The Ramah College Network: Bringing Camp to Campus

Alana Tilman

Alana Tilman

by Guest Blogger Alana Tilman, National Ramah Special Projects Coordinator

Shopping around for the right college—I can remember it as if it were yesterday. The testing, applications, and research involved in finding the best “fit” made it a stressful process. During my first summer on staff at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, I learned so much from another tzevet member who also happened to be a Brandeis orientation leader. I definitely felt as if his tips and support gave me the inside track when I entered my freshman year at Brandeis!

Many of my Brandeis friends were fellow Ramah alumni. Our friendships flourished naturally as we interacted and had shared interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Somehow, Ramahniks just find each other! Today, the Ramah College Network, a resource of the National Ramah Commission helps to facilitate these connections and friendships beyond the camp season, faster and more effectively, through more intentional networking and programming.

Ramah Alumni at the University of Michigan

Ramah Alumni at the University of Michigan

The Ramah College Network assists Ramah alumni in their college decision-making by providing prospective students with access to a database of more than 800 Ramah alumni at over 150 colleges and universities. The Ramahniks included in the database are excited to make themselves available to speak about college to these prospective students. The Ramah College Network database is also a great tool for Ramahniks who are already on campus and are looking to connect with other Ramah alumni.

I recently heard from Shayna Golkow, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania and a long-time camper and counselor at Ramah Poconos who shared that, “The Ramah College Network was very helpful to me in making college decisions. Before visiting a school, I would contact a Ramahnik there and set up a time to meet while I was on campus. These students gave me personal tours of Hillels, ‘inside’ information about their schools, and lots of answers about their schools’ Jewish communities, especially in relation to our shared Ramah background. Spending a Shabbat with a Ramahnik at UPenn was the deciding factor for me in choosing the school, and I’m still friends with that Ramahnik today!”

Ramah Alumni at Temple University

Ramah Alumni at Temple University

In addition to identifying Ramah alumni at specific schools, Ramah has compiled profiles of more than a dozen colleges and universities to help prospective students learn more about these schools through a Ramah “lens.” The profiles are based on an annual survey of our staff, and focus on not only the overall experience at a given school, but also on specifics such as on-campus Jewish life, opportunities for Jewish involvement, and even possible on-campus anti-Semitism.

The National Ramah Commission provides campus grants enabling students to organize creative Ramah-style programming for the Jewish student body and the on-campus Ramah community. Wonderful programs have taken place at a dozen campuses throughout North America over the past several years.

On November 9, I attended such an event at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel. David Offit (Ramah New England/JTS List College’13) led an organizing committee of 18 students (see photo below), representing various Ramah camps and years in college, who applied and received funding from the Ramah College Network to organize “Ramah at Columbia Shabbat Dinner.” Although the event was originally envisioned as a small dinner, the committee members were thrilled when more than 70 students, representing all Ramah camps, signed up for the event. All were invited, in advance of the event, to create a Shabbat-o-gram for a new Ramah friend they would meet at the dinner. Shabbat services filled the hall with amazing Ramah ruach. Guests shared camp memories and reflected on inspirational camp role models.

Ramah Alumni from JTS, Barnard, and Columbia

Ramah Alumni from JTS, Barnard, and Columbia

At one point, Deborah Pollack (Ramah Berkshires/Barnard ’16), shared that “the Ramah experience is not only about a camp, or a physical location. Rather, it is about gaining tools to help build one’s Jewish life. Camp is not the only place where you can have these special and elevated experiences, but rather, you can have a Ramah moment anywhere! Ramah is not just a summer; it is a way of life.”

For me, this Shabbat dinner epitomized the mission of the Ramah College Network. So many Ramahniks came together who might not have otherwise met. And, most interestingly, this Ramah event attracted students who are typically uninvolved in Hillel activities. Perhaps those students will pursue further Jewish involvement on campus, leading to continued engagement in Jewish life beyond college.

We want our alumni to feel connected to Ramah throughout their lives. The Ramah College Network is a great first stage in the process of helping Ramahniks maintain existing camp relationships and develop new Ramah connections as they “graduate” from camp and make the transition to post-camp Jewish life.

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