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Howard Blas Receives Prestigious Covenant Award

What a wonderful evening for Ramah, Tikvah, the disabilities inclusion field, and Howard Blas!

Covenant Award 2013

(L-R) Rabbi Mitch Cohen, Howard Blas, Rabbi Ed Gelb

This past Sunday night, October 27, Howard Blas received the prestigious Covenant Award at the Covenant Foundation’s annual awards dinner at the Chicago Hyatt Regency. This award is given each year to three outstanding Jewish educators. With hundreds of people in attendance, Howard was acknowledged for his leadership of the inspiring Tikvah program at Ramah New England, supported by camp director Rabbi Ed Gelb and the entire Ramah New England team. He was also recognized for his role as a consultant to the National Ramah Tikvah Network; his year-round teaching of children with disabilities for their bar or bat mitzvah; and his advocacy for inclusion in Jewish education. Howard was nominated for the award by Shira Arcus, the immediate past coordinator of the Ramah Tikvah Network and a long-time Ramah New England camper and staff member.

One of the other two recipients was Judy Finkelstein-Taff, a Ramah alumna who was recognized for her founding of an extraordinary multi-denominational day school in Chicago. Judy began her acceptance speech by saying, “Many years ago, I boarded a Greyhound bus from Phoenix to attend Camp Ramah in Ojai, California. It was at Camp Ramah that my passion for Jewish education was born.” Zion Ozeri, the third recipient, was honored for his work as the founder and creative director of The Jewish Lens; he is a renowned photographer whose curriculum is used by Ramah Berkshires. The following morning, Ramah California staff alumna Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann was named one of five recipients of the The 2013 Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize for promising Jewish educators.

Covenant Award 2013

(L-R) Ralph Schwartz, Shira Arcus,
Howard Blas, Rabbi Mitch Cohen

Attendees included JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen; current Ramah directors Rabbi Eliav Bock (a 2012 Covenant Pomegranate Prize recipient), Amy Skopp Cooper (a 2011 Covenant Award recipient), Rabbi Ed Gelb, and Rabbi David Soloff; Ralph Schwartz, Director of Special Needs Programming at Ramah Wisconsin; Shira Arcus, immediate past NRC Tikvah Network Coordinator; and Debbie Nahshon, NRC Director of Institutional Advancement.

Dozens of Ramah alumni were in attendance, including former Ramah directors and leaders of many of North America’s most innovative educational initiatives. Among the previous Covenant Award recipients attending the event were Ramah alumni Lorraine Arcus, Dr. Ruth Pinkenson Feldman, Peter Geffen, Beth Huppin, Vicky Kelman, Rabbi Stuart Seltzer, Dr. Sara Rubinow Simon, Rabbi Loren Sykes, Rabbi Philip Warmflash, Susan Werk, and others; they all credit Ramah as being critical to their Jewish growth.

In addition to Loren Sykes, many other former Ramah directors and assistant directors were present, all of whom are now leaders in other areas of Jewish life–Nadine Sasson Cohen, Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Robin Graff, Rabbi Stuart Kelman, and Davey Rosen. Other Ramahniks at the dinner included Merrill Alpert, Elisheva Blas, Hannah Blas, Marci Dickman, Alisa Doctoroff, Betsy Dolgin Katz, Felice Resnick, Jon Adam Ross, Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, Ari Taff, Rabbi Avi Taff, Josh Taff, Jon Woocher, and many others.

Covenant Award 2013

Some of the many Ramahniks at Sunday’s Covenant Award dinner

Immediately after birkat hamazon, we asked all Ramah alumni to join us for a picture. Half the room seemed to get up! So many of these Ramahniks talked about their years at camp as the key formative leadership experience in their lives. Ruth Pinkenson Feldman proudly introduced herself to me as “the first female rosh edah at Ramah Poconos.” Ruth attended Ramah Poconos in the 1960’s, then the American Seminar at Nyack. She went on to become Rosh Tzeirim at Poconos in 1972.

The Covenant Foundation is led by Harlene Winnick Appelman and Joni Blinderman, two great friends of Ramah who continue to encourage all of us to lead and innovate, “because Ramah is one of the best examples of educational innovation in the Jewish world.” Under their guidance, Ramah has received encouragement for–and grants to support–a number of recent initiatives, including the Ramah Service Corps and the Ramah365 app.

As Chancellor Eisen stated, “It is wonderful to see the impact that JTS–through our Ramah camps–continues to have on Jewish leaders and Jewish community. The assemblage of past and present Covenant award recipients who are Ramahniks is a source of great pride.”

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