What’s Happening at Ramah
Ramah Service Corps in Action
by Julie Berger, April 2011
"I love planning programs to help others see all that Ramah has to offer. When I see a child or a family enjoying themselves, or catching the 'Ramah fever,' I know I have done a good job."
– Sarah Attermann, Ramah Service Corps intern
Ramah fever indeed! The Ramah Service Corps, an initiative generously supported by the Foundation for Jewish Camp to introduce camp to thousands of Jewish children and to bring Ramah-style programming to synagogue life during the school year, is up and running in 17 communities across North America. We are delighted to share highlights of the exciting work the first cohort of interns has done since the program's inception just a few months ago.
Interns serving local synagogues are planning religious school and Shabbat programs, as well as working to bolster recruitment and outreach for Jewish camping. Thus far, interns have run dozens of programs--ranging from maccabiah (sports and games) events, to mezuzah making, to "Ramah Fun" days filled with singing and dancing. Coming soon are Israel-related programs, many of which will coincide with Yom Ha'atzma'ut, Israel's Independence Day.
Sarah Attermann, Ramah Darom staff member and intern at Congregation Etz Chaim in Atlanta, is working with fifth graders to run an Israel awareness program for younger students in celebration of Yom Ha'atzma'ut. Students will learn in age-appropriate ways about places in Israel, make Israeli food, and write letters to Israeli soldiers (see photo, right). Thousands of miles away, Ramah Canada staff member Lauren Cohn is organizing "Israelpalooza" at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto, an Israeli-style BBQ festival with crafts and Israeli music and dancing (see photo, below left).
Ramah Service Corps interns have also focused on creating programs that bring Shabbat alive for children in ways that many of them have never experienced. At Ramah, "services" means more than just attending a service-it means, as Ramah Nyack staff member Penina Grossberg demonstrated in her havdalah program at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, NY, students "using their senses of taste, smell, and touch and talking about the sensory experience of havdalah, and meeting a costumed Elijah who explained that he is summoned every week at the close of Shabbat." Nancy Parkes, Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Israel Center, praised the ruach (spirit) of the event, remarking, "There was a great sense of community with children interacting with children from other grades."
As is the trademark of Ramah programming, Jewish education is coming alive in interactive, joyful ways in the hands of the creative interns. Ramah Berkshires staff member Arielle Nissenblatt recently ran a "Jewish Jeopardy" game at Ohav Shalom in Albany, NY, that had religious school students energized and out of their seats, already asking about future programs. Of his Pesach game show at Adath Israel in Merion, PA, Ramah Poconos staff member Adam Waxman noted, "I think the program exemplified the creative and fun way in which Judaism is weaved into activities on a daily basis in the Ramah experience."
At Temple Sinai in Dresher, PA, Ramah Poconos staff member Andy Markowitz wowed kids and their families with an Israeli-food "Iron Chef" program that taught about different ethnic groups in Israel and promoted teamwork. Camper parent Carol Meltzer was thrilled her daughter could participate: "The program made Lauren much more excited about going to Ramah Poconos this summer. ... When there are programs that are co-sponsored by Ramah and Temple Sinai, it keeps the excitement about camp fresh in their minds." Her daughter Lauren simply enjoyed what the day had to offer, cheering "Jewish food, healthy for the heart and soul."
Another major goal of the Ramah Service Corps Initiative is to spread the word about Ramah and the opportunities of Jewish camping. To this end, many of the interns have organized open houses for prospective families and are working with synagogue staff to identify potential camp families and to continue to reach out to families who have already been a part of Ramah.
The interns are working to make "Ramah" a buzzword around their synagogues. A prime example is Rafi Spitzer, a Ramah New England staff member and intern at Kehillat Israel in Brookline, MA, who often sets up an area during Shabbat kiddush to share information about Ramah. All of the interns are enjoying the opportunity to bring Ramah to a new crop of students. Says Ramah California staff member Adam Weiner, an intern at Anshei Israel in Tucson, AZ, "I have really enjoyed making Ramah come alive outside of the "camp" setting. Even if the kids we are engaging don't make it to camp this summer, at least they have experienced a taste of Ramah."
Almost all of the Ramah Service Corps interns are upperclassmen, recent college graduates, or graduate students considering careers in Jewish education, Jewish communal service, and the rabbinate. According to Amy Skopp Cooper, National Assistant Director, "The Ramah camps have been a laboratory for these potential professional educators, and the Ramah Service Corps Initiative seeks to give them a forum to think creatively about putting their successful Ramah work into a year-round setting." To facilitate this process, the National Ramah Commission has sponsored a series of training webinars to provide interns with professional development opportunities. These videoconferences are designed to help the interns build on the skills they have gained as summer staff, and to help them prepare for their programs.
The first training webinars, led by Dr. Zach Lasker, Ramah Service Corps Initiative project coordinator, and staff from the Davidson School of Jewish Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary, introduced experiential educational theories and then discussed how to translate those theories into action. During the second half of each session, the participants divided up into three smaller groups via videoconferencing to discuss progress and best practices. This is the first time that National Ramah is using this kind of technology on such a wide scale, and it has proved to be very beneficial to the interns. Tamar Resnick, Ramah California staff member and intern at Temple B'nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, CA, shared, "Learning about experiential education and discussing how to implement aspects of it into our first program helped me to get RSC off the ground."
So what is next for the Ramah Service Corps Initiative? The program will be continued next year, and everyone involved is enthusiastically looking ahead to the future. Many synagogues have reached out to Ramah to find out how they can be more involved in the initiative. All are eager to celebrate the power of Jewish camping and the impact it can have year round!
For more information, please contact Amy Skopp Cooper, National Assistant Director, at email@example.com.
Click here to read about the launch of the Ramah Service Corps Initiative in November 2010
Click here to read biographical profiles of this year's cohort of Ramah Service Corps Interns
*Click here to view a video of a joint program of Ramah and Temple Israel Center, White Plains, NY
"The program made Lauren much more excited about going to Ramah Poconos this summer. ... When there are programs that are co-sponsored by Ramah and Temple Sinai, it keeps the excitement about camp fresh in their minds."
parent of camper who attended
a Ramah Service Corps program