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The Incredible 2015 Ramah Mishlachat

Amy Skopp Cooper headshotBy Guest Blogger Amy Skopp Cooper, National Associate Director

Amidst cheers, dancing, and singing, we just concluded the 2015 Mishlachat Training Seminar,which for the first time was held at the Givat Haviva Educational Institute, about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. We are very grateful to our partners at The Jewish Agency who organize this four-day program and provide Ramah leadership with the unique opportunity to work with the 188 new Ramah shlichim joining us this summer. And unique it was: this was the first year that the training seminar began on Yom Ha’Shoah. Just minutes before the shlichim arrived, Ramah directors stood together and listened to the two-minute siren heard throughout Israel. As we marked Jewish time, it was not lost on us how interconnected memory and destiny are to one another. Minutes after the siren, the most idealistic young ambassadors of Israel joined us.

2015 Ramah Mishlachat

Ramah directors and assistant directors come to mishlachat training annually. It is our opportunity to develop relationships and begin preparing our shlichim for a summer at Ramah. Groups bond, friendships are formed, camp cheers are practiced, and young adults begin to get a taste of camp life. A highlight of the experience is Shabbat. There, shlichim–many for the first time–experience a traditional and egalitarian Shabbat with joyful singing, dancing, davening, and learning. One shlicha shared with the group that she had celebrated her bat mitzvah at Ramah only a year earlier, and that she hoped others would do the same. Another, who lost her father right before the 2014 summer, shared that Ramah was her second home. She explained that her Ramah family embraced her, was with her during shiva, and that there was no other place where she would have recited kaddish. Former shlichim offered divrei Torah, led breakout sessions, and read Torah.

Throughout the seminar, our primary goal was to challenge our mishlachat to consider what it really means to be young Israeli ambassadors. Rabbi Joe Menashe, the executive director of Ramah California, wrote, “The conference not only prepares the mishlachat for camp–from laundry to days off to understanding camp and American culture–but also to get the shlichim to look within themselves and Israeli culture and society to better understand and appreciate the diversity of approaches and opinions of modern Zionism. It is incredible to see this process unfold as they talk openly and listen to each other, seeking to clarify and nuance the Israel they believe in and hope to reflect to the Americans in camp. Still in–or recently out of–the army, they have much experience on behalf of Israel, with many having served in the war last summer, but not a lot of recent opportunity to reflect deeply. These discussions are honest and certainly not easy.”

When asked if we have a political agenda or if they need to present Israel in any particular way, our charge was consistently the same: “Present your Israel, what you think, what you believe, whatyou hope for your future.” There were ample programs and framed discussions that empowered our shlichim to start this process.

Particularly poignant were the stories shared by a cadre of veteran 2014 shlichim who joined us for Shabbat. “I was a commander,” shared Dor. “When the war broke out, I knew I wanted to return to my soldiers immediately. And then I realized how much I could give at camp. What I couldn’t anticipate was how much my Ramah community would in turn support me. They took care of us, embraced us when friends died, cried with us, and demonstrated how much they too care for our home.”

Rabbi Joel Seltzer, Executive Director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, wrote, “After having spent the last five days with our newly-minted mishlachat in Eretz Yisrael–five days of conversation about identity, about cultural exchange, about Zionism, religion, secularism, and yes, about summer camp–I am once again cognizant that this too is part of the mission of Ramah. That is to say – shlichut is a two-way street. Yes, our Israeli staff brings so much to our campers and staff each summer; but the truth is that Camp Ramah has a tremendous impact on them as well. It makes them think about who they are as Israelis, as Jews, as part of a broader Jewish world. And thus it becomes clear that our true mission is not only to create the next generation of future leaders in America, but in Israel as well.”

Beautiful moments of dancing, cheering in Hebrew, Maccabiah breakout, and newly discovered Ramah spirit! It is an honor to work with our mishlachat and to appreciate how much of an impact they have on our communities and in turn, how Ramah impacts them when they return to Israeli society.

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