National Ramah Commission, Inc. - 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027   (212) 678-8881  fax: (212) 749-8251

Remarks at Cantors' Assembly Convention - May 8, 2001
Rabbi Sheldon Dorph, National Ramah Director

It is a special pleasure to speak to you today, in the presence of two members of the Cantors’ Assembly who hold special meaning for me personally.

My childhood friend, Cantor Neil Newman. We grew up together in Philadelphia during our post-Bar Mitzvah through college years, at our shul, Ahovath Israel and at Gratz College. We also shared a mentor and role model who is here today, Cantor Maurice Moshe Weiss, who was our chazzan at Ahavath Israel, taught us our Bar Mitzvah, and allowed us to sing in his teen choir on high holidays. I vividly remember bar mitzvah lessons with Moshe. We all brought our mitts and bats to the back lot of the synagogue and played ball until we were called to rehearse. About 5 p.m. the Cantor would need a break, so he’d come out and hit baseballs to us for 15 minutes. Now that is a role model!

We have a great opportunity to think about Ramah and the Cantors’ Assembly partnering in Jewish education; for Ramah and the synagogue are the two places where kids have an opportunity to learn to daven, to sing, to use their synagogue skills. We have exploited this great opportunity only in part, and I need to ask some hard questions to put the opportunities in perspective so we can move ahead.

  • What will you do with the kids when they return from Ramah? Do you know who they are? Can you make a liturgical space for them in the shul? How can you access them? Involve them? Refine their skills? Grow them?
  • Do you teach the teachers in your school? They see our campers 2-3 times a week. They need your advice and leadership on weekday nusach, leading services, making use of Ramah kids.
  • Can you begin to think of the Ramah Camps as the summer campuses of your synagogues? Visit your campers, talk to the directors, plan to spend a couple of days at camp during the week.

Here are some of the initiatives Ramah has undertaken in the past 10 years, which touch on our partnering in nusach and music, and leadership for our kids:

  1. Ramah has published two Shironim edited by your own Cantor Ricki Lippitz and her team: Kol B’Ramah for weekdays and Israeli songs and Shiron L’Shabbat for Zmirot on Shabbat. Ramah Wisconsin is producing a new Eicha with commentary this summer.

  2. Cheryl Magen has edited a new Hebrew siddur called Lev Yisrael, published by Ktav, and Rabbi Sarah Graff has edited an interactive siddur for younger children at Ramah Darom.

  3. The nusach requirement at the JTS Rabbinical School has helped us improve weekday and Shabbat nusach at Ramah. It is an important first step.

  4. It is important to remember that each Ramah camp enrolls children from over 100 synagogues and day schools. Each may have its own tunes and/or nusach, and some do not have properly-trained chazzanim. This presents an interesting educational and liturgical challenge to Ramah, both in terms of Judaic studies and nusach. Most of our camps provide bar/bat mitzvah tutoring for kids who have bar mitzvah dates between September and November, using the local chazzan’s tapes.

  5. In 1991, the Seminary and Ramah established the Alexander M. Shapiro (z’’l) Fellowships for rabbinical students to attend Ramah. With increased support in 1995, the program was extended to Cantorial students at JTS. This summer, six cantorial students will receive fellowships to attend our camps. This will further strengthen nusach and music at our camps. The support and encouragement of Dean Hazzan Henry Rosenblum has been critical in this process and we are overjoyed that my former head of waterfront at Ramah Berkshires now heads the Miller Cantorial School.

  6. Three years ago, Henry helped me establish a joint semester course for education for junior-year cantorial and rabbinical students. This has now expanded to include a year of practical pulpit preparation in the senior year, which he and Rabbi William Le Beau teach to both cadres. All of us realize that the creation of professional respect and partnering between rabbi and chazzan is critical to congregational success.

  7. Lastly, over the last three years, Hazzan Jack Chomsky and Rabbi David Soloff, director of Ramah Wisconsin, have initiated a chazzan-in-residence program at Wisconsin, which is now spreading to other Ramah camps. Jack prepared a nusach tape for us, which is being given to each Cantorial student attending Ramah. If you are interested in serving in this capacity, you should let Hazzan Chomsky know. Of course you need to be able and willing to "rough it" at camp for at least two weeks, but you will be able to inspire and shape our youth in camp in so many ways!

If music gives voice to the Jewish soul, then we need you as teachers and models so our Ramah youth will learn to sing!

Thank you.




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Ramah is under the educational and religious auspices of
  The Jewish Theological Seminary

National Ramah Commission, Inc., 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027
(212) 678-8881 fax: (212) 749-8251    email: ramah@jtsa.edu

Page last updated October 23, 2008