What’s Happening at Ramah
Ramah’s Influence on Students’ Decisions to Spend a Gap Year in Israel
by Tali Cohen, Ramah Canada staff member and former camper, June 2009
More and more students are making the decision to spend a year in Israel before going off to college and the number of programs available to gap year students in Israel is increasing, including programs of intensive Jewish study, volunteer work, or even world travel.
There are many reasons for this increase in gap year Israel study, but one fact remains undeniable: On many of these programs, the number of Ramahniks enrolled far outnumbers enrollment from any other single institution. “Ramah introduced me to Israel with Ramah Seminar and ever since I've wanted to come back. Without Ramah, I wouldn't be in Israel today,” says Ben Philipson of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, who just returned from United Synagogue’s Nativ gap year program.
One of the newer programs is called Kivunim. Kivunim’s goal is to teach students about Jewish communities around the world. While based in Jerusalem, the participants travel all over the world to countries such as Morocco, India, Greece, and Russia. One Ramahnik currently on Kivunim, Samara Jaffee from Camp Ramah in the Poconos, said, “There is a special common thread among all Ramah kids, no matter which Ramah camp you go to, and that special thread has helped me make my two closest friends this year.” This was a common theme among many students. People constantly seek out the wonderful camp environment that they grew to love and appreciate at their Ramah camp.
Another popular choice for Ramahniks is the Young Judaea Year Course, which is over fifty years old. This three-semester program combines travel, study, and volunteer work. Participants may choose to travel or study as well as volunteer in many different settings including, Magen David Adom. Some choose intensive Hebrew language study and others perform volunteer work in the Negev.
Many students choose to spend the year studying at Hebrew University. This option provides students with the opportunity to experience living and studying in Jerusalem. The Rothberg International School at Hebrew University lets students take courses with other international students from all over the world. The credits earned are then transferable to many North American universities.
Yeshiva and seminary programs are popular for students seeking more traditional Jewish study. Ariel Platt from Camp Ramah in California said, “As a continuation of my fascination with Jewish texts and culture, which was nurtured at Camp Ramah, I decided to spend my year learning in yeshiva…. I can’t help but think that my love of Judaism and particular interest in Israel stemmed from the emphasis that camp placed on Zionism and love of yahadut.”
The most popular program for Ramahniks is Nativ, the Conservative Movement’s program run by United Synagogue. Nativ provides students with the chance to spend time in Israel both studying and volunteering. The first half of the year students choose among an intensive ulpan to improve their Hebrew skills, classes at Hebrew University, and study at the Conservative Yeshiva. In February, Nativniks move to three different locations where they partake in volunteer work in either Be’er Sheva, a city in the south of Israel, Yerucham, a development town also in the Negev, and Kibbutz Ein Tzurim. Rebecca Anne Masor of Camp Ramah in California plans to attend Nativ next year. She explained, “During my Ramah years I began to recognize my passion for Judaism, in terms of both friendships and religious practices. Learning that Nativ had similar principles to Ramah, such as the importance of community, as well as its emphasis on Judaism, was [what] attracted me to Nativ and which landed me on the program for the 2009-2010 year.”
In 2005, Mitchell Silverman of Camp Ramah in New England attended Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim (TRY), Ramah’s semester abroad program in Israel for high school students. This program helped him to build a relationship with Israel so strong that he was compelled to return on Nativ for the entire year. “Ramah has played a pivotal role in my life as a whole and helped to shape my decision to spend this year in Israel. At Ramah I was instilled with a curiosity about Israel that led me to go on the Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim program. TRY confirmed all the things that I had heard about Israel in camp. I knew that I needed to be in Israel for a long period of time in order to satiate my need for Israel and I knew that Nativ would provide the Ramah atmosphere that I was looking for.”
Having grown up attending Ramah myself, I have had countless conversations about what makes Ramah so wonderful. The conclusion that is repeatedly reached is that the positive atmosphere in which Ramah camps succeed in presenting Israel, and Judaism as a whole, is simply unmatched. People routinely seek out an environment that might maintain that level of connection to Judaism that only Ramah has been able to reach. This search has led countless Ramahniks to pursue a year in Israel.
Although each student has different reasons for spending a year in Israel, one thing remains the same. These young Jews all share a deep love for Ramah that has compelled them explore their Judiasm further, whether they accomplish this by traveling to Jewish communities worldwide, devoting time to Jewish study in Israel, or making a commitment to better the lives of Israelis in need. As Leah Silverman from Camp Ramah in Canada put so beautifully, "Ramah shows a unique commitment to the education of the land of Israel, its people, culture and history. I thank Ramah for instilling those values within me at a very young age, and giving me the tools to understand how important spending time in Israel really is."
Ramah introduced me to Israel with Ramah Seminar and ever since I've wanted to come back. Without Ramah, I wouldn't be in Israel today.
- Ben Philipson
Ramah Wisconsin alum and participant on Nativ