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A Fantastic Weinstein Institute!

This year’s Bert B. Weinstein Institute for Staff Training was truly remarkable. Over 100 Ramah staff members–our largest winter gathering ever!–came together at Ramah California in Ojai from January 3-6. Seventy-five second- and third-year madrichim, representing all our overnight camps and Nyack, were joined by contingents of Ramah Service Corps interns, Daber Fellows, 11 staff from most of our special needs programs, and directors, assistant directors, and other senior leaders from our camps and from NRC.

Weinstein Institute 2013Amy Skopp Cooper, National Associate Director, led the entire program, with tremendous assistance from Alana Tilman, our NRC Special Projects Coordinator, who spent countless hours putting the program together and working out all the logistics.

Dr. Zach Lasker joined us for Ramah Service Corps training and Rich Moline, in his first week with Ramah, came to represent our new Reshet Ramah alumni initiative. Overall, the combination of inspiring leadership helped make this a very memorable four-day experience.

Rami Schwartzer, leading the New England contingent, also served as the NRC leader for all the inspiring tefillot, which were indeed magical. From the first Ma’ariv service Thursday night and throughout Shabbat, people’s voices filled the room with beautiful prayer. As one young woman commented to me, “not only do I wait all year to have a Ramah-style service, but being with the best of the leaders from all Ramah camps made our davening even more special.”

The three largest contingents came from Nyack, Berkshires, and Poconos, and the intense ruach of these three groups, as with all our camp groups, helped maintain a high level of enthusiasm all weekend long. While we celebrated our commonality as Ramahniks, the individual camps also had opportunities to share their unique camp traditions. For example, seven madrichim from New England sang a beautiful rendition of Eishet Chayil prior to Friday evening kiddush; California madrichim taught and led a ruach-filled Shabbat Mincha; Wisconsin reps led slow, soulful singing during seudah shlishit; the Canada contingent proudly demonstrated their camp-wide havdalah ceremonies; and the Darom madrichim shared their post-havdalah dance traditions.

Ramah Outdoors Staff at Weinstein For the first time, a group of madrichim from Ramah Outdoors joined Weinstein, together with camp director Rabbi Eliav Bock. They taught the group about our newest camp in Colorado and everyone celebrated their accomplishments.

The National Ramah Tikvah Network participants, under the leadership of Shira Arcus, led a sensitivity training workshop, as well as a particularly powerful discussion on the impact of our special needs programs on all campers and staff. As one counselor pointed out, “Having Tikvah in our camp makes everyone in camp better. Even the most challenging campers are able to express sensitivity and caring when they have the chance to serve as Tikvah buddies.” Training for staff of the Ramah Tikvah programs is supported by the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of New York and the 2011 Ramah Israel Bike Ride.

During Shabbat Shacharit, we discussed the parasha’s story of the burning bush, asking everyone to reflect on the meaning of this symbol-a bush that was not consumed by fire-and why this was chosen as the original symbol for JTS and the Ramah Camping Movement. Many of us agreed that the power of Conservative Judaism lies in the delicate balance between modern, everyday life (symbolized by the ordinary bush) and the intensity of religious passion (symbolized by the fire), with neither consuming the other. Overall, I was inspired by the depth of the responses.

Sunday morning, as a special final activity, everyone traveled to a Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles and had a ball using the new Ramah365 app for a Jewish-themed scavenger hunt.

All of us learned Torah from Rabbi Aaron Alexander, the assistant dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, attended leadership training sessions led by our directors and assistant directors, enjoyed the amazing food, weather, natural beauty, and overall great hospitality of Ramah California, and left Weinstein more excited than ever to plan for kayitz 2013 at all of our camps.

Dancing at Weinstein

For me, the signature moment took place Saturday night after the conclusion of Shabbat. After an emotional havdalah with beautiful singing, groups organized by camp and began to sing and dance according to their camp’s traditions. Darom, California, and Rockies staff each sang their own unique camp songs in different corners of the room, while other camp staff gathered to dance or sing “tov li b’machaneh Ramah” or “bein richsei heharim.” A cacophony of Ramah traditions, all “competed” yet blended beautifully into one powerful moment. And then in an instant, the loud speakers were turned on, Israeli music blared, and the entire group began dancing together as one!

This delicate balance of individual camp and movement, both so essential for these young adults, reminded me of the power of bringing everyone together in these movement-wide programs. I am now more excited than ever for our annual Shabbaton in Israel next month, and for our spring Winer Institute for Rosh Edah training, as well as Kivun specialist training, Daber Fellowship training, and our next conference for leaders of Tikvah, Breira and Camp Yofi.

As Amy stated in her message to everyone on our last night, “We look forward to taking the next step with all of you, seeing you grow as leaders for your camps and for our communities.”

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