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Our Inspirational 2017 National Ramah Spring Leadership Training Conference

Gideon WeissGuest blogger: Gideon Weiss, National Ramah year-round staff member and veteran rosh edah at Ramah Berkshires

Although the calendar still said “May,” and the weather was quite brisk, for more than 50 Ramah tzevet, it was the unofficial start of summer and a new camping season. At the annual four-day National Ramah Spring Leadership Training Conference (“Winer”) last month, incoming rashei edah (division heads), Tikvah (special needs) staff, and Daber Fellows (Hebrew facilitators and ambassadors), came together at Ramah New England to train with Ramah professional staff, plan for the summer, and do a little rikud as well.

Winer Group Photo 2017 web

For incoming rashei edah, the Louis and Shoshana Winer Institute for Rosh Edah Training is an intense boot camp as preparation for the numerous responsibilities of being a division head. The Winer track schools its participants in topics ranging from the abstract (ideas of leadership) to more granular details (the right words to use during a performance review), along with everything in between. As Jillian Mergruen, a first-year rosh edah at Ramah Nyack, explained, “Winer was an unbelievably eye-opening and inspiring experience. I learned so much in a few short days and I cannot wait to apply what I learned this kayitz (summer)!”

Winer 2017 Video Thumbnail

Video: Highlights from Winer 2017

Winer was led this year by National Associate Director Amy Skopp Cooper, who joined with a cadre of directors and other year-round professionals to run sessions on team building, discipline, programming, staff supervision, and organization. Returning rashei edah, or “vatikim” (veterans), also enjoy the opportunity to teach and mentor; they lead round-robin sessions and sit on a panel that offers insider advice to the new class. As one rosh edah vatik, Noam Kornsgold of Ramah Berkshires, put it, “Winer allowed me to review my past summer as a rosh edah, move forward and beyond that point, and teach and learn from the next cohort of rashei edah.”

For new rashei edah, training culminated with “RamahTalks,” TEDTalk-style presentations about their Ramah journeys (highlight video below). For Bradley Goldman, a first-year rosh edah at Ramah Nyack, Winer was a “transformative experience where I was able to ask pertinent questions openly and honestly. I was met with amazing support, well-experienced mentors, and resources that will serve me this kayitz and beyond.” New England rosh edah Claire Mendelson added, “Winer was extremely helpful in my development as a Ramah leader. I was glad to get to meet other people in my position from other camps. I really felt the power of Ramah as a movement!”

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Video: RamahTalks at Winer 2017

Our rashei edah joined together with our Tikvah staff to participate in a training on sexual abuse prevention and reporting from Rahel Bayer, a Ramah alum and senior consultant for T&M Protection Resources. Other key sessions included a discussion on how to better integrate mishlachat (Israeli emissaries) into staff life; organizational strategies; ways to serve as a tefillah educator; a conversation on camper behavioral management and reducing social and sexual pressures at camp, led by National Ramah Director Rabbi Mitchell Cohen.

Rashei edah continually expressed their appreciation at being able to explore these topics together prior to the summer. “Before Winer, the idea of my being a rosh edah was overwhelming and daunting, but now I have some footing and feel more confident in my ability to succeed this summer,” explained Maddie Gelfand, a rosh edah from Ramah New England. ”At Winer I was able to learn so much from senior staff at different Ramah camps and feel like I understand and therefore can embody more of the mission of the Ramah Camping Movement.” Saul Shaaltiel from Ramah Poconos added, “Attending Winer was extremely informative and has helped prepare me for the summer ahead as a rosh edah. I learned how to build a strong tzevet and be the rosh edah I want to be.”

The National Ramah Tikvah Network training included Tikvah counselors from Ramah camps across North America. Led by Orlee Krass, Tikvah Director at Ramah Poconos, the cohort learned new strategies for effective discipline and conflict management, discussed how to better tailor programming for Tikvah edot, and had the opportunity to engage with parents of Tikvah participants. The group also worked with Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Network Director, and spent time with the camp directors to discuss specific camp needs. “This year at Winer I had the opportunity to converse with tzevet from other camps about their Tikvah programs,” said Isabelle Williams, a Tikvah counselor from Ramah Darom. “Hearing about their programs opened my eyes to the potential future of Darom’s program, as well as many ideas I can implement this summer.”

Long-time National Ramah Program Director Alana Tilman, the incoming assistant director of Ramah Galim in Northern California, organized the conference and led the Daber Fellows training along with Guy Shahar, who directs Sha’ar, Ramah Nyack’s pioneering Hebrew immersion program. Daber Fellows discussed how to better integrate Hebrew into the fabric of camp and how to make Hebrew learning more accessible and fun. To that end, the Fellows learned how to create programming that revolves around each camp’s meah milim (one hundred essential words). The group discussed the importance of Hebrew to the Ramah mission, learned to tailor the teaching of Hebrew to different learning styles, and even enjoyed a lesson on Hebrew slang! Joey Rudoler, a Daber Fellow from Ramah Poconos, said, “Attending the Spring Leadership Institute helped me get in the mindset of camp; the Daber Fellows training helped me get in the mindset of an intentional Hebrew speaker. I now have an arsenal of peulot, games, and other tools in order to bring more Hebrew to camp in a fun way!”

Together, despite the cold weather, the group enjoyed a walk to grab ice cream at Rondeau’s (a Ramah New England tradition!); a peulat erev that turned the emotions of camp into performance art; and of course, several rounds of dancing to our favorite Israeli music.  Throughout the entire week, the magic of a Ramah experience was felt even as participants worked hard to prepare for the summer. Most importantly, the conference created a community of leaders, and marked the beginning of Kayitz 2017.  As one participant proudly shared, “It’s amazing to me that Ramah values us as professionals. Ramah has already sent me to two different leadership training conferences and has invested in helping me to become the best tzevet member I can be. I love that Ramah’s commitment to helping me develop as a person didn’t end when my camper experience concluded, but continues as I remain part of the Ramah community.”

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