By Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director
The National Ramah Winter Leadership Training Conference at Ramah California in Ojai this past January 2-5 was truly extraordinary! This weekend training and Shabbaton were marked not only by inspirational and powerful interactions among staff members across the camps in the Ramah movement, but also by the exchange of ideas and experiences across generations of Ramah leaders. View Facebook album
And for the first time, there were cross-movement connections, as our almost 90 Ramah participants were joined by 23 Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) Camp staff members. An additional 22 directors, assistant directors, and other senior leaders from URJ Camps, the Ramah camps, and the National Ramah Commission (NRC) led the programming during the weekend. Professionals from outside Ramah served as specialty instructors, both in person and via Skype. Read all instructor bios
Four distinct groups of participants attended. The largest group was comprised of the second-year madrichim participating in the Bert B. Weinstein Institute for Counselor Training, representing all our overnight camps and the Nyack and Philadelphia day camps. These outstanding counselors were joined by staff members from our National Ramah Tikvah Network of programs for campers with disabilities, Ramah Service Corps Fellows, and the newly formed Moreshet Ramah cohort (alumni lay leaders in their twenties). Alana Tilman, our NRC Special Projects Coordinator, spent countless hours putting the program together and working out all the logistics.
The 49 madrichim in the Weinstein Institute participated in innovative sessions and learning opportunities which included wonderful text study with Rabbi Aaron Alexander, one of the deans of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and an inventive art workshop with Jeremy Shuback of G‐dCast. Intense creativity emerged from a “program challenge” session, during which groups of counselors from different camps collaborated to develop out-of-the-box ideas for programs on specific topics. Aliza Glatter of the Ramah Philadelphia Day Camp said, “Weinstein was a fantastic program! I cannot wait to implement what I gained from this weekend into camp this summer and encourage other counselors from RDC Philly to attend in the future.”
The ten National Ramah Tikvah Network participants met under the leadership of Orlee Krass, National Ramah Tikvah Network Co-Coordinator. At the “Why Are We Here?” panel, the group was mesmerized hearing parent Elaine Hall talk about how her son Neal’s participation as a camper in the Ramah California Tikvah program is an essential part of his life. Listening to Elaine and watching Neal embrace his counselors brought tears to everyone’s eyes.
Additional Tikvah Network sessions focused on program sharing and the development of practical skills. Training for staff of the National Ramah Tikvah Network programs is supported by the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of New York and the 2013 Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip.
The Ramah Service Corps (RSC) training was led by Amy Skopp Cooper, National Ramah Associate Director, and Dr. Zach Lasker of The Davidson School of Jewish Education at JTS (and a former Ramah director). It was thrilling for the RSC Fellows to share program ideas and best practices with members of the inaugural cohort of the URJ Service Corps and the URJ Camp senior staff. Our three RSC Metro Detroit Fellows came straight to California from an incredible trip to the Marom Olami camp in Argentina. They energized the group as they shared lessons learned in Argentina and from their full-time experiences in Detroit.
Josh Warshawsky from Ramah Wisconsin said, “I really loved being here with the Ramah Service Corps and the URJ partnership. It was an opportunity to meet a lot of people who are doing very similar things across movements. The collaboration, idea and program sharing and getting to know everyone was a really powerful and invigorating experience.”
Moreshet Ramah is a new cohort of 22 motivated alumni lay leaders in their twenties, more than half of whom were able to attend the Shabbaton. Rich Moline, Reshet Ramah Director, led the Moreshet Ramah programming. Highlights included a session on “Finding Our Voices” with Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, one of the deans of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, and a discussion about creating and delivering superior customer value based on the book Everything I Know About Business I Learned from the Grateful Dead.
Merrie Aaron, a Ramah Nyack alum, said, “My weekend with the Moreshet Ramah cohort brought back all of the Ramah magic as if no time had passed. The opportunity to learn from National Ramah leaders, to connect and form relationships with Ramah alumni across all of the Ramah camps, and to work to build a Ramah alumni community, was one that left me truly inspired about the future of Ramah.”
A recurring sentiment expressed by the participants was the recognition of how much all of the camps have in common. As Joseph Eskin from Ramah Wisconsin said, “All the programs are different and unique in their own ways, but there are a lot more things that unite us than divide us. So it’s great to come together and realize that we are talking about the same things, having the same conversations, the same experiences and reinforcing that Ramah is doing really great things.” Even as we celebrated our commonality as Ramahniks, the individual camps also had opportunities to share their unique camp traditions throughout the program. In addition, in an extraordinary tefillah session, URJ Camp and Ramah staff members shared a powerful experience in music and prayer.
The impact of gathering so many innovative and dedicated Ramahniks in one place was clearly evident. Ben Winograd of Ramah Darom remarked, “Weinstein was like Seminar in that I had the chance to talk to Ramahniks from other camps. But what was really cool is that the conversations were completely different now that we were all on the madrich side of things. Everybody was super interested and supportive in sharing programs and experiences, and the topics and conversations were endless.”
Amy Mendelsohn, Ramah California Program Director, told me, “I first went on Weinstein as a counselor in 2006. Coming back to Weinstein in a professional capacity, it allowed me to see something that I could not see so clearly before – the endless amount of dedication and love for each of our camps is what drives the sessions and workshops.”
I am now more excited than ever for our annual Shabbaton in Israel next month, and for our Spring Leadership Training Conference. As Amy Skopp Cooper 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.”