2015 Nivonim Program: Ramah History

One of the hidden gems of a summer at Ramah Wisconsin is the experiential programming planned by the cabin counselors.  These thematic experiences combining Jewish content, interactive fun and multiple intelligences are thoughtfully planned by our college age staff with the support of a team of consultants in the Mercaz Educational Resource Center.  Please enjoy the fourth in a series describing a few such programs from the 2015 season, written by veteran Rosh Aidah Louisa Kornblatt.

2015 Nivonim Program: Ramah History
by Louisa Kornblatt

Nivonim 2015 kicked off the summer with an “excavation” of camp. During their first Yom Meyuchad, a special day of thematic programming, the campers stepped into the shoes of archaeologists and uncovered pieces of the hidden history of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Nivonim had the chance to interact with camp’s story in a tangible and interactive way.

They gathered Tuesday evening under a large tent for Archaeology 101. The staff presented the steps of excavating and divided the process into three categories: evidence gathering, fact checking, and publishing facts. The staff stressed that during the collection of physical evidence it is important to dig with care for preservation by using techniques such as brushing and to cover the whole excavation site in order to guarantee a comprehensive search. They identified the Sifriya (library) as a resource for researching the background of found artifacts and senior staff members around camp who could be interviewed. With artifacts in hand, the campers would move into the fact checking phase. This stage would involve reporting to the “Fact Checker Tent” that would review the evidence collected. Once facts were checked and confirmed, campers would begin compiling information in their history journal and preparing a presentation in the form of a video, PowerPoint, documentary, or poster board to share with the rest of the aidah. They learned they would be split into excavation squads for the day and excavating six central areas of camp.

Wednesday morning the campers arrived at the various excavation sites and discovered the areas sectioned off with caution tape. Before beginning the dig, each squad met with their advisor to discuss their plan of action, and received tools for excavation. And then the dig commenced. Nivonim combed through the sand of the volleyball court and sifted dirt in the woods by Halutzim point. The campers found an assortment of objects ranging from a ring to a hand-drawn blueprint of the waterfront to burnt paper and wire to cassette tapes. Once the squad felt they had found a sufficient amount of artifacts they sent representatives out to learn more about the objects through interviews or accessing literature or videos at the Sifriya where a librarian was stationed to point groups toward relevant information. The squad would need at least two sources to confirm the backstory of the object in order to publish the fact.

Through interviews, newspaper clippings and other sources, the squads began to slowly piece together these stories:

  • Camp Director Jacob Cytryn confirmed that the ring found in the gaga pit had in fact belonged to Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of JTS, who had lost his wedding ring while serving as an Artist-in-Residence.
  • The 1977 alumni newsletter explained that the “Bloody Mary” sheet music was used by actress and comedian Judy Graubart who used to play the song on the guitar while sitting on the kikar.
  • The 40th anniversary newsletter revealed that the source of the burnt paper and wire came from a Tisha B’Av ceremony from the 1980’s when the words Eicha (the book of Lamentations) and Zachor (remember) were burnt on a raft in front of the camp.
  • The cassette tapes found by Lakeside, the Rosh Aidah housing, demonstrated that WRMH, the camp radio station, was once located next door.
  • From a plaque and a series of letters between a parent and the Camp Director, the campers learned that a particular part of Lake Buckatabon had once served as a natural mikvah (ritual bath) for women. This was verified by Benji Bearman, Camp’s Chief Operating Officer.
  • Jonathan Adam Ross, Director of the Programming Office, explained how a chair with the word “Zark” on it had been used by former Rosh Radio, David “Zark” Zarkosi, when he would put his chair beneath the radio station and teach Gemara (rabbinical commentary) and text classes to staff in the middle of the night while looking at the lake.
  • The sponge found in the volleyball court demonstrated that Cabin 40 was once located next to Mercaz Kopin (the staff lounge). The cabin did not have a bathroom and the campers had to shower in the Bet Am bathroom.

In addition to these facts, the campers unearthed even more information about camp’s history. As they learned more and more they filled out an investigation template that listed the artifact, relevant year, sources and a description.

In the afternoon, the squads began assembling their history journals and constructing their presentations. The archaeologists all convened after dinner. Each squad then presented the findings they had collected about the history of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. The Nivonim came away from the day with a new set of archaeological skills and an expanded knowledge of camp story.

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