Guest blogger: Hillel Buechler, Deputy Program Director, National Ramah Commission, Inc.
The National Ramah Spring Leadership Training Conference brought together 75 Ramah staff members last week, marking the beginning of the 2016 camp season. (View the highlight video). The conference, which was held under sunny skies at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia, featured tracks for rashei edot (division heads) and staff members of Ramah Tikvah (special needs) programs, as well as Daber Fellows, who will focus on bolstering Hebrew at Ramah camps. As always, in addition to its array of educational content, the institute was infused with ruach at every level, from tefillot to rikkud to the inspirational “Ramah Talks” that staff prepared to capture their Ramah stories.
This week’s conference was also particularly momentous, as representatives from Camp Ramah in Northern California joined the spring training for the first time in advance of that camp’s inaugural summer in the Monterey Bay area.
The Louis and Shoshana Winer Institute for Rosh Edah Training was overseen directly by Rabbi Mitch Cohen, National Ramah Director, and Amy Skopp Cooper, National Associate Director. They led sessions for rashei edot on a range of camp-related issues, including team building, staff mentoring, tefillah, and program planning. They also organized a poignant discussion on how Ramah serves a productive ground for a range of positions on Israel stemming from a love for the Jewish state. Alana Tilman, National Ramah Program Director, also led a number of sessions for the rashei edot, in addition to her role in overseeing logistics and curriculum for the entire conference.
Returning rashei edot led several peer-to-peer aspects of the Winer Institute, including a series of round-robin conversations on topics such as programming and insider advice. Additional sessions for the Rosh Edah training on public speaking, camper development, and other topics were run by a number of other Ramah professionals.
Reactions to this year’s Winer were decidedly positive. “There is something incredible about training with a group of bright, passionate, and creative people, all of whom share the desire to impact the Ramah community,” shares Gideon Weiss, a rosh edah at Ramah Berkshires. “I came away feeling prepared, fulfilled and–most importantly–inspired, by the educators, instructors, and peers.”
Shira Wolf, a rosh edah at Ramah Canada, adds that, “While I was excited for camp before, Winer has heightened my excitement for the upcoming summer. I cannot wait to bring what I’ve learned these last few days with me in hopes of going above and beyond as a rosh edah.”
The National Ramah Tikvah Network training track, geared toward new and returning counselors who work with campers with disabilities, was led by Orlee Krass, Tikvah Director at Ramah Poconos. The curriculum for this training track provided participants the opportunity to explore their influence on the lives of campers and staff at their home camps. The Ramah Camping Movement is proud that the 2016 camp season will be the first in which all Ramah camps offer at least one special needs program. (National Ramah Tikvah Network training is supported by the Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip and the Ruderman Family Foundation
Sessions for Tikvah staff focused on honing in on day-to-day staff skills that will help them in their roles this summer, including social skills and coaching along with program sharing. Tikvah Staff also engaged in Jewish text study with Hillel Buechler, National Ramah Deputy Program Director, on the subject of proactive and reactive leadership in Midrash. In addition to Ramah counselors, National Ramah was proud to welcome a number of special needs counselors at URJ camps for the Tikvah track. According to Benji Cooper, a counselor at Ramah Berkshires, the conference “offered a new perspective on what it means to work with individuals who have special needs, one that I do not feel like I have ever really seen.”
The program for Daber Hebrew Language Program Fellows, returning counselors who will focus on bringing additional Hebrew to their camps, was run by Alana Tilman and a series of guest lecturers from across the conference. The Daber curriculum combines a serious educational frame for the acquisition of language with the nuances of daily camp life in order to prepare staff to promote Hebrew in new, innovative ways. Sessions for the Daber Fellows featured short- and long-form games that they could bring with them, along with techniques for ensuring Hebrew remains a core component of their age group’s programming. As Or Ayash, a Daber Fellow at Ramah Poconos, observed, “Daber taught me how to incorporate Hebrew into everyday camp life. It also taught me fun activities with Hebrew.”
National Ramah was pleased to welcome Laura Yares, Director of Educational Research and Innovation for Hillel International at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center, to the 2016 spring institute. Laura, in conjunction with Rabbi AbigailTreu, Director of Strategic Advancement and Reshet Ramah, led a number of sessions around furthering the already robust place of Ramahniks in Jewish leadership on campus. Through the lens of community organizing, Laura and Abby prompted staff to think deeply on how they can contribute even more fully to the creation of Jewish community on their college campuses and elsewhere.
National Ramah leadership is excited that this year’s training sustains Ramah’s reputation for unparalleled staff excellence, and looks forward to next year’s slate of training institutes across the Ramah Camping Movement.
As Michael Fingerman, a veteran rosh edah at Ramah Darom, puts it, “National Ramah training is addictive. It gets the mind, body, and soul ready for camp!”