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Ramah Pride at the GA in Baltimore

Ramah Alumni at the GA: Molly Dehrey, Michal Kogen, Andrew Belinfante, and Jon Weinreich

In mid-November, I spent three wonderful days at the GA (Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly) in Baltimore, where I had the chance to see colleagues, meet with funders and supporters, and learn about exciting new ventures in the Jewish world. Throughout my three days at the GA, I was thrilled to see dozens of Ramah alumni representing virtually all areas of Jewish life in significant leadership positions, as well as many of our current summer staff members attending the GA as leaders with Hillel on their campuses. As Jeremy Fingerman, a Ramah Wisconsin alumnus and CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp said to me, “the Ramah brand has incredible power today, recognized by all as a gold standard for Jewish continuity.”

Throughout my three days at the GA, this theme was to repeat itself over and over again. Each year, the Covenant Award is given to three extraordinary Jewish educators at a gala dinner on the first night of the GA. I was filled with pride as one of the award winners, my friend and colleague Peter Geffen, Executive Director of KIVUNIM, was introduced with these words, “…it was my experience in Camp Ramah that shaped my Jewish life, educational philosophy, and career.” One of the other two winners, Karina Zilberman, Director of Jewish Family Life and Culture at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, also spoke of her childhood at Camp Ramah in Argentina as a critical factor in her development as a leader.

Earlier that evening, I was delighted to see Elana Naftalin-Kelman, a life-long Ramahnik and Director of the Tikvah Program at Ramah California, recognized as the recipient of a major grant co-funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Joshua Venture Group. The grant will enable Elana to launch a new initiative, Rosh Pina, which will provide certification to Jewish educational institutions that “demonstrate to the community that the institution takes seriously ideas of inclusion and support of all types of Jews regardless of ability.”

Rabbi Eliav Bock, far right, shown with Amy Skopp Cooper, National Ramah Associate Director; Harlene Winnick Appelman, Covenant Foundation Exec. Director; and Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director

The following morning, Rabbi Eliav Bock, Director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, received the Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize, which is awarded to five exceptional young, emerging Jewish educators in the first decade of their careers. And National Ramah Associate Director Amy Skopp Cooper and I, together with other members of the Ramah team, were proud to wear the Slingshot 2012-2013 badge of honor, which named Ramah as one of 50 of the most innovative organizations in Jewish life in recognition of the pioneering Ramah Service Corps initiative.

This year’s GA was a great opportunity to introduce Ramah365, an exciting new app for young alumni that provides year-round Jewish engagement. Our booth in the exhibit hall was a true hit, as GA attendees stopped by to experience the app firsthand and see how it will help to support the world-wide network of Ramah alumni to connect, learn, volunteer, celebrate, and make a difference together.

Finally, the Ramah Alumni Reception on the second night of the GA was the highlight for me, as it brought together dozens of alumni of all ages now working throughout the Federation system and in Jewish communal institutions at all levels. So many stories were shared and memories relived. Ramah experiences have clearly influenced the lives of so many, and it was truly inspirational to meet the many Ramahniks making valuable contributions to their Jewish communities and beyond.

These alumni are not just our past campers and staff. They are our future. During this event, and throughout the GA, I was reminded that even as Ramah provides exceptional summer camp experiences, we continue to develop and inspire young leaders to engage the global Jewish community, year-round and life-long. I am more certain than ever of the importance of our efforts to build our global alumni network, Reshet Ramah, as it can enhance not only the future of the Ramah Camping Movement, but also the future of the North American Jewish community.

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