of all, because it showed how fully they were absorbed in their camp experience. Ramah is an important force in the lives of post-bar/bat mitzvah-aged children who, unfortunately, often stop coming to synagogue once they have reached that milestone. At Ramah, juniors and seniors in high school and college and graduate students live Jewishly, learning about their heritage, applying the lessons of tradition in their daily lives, and creating tight friendships with others who do the same. At Ramah, I see the nucleus of the next generation of leadership of Conservative Judaism. Rabbi Michael Panitz is a longtime supporter and staff member of Ramah in New England. He is the rabbi of Temple Israel in Norfolk, Virginia.

Ramah Noam in Israel


he Masorti youth movement, NOAM, runs youth programming throughout the year in Israel, as well as a threeweek Ramah summer camp in the Galil. Many NOAM graduates now serve as shlichim at some of our North American Ramah camps. As part of its outreach program, Ramah-NOAM also offers scholarships to children from disadvantaged and new immigrant families.

A Ramah Shabbat

A Westchester synagogue celebrates the power of Ramah


emple Israel Center of White Plains, NY held its first Ramah Shabbat on November 12-13, 2005. Over 200 people, mostly parents with children, attended Friday night tefillah and dinner. The singing and dancing, and the ruach during birkat hamazon, were wonderful. The group consisted of many Ramah Nyack families with small children, a group of Ramah Berkshires families, and 30 teen campers from Berkshires who came to celebrate the b’nai mitzvah of Gabe and Naomi Podair, twins from the Temple Israel Center community. Also present were seven teenage girls from Canada Ramah, a group of Ramah New England campers with their parents, and alumni from just about every other Ramah camp and program. On Shabbat morning, Ramah was repeatedly emphasized. I had the opportunity to present Gabe and Naomi with a tanach from Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. Ramah campers were invited up to lead the prayer for Israel. Most importantly, Rabbi Gordon Tucker gave his sermon about Ramah, and it was truly remarkable. He spoke about the importance of the Ramah Camping Movement in the development of the leadership of Conservative Judaism, and specifically about the impact that Ramah had on his life during the 15 years he spent as a professor in residence at Ramah Palmer. He emphasized the beauty of an informal, nature-based environment where everyone can

By Rabbi Mitch Cohen

“let their hair down” and just be their true selves, along with the advantages of getting to know each other in such a place. Rabbi Tucker told several stories about Ramah. He described a rabbinical student at JTS who was a bit intimidated as he stood in an elevator with the great scholar Rabbi David Weiss Halivni. The elevator doors opened, and in walked an undergraduate who knew Professor Halivni from Camp Ramah, and who was able to casually say “Hi, David” because of their relationship from camp. Rabbi Tucker told of the “Etz Gershon” at Ramah Poconos, which provided a shady area for Dr. Gershon Cohen (z”l), former JTS chancellor, to teach his classes, and how there were trees with such special meaning in all Ramah camps.

He also spoke about prominent doctors, lawyers, and educators who come to Ramah camps to be drivers, do office work, or unclog toilets just so that they can be present at and contribute to these incredible communities of sanctity dedicated to the growth and development of young people. Finally, Rabbi Tucker quoted a Rashi from Lech Lecha to support the idea that there are certain special places from our youth that have a lasting impact on our lives, and how parents need to carefully consider the importance of deciding where their children will get these experiences. Many synagogues promote Ramah through special Ramah Shabbat programs, and we encourage more synagogue leaders to consider organizing a Ramah Shabbat in the coming years.

Film production at Darom


orget about seeing the sequel to the blockbuster movie, Pirates of the Caribbean. Nachshonim (14-year old) campers in the Ramah Darom video chug produced their own pirate movie last summer, complete with a treasure hunt. From beginning to end, the campers completed their project on their own, from developing the concept and writing the script to acting, filming and editing. The entire Nachshonim edah came together to watch the video on the last night of camp.

Ramah Ukraine “bar mitzvah” year


amp Ramah-Yachad in the Ukraine celebrated its 13th anniversary at this summer’s two-week session. A total of 196 children, aged 10-17, attended the camp. They came from Chernowitz, Kiev, Lvov, Uzghorod, Munkatch, Hust, Kaminetz-Podolsky, Vinizia, Odessa, Nikolev, Simporofil, Tirovograd, Cherkesi Donetzk and Lutsk. The camp community’s celebration of Ramah-Yachad’s “bar mitzvah” year included a process of preparation by campers, learning about the significance of adulthood and assuming responsibility.


Spring 2006

Issue II

Magic Moments Five decades later, the song remains the same

ohn u x e o h g d r

The first Ramah California campers gather for a 50th reunion


unday, July 31, 2005 was a magical night in the history of Camp Ramah in California. The camp hosted 25 special guests—campers and staff from the 1955 “pilot summer” of Camp Ramah in California, and their spouses. These guests included Rabbi Jack Pressman, director of the 1955 encampment, Miriam Wise, assistant director of the 1955 encampment, Rabbi Danny Pressman, Daniel Farkas, David Farkas, Pam Suplin Farkas, Mark Lainer, Nahum Lainer, Rabbi Ron Levine, Alicia Susman Lewis, Rabbi Joel Rembaum, Ken Rowen, and Michelle Bledstein Susman. Also present was Liat Yardeni-Funk, the daughter of 1955 camper Tzvili Yardeni (z”l) and a current Ramah staffer. The visitors toured camp and then helped identify the faces on a staff photograph from the 1955 summer. The most wonderful part of the evening followed, as they joined the entire camp for the post-dinner song session. As the 1955 campers made their way through the dining hall, they received a standing ovation from campers and staff. Campers then continued with their edah songs. When it was time for the 10th and 11th graders’ Machon song, it was a special moment to tell the camp that Machon would be singing their song in front of 1955 camper and former Ramah California director Rabbi Ron Levine, who wrote the Machon Ramah song. Current Camp Ramah in

California Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber then presented recognition awards to Rabbi Jack Pressman and Miriam Wise. In their remarks to campers, the two recounted that the original encampment included 62 campers and 24 staff. Tuition for the ten days was set at $56.16, with scholarships offered to those campers whose families could not afford the tuition. This tradition continues to this day. As the 1955 campers continued on to the small dining room for more singing and reminiscing, the 6th grade division, Giborei Yisrael, was assembled outside on the patio for their evening activity. Before heading their separate ways, the members of the 1955 group concluded their evening by singing “Rad Hayom.” When the

campers sang Rad Hayom a few moments later, some of the 1955 group had tears in their eyes as they saw the children carrying on the beautiful tradition they had begun 50 years before. Returning to their bunks at bedtime, some of the youngsters commented: “That was so cool! They sang the same songs that we sing!” The 1955 camper and staff reunion began a year’s worth of activities planned to celebrate the camp’s 50th anniversary in 2006. Alumni or former staff members who want to help the celebration committee reconnect with alumni or plan any of the 50th anniversary celebrations should contact Carol Abrams, Development Director, at carol@ramah. org or Zach Lasker, Assistant Director, at

Kav Reches: On the Appalachian Trail


ll campers at Camp Ramah in the Poconos experience a camping trip through the Kav Reches program. In Machon (entering 9th grade), each bunk hikes and camps on the Appalachian Trail for three days. Campers learn how to pitch their own tents, cook their own food and study texts relating to their chinuch at camp.


Ramah + USY

Continued from page 11

help with kinnusim during the year and some of whom will themselves become youth directors,” says Rabbi Josh Cohen, assistant director of Ramah Wisconsin. USY officers from the three different regions are all campers at Ramah Wisconsin (see photo). Lisa Alter Krule, the CHUSY regional youth director, says, “These campers spoke to each edah about the importance of being involved in Kadima and USY. Great things are happening in terms of Ramah and USY.” A Wonderful Israel Experience USY High, a spring semester program for 11th and 12th graders, provides students with the opportunity to participate in the Ramah Jerusalem High School experience. Samuel Usem, former executive vice president of the Emtza region, wrote about his experience on USY High. Commenting that he was initially “skeptical about being joined with Ramah,” it turned out that he “became just as good friends with the Ramah participants as I did with my fellow USYers. We davened Shacharit every morning together as Conservative Jews in Israel, not as separate programs. … My two months in Israel will be a time that I will never forget as long as I live, and the merging of the two programs, Ramah and USY, made those experiences even more valuable.” Recruitment for Nativ, USY’s year-long college leadership program in Israel, takes place at every Ramah camp. Also, the National Ramah office sends out a mailing

to all Ramah high school seniors to encourage participation in Nativ. Partnership between Emtza Region and Ramah Tikvah Six years ago, the Emtza Region of USY began a unique partnership with Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s Tikvah Program for campers with special needs. The partnership focuses on outreach to identify and recruit potential USYers with special needs. For the past four years, there have been an average of 10-12 USYers with special needs at each regional event. “The USYers with special needs participate fully, and many of them go back to their hometowns enthusiastic about being a part of USY,” according to Benji Bearman, director of youth activities of the Mid-Continent Region USCJ. “As the positive feedback about the inclusion program is spread throughout the region,” says Bearman, “more families have become willing to send their Jewish teenagers with special needs to USY. The Roots of a Fertile Future Within the Conservative Movement, Ramah’s Rabbi Mitch Cohen and USY’s Jules Gutin talk frequently to discuss their joint goals and objectives. “We all agree that USY and Ramah must be seen by all as close partners, working together to strengthen the future leadership of our communities,” says Rabbi Cohen. “Ramah and USY stand shoulder to shoulder in our commitment to the future of Jewish leadership and our commitment to Conservative Judaism.”

USY officers from the CHUSY, CRUSY and Emtza regions are all campers at Ramah Wisconsin

Taking the challenge in New England


amp Ramah in New England’s outdoor adventure program, known simply as “Etgar” (challenge) by campers, was reinvented in Summer 2005. After developing a partnership with a Massachusetts-based company that specializes in running outdoor adventures, Ramah New England offered a menu of action-packed trips to the three oldest edot. Activities included intense hiking expeditions, canoeing, rock-climbing, caving, and bicycling.

Issue II

Spring 2006

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Kolot Ramah

Beverages and blogs

A special ride for Bus 55

A routine morning commute turns into an uplifting experience


by Loren Chachkes

or eight weeks in Summer 2005, I commuted daily between New York City and Camp Ramah in Nyack on a mini-bus with 18 youngsters. This time on the bus gave me an opportunity to hear about the campers’ day-to-day experiences and about all of the happenings in the different edot. We developed relationships, had inside jokes, and established routines that took place each and every morning and afternoon. The bus ride also provided me with wonderful insights into the impact that Camp Ramah has on these youngsters. Driving around New York City one morning, we were stuck behind an oil truck pumping several thousand gallons of oil into an apartment building. The delay was several minutes long—long enough that the campers realized they would be significantly late to camp—and we still had one last child to pick up. I called the camp office and the family of the last child to let them know about the situation. As I was busy on the phone, something extraordinary was taking place on the bus. I heard the campers on the bus complaining that they would be late to camp, sounding upset that they would be missing some activity. I listened more closely: “We are going to miss tefillah!” Expecting to hear cheers of joy, I instead heard groans of frustration. As the bus continued on its route, I heard the sounds of Adon Olam and turned around to see all of the campers making hand motions for the instru-

Nevonim campers at morning tefillot at Ramah Nyack ments, a routine they had learned at camp. The campers then began to chant what they knew by heart from the morning tefillah. Bus 55 continued to chant their morning prayers and sing Hatikvah for the rest of the ride to camp. Listening to these campers pray together demonstrated to me one of the many lasting marks that Camp Ramah makes on children. Our campers not only learn the value of tefillah and become comfortable davening, they also experience joy in being together as a Jewish community. It was an extremely moving moment, one in which I felt great pride to be a staff member of Ramah. Loren Chachkes was a Shapiro Fellow at Ramah Nyack last summer.

Artist visits Ramah Day Camp in Philadelphia Artist Mordechai Rosenstein captivates campers with stories about his art

Promoting serious thinking about Ramah


ool Aid, grape juice, and cognac – with the images of these three beverages, Professor Seymour Fox explains the importance of educational vision. He teaches us that, in order to stand any chance of success, educational enterprises like Ramah must be driven by bold, lofty, and serious visions. His analogy is this: “If you start with cognac, you’ll be lucky to end up with grape juice. But that’s not a bad result when you consider the alternative— if you start with grape juice, you’ll probably end up with Kool Aid!” Fox, one of the foremost thinkers in the field of Jewish education, worked closely with Ramah during the 1950’s and 60’s. His commitment to the serious contemplation of Ramah was contagious and he was able to engage some of the most talented scholars of Education and Jewish Studies in the process of imagining Ramah’s potential. Ultimately, these collective efforts produced a powerful educational

programs in Israel, it is increasingly difficult to have meaningful public discourse about important educational issues. To meet this challenge, I have been working with National Ramah to create a series of brief digests of some of the academic literature on Ramah and to explore their contemporary relevance. To read these digests, please visit and click on my weblog. A hallmark of Ramah and the source of its longstanding reputation for transformative Jewish education is its vision-driven program. We hope that the value of this blog will be found in the ability of this new forum to help us all continue to strive for excellence in Jewish education, for without this aspiration we will be left with only bug juice to drink! Geoff Menkowitz is a lifetime Ramahnik and current doctoral candidate at JTS’s Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education.




Israel rocks in Nyack

he chart-topping Israeli band Shotei Hanevua (The Fools of Prophecy) performed a concert at Ramah Nyack, thrilling campers and staff alike. The band was brought to North America by the New York-based Israel advocacy group Israel at Heart.


vision, which has transformed and continues to transform the lives of thousands of Ramahniks. Today, we are proud of and grateful for the legacy of Ramah’s founding vision. Fox teaches us, though, that vision needs to be dynamic. It is not enough for an educational vision to just exist – vision needs nurturing; it requires continuous reflection and evaluation, communal discourse and deliberation. Despite Ramah’s longstanding record of success in Jewish education, we must still grapple with important questions like: What kind of people will “graduate” from Ramah? What will they understand and believe? What will they know how to do? In what ways will they be able to contribute to the community? Sixty years after the vision of Ramah was first put into practice, this crucial conversation continues. But Ramah is no longer the “small experiment” that it once was. With the growth of the movement to include seven overnight camps, three day camps, and

amahniks know that a “Maccabiah” is about sports. But did you know that the Philadelphia Ramah Day Camp held its second annual “Muckabiah” this past summer? Bunks rotated through a series of activities, each involving yucky, muddy, wet, sticky, slimy, or otherwise mucky activities that one probably would not want to try at home. Shown here are the camp’s budding “Jackson Pollocks.”

Chanichim create their own Rosenstein-style artwork

ne of last summer’s highlights at the Philadelphia Ramah Day Camp was an artist-in-residence program with renowned artist Mordechai Rosenstein, who spent two days working with campers. He taught them about Hebrew calligraphy, which is prominently featured in his artwork, and gave them the opportunity to add their own personal creativity to authentic Mordechai Rosenstein works. The program was introduced with a parent program during which Mordechai presented a slide show depicting his artistic development and its relationship to Jewish sources, as well as an exhibition of his current art.

By Geoff Menkowitz

Ramah Canada loves the great outdoors

amah 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. Pictured here are two Magshimim campers from a 2005 trip to Algonquin Park.


Spring 2006

Issue II

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Ramah...Then and Now Romance at Ramah

Camp relationships to “last a lifetime” By Nancy Scheff


ince the National Ramah Commission launched last spring, over 150 couples have registered at the site, sending us inspiring and touching stories about how the environment at Ramah contributed to their relationships. Not surprisingly, the majority of the couples (68%) first met when they were both on staff. Of the remaining couples, 22% first met as campers and another 10% first met when one was a camper and the other was on staff. Some of the individual Ramah camps also register their own camp’s marriages, but this is the first attempt to collect these stories all across the movement. Many Ramah couples have spent at least a decade at Ramah camps and Israel programs. There are 40 couples in which both spouses have spent 10 or more years at Ramah as campers and staff, and there are an additional 70 couples in which both spouses have spent at least 5 years at Ramah. We’ve selected a sample of Ramah marriage stories, but there are so many more! Please visit the website at to enjoy these other stories. And, of course, tell other Ramah couples to register at the site so we can include their stories!

Harold Spevack & Harriet Greenfader Spevack Met at Ramah Berkshires in 1966 and Married in 1967 Ramah is an ideal place for one to meet a spouse. Our son Daniel also met his wife Liz at Ramah in the Berkshires (see photo). The people who attend or work at the camp already have a common value system. Jewish identity, worship and the importance of Eretz Yisrael are a central part of those

affiliated with the camp. Common backgrounds make relationships easier and provide a good foundation upon which to build. Meeting in a relaxed atmosphere, away from the stilted and strained dating scene, enables young people to develop deep, lasting, and meaningful relationships. Many of our best friends are still our camp friends from thirty-five years ago. Having a best friend for a spouse is a blessing.

A multi-generational Ramah family: Dan, Noam, Hal, Harriet, Eytan and Liz Spevack

Miriam Wolf & Daniel (“Dani”) Moskowitz Met at Ramah California in 1987 and Married in 1990 We met outside the staff laundry room...Dani was at camp for the first time following completion of his mandatory Army service in Israel... Not only would our paths never have crossed without Ramah, but our joint experience at Ramah also enabled two people with different Jewish experiences—one a secular Israeli and the other a practicing Conservative Jew—to share a common experience and realize that we could bridge this gap and build a Jewish life together. We now have the amazing experience of returning to Ramah in California as a family where Miriam works as a yoetzet, along with our ganage children, Yael and Rafi— no doubt, soon to be campers! Jay Reisbaum & Tara Spitz Reisbaum Met at Ramah California in 1979 and Married in 1988 Ramah has always been at the center of our lives. Camp allowed us to be a part of the most dynamic Jewish community around, filled with tremendous role models and an unparalleled depth of relationship to friends, mentors and students. Most of our closest friends are from our camp community. It has been a privilege to come through the ranks with so many of our top rabbis, lay leaders and educators. As the song says, ‘there is no place like Camp Ramah.” We are blessed to have been introduced to such a nurturing environment. Tara has served as the director of Ramah California’s Tikvah program. Jay, former chairman of the Ramah California board of directors, now serves on the executive committee of the National Ramah Commission.

One nation and many faces at Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem

Michael Joseph Landau & Faye Andrea Goldman Met at Ramah Canada in 1984 and Married in 1991 We first met unloading luggage from the buses at camp. …Ramah was the perfect environment for us to solidify a lifelong adventure of Judaism and recreational fun for us and our children. Jason A. Cathcart & Vicki Sykes Cathcart Met at Ramah Darom in 1997 and Married in 2000 We are both happy that Ramah decided to open a camp in the South. We will always be known as Darom’s first married couple. We are grateful for the friendships, knowledge and support Ramah has given us over the past years. Noam Arzt & Heidi Steinberg Arzt Met at Ramah New England in 1974 and Married in 1983 Ramah was a wonderful experience. We loved all of it—the ruach, the Shabbat outdoors, singing, dancing … our lives are enriched by that experience. …Our oldest son will be going to Ramah in Ojai, CA this summer. We are so jealous. We owe it all to Ramah for bringing us together. I can’t imagine how my life would be without the influence of Camp Ramah. It has definitely shaped who I am today and in turn, my children are rich in Jewish identity. WE LOVE RAMAH! Andrew Barnett & Vivian Matusow Barnett Met at Ramah Poconos in 1980 and Married in 1989 Ramah has shaped who we are as individuals and as a couple. Both of us are very active in our Jewish community and comment often how this is a direct result of our Ramah experience. Ramah laid the groundwork for our relationship as we both had the same hopes and dreams for our-

selves and our children from the start. We send our children to day school because of Ramah and our strong desire for Jewish continuity. We have three children and the oldest has now begun to attend Ramah and it is our goal for our other two to do the same.

Moshe Tutnauer & Margie Weingarden Tutnauer Met at Ramah Wisconsin in 1956 and Married in 1957 We met at Ramah Wisconsin in 1956...After a year of long distance communication we were married AT CAMP on August 25, 1957! Ramah Director Rabbi Jerry Abrams was our mesader kedushin. … Our wedding was followed by the closing banquet/wedding dinner attended by 500 campers and 200 staff. The singing and dancing in the chadar ochel were not to be believed!” Our children and three of our grandchildren have been at various Ramah camps. We have been active with Ramah in Israel and Ramah in other countries since our aliyah in 1972. We spent the summer of 1983 (in January!) at Ramah Argentina in Rio Ceballos with Marshall Meyer (z”l). We spent the summers of the 1990’s teaching at the Ramah camps in Russia and Ukraine. Ramah has been a very important part of our lives for the past 50 years!

Margie and Moshe’s wedding at Ramah in Wisconsin, 1957

It smells like Shabbat!


uring the summer of 2005 over 80 children from Israel and abroad were enrolled at the Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem. The theme for the 2005 season was “Am Ehad Panim Rabot: One Nation, Many Faces,” in which campers learned about the culture of different ethnic groups, such as Yemenites, Ethiopians, and Benei Menashe from India.


ou can always tell it’s Friday with the delicious aroma permeating the air at the Chicago Ramah Day Camp, where weekly challah baking is part of the magic. Here, first-grade boys add chocolate chips to make their challah extra spcial.

Ramah: 60 years of camping excellence 16

Kolot Ramah Spring 2006  
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