The 2016 National Ramah Winter Leadership Training Conference, held from January 4-7, was a tremendous success. This year’s gathering took place at Camp Ramah in California in Ojai under a mix of sun and much-needed rain. The four-day conference featured several tracks, including the Weinstein Institute for Counselor Training for second-year madrichim, as well as training for counselors of campers with disabilities (Tikvah), veteran staff (“vatikim”), division heads (rashei edah), and Ramah Service Corps Fellows. The 105 attendees at this year’s conference also included camp directors, assistant directors, and programming staff. Eleven Ramah camps were represented, including our newest camp, Ramah in Northern California. Kayla Levy, one of Ramah NorCal’s first staff members, shared that the inspiring week “embodied the innovation and ruach of camp that makes Ramah more than a two-month experience.”
The Bert B. Weinstein Institute for Counselor Training for second-year madrichim constituted the largest contingent of the gathering. The 60 participants represented staff talent from Ramah camps across North America. This year’s curriculum focused on the development of high-level counselor skills, including an emphasis on mentoring younger staff. A primary focus was on the improvement of Jewish programmatic offerings at Ramah camps. “From developing skills in Israel education, programming, and teamwork, Weinstein better prepared me to be a madricha this upcoming summer,” said an enthusiastic Ilana Forcheimer, a counselor at Ramah Nyack.
Over the course of the days in Ojai, the Weinstein participants, along with other returning staff attending the “vatikim” track, crafted goal-oriented programs that they tweaked under the guidance of Ramah professionals, including Amy Skopp Cooper, National Associate Director. The Weinstein participants were also thrilled to work with a number of experienced rashei edah who attended the conference to help guide that track, as well as to work on some of their advance planning for Summer 2016.
Alana Tilman, National Ramah Program Director, oversaw the logistics and curriculum development of the entire conference and coordinated the vatikim track for older returning staff. Many of the vatikim participants had already attended National Ramah conferences; many were graduates of the Weinstein Institute. In sessions with Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director, and other camp leaders, these rising stars in the Ramah movement were challenged to think about advancing the Ramah mission. Naama Malomet, a third-year counselor at Ramah Berkshires, remarked, “The Weinstein Institute is a great way to come together with other madrichim from different Ramah camps and share ideas and best practices. It is also a great way to get a taste of Ramah during the busy school year!”
Additionally, twelve Ramah Service Corps Fellows attended the conference to discuss their programmatic successes and challenges as they work within synagogues and schools across North America. Dr. Zachary Lasker of JTS’s Davidson School led many of their sessions. The RSC Fellows shared that being at Ramah California and spending time with fellow Ramahniks provided a first-hand experience of the power of Ramah and reminded them that, as RSC Fellow Zach Bell explained, “We all do the work we do because we really love and understand the impact of camp.”
Fellows also spent a day in the Los Angeles area meeting with experiential education leaders. Their time there with Devorah Brous, Founding Executive Director of Netiya, exposed them to the word of Jewish agricultural education; at American Jewish University, Fellows heard from Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, Dean of AJU’s Graduate Center for Education, about best practices in the experiential education world.
The Tikvah track was led by Orlee Krass, Director of the new Tikvah Residential Program at Ramah Poconos. Participants for the Tikvah track came from several Ramah camps, each of which serves a different population. They addressed best practices for engaging their campers in unique ways. Training for National Ramah Tikvah Network staff is supported by the Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip and The Ruderman Family Foundation (training for staff of Ramah vocational education programs).
The conference was marked by exceptional teaching and learning opportunities, including an address from Rabbi Ari Lucas, a Ramah Poconos alum who serves as Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. The group’s time at the Ojai camp also featured spirited tefillot organized by National Ramah Special Projects Coordinator, Hillel Buechler. Josh Warshawsky, a rabbinical student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, contributed an expansive musical presence at tefillot and throughout the program. Staff members returned home on inspired and already looking forward to the summer. As Rebecca Hersch, an incoming senior counselor at Ramah Poconos, explained, “It was an amazing experience to share my love for Ramah with other tzevet members who love Ramah just as much as I do. I cannot wait for another incredible kayitz!”