Making Mensches: The Derech Eretz Awards

by Jon Adam Ross, Rosh Mercaz

Last summer, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin began a Derech Eretz (respectful, decent, polite, thoughtful behavior) initiative to honor the memory of Asaf Leibovich (z”l), a former camper and staff member who passed away at too young an age. Asaf stood out at camp because of his ability to provide gentle friendship to so many members of our community. He was a mensch, and his example serves as a model for all of us who knew him well. In an attempt to frame this initiative to campers, each age unit created a Shabbat program dedicated to derech eretz. And at the end of the summer, we bestowed a Derech Eretz Award to a camper from each age group who earned the respect of their peers and counselors as an exemplar of behavior fitting the tribute. A plaque with the names of the inaugural award winners has been on display all summer in the entrance to the Bet Am.

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This summer at Camp Ramah we have embedded derech eretz into the programming of camp in more integrated ways. All cabin counselors participated in a programming workshop to learn strategies for bringing derech eretz to relevance among the campers. The junior counselors from every cabin have facilitated bedtime conversations in their cabins about the concepts of derech eretz. The senior cabin counselors strategized times in the camper day and week where camper behavior tends to stray from the ideal: sports games, nikayon (cabin cleanup), mealtimes, etc. They came up with strategies to use those times as Jewish teachable moments.

Last night we presented the 2014 Derech Eretz Awards to deserving campers from each age group. As we did last year, we prefaced the awards with a video tribute to Asaf. In this way we perpetuate Asaf’s legacy inspiring us to embrace everyone with empathy, humanity, friendship.

Congratulations to the 2014 award winners!

Halutzim, entering 6th grade: Avi S.

Solelim, entering 7th grade: Ilana G.

Shoafim, entering 8th grade: Eyal F.

Bogrim, entering 9th grade: Jacob L.

Machon, entering 10th grade: Rebekah S.

Tikvah, Special Needs Program: Daniel B.

Nivonim, entering 11th grade: Ilana N.

Atzmayim, Tikvah Vocational Program: Avi G.

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