Reflections on Visits to Ramah Camps, Summer 2018

Cantor Nancy Abramson
Director, H.L. Miller Cantorial School and Director, Women’s League Seminary Synagogue

Cantor Nancy Abramson (third from right) at Ramah in the Rockies with JTS students and alumni

Cantor Nancy Abramson (third from right) at Ramah in the Rockies with JTS students and alumni

Nestled high in the mountains, at an elevation of over 8000 feet, Camp Ramah in the Rockies is breathtakingly beautiful, with happy campers engaged in a wide array of physical activities. I spent two days there this summer, watching mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders come and go. No one in camp seemed to mind the lack of creature comforts. The kids take their responsibilities to nature with utmost seriousness and the dedicated staff teach respect for other campers and respect for the environment in daily peulot.

I davened with the youngest campers during their musical tefillot, got a tour of the extensive (and smelly) composting shed, taught a lively session to staff members and hiked to Ramah Valley and into the hills.

I have visited several Ramah camps over the years, and was a camper and staff member at Ramah in Wisconsin. While all the camps teach Judaism and provide a summer of fun and growth for campers, Ramah in the Rockies challenges each camper physically as well. The camp is buzzing with activity.

Camp Ramah is truly a wonderful part of the Conservative Movement. We should all be proud of the dedicated professionals and staff who bring Ramah to life each summer.

Marc Gary, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer

Marc Gary (second from right) at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin

Marc Gary (second from right) at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin

For the past several years, I have had the z’hut (privilege) to visit Ramah camps throughout North America. This year, I had the special joy not only to visit Camp Ramah in Wisconsin but to do so with other members of the National Ramah Commission, which was holding its annual meeting there. We not only observed and participated in a beautiful Shabbat experience and joined with the campers in study, prayer, sports and other activities. We also were able to place these experiences into the context of what the Ramah Camping Movement has accomplished and the bright future ahead.

Highlights of my time at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin included a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat against the background of a beautiful lake, the opportunity to deliver a d’var Torah to the oldest edah on Parashat Balak and the challenges of prophecy in our time, deep discussions with JTS students and prospective students, and exposure to a variety of tefillot experiences. What impressed me most – in addition to the beautiful setting – was the commitment of staff and campers to serious, text-based study and daily use of Hebrew as well as to the importance of demonstrating the sheer joy of living a full, Jewish life.

I also had the opportunity to speak with and share ideas with the Israeli shlichim who are an integral part of Camp Ramah’s staff and programming. I learned of their perspectives on not only the Ramah experience but also their introduction (in most cases for the first time) to Conservative Judaism and campers who identify as Conservative Jews. We spoke of the challenges in the Israel-Diaspora relationship and I emphasized to them how critical their role is in personalizing Israel and Israelis. I was impressed with their insights and their enthusiasm and I was proud that Ramah creates these person-to-person relationships between North American youth and Israel.

After a wonderful Shabbat at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and long days of meetings with the National Ramah Commission, I was once again reminded how powerful is the Camp Ramah experience and how critical it is for a vibrant, Jewish future.

Dr. Eitan Fishbane, Associate Professor of Jewish Thought

This summer I had the great pleasure of visiting Ramah Day Camp in Nyack as part of the close relationship between JTS and Ramah, and once again I was so impressed by the magic of Ramah. As part of an evening of learning for staff, I taught a large group of counselors about the theme of spiritual friendship in Jewish mysticism, how interpersonal relationship is understood also to be the site of divine revelation. With staff members filling and overflowing the main gathering porch, the stillness of after-hours at camp was nevertheless abuzz with the Jewish community of staff members who devote intense days to a labor of love — the cultivation of a joyous Jewish identity in their campers.

At a few other points during the summer I had the pleasure of seeing Ramah Nyack fully in action, most specially observing my son’s participation in the wondrous Hebrew immersion program, called Sha’ar, where the counselors speak only in Hebrew to their campers, day in and day out. From the song-filled Zimriyah to the sparkling thrill of the many moments of uplifting learning and exploration, through the devotion and stellar work of the many staff who joined me for that evening of learning, I was once again witness to the incomparable inspiration that is Camp Ramah!

Dr. Jason Rogoff, Academic Director of Israel Programs; Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics

Dr. Jason Rogoff (standing, far right) at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires

Dr. Jason Rogoff (standing, far right) at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires

"This summer at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires was filled with fascinating Torah and great fun! Our theme this summer at Ramah Berkshires was kehillah kedoshah. It was an amazing experience to see both campers and staff be mindful of the significant role each of us plays in the larger camp community and when we work together we can lift our community to great heights. In an interesting counterpoint to the theme, our education staff spent much of the summer studying sources about excommunication and what pushes individuals out of the community. In the Nishma b'Ramah program we studied in depth the Talmudic prohibitions surrounding non-Jewish wine and how medieval Jewish authorities struggled to interpret them in their cultural climate. In the afternoon, the Nishma students played pivotal roles in our farming and performing arts programs."

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, Associate Dean, Rabbinical School; Associate Director, Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies

"'Maximizing'" and 'mind and heart opening' are the words that come to mind as I think about the sheer number and diversity of learning options offered to Ramah Nyack staff. We were invited to teach whatever moved us with the idea that if it interested us it would likely speak so others. I offered sessions that enabled staff to grapple with holding both the complexity of world events this summer and also the primacy of the job of shaping the future by nurturing and educating their campers. We focused on how our texts and traditions invite us to imagine how the world should be and develop a regular practice that contributes to bringing about that vision.

We studied about and discussed women's leadership and gender equity in the Jewish community and the world and explored what it means to constuct an intentional Jewish adult life. They held their own community up and investigated where they were doing well on gender equity and where they might improve. All of it was done with a spirit of generosity and assumption of good will. I found the staff to be thoughtful. It was clear in our discussions that they were considering how these ideas might influence their lives outside of camp and also how they could introduce and model engagement in the world in a camp setting. I left my visits inspired by how resourceful the camp is in bringing such a vast array of ideas, changemakers and teachers to interact with each other and the camp, making it a model for innovation and high quality discussion that if we are lucky, will lead to action."