My 70th Anniversary Visit to Ramah Wisconsin

by Dr. Burton Cohen

The summer of 2016 marks the 70th season of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, the first Ramah camp. I was fortunate to be a camper there in 1947, the initial summer. I say “fortunate” in two senses: fortunate to be part of a landmark event in the history of Conservative Judaism; and fortunate because it was there that I made lifetime relationships and there that I would receive the impetus to embark on a career in Jewish education.

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Dr. Burt Cohen (left) with Mayer Stiebel

I served as director of this camp for fifteen summers and later as National Ramah Director for fifteen years.  However, until I received an invitation from my 1947 cabin mate, Mayer Stiebel, to visit camp, it had been many years since my last visit.  Mayer had decided that he wanted to bring his children and grandchildren to Ramah this summer to celebrate his 85th birthday.  He wanted me to join them.  I could hardly refuse, especially when two of my own grandchildren would be first time Ramah Wisconsin campers.

The visit was rewarding from start to finish.  The natural surroundings, the lake and the woods, are as beautiful as ever.  It was a little difficult to get oriented to the central kikar because of the attractive buildings that have been added over the years.  It was good to see that the campers are still thriving in the program of tfilot, kitot, and peulot.  Mayer and I were flattered by the interest they expressed through their questions about the “ancient” history of this still thriving enterprise.

One aspect new to me were the works of art now adorning the outside of many of the buildings.  This came home most forcefully on Friday evening, when in the midst of L’cha Dodi, as we davened on the lakefront, we all turned around and there were the words to the verse Bo’i B’Shalom inscribed in large letters on the outside of the program center!

I hope I get back sooner for my next visit.

Dr. Burton Cohen is associate professor emeritus of Jewish Education and former chair of the Department of Jewish Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary. He was the director of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin from 1960 to 1974, and served as National Ramah Director from 1974 to 1989.

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