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2017 National Ramah Winter Leadership Training Conference

Camp was a flurry of activity. Coach buses rumbled in. Benches scraped the ground as they were arranged and rearranged. Israeli dance music echoed into the Ojai mountains. A telling column of Bishul smoke was a beacon declaring, “Camp Ramah is in session.” Chanichim (campers) were the focus in every way but one; they weren’t actually there. Instead, Camp Ramah in California was teeming with staff members. Over 100 senior counselors, rashei edah, Tikvah staff and Service Corps Fellows gathered in Ojai, California to participate in the four-day Winter Training Leadership Training Conference, featuring several tracks for young Ramah leaders.

Incoming senior counselors spent the weekend as part of the Bert B. Weinstein Institute for Counselor Training. After a summer learning the ins and outs of counseling, the Institute provides participants with tools to mentor younger staff and continue their growth as Jewish leaders. Camp Ramah in New England madricha Zmira Stouber shared, “Weinstein has greatly impacted my confidence in being a successful madricha, as well as given me helpful resources and supportive networks that I can utilize for years to come.” Working in small groups, the Weinstein counselors engaged with Ramah directors and Jewish professionals on various topics including innovative programming, strong bunk dynamics and the science of being an effective camp counselor.

Veteran Ramah staff members participated in two other tracks, Vatikim (3rd and 4th year staff) and Rashei Edah (division heads). These more experienced staff members offered invaluable guidance and perspective to incoming senior counselors, while participating in advanced sessions focused on their own development, training and preparation for the coming summer. Sarah Binney, one of the Vatikim from Camp Ramah in California, felt that the Weinstein experience was both motivating and unifying. “I was able to see Ramah as a movement from a much broader perspective,” Sarah said, “which gave me confidence in the future of Ramah and young Conservative Jews.”

This focus on movement-wide staff development has been the driving motivation toward creating new tracks for the conference, including the Tikvah track which began at the 2011 Weinstein Institute. During the weekend, Tikvah staff shared best practices and built on common experiences to enhance each individual camp’s Tikvah training program.

The Service Corps Fellows, who provide Ramah programming at synagogues across North America, from Nashville to San Francisco, united to examine the first half of their Service Corps experience. On Friday afternoon, the group ventured into the Ojai mountains with Rabbi Joe Menashe. In the dry California brush, the Fellows brainstormed experiential outdoor programs to bring back to their communities. Later during the weekend, the cohort participated in an intensive storytelling workshop, led by actor and Ramah alum, Ezra Weisz.

For many, the highlight of the weekend was Friday evening. In the span of four hours, the Chadar Ochel at Camp Ramah in California experienced the full spectrum of sound. The night started with a symphonic explosion; 200 voices became an a capella philharmonic, with a veritable vocal orchestra. The full, majestic notes soon gave way to the percussive bustle of dinner. Silverware and dishes united with playful rhythms and intertwined with a thousand conversations…and then an intense silence. During the culminating panel session with Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a discussion on the future of Ramah and Conservative Judaism left the room in reflective quiet. Chancellor Eisen gave a rousing and hopeful address pointed to the Weinstein cohort, counselors who sought to engage in Jewish leadership as a model for Jewish continuity.  His message was clear: each small, interpersonal moment at Ramah can make a lasting difference in the larger community.

These four hours were a microcosm of the powerful variety of experiences at the Ramah Winter Leadership Training Conference. Inspirational davening, informal conversations at mealtimes that transcended age and home camp, and sessions led by experts in Jewish camping and the Jewish world. The conference’s success was amplified by the nearly one hundred layleaders from across the Ramah movement who joined the Weinstein cohort for the Kehillot Ramah Shabbaton.

Dr. Irene Moff, medical chair of Camp Ramah in Northern California (Ramah Galim), shared that the kabbalat shabbat service was, for her, the most inspiring experience of the weekend. “The passion and love for Judaism was palpable,” Irene said. “I came out of that service feeling like Conservative Judaism will be just fine. Hearing from Board members who are selflessly committed to the Ramah movement was inspiring. Listening to the mentorship from Chancellor Eisen and Rabbi Cohen to the young adults made me feel like I was a witness to the passing down of Jewish leadership from generation to generation.”


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