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4 Camps in 5 Days

by Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director

What a privilege it is to visit our camps! My summer travel began this week with a visit to four camps in five days, all sources of great inspiration.


Kabbalat Shabbat at Ramah Nyack

Kabbalat Shabbat at Ramah Nyack

Last Friday afternoon I arrived at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack just prior to their first Shabbat of the summer. The uniqueness of Nyack is amazing–hundreds of young adult staff members coming together as a community and living together on site, welcoming approximately 600 campers each day.

Together for barely 24 hours, this community came together for Kabbalat Shabbat, old friends and new, to celebrate the holiness of Ramah. In this video, the Ramah a cappella group sang a song dedicated to the three kidnapped teens in Israel, praying for their safe return.


Berkshires staff singing

Berkshires staff singing “Happy Kayitz 2014!”

On Sunday morning, my wife Cari (a Ramah California yoetzet) and I traveled to Ramah Berkshires. In small groups, we and other guest presenters engaged counselors and specialists in conversations about healthy child development and effective counselor methods. I focused on ways we can reduce social and sexual pressures at camp.


New England Waterfront Staff

Waterfront staff members take time out from training to discuss programming for campers in the Tikvah and Voc Ed programs

Monday morning, I visited Ramah New England and had the opportunity to speak with most staff members in two large groups to discuss the critical value of Ramah in the wake of the recent Pew report and other studies showing the decline in Jewish affiliation in North America. We focused on Conservative Jewish pride and the staff member’s role in shaping the lives and Jewish identity of the campers.


Darom Cookie Cart

Riding in the Darom cookie cart with Geoff Menkowitz and Sarah Attermann, passing out cookies to hundreds of staff and campers for their late afternoon snack

On Tuesday, I boarded the plane to Atlanta and arrived at Ramah Darom by late afternoon. A passing thunderstorm left the camp smelling fresh and clean, with dry air and plenty of late-day sunshine. During my three days there I was able to see so many happy faces, and hear from young adult leaders passionate about Jewish life and children.

Basketball practice at Darom

Basketball practice at Darom

I made my way to the basketball court and participated in a practice run by Lior and Offir, two professional basketball players from Israel. Lior plays for Maccabi Ashdod and Offir plays for Ramat Hasharon. According to Lior, “We come to camp to teach high level sports skills while using as much Hebrew as possible. It’s a great way to connect these kids with Israel.”

Darom hanhallah at BBQ

Darom hanhallah members during their Wednesday yom meyuchad bishul chutz (outdoor BBQ)

Another highlight for me was a discussion with Gesher (the oldest edah) about the Ramah Camping Movement and their future opportunities as Ramah leaders, including Seminar and staff positions. About half the group said they had parents who went to Ramah, and a few even had grandparents!

I am looking forward to Shabbat back at Berkshires together with members of the National Ramah board.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Shabbat.

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