Mishpachah Yehudit

Reflections from The Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience

Guest blogger: David Zetley, Camp Ramah in the Rockies

My alarm sounds – it’s 7:35 in the morning and I have never been more excited to be jolted awake by my phone’s alarm. I throw on a sweatshirt and walk down one floor where I meet my co-counselor Sara. We then wake our campers, 15- and 16-year-old Ukrainians, with a classic boisterous rendition of “Boker tov!” better known at Ramah Yachad as “доброе утро!” pronounced “Dobroye utro!”

I flashback to early April when I opened my inbox to find an email from Hillel Buechler introducing me to the Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience. I sat there staring at my phone wondering why Ramah was sending kids to Ukraine, questioning how many Jews actually live in Ukraine, and thinking “how could there possibly be a Jewish camp in the middle of Ukraine!?” After three days of living, eating (potatoes), and breathing Ramah Yachad, all my questions have been answered and my doubts placed aside. This has all been due to the amazing programming, staff, and ruach which creates an incredible haven for Jewish Ukrainian children.

This vibrant combination was perfectly showcased in the wedding of a former camper, who has attended Ramah Yachad since 1998. Last night, after returning to Ramah Yachad at age 28, Lev, wed beautiful bride, Miriam. It was incredible to experience a Jewish wedding in Ukraine and absolutely something I never would have dreamed of happening in my lifetime. It was heart-warming for me to attend a Jewish wedding half-way across the world, yet somehow I felt at home. Surrounded by my new family and friends celebrating this simcha, we enjoyed the ceremony which proceeded through traditions that were so familiar.  As I sat watching the groom walk down the aisle, escorted by the camp director Gila, goosebumps ran up and down my spine thinking about the struggle that Lev went through in order to live as a proud Jew in Ukraine, compared to the relative ease in which Ramahniks live in the North America. The ceremony, which was attended by American Ramahniks in addition to all of the chanichim and madrichim of Ramah Yachad, was translated in English, Hebrew, and Ukrainian, creating a welcoming atmosphere for all. The ceremony was then followed by very spirited Israeli dancing. The whole camp then circled around the chuppah, as we sang and danced Havah Negillah in honor of the tenth couple married at Ramah Yachad.

Dancing has been such a key element of my time here at Ramah Yachad. Over the past week ריקוד has allowed me to establish connections with the campers and staff without the use of any verbal language, simply through the joy of Israeli dancing. This ריקוד really allowed the camp to come together as one mishpachah yehudit, as we welcomed the newlyweds with open arms and grapevine-ing feet.

During the evening program (following a two-course dinner!) each kvutzah presented a gift to the newlyweds. These gifts ranged from Israeli dances, a Jewish parody of a Ukrainian pop song, and an animation of the couple’s journey up to their wedding day. The gifts helped solidify the theme of mishpachah yehudit, because they showed the campers’ support and love for their Ramah Yachad mishpacha. I can’t wait to return to Ramah Yachad in twenty years and witness my campers get married, carrying on the tradition of mishpacha yehudit לדור ודור.


A fantastic group of high school students from Ramah camps across North America are exploring Hungary and Ukraine through the Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience. They will be serving as counselors at Camp Ramah Yachad, run by The Schechter Institute.

What Makes Camp Beautiful?

Reflections from The Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience

Guest blogger: Samuel Margolis, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires

What makes a desert flower so beautiful? Is it the beauty of the flower, or the absence of anything else in the vicinity?

For Camp Ramah Yachad, it’s both. In a little village where cows roam the roads, and a rooster wakes us up every morning, 120 kids and teenagers gather for a unique Jewish camping experience. Some take a fifteen-hour train from Kiev, and many others travel even farther to come to camp. Ramah Yachad is an oasis of Judaism in an otherwise barren land of Jews.

The second day of camp managed to surpass an unbelievable first day. My day began at 7:30 AM, when I woke up to run with my friend Mike, a Ukrainian security guard at camp. At 8:30 I davened Shacharit with the chanichim, and I received many questions about my teffilin. My two favorite questions were, “is it made out of cow?” and “why are there two boxes?” Later in the day, during free time and chug, I was able to play Ultimate Frisbee with the kids, a great Ramah pastime. It was amazing to see how excited the kids were while throwing the Frisbee, especially those who were throwing for the first time.

I also enjoyed simulating the First Zionist Congress with the chanichim, and debating whether the Jewish state should exist in Israel or Uganda. For the evening activity we witnessed “David Ben Gurion” announce Israel’s newfound independence. This exciting announcement immediately led to a dance party with Israeli music, and ultimately ended with fireworks after we sang Hatikva. All throughout the day my chanichim taught me Russian, and I am working hard to learn the new alphabet.

The Ukrainian staff has made every possible effort to include us. Even with the language barrier, I am succeeding in forming relationships with my kids. The most meaningful part of my day was when some of my chanichim expressed that my co-counselor and I were a highlight of their camp experience so far.

A fantastic group of high school students from Ramah camps across North America are exploring Hungary and Ukraine through the Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience. They will be serving as counselors at Camp Ramah Yachad, run by The Schechter Institute.

The Language of Ramah

Reflections from The Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience

Guest blogger: Dahlia Lehman, Camp Ramah in New England

Yesterday afternoon, after months of anticipation, and three days of training in Budapest and western Ukraine, we arrived at Camp Ramah Yachad. Despite the strong connections that our American group had established internally throughout the week, I was personally very worried about the language barrier between the members of our group and the other staff at Ramah Yachad, many of whom speak only Russian.

When the bus finally arrived at the camp after a long trip through the pouring rain, something amazing happened; it stopped raining, the sun came out, and the entire staff ran outside to greet us. I immediately forgot about the language barrier as I eagerly ran off the bus to the rest of the staff, which welcomed us with open arms, smiles, and an incredibly inviting atmosphere. To me, it almost felt like the rain washed away all of the worries that the language barrier may have posed. We were all there together for a common purpose — to celebrate our Judaism and provide an exciting and fun summer experience for the chanichim (campers). It was that common purpose and hope, which Camp Ramah in New England has instilled in me since I started my journey as a camper in 2007, that allowed our group from halfway across the world to feel immediately at home. Just as my new Ramahnik friends and I noticed that a rainbow had appeared in the sky, I realized that despite the differences between our American group and the Ukrainian staff members, we all know the language of Ramah.

As our group continues this journey for the ten days following the campers’ arrival on Monday, there will inevitably be challenges and setbacks. But at the end of the day, the language of Ramah will hopefully guide all of us — Ukrainian staff and American teens alike.

Dahlia Lehman, 17 years old, was born and raised in Potomac, Maryland. Dahlia started as a camper at Camp Ramah in New England in 2007. She even admits to begging her mom to send her to Camp Ramah the moment she entered Kindergarten. 

A fantastic group of high school students from Ramah camps across North America are exploring Hungary and Ukraine through the Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience. They will be serving as counselors at Camp Ramah Yachad, run by The Schechter Institute.

What Can Happen In Ten Years?

Reflections from The Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience

Guest blogger: Emma Siegel, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin

What can happen in ten years? From 2006 to 2016, we have experienced countless shootings, a growth/birth of a massive terrorist organization, bombings, Apple developing a touch screen phone, a watch, and an iPad, among countless other events.

What occurred from 1939 to 1949 in Ukraine was the desecration and demolition of almost an entire peoplehood, culture and way of life. While standing in front of an intersection which used to be a ghetto, walking to a hub for Jewish and secular learning, and listening to the tragedies that occurred, I was reminded of a statement I heard last night from a local Chabad rabbi.

The rabbi said that living here feels as if the Holocaust never ended because people lost ties to our Jewish world.  What are we, as a connected Jewish community, going to contribute to a people who have become entirely secularized?

Our tour guide, Ilan, told us a story while standing outside of the former center for Jewish and secular learning. Twenty male students had made a promise that in ten years, they would reunite in Israel right before Pesach. After the war, three of the students reunited before Pesach, seven came later, and ten had perished. Half of these innovative, Zionist students were able to return to our homeland. Following this story, Amy Skopp Cooper, National Associate Director, asked us, “Where do you hope to be, and what do you hope to be contributing to the Jewish world in the next ten years?” Walking through the cobblestone streets of western Ukraine, I was struck by the memory of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words ‘as I walked in Selma I felt as though my feet were praying.’ It is only when you stand in solidarity and identify with someone from a different culture are you able to make a difference in the Jewish world and the larger world holistically.


A fantastic group of high school students from Ramah camps across North America are exploring Hungary and Ukraine through theRamah Ukraine Leadership Experience. They will be serving as counselors at Camp Ramah Yachad, run by The Schechter Institute.

In The Footsteps Of My Great, Great Grandfather

Reflections from The Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience

Guest blogger: Jonah Eisen, Camp Ramah in Canada

Today we got to explore the Jewish district in Budapest, specifically three different synagogues which have been restored since the Holocaust. The final synagogue we visited, one of the largest in Europe called the Dohany synagogue, was very special to me. This was the synagogue where my great, great grandfather, Joseph J. Klein, had his bar mitzvah in 1901, before moving to America in 1905. It was really an awe-inspiring feeling walking in the footprints where he once walked. I felt a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the synagogue and for my great, great grandfather who gave me the opportunity to practice and be proud of my Judaism in America. In the midst of the sheer beauty of the architecture and design of the synagogue, my eyes gravitated towards the grand bimah. As I approached this beautifully crafted bimah, I could almost see my great, great grandfather reading from the Torah and chanting the prayers. I imagined what it would be like for his parents and family members to watch him become a bar mitzvah, just as my family watched me. As a descendant of Joseph Klein and a young Jewish teen, I know that this emotional and powerful experience in the synagogue will help mold my Jewish identity and will be in my heart forever. I am thankful and proud that I had the opportunity to explore my own family roots here in Hungary and am very excited to continue to learn about our important Jewish heritage throughout the rest of the trip.

Jonah Eisen

A fantastic group of high school students from Ramah camps across North America are exploring Hungary and Ukraine through the Ramah Ukraine Leadership Experience. They will be serving as counselors at Camp Ramah Yachad, run by The Schechter Institute.

From Dream to Reality: The Opening of Ramah Galim!

10 Reasons Why This Is a Historic Development for Ramah

Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, Director
June 24, 2016 / 18 Sivan 5776

The camp season has arrived, and Ramah camps are either underway or about to begin another incredible summer of growth and fun. Over 11,000 campers and staff members, the most in our 70-year history, will participate. This year is truly historic, with the opening of Camp Ramah in Northern California, “Ramah Galim” (“Ramah of the Waves”), in Monterey Bay, south of San Francisco. I traveled there this past Sunday for the concluding days of staff training and the opening of the camp season, and watched as the counselors greeted all of the eighty eager first-session campers and began to create a new “second home” for them at this magnificent camp facility.

Arrival at Ramah Galim

The opening of Camp Ramah in Northern California is historic for the following ten reasons (and more!):

1. The San Francisco Bay Area– For at least a decade, Ramah leaders and donors have been trying to open an overnight Ramah camp in this region, which is now the third largest American Jewish community after New York and Los Angeles. So many people have spent hours of their time and donated significant funds to see this project come to fruition. I remember attending early planning meetings in Ojai and San Francisco over a decade ago, and watching the passion of people who continued to pursue their dream. On Tuesday, this dream became reality.

2. Camp Ramah in Ojai, California– Ramah camps are mostly autonomous, joined together as the Ramah Camping Movement with agreed-upon standards and tremendous mutual cooperation. Each camp serves a region of North America, and Ramah in Ojai, serving the entire West, has been thriving, operating at capacity enrollment. Recognizing that only a small percentage of the West Coast Jewish community was attending Ramah, and that our ultimate mission is to touch as many lives as possible, Ojai leaders began to think beyond their own camp, to the needs of the community and the larger goals of Ramah. Camp Ramah in California poured funding, professional staff time, and tremendous amounts of lay leadership attention on the goal of seeing a new camp open in their region. Two years ago, Ramah Ojai leaders and the Bay Area local board of directors turned to National Ramah to partner with them to help create this camp. Their foresight and vision has been impressive, and the two camps continue to work collaboratively.

Rabbis at Ramah Galim

3. Camp on a Rental Facility– All other Ramah overnight camps operate on phenomenal campsites owned by the camp or The Jewish Theological Seminary. We now have a camp operating on a rental site, a high school boarding school mostly unused during the summer months. While there are certainly some disadvantages to not having total control over the environment, the partnership between Ramah Galim and the Monterey Bay Academy (MBA) is excellent, presenting a potential new model for further Ramah growth in order to reach thousands more families, children and teens. This concept was inspired by the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s new specialty camp incubator program, funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. While Ramah Galim is not an FJC Incubator camp (funding was raised by the local Ramah board of directors with some director training support from the FJC and The AVI CHAI Foundation), this model is proving successful.

4. Specialty Camp– Ramah Galim is now our second specialty camp, offering three specialty tracks in Adventure Sports, Performing Arts, and Ocean Exploration. The school is situated on the Pacific Ocean, with a magnificent private beach and extensive facilities, including an indoor gym, heated pool, new theater, sports fields, and organic farms. On the school’s property there are extensive strawberry fields, a horseback riding facility, and other fascinating sites. On Wednesday, the first full day of camp, the campers were already engaged in their specialty tracks, learning about surfing, marine biology, hiking and biking, planting, creating theater art, and more. As one parent commented, “We want Ramah for the Jewish nurturing, but the specialty program sealed the deal for my child!”

Horseback Riding

5. Success Yields Success: Building on the Model of Ramah in the Rockies– When the FJC awarded National Ramah funding for our first specialty camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventure in the Colorado Rockies, which opened in 2010, director Rabbi Eliav Bock and his board pioneered the idea of maintaining all essential Ramah traditions (Hebrew language, daily tefillah, Judaic learning, Shabbat observance, centrality of Israel and Israeli shlichim) while concentrating the bulk of each program day in one area. This model has been amazingly successful, broadening the market for new Ramah families looking for specific skills and activities. Like the Rockies, Ramah Galim has attracted a few families with ties to other Ramah camps, but the overwhelming majority are new families who enrolled because of the three specialties offered.

6. A Leader Is Born– Who realized, back in 2010 during that inaugural summer of Ramah in the Rockies, that one of Rabbi Eliav Bock’s key staff leaders, Sarah Shulman, would go on to become the director of the next Ramah specialty camp, Ramah Galim? Sarah, who became Rabbi Shulman after graduating from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies this May, has been an incredible leader and creator of Ramah Galim, and now joins a fantastic Ramah-wide directorate of talented and inspiring directors at all our camps. (Also historic: In 2011, Sarah married Nate Bankirer, a wonderful guy she met that very first summer in the Rockies. They are the first Rockies “Ramah marriage” (read more). Nate is not only Sarah’s husband and father to their new beautiful baby girl, Lielle, but also serves as the camp’s Business Manager!)

Nate, Sarah, and Lielle

Nate, Sarah, and Lielle

7. A Jewish Camp at a Christian School– The Monterey Bay Academy is one of the crown jewels of the American network of Seventh-day Adventist religious institutions. Ironically, during one of our first meetings with school leadership (the principal is a Christian minister and former camp director), they loved the idea that they could rent to a group that not only shared religious language and educational values, but that observed the same Sabbath day! Our MBA hosts are respectful and eager to make this partnership work and grow, and there are numerous opportunities for interfaith education as well. They maintain a strict vegetarian kitchen, which we have kashered and taken over for the summer, but have allowed us to bring in a portable outdoor meat kitchen. (And this could be the first time in history that Seventh-day Adventists and Conservative Jews worked together to build an eruv!!)

8. Ramah Growth Overall– The development of this new camp, and the participation of its 250 campers, most new to Ramah, is part of a growth trend all around our movement, as more and more Jewish parents recognize that Ramah camps and Israel programs are perhaps the best way to ensure a strong Jewish identity for their children. We’ve doubled in 20 years. We are strategizing about how best to grow even more new day and overnight camps. All our camps are full or near full, and some are waitlisting in certain grades. This year Camp Ramah in California added a new edah of entering 11th graders, and is in the process of purchasing extensive adjacent land. Another new Ramah camp, the Ramah Day Camp of Greater Washington, D.C. (under the auspices of Ramah New England), opened last summer and has grown significantly. The “Sha’ar” Hebrew immersion program at the Ramah Day Camp in Nyack now has 80 campers and is being used as a model for Hebrew immersion at numerous other camps throughout the country. Every Ramah camp is growing and thriving in many ways, and as I visit each camp this summer, I look forward to reporting on even more inspirational stories.

Biking at Ramah Galim

9. Inclusion from the Outset– Ramah Galim leadership decided that even in its first year of operation, it would begin a Tikvah Program for children with disabilities to be fully included in the Ramah camp program. This follows a trend of Tikvah expansion throughout the Ramah system. New Tikvah programs have been established at Poconos and Darom, vocational education programs are expanding at Wisconsin, New England, Canada, and California and piloted at Rockies, and all of our camps have expanded their offerings for children, teens, and young adults with disabilities. The Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip, together with the generosity of The Ruderman Family Foundation, other foundations, and many individual camp donors, continue to provide significant funding to support all of this growth.

10. Finally, a Camp with Perfect Weather!– Seventy years ago, Ramah’s original founders purchased a site in northern Wisconsin, far away from the summer heat and high humidity of Chicago and other Midwest cities. While the cool Northwoods air is delightful, they did not solve the challenge of rainy days or chilly nights. Each subsequent Ramah camp developed in a region of North America with its own weather rewards and challenges. But if this week is any indication of the weather in Northern California, we have found perfection. Cool mornings, warm and sunny program days, never too hot, and never any rain! While some may argue for the advantages of variety, and even the wonder and amazement of camp thunderstorms, I personally look forward to returning to Ramah Galim for my next visit in mid-July, which again will include a stroll on the beach, a bike ride through extensive strawberry fields, and most of all, a deep feeling of satisfaction watching our newest Ramah campers and staff thrive.

Galim Campers

Shabbat Shalom.

Investing in Our Future: National Ramah Spring Leadership Training Conference 2016

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.Group Cropped

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.


DSCN4617The 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.”

DSCN4593The 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!”


$15 Million Raised by Ramah Camping Movement in 2015-16

New Investment from Donors and Foundations in 2015-16 Supports Camps, Israel Programs, and Movement-Wide Initiatives

In addition to new foundation grants and donor pledges received by the National Ramah Commission in the last twelve months, individual Ramah camps and Israel programs (see below) have raised more than $14 million for scholarships, endowments, capital development, and program innovation.

National Ramah 2015-16 initiatives strengthened by foundation and philanthropic support include:

  • Camp Ramah in Northern California – As “Ramah Galim” begins its first year of summer camp operations, all indications are that this will be a very successful camp, with more than 220 campers enrolled and a full complement of staff hired. The original successful partnership among Camp Ramah in California, the National Ramah Commission, and the local board of Camp Ramah in Northern California has now transitioned to be fully overseen and supported by the local board, which continues to raise the funds necessary for camp operations and generous scholarship assistance to families with financial need. The Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s “New Camp Accelerator” program, funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation, continues to provide extensive consulting support to the new director, Rabbi Sarah Shulman.
  • Camp Ramah/Synagogue Initiative for the Bay Area – The AVI CHAI Foundation has awarded the National Ramah Commission a generous grant to deepen the connection between Ramah camps and Conservative congregations. This new initiative, currently being piloted in the Bay Area, partners Ramah staff with clergy members, Jewish educators, youth leaders, and parent ambassadors at local synagogues. These teams, supported by Camp Ramah in Northern California, will develop family and youth programming designed to build a stronger Ramah culture in their congregations and to increase the number of synagogue families sending their children to Ramah camps.
  • Ramah Service Corps – Thirty young adult Ramah staff leaders bring the magic of camp into congregational and community life year-round through part-time and full-time initiatives across North America. These leaders also serve as outstanding camp recruiters and are encouraged to consider careers in Jewish leadership. These part-time fellowships are supported by a large grant from an anonymous foundation. The full-time model, now completing three successful years in the Metro Detroit area, is supported by a generous grant from the William Davidson Foundation.
  • Reshet Ramah – With ongoing generous financial support from the Maimonides Fund and The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Reshet Ramah alumni initiative continues to grow and develop in new ways. To date, 6,300 people have participated in Reshet Ramah events, often in partnership with our camps’ alumni outreach efforts. These efforts include holiday celebrations, new retreat and travel opportunities, and university campus Jewish engagement programs. Reshet Ramah is also creating new opportunities for young adults to learn together in various cities, supported by a grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation (and in Washington, D.C., The Morningstar Foundation and Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies). Rabbi Rami Schwartzer, director of the D.C.-area Ramah Day Camp, will lead the efforts in DC and southern Maryland to engage young adults, in partnership with Camp Ramah in New England, local synagogues and funders, USCJ and Reshet Ramah.
  • Scholarship Support for Families with Economic Hardship – Due to the ongoing generosity of two anonymous donors, NRC continues to provide each Ramah overnight camp with financial assistance to support the registration of campers from families with serious financial struggle. NRC has also raised funds to provide financial assistance to teens to travel to Poland through Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim(TRY) and Ramah Israel Seminar, and for the creation of a new outdoor adventure track on Ramah Israel Seminar.
  • Ramah camps partner with many of their regional Conservative synagogues that support Ramah camping through generous allocations of scholarship assistance to their member families. These funds, along with the significant amounts raised through camp lay leadership fundraising efforts, help many of our campers attend Ramah.
  • Disabilities Programs/Tikvah
  • National Ramah received a generous grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation to support the establishment of new Tikvah programs at Darom and Poconos; to expand vocational education programs at California, Canada, New England, and Wisconsin; and to continue the TIPTOE (The Inclusion Project: Through Our Eyes) inclusion-themed video contest for all Jewish camps in North America.
    • The Leo Oppenheimer & Flora Oppenheimer Haas Foundation has provided the National Ramah Commission with a generous grant enabling Ramah to expand the capacity of the National Ramah Tikvah Network.
    • National Ramah received a generous grant to launch TikvahNet, a project of Reshet Ramah, intended to network staff and camper alumni from all our Tikvah programs.
    • Generous donations from Eileen and Jerry Lieberman have enhanced our ability to make our Israel programs more inclusive.
    • The Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation has awarded the National Ramah Commission a generous grant for Tikvah staff training.
    • National Ramah has launched registration for the 2017 Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip (May 9-16, 2017). These trips, since 2011, have raised over $1,000,000 from more than 7,000 donors for Ramah programs for campers with disabilities. Corporate and family sponsors help underwrite the costs of this program so that almost all of the individual donations can support Tikvah.
  • RamahDate – Generous funding for marketing and public relations for Ramah’s new partnership with JDate was provided by the Platt, Kopin, and Tenzer families, and others.
  • New Program Development – With a generous grant from The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, the National Ramah Commission is exploring the opening of a satellite Ramah day camp program in Lower Manhattan.
  • Open Door Initiative – With generous funding from the Zell Family Foundation and The AVI CHAI Foundation, National Ramah is working with a number of our day and overnight camps to reach out to unaffiliated families for whom the Ramah experience could serve as a gateway to greater involvement in the Jewish community.

Fundraising Updates from Ramah Camps


Camp Ramah in the Berkshires: More than 750 donors contributed over $600,000 for the 2015 Annual Fund, which provides scholarships, programming innovations, and staff professional development opportunities. These donations include first-time donors, meeting the full match for the Harold Grinspoon Foundation‘s Chai Match 3, and the fundraising efforts of the journal dinner honorees. In addition, Ramah Berkshires raised $850,000 in 2015 towards the $1.8 million goal for the “Art Opens Doors” Capital Campaign, bringing the total raised thus far to $1.2 million. This campaign enabled the construction of a Welcome Center that includes administrative offices as well as open program and meeting spaces. The 2015 theater arts funding provided for a trap stage door, dressing rooms, and an outdoor backstage staircase for Bet Am Bet.

Camp Ramah in California raised more than $1.35 million in the past 12 months to support an increase in scholarship giving; to make improvements to the camp’s physical plant in the areas of infrastructure, safety, security, and programming spaces; and to provide seed funding for the purchase of adjacent land to expand the camp’s wilderness programming. Funds raised will also support the inaugural summer of the new Machon edah; in 2016, for the first time in decades, Ramah California will have a division for campers entering 11th grade.

Camp Ramah in Canada raised $1.5 million toward Phase I of its Capital Campaign and $350,000 toward the camp’s Annual Chaverim Campaign. The camp is currently using the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Chai Match 3 program as a catalyst to raise more than $1 million over three years to help support growing scholarship needs.

Camp Ramah Darom‘s VISION2020 Capital Campaign was publicly launched in June 2015 with a goal of $5 million. To date, the campaign is half way to meeting its goal. VISION2020 has allowed Ramah Darom to launch the Henry and Annette Gibson Tikvah Program in a cabin designed specifically for this program; build a new cottage to be used both as the gan in the summer and as additional housing for year-round retreat participants; and add a lake house which will provide programming space as well as a changing area. In addition, $460,000 has been raised for Ramah Darom’s Annual Fund and Camp Yofi. To date, $96,000 has been received for the Andrew Silvershein Memorial Scholarship Program, which provides scholarship support for Gesher campers.

Camp Ramah in New England has raised more than $500,000 toward a new chadar ochel in the last year, bringing the total raised for Camp(aign) Ramah to more than $6.1 million. This important new facility will replace the current 90-year-old building. Along with significant support from individuals, Ramah New England’s capital campaign is supported by matching grants from JCamp180, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and another major national Jewish foundation; and a grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Inc. of Baltimore, MD. In addition, camp parents are supporting the Makom Fund, which supports annual site improvements and program equipment, in increasing numbers – with a 20% increase in contributions in the last year, and with an almost doubling of contributions in the last four years.

Camp Ramah in Northern California (“Ramah Galim”) has raised $1.5 million since May 2015. This includes six-figure gifts from eight families; a $250,000 matching grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund; and a $243,500 seed grant from the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund for the camp’s ocean exploration, performing arts, adventure sports, and special needs programs. In addition, NRC and Ramah Galim received a grant from The AVI CHAI Foundation for a synagogue engagement initiative in the Bay Area for camp to work with local synagogues to offer Ramah-style programming and build lasting camp connections.

Ramah Day Camp in Nyack has raised more than $1 million from individual donors and foundations since May 2015. Capital gifts include a $650,000 grant from the Gottesman Family to fund the construction of a new aquatics center, and generous donations from Mordechai and Cheryl Rosenberg and the Rosalie Katz Family Foundation. With the help of a lead gift from the Topal family, this summer Ramah Nyack will open a new hiking trail, Shvil Ramah. Ramah Nyack is the proud recipient of a $20,000 PJ Library Spark Engagement grant to expand its Bim Bam Shabbat programming for Jewish families with young children. The Areivim Philanthropic Group and the Foundation for Jewish Camp continue to provide funding towards the Sha’ar Hebrew immersion program for entering kindergarten through 3rd-grade campers.

Camp Ramah in the Poconos has raised more than $700,000 since May 2015, including a $200,000 gift from Rick and Donna Forman for Yedidim, the new Tikvah edah. Their gift includes the sponsorship of the Forman Mills Tour de Shuls, an annual bike ride to raise funds for Tikvah programs at the overnight camp, Ramah Day Camp, and Tikvah Family Camp. In addition, over $385,000 was raised during the Annual Chai Campaign for scholarship, capital improvements, and programming at all three camps. The untimely passing of Gesher ’92 alumnus, Steve Josselson z”l, prompted the creation of a $30,000 endowment funded by donations from family, friends, and alumni. Lastly, the Legacy Heritage Fund Challenge Grant combined with monies raised from the Tour de Shuls totaled $100,000 to support the new Tikvah program.

Ramah in the Rockies has raised more than $1 million in gifts since May 2015. This includes $437,000 for the completion of a waste water treatment plant and sewer pipes from an anonymous donor, as well as $250,000 from Melinda Goldrich of the Goldrich Family Foundation towards the completion of a second bath/shower house. It also includes $36,000 for a new sensory tent for the Tikvah program from the Harvey and Gloria Kaylie Family Foundation and $20,000 from an anonymous donor for a new plow truck. In addition to the funding for the camp program, Ramah in the Rockies has raised another $338,000 in cash and pledges towards the $500,000 goal to launch their new off-season wilderness treatment program for emerging adults facing life challenges.

Camp Ramah in Wisconsin completed the Koach Campaign six months early in June 2015, raising $2.5 million for debt retirement thanks to a matching gift challenge from the Harvey L. Miller Family Foundation and in addition met the annual campaign goal of $1 million. In December, the camp received a $100,000 grant for annual programming from the Zell Family Foundation and a $75,000 grant for scholarships, staff training, and Tikvah programming from The Crown Family. The new Givah Campaign launched this spring, a $6 million, three-year comprehensive campaign to secure the financial needs of both Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and Ramah Day Camp. The centerpiece of the campaign is the construction of a new Nivonim campus at the overnight camp. Two new challenge grants will help meet the campaign goals: a 1:1 match from a national foundation supporting special needs scholarships and programming up to $100,000 per year for the next three years and a 1:1 match from the Halevy family for gifts from new donors and increased giving from existing donors up to $80,000. A renovated and expanded Moadon Tikvah, made possible by a gift from the estate of Waldemar Lelewski through Lynn and Howard Rosen, is under construction and will be ready for the 2016 season.

Reflections on the Summer Shlichim Seminar at Kibbutz Shefayim

Guest blogger: David Offit, Program Director, Camp Ramah in New England

David OffitI’ve led Kabbalat Shabbat many times before, but this time is profoundly different. As I sing out the opening words to Yedid Nefesh, I hear only the voices of a handful of Ramah directors amid a sea of 250 people. I look around and see newly-minted Ramah Israeli staff members opening a Masorti siddur, hearing Carlebach melodies, and sitting next to co-daveners of the opposite gender, some for the very first time in their lives. By the second psalm, even though the words are still new, more and more people start to join in, humming and singing along. At one point, moved by the power of the music, shlichim start to get up and dance, forming concentric circles in the middle of our makom teffilah.  This is the training seminar for summer shlichim, Israeli emissaries who come to Ramah camps each summer through the Jewish Agency, and I hold the heavy responsibility of being the first person to introduce them to Conservative Judaism in a real, tangible way – the way they’ll come to know and love Judaism at camp in just a few months.


Ramah Mishlachat 2016

On Thursday, March 31, hundreds of shlichim of different religious backgrounds, different regions of Israel, and different life experiences, entered into the gates of Kibbutz Shefayim, accompanied by rock-concert-loud migrash music, smiling and welcoming returning shlichim (who would serve as manchim, or group leaders, for the duration of the seminar), and the special brand of nervous excitement that can only exist on the first day of camp. My Ramah colleagues and I stood at the check-in tables, and happily welcomed the many shlichim who we had interviewed and hired back in January. As they were checking in, these shlichim were either overflowing with questions about their rooms, their bags, and their schedules, or were too speechless to even know what questions to ask at all. Even though the Ramah directors were the ones who had travelled across the globe to reach the seminar, the shlichim were the ones who were entering a completely new world. Summer camp, at least the version of it that exists in North America, is a completely foreign concept to Israelis who have not experienced it before. This was a fact I would have to remind myself of over and over throughout the four-day seminar, explaining the idea of camp totally from scratch.

At the end of check-in, the DJ (a returning shaliach with an iPhone plugged into speakers), played Lo Normali – an Israeli dance taught at last year’s seminar that was subsequently spread to all Ramah camps – and I jumped out of my seat, ran to an open space on the grass, and started dancing. Some shlichim looked on, confused. Others, more adventurous, joined in and tried to copy my dance moves. What a perfect metaphor for the beginning of the seminar.

mishlachat2016-aThe next four days were an intensive introduction to the Ramah movement, Jewish summer camp, Conservative Judaism, daily schedules, program planning, American Jewry, and the responsibilities of shlichut. What a whirlwind! At first, the shlichim were quiet in their many daily sessions, just going through the motions. They would try to absorb as many rules and explanations as they could, working hard to wrap their heads around the idea of a tzrif, and how we practice Judaism at camp. But, as the seminar progressed, I noticed a sizeable shift in the rapport of the group, and the ease with which they discussed the finer points of camp. We started to use the same language, and talk about places in camp as if they’d actually seen them before. Whereas in the beginning of the week, I qualified each time I said “edah” with “campers grouped by age,” by the end of the seminar we were all saying “edah” and “edot” without any explanation needed.

As everyone’s understanding of camp grew, so did their excitement. After dancing to Lo Normali multiple times a day each day, the shlichim learned the steps. They jumped up screaming each time the song came on, just as I had on the first day of the seminar. The shlichim were becoming Ramahniks right before my eyes.

In June, merely 70-something days from today, Ramah camps will greet nearly 250 shlichim at 9 overnight camps and 4 day camps across North America. As I told the shlichim on the last day of the seminar, I’ll be the first person they see when they get to camp, yelling Bruchim Habaim with a huge smile on my face. (I have chills now just thinking about it.) And on Friday night of staff week, when I lead Kabbalat Shabbat again, these new Ramahniks will recognize the melodies, remember the words, and be used to sitting next to someone of the opposite gender. Hopefully this time, they’ll be able to sing along from the start.

Four Outstanding New Ramah Directors

We are very pleased to welcome four outstanding new Ramah directors to our leadership team:


Sarah Shulman, Director, Camp Ramah in Northern California
Rabbi Ethan Linden, Director, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires
Elana Rivel, Director, Ramah Day Camp in Philadelphia
Rami Schwartzer, Director, Ramah Day Camp of Greater Washington, DC


sarah_shulman_sqSarah Shulman, Director
Camp Ramah in Northern California (Ramah Galim)
Sarah is the first director of our newest overnight camp, Camp Ramah in Northern California (Ramah Galim, or “Ramah of the Waves”), which will open this summer on the beautiful campus of the Monterey Bay Academy on the Pacific shore, 90 minutes south of San Francisco. Sarah, a graduate of Stanford University, taught in Jewish day schools for six years prior to enrolling in the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and worked as a senior leader for five years at Ramah Outdoor Adventure in the Colorado Rockies. Last year, Sarah was the education director at Ramat Zion synagogue in Northridge, CA. Upon her ordination as a rabbi this May, Sarah, her husband Nate Bankirer, and their brand new daughter Lielle will move to the Bay Area.


Ramah Galim was created as a partnership among Camp Ramah in California, the National Ramah Commission, and the local Camp Ramah in Northern California board of directors. Ramah Galim will open this June as our second specialty camp, with specialty tracks in adventure sports, performing arts, and ocean exploration, including marine biology. Early enrollment forecasts have been exceeded, with more than 160 campers already signed up for the summer. Sarah’s work has been supported by a generous grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s New Camp Accelerator program for director training and mentoring, funded by The AVI CHAI Foundation, and from a generous grant from the San Francisco Federation.


ethan_linden_sqRabbi Ethan Linden, Director
Camp Ramah in the Berkshires
Ethan, a Cornell University graduate, began his Ramah career as a teacher at Camp Ramah in Canada in 1999. While attending JTS Rabbinical School, Ethan became a senior staff member at Camp Ramah in New England, and upon ordination in 2007 assumed the role of assistant director for three years. During his time in New England, Ethan also taught at a local Schechter day school and was the rabbinic adviser to the Harvard Hillel Conservative minyan. For the past seven years, he has served as rabbi of Shir Chadash, the Conservative congregation of New Orleans, where he helped rebuild a vibrant community impacted by Hurricane Katrina.


Ethan will move to the New York area this June with his wife Liba Kornfeld and their three children, Adin, Yona, and Liav, to begin his work with Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. He will assume the role of director on October 1, 2016.


elana_rivel_sqElana Rivel, Director
Ramah Day Camp in Philadelphia
Elana, who has worked in the field of Jewish education for nearly 30 years, began her career as the assistant director of Ramah Poconos. Since then she has held a wide range of positions across movements, across the country, and in both formal and informal settings. As the associate director of Jewish Learning Venture in Melrose Park (Philadelphia area), Elana managed, developed, and implemented initiatives that strengthen Jewish institutions and empower individuals to engage with the Jewish community. She was also a member of the pilot cohort of the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship, delving into the use of text and technology for building online communities. On February 1, 2016, Elana assumed leadership of Ramah Day Camp, which has been very successful since its inception in 1996.


Elana is married to Greg Halperin, a Poconos alumnus, and together they are the parents of two former Ramah Day Camp/Poconos campers, Max and Zoe. She has a BA from Brandeis and an MEd from the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University.)


rami_schwartzer_sqRami Schwartzer, Director
Ramah Day Camp of Greater Washington, DC
Rami, a veteran Ramah New England senior staff member, served as the director of the new Ramah Day Camp of Greater Washington, DC, in its inaugural 2015 summer. He is a graduate of the Joint Program of JTS and Columbia University. Upon receiving his rabbinic ordination from JTS this May, Rami and his wife Adina Rosen will move to Maryland to begin his rabbinic work, which includes directing the camp as well as working closely with area Conservative synagogues on outreach to bring young professionals and families more into Jewish life. As a Gladstein Fellow in Entrepreneurial Leadership, Rami is part of a cohort of professionals doing innovative rabbinic work in growing Jewish communities.


Rami’s position has been made possible by a partnership between the area Conservative synagogues and Camp Ramah in New England, with support from Reshet Ramah and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. With over 150 campers already enrolled for summer 2016, this new Ramah day camp is off to an amazing start.
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