Our Rosh Hinuch (Education Director) Lea Wohl Segal, is new to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, but not new to Ramah. She staffed Ramah Israel Seminar and Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim for 10 years. She lives in Herzeliya, Israel. She has an MA in Jewish education and is a Jewish educator in Israel. She was an education officer in the army and received the rank of lieutenant.
When I was a child, my father told me a story that happened in the Ba’al Shem Tov’s synagogue; a story about a boy who did not know how to pray and did not even know the shape of the letters but who wanted to pray so much that he played his flute during the Yom Kippur prayer service. All the other worshippers were very angry at the boy and tried to quiet him, but the Ba’al Shem Tov stopped them and said that the boy’s prayer was the purest of all and on its merit alone the Gates of Heaven were opened.
Several days before I left for my shlichut at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, we – as educators – lamented the fact that it was not possible to have a bar mitzvah ceremony for children with special needs at Beit Hanasi, the president’s residence. We heard the call of orthodox rabbis to boycott the ceremony and the proposed compromise to hold the bar mitzvah only in the presence of an orthodox rabbi.
In the past month I have been exposed to the selfless and amazing work done by the staff of the Tikvah program at Ramah Wisconsin. The educational staff of the special needs campers see the dedicated educational work done by the Tikvah staff and today I was privileged to participate in the bar mitzvah of one of the campers, surrounded by his entire family and the Ramah family.
This morning, the bar mitzvah boy led the Shacharit prayers and he also read the Torah portion in his sweet voice. He was the shliach tzibur for an entire community – family, campers, and staff members who all felt that he was their hero.
If the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Rubi Rivlin, were here at camp he would also have shed an emotional tear with us. If the Chief Rabbinate would have sent one of their representatives here for the opportunity to hear what pure prayer is, such a ceremony could have taken place in Israel, as well.
The Ba’al Shem Tov knew how to listen to the prayer of a boy. The Ramah Wisconsin community and the Conservative Movement in Israel know how to listen, and how to teach and make it possible for every Jewish child to have this privilege.
I hope that my call from here, somewhere in northern Wisconsin, will be heard in Israel, as well.
“ונאה תפילה זו לשמה; זכה היא בכל אמריה”
“This prayer is pleasant. It is pure in all its utterances.”
Lea Wohl Segal
Head of Education
Camp Ramah in Wisconsin