Camp News

Chaverim = Friends

Posted on February 21, 2017

Tikvah is a division of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin developed in 1973 to provide inclusion opportunities for children with learning, social and communication difficulties, including those who are higher functioning on the Autistic Spectrum.

Machon campers (entering 10th grade) and Tikvah campers enjoy a close partnership.  They perform together in campwide festivals and present a Broadway musical together.  A popular component of the Machon-Tikvah partnership is the one-on-one chaverim (buddy) program.  Buddies spend structured and unstructured time together every week and lasting friendships are formed.

We met up with two chaverim this summer on the kikar.  Here’s what they had to say:

“The chaverim program is an amazing experience and an opportunity to get to know campers you wouldn’t typically meet.  Being a chaver taught me so much about myself.  The bond I made with my buddy had a big impact on both of us – we both learned so many new skills.”

“My favorite things to do with my chaver are playing games, swimming, taking walks around camp and reading books together.  I also like when we sit together at Shabbat tefillot (prayer).”

We know both chaverim are counting the days (113) until they meet again at camp!


70th Anniversary Remarks by Ethan Less and Nadia Goldberg

Posted on February 17, 2017

It was great to see so many readers of HaMirpeset Shelanu at our 70th Anniversary Celebration! It was truly awesome to see 450 people – spanning all seven decades of camp history – singing the camp song, linked arm in arm. The words of “Himnon Ramah,” לבבנו מלא רחשי הודיה – our hearts are filled with gratitude – echoed throughout the room and across the generations.

During the program, Nadia Goldberg (Nivo 2015) and Ethan Less (Nivo 2017) represented the current decade of Ramahniks. Older alumni were very touched by their reflections on the impact of the Ramah experience. We share their beautiful words below.

Ethan: “Erev tov. It’s hard to believe this summer I’m going to be in Nivonim.  Not only that, but the first Nivonim in the brand new Nivo campus on the Givah.

“I first came to Ramah simply because it was what my brothers, my parents, and other relatives did. Quickly though the experience became my own.  I learned that Ramah is a place where in one moment I was playing an intense game of cards with cabin mates and in the next moment I was exploring the meaning of the Book of Job with those same friends in an equally intense debate.  Ramah is a place where in one moment I was racing down the court with a basketball in hand trying to score one more bucket and the next moment I was sprinting even faster into the Beit Am so I could make it in time for the chorus number ‘Lech Barechov’ or ‘Ease On Down the Road’ from our Machon musical ‘The Wiz.’ All in Hebrew.”

Nadia: “I honestly could not imagine my life without Camp Ramah. There are so many ways in which camp shaped me and my love for Judaism. Before camp, I never really enjoyed Shabbat services. I would come to synagogue with my parents, but I never fully participated in the service and I didn’t understand what made Shabbat special. But, after my first year at Ramah, I learned to appreciate these times of prayer and reflection. I also used to be a really nervous Torah reader. But my first summer at Ramah, my counselors encouraged me to read Torah and provided me with constant support. I also learned how to become a confident service leader – there is a special feeling you get while standing in the place you love in front of all of your friends that gives you the motivation and confidence to lead a group in prayer. Although camp helped me to build my Jewish identity, the best thing about camp is actually the people. I entered camp without knowing anyone, and after four summers, I left with best friends. I formed incredibly strong friendships and I know many of them will continue to be my closest friends as I move into college and beyond. I am excited to come back to camp as a junior counselor this summer because I want to help give young campers the same amazing experience that I had that has forever changed me. I know I am not alone in calling camp Ramah my ‘happy place.’”

Ethan: “A message that I’ve learned from my Ramah counselors is very simple … just buy in. Make the most of those short and sweet summers at Camp Ramah.  I’m pretty competitive, so naturally, I didn’t care if it was the NBA finals or an inter-aidah softball game; I wanted to win. But I came to realize that winning doesn’t mean having the most points, but instead winning means making lasting memories in a Jewish community surrounded by your best friends.

“My friends and I couldn’t be more excited to be the Nivonim aidah that gets to open the cabins that will last at least another 70 years, knowing that someday (don’t worry, Mom and Dad, a long way away) I’ll have children that will sleep in these new bunks, and they’ll have children that will do the same.  From generation to generation, Ramah has been a gift in our family that we will always pass down.  Thank you to everyone here tonight for supporting Ramah and making it a possibility for any kid to attend.  I couldn’t imagine a summer with any of campers missing from the aidah.  Thank you.”

An Amazing 70th Anniversary Celebration!

Posted on February 16, 2017

It was the middle of winter, but you could feel the warmth of summer at Morgan Manufacturing in downtown Chicago on February 11 when 450 alumni, parents and friends gathered to celebrate Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s 70th anniversary. The event attracted members of the extended Ramah community of all ages excited to reconnect with one another and fete the camp’s continuous and ongoing impact on American Jewry. The opening of the camp in Conover in the summer of 1947 with 100 campers launched the North America-wide Ramah camping movement.  Today 11,000 campers and staff members participate each summer in the Ramah network of 9 overnight camps, 4 day camps and programs in Israel.

An online photo album shows guests enjoying camp-like experiences, including a 360-degree tour of camp, a green screen with camp backgrounds, and a “selfie station” complete with trees, a canoe and a fire pit.  Many attendees enjoyed spotting glimpses of their younger selves in a slide show of photos throughout the decades.

The evening’s formal portion began with Havdalah and honored the presidents of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, as well as chairs of Ramah Day Camp (located in Wheeling, Illinois, and celebrating its 18th anniversary this year). Camp Ramah in Wisconsin president Jonathan Sherman made a special presentation to CEO Rabbi David Soloff and day camp director Lori Stark in recognition of their ongoing commitment and leadership.

While a video featuring alumni interviews and footage from different decades focused on history, camp director Jacob Cytryn and assistant director Adina Allen spoke on the current camp experience. A video update was provided on the ongoing $6 million Givah Campaign supporting scholarships, endowment and capital improvements.  A highlight of the evening was the singing of the camp song, with former Roshei Aidah (division heads) holding the banner used at camp. Hundreds of Ramahniks linked arms as the words of the song echoed throughout the room and across the generations.

Ramah Helped Me Find My Professional Path

Posted on February 15, 2017

by Lora Slutsky, Nivonim 2005

To a great extent, I credit camp with helping me find my professional path. Through my experience as a Machon/Tikvah chaver (buddy) and Tikvah staff member, and by participating in similar programs in high school and college, I knew I wanted to pursue a career supporting individuals with disabilities.

Lora (in striped shirt) with Atzmayim (vocational) participants

When I began working in the Atzmayim program I discovered my passion for teaching transition-age youth the vocational and independent living skills needed to be successful in adulthood. This experience at camp guided me toward employment opportunities that helped solidify my interest in this field and encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling.

Since July 2015, I have served as the Vocational Coordinator for Have Dreams, an autism resource agency serving Chicago-area children and young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. As Vocational Coordinator, I work with young adult participants in our workforce development programs, supporting them in preparing for, obtaining, and maintaining employment in the community. I use many skills in my current role that I learned at camp.

I feel incredibly grateful for the training, mentorship, and professional development I received as a result of my work with the Tikvah and Atzmayim programs.


Continuing its ongoing support of Ramah’s vocational programs, The Ruderman Family Foundation has granted $150,000 over three years for vocational education at Ramah California, Canada, New England and Wisconsin, and to encourage vocational education inclusion programs at other Ramah camps.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 274: From Director Jacob Cytryn

Posted on February 10, 2017

Reflections on T”u Bishvat
by Jacob Cytryn, Director

This Shabbat, we read from parashat B’shallach, celebrate the holiday of T”u Bishvat, and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  We look forward to welcoming over 400 revelers to Morgan Manufacturing in Chicago’s West Loop.  More information is available here and walk-ins are welcome.

My remarks here this week will focus on T”u Bishvat and planting the seeds for the amazing 2017 season before us at Ramah in Wisconsin.  If you are interested in some of my thoughts about this weeks parashah and its connection to Ramah, please click here for a D’var Torah the Jewish Theological Seminary, under whose educational auspices we operate, published this week.

T”u Bishvat, the 15th day of the month of Sh’vat, is designated as the new year for fruit-bearing trees for the purposes of various tithing and counting laws.  Theoretically, it is a rough estimate of the period, on the Israeli calendar, at which point most of the rain will have fallen; a harbinger of the dry season and sprouting to come.  For many of us, it is a holiday to celebrate the natural world, to plant new trees, and to partake of various types of fruit and, specifically, produce that is native to Israel.

Though the first seeds of the 2017 summer were planted long ago – Ramah marriages and family traditions, Family Camp and Ruach Ramah participation, and the opening of enrollment in July 2016, just to name a few – my annual trip to Israel from January 23-February 2 represents a turning point as we begin to solidify a significant percentage of our staff, both new and returning.

During my ten days in Israel, I had the pleasure of spending time with 2015 and 2016 Rosh Eidah Daniel Warshawsky (Nivo ’09) as he was making his final preparations to be sworn into Chativat Hatzanchanim (The Paratrooper Brigade) in the Israeli Defense Forces as a chayal boded (lone soldier), and 2015 and 2016 Rosh Eidah Louisa Kornblatt (Nivo ’08) who is living and working in Tel Aviv after making aliyah in August of 2015.  I met with seven of our veteran staff currently spending gap years after high school learning in various settings, including United Synagogue’s Nativ College Leadership Program.  I met with two senior staff members who are part of the third cohort of the prestigious Nachshon Fellowship at Hebrew University, as well as Rosh Omanuyot Habamah (Director of Performing Arts) Josh Warshawsky (Nivo ’06) and Rosh Shirah (Head Songleader) Sam Blustin, both of whom are spending the year in Israel as part of their training at our movement’s Rabbinical schools.

I met for the first time our new Rosh Sport, Dedi Bitton, and his wife Rotem, and reconnected with long-time staff members, dear friends, and mentors such as Rabbi Ronnie and Minda Garr, Guy Eisenberg, and Hezi Mizrachi.  I spent significant time with Rosh Machon 2017 Daniella Elyashar, our new Program Director Gal Atia, and many of our veteran shlichim (Israeli staff members) at a Ramah movement-wide Shabbaton where we had the second largest delegation with 29 (!!) representatives.  I even got to spend quality time with Rabbi Aaron Melman of Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook who will be in camp for a majority of the upcoming summer and happened to be in Israel as a part of a Jewish United Fund of Chicago’s mission, and our camp’s President, Jon Sherman.  Jon deserves a special shout-out for planning a trip to Israel to coincide with my own and spending time watching the process of interviewing new shlichim.

This year, as ever, the most special moments are in getting to know our new shlichim as Gal and I, this year assisted by Jon, Daniella, and veteran shlichim Einav Dvir and Reut Rosenberg, spend three full days conversing with them.  We begin our conversations asking about their religious background and knowledge of Conservative Judaism which leads into a discussion of the religious culture and norms of Ramah in Wisconsin.  Then we ask them about themselves and their biographies before segueing into their backgrounds in specialty areas and a host of questions aimed at assessing their role as part of a team, ability to adjust to a new culture, behavior under pressure, and more.

In three days we met some of Israel’s best and brightest, elite athletes in tennis, swimming, and sailing; elite soldiers in the finest units; curious religious seekers on a journey from their secular or religious backgrounds; warm and fuzzy-emanating beacons of energy and ebullience; alumni of Conservative Movement programs in Israel; grandchildren of Ramahniks; and more.  All are intrigued and curious to experience American Judaism, though most have minimal exposure to it; all are eager to bring their sense of Israel and Zionism to our campers and staff; all are in for a life-altering summer as so many of our veteran shlichim can attest.  We look forward to welcoming the 2017 mishlachat and learning much more about them in the coming months, especially as Adina, Daniella, and Gal work closely with them at a week-long training seminar in late March.

Spending time in Israel every year is a gift, one of the many perks of being a Ramah director.  In addition to spending time with part of Tamar’s family and old friends, re-familiarizing myself with the landscape of heavily American-influenced southeastern Jerusalem (with a major focus on the restaurant scene), current trends in Israeli politics and intellectual life, and Hebrew as a speaker and listener.  I spent two-and-a-half years living in Israel, a majority of that in the same neighborhood in Jerusalem where I center myself for these visits.  One of my great prides is being able to provide walking directions to passersby on the street and to do my best to fit in as anything but a tourist.

During this year’s trip, with my phone constantly buzzing with “Breaking News” from back home, and rising tensions in Israel over domestic and foreign politics, things felt even more off-kilter than usual while battling jetlag, concern for Tamar and our kids navigating at home, and the seemingly endless days of meetings.  Two fleeting moments left me with hope, moments that, in addition to the over forty-five staff members (American and Israeli, new and veteran) we left Israel with, give me confidence that our seeds will sprout beautifully this summer and beyond.

Walking home one day through the German colony, I watched as a young boy – maybe six years old, wearing a kippah and tzitzit – masterfully directed his father to parallel park their car in a particularly tight spot.  Earlier that day, on my way to a restaurant with my in-laws, we passed a school for English and marveled at a young woman in her twenties, dressed in the modest-yet-modern outfit of the “national religious” (dati le’umi) component of Israeli society, teaching a class of four men:  two ultra-Orthodox, one Arab, and one secular, all of whom appeared to be older than her by years and, for two, decades.

Pondering on this T”u Bishvat the seeds we plant for the summer, these two quick moments reminded me of different seeds planted nearly seven decades ago, just after the founding of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin:  David Ben-Gurion’s vision of a modern Israel where Jews would perform all roles in society (even assisting with parallel parking!) and where different streams of Jews and of the world would coexist, ever-developing.

Shabbat Shalom.

Meet Our Program Director Gal Atia!

Posted on February 3, 2017

We are so thrilled to announce Gal Atia is joining our year round team as our Program Director. Gal currently lives in Netanya, Israel and is looking forward to his new role in anticipation of his 10th summer at camp.

Previous roles held: Sports staff (2008-2009); Seminar counselor (2010); Rosh Sport (2011- 2012); Yoetz, staff trainer, and Rosh Mishlachat (2013-2016)

Outside of camp: Gal has a degree in Special Education from Levinsky Colllege and has been teaching for the past three years as a home room teacher at a special education school.

Favorite camp meal: Joe’s salmon from this past summer and Friday’s lunch- delicious pizza with ranch dressing

Favorite camp-wide event: Zimriyah, song festival. It is amazing to see all the aidot so happy and together as a camp for the first time in the summer.

Most looking forward to this summer: I hope our campers leave camp this summer after having a ton of fun, and come home with new skills and things learned in all our different anafim.


HaMirpeset Shelanu 273: From Sam Blustin

Posted on February 3, 2017

Sam Blustin will be joining us for his second summer as Rosh Shirah. Sam is currently in his second year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, studying this year in Israel.

Reflections on Parashat Bo
by Sam Blustin

The summer after I graduated college, I staffed a Poland-Israel Israel trip for high school aged students. The experience had a profound impact on me, but more than that, it had a profound Jewish impact on the teens who went on the trip. In fact, research says that there are three main experiences which, more than any other metric, predict future involvement in Jewish life: Jewish day schools, youth trips to Israel, and you guessed it, Jewish summer camps. Particularly focusing on the latter two, I asked myself, what do these experiences have in common? The answer is Jewish immersion. In these environments, Judaism is infused into every aspect of the experience. At camp, chanichim (campers) learn how to live meaningful halachic Jewish lives while living with all that modern life has to offer. This liminal space allows young Jews to step out of the pressures of their everyday lives and experience the breadth of what Jewish life can be.

Parshat Bo commences with a different type of liminal experience. It’s the coming of age for a people, where they transition from life under a physical master in Egypt to the Master of the Universe. In fact, the entire rest of the Torah documents this lengthy transition. Like camp, the desert provides an ideal environment for learning both faith and practice, removed from the demands of everyday life. In the desert, the people must rely solely on God for their sustenance and well being, the ultimate test of faith. In fact, the people come to rely so much on God that when it comes time to scout out the land of Israel, they bring back a negative report, afraid that the giants in the land will surely crush them. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, however, that the spies were not actually afraid of failing, but of victory. In the desert, they had everything provided for them. God was visible, present in every moment. But they knew in Eretz Canaan that they would have to live in the real world of empirical space. They would need to fight wars, plant crops, and build a society.  And as a result, God’s intimate, miraculous presence would be diminished. The issue was that the spies didn’t know how to translate the immersive experience of God into everyday life. How do we translate these seminal liminal moments to lived reality?

After Pharaoh finally releases the Hebrews, they journey to Succoth and receive their first laws, among them to celebrate Passover yearly. “And you should tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of this that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt.’ And it shall be for you a sign on your arm and a reminder between your eyes – so that Hashem’s Torah may be in your mouth – for with a strong hand Hashem removed you from Egypt” (Ex. 13:8-9). The physical reminder of our Jewish life is central to what we strive for at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. At camp, Jewish ritual is front and center. We pray, light candles, end Shabbat each week with Havdalah together as a community. We are fully immersed in Judaism and community and these rituals add great joy and meaning to our lives.

To translate these liminal moments to lived reality, immersion must extend beyond the walls of camp, into homes, schools and synagogues. Our hope is that during the summer our campers and staff gain the skills to translate meaningful experiences of ritual, music and community into their daily lives at home.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 272: From Maya Zinkow

Posted on January 27, 2017

Maya Zinkow is a lifelong Ramahnik and three-time Rosh Eidah. She spent a wonderful summer as Rosh Machon 2016 and is in her first year of rabbinic studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City.

Reflections on Parashat Vaera
by Maya Zinkow

One of the key tenets of Jewish faith centers around the art of listening. Through the declaration of the shema, we commit ourselves to God by way of listening at least twice a day. We are reminded of the important act of listening for God’s oneness as we enter and leave our homes, and each morning as we wrap ourselves in prayer. Shema Yisrael hashem Elokeinu, hashem echad. Listen, children of Israel, hashem is our God, hashem is one. The prayer is a request, a command, a mantra, a meditation, and a declaration of faith. The Shema, which lives in the beating heart of our liturgy and belief system, asks us to listen.

In Parashat Vaera, we watch as humans struggle to communicate effectively, as Moshe’s leadership is hindered and halted by bnai Yisrael’s inability to listen. The parsha opens with God reassuring Moshe that God has heard the cries of the Israelites, followed by a directive for Moshe to relay this message to his constituents. God urges Moshe to tell the Israelites that help is on the way, that they will be freed, and that they will be accepted as God’s people. It is a message of comfort, love, and hope, one that might help Moshe in his new leadership role. Moshe obeys, but his message falls flat:

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר מֹשֶׁ֛ה כֵּ֖ן אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה
Vayidaber Moshe ken el-bnai Yisrael v’lo shamu el-Moshe miktzor ruach uma’avodah kasha
But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage

Rashi, in his explanation of the phrase “miktzor ruach” tells us that when someone is in anguish, breathing comes in short gasps and one is unable to draw long breaths. He describes a sort of immediate, panicked response to oppression. Other commentators, like Ibn Ezra, describe an anguish of spirit, noting that the length of time bnai Yisrael have been enslaved prevents them from truly believing in Moshe’s hopeful message. We can all remember moments when we have been unable to listen, whether because of a physical reaction to a shocking reality or because our souls feel the pain of a moment’s hardship. When this happens, leaders struggle to effectively guide their communities.

The art of listening is difficult, especially in stressful, shocking, or painful conditions. In our community at camp, whether during the summer or in pre-season preparations, we rely on listening as a key component of effective leadership and problem-solving. Our chanichim (campers) need to listen to each other’s needs in order to build peaceful, safe, and joyful living environments. Our madrichim (counselors) need to listen to their chanichim to ensure they feel heard, valued, and loved by their caretakers. Our Rashei Eidah (division heads) need to listen to their madrichim in order to build positive and productive staff cultures, ensuring successful summers for all. And of course, the chain of listening must work in all directions.

In our parsha, God employs an ultimately effective tool for successful leadership: Moshe’s partnership with Aaron. Each brother is able to use his skill set effectively in cooperation and collaboration with the other in order to be heard by the people of Israel. And perhaps given Aaron’s own history as a slave, his appointment as Moshe’s mouthpiece helps the people of Israel themselves feel heard by their leaders. Seeking partners helps us understand ourselves and our communities better, and it is a tool we hold dear at camp, and one that we do well to employ in our ever-changing society. If we can listen to one other person, we can listen to many. And perhaps then, we can truly heed the words of our daily declaration of faith; we can listen, and hear more of God in our imperfect world.

HaMirpeset Shelanu 271: From Ralph Schwartz, Director of Special Needs

Posted on January 20, 2017

Reflections on Parashat Shemot and Our Atzmayim-Tikvah Shabbaton
by Ralph Schwartz, Director of Special Needs

Sefer Shemot (Exodus) documents who went down to Egypt and the beginning of our people’s suffering as slaves under “a new king … who knew not Joseph” (1:8).  After Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s palace, he is forced to flee Egypt for Midian after killing an Egyptian taskmaster. There he marries Zipporah, has a son Gershom, and works as a shepherd. One day, while tending his flock, the burning bush story unfolds.

Although God performs several miracles for him at the burning bush, Moses initially refuses to be God’s messenger to Pharaoh. Four times Moses says he is not up for the job:

  1. Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh ? (Exodus 3:11)
  2. What shall I say is Your name? (3:13)
  3. What if they don’t believe me and do not listen to me? (4:1)
  4. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue. (4:10)

Each time God answers Moses in what appears to be a calm and understanding way and then responds with an accommodation.  It is as if Moses is scared to take the leap that God has chosen him for. God is patient with Moses until he finally pushes him a little bit.

This past weekend 43 Camp Ramah in Wisconsin Atzmayim (vocational program) participants, Tikvah campers and alumni of both programs gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston, Illinois, for our 4th biennial Shabbaton/Reunion.

In the beginning, many of our parents were hesitant to send their children. They said things like:

  1. My child has never flown alone on an airplane before.
  2. My child has trouble with transitions.
  3. My child has never slept away from home before except at camp.
  4. Who is going to make sure my child is safe?

Each time we answered them in a calm and understanding way, reassuring them that their children would be safe and have a great time as well.

We did many of the usual activities people do at a Shabbaton: celebrate Shabbat by praying and eating together, learn about relationships with friends and family, enjoy some good karaoke, go swimming and bowling.

This year we asked some of our alumni, graduates of the Tikvah and/or Atzmayim programs, to sit on a panel speaking to our current Atzmayim participants and Tikvah campers about their life experiences. Some alumni have graduated or are currently attending college; all are working in various jobs in the community and the majority live independently.

For this panel, they answered the following questions posed to them by former Tikvah Rosh Aidah Joseph Eskin, who moderated the session:

  1. What is your job now?
  2. What would you like to do? What are your professional goals?
  3. What have been your biggest challenges?
  4. How was Tikvah/Atzmayim helpful to you?
  5. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Everyone in the room sat enraptured as each panelist responded to the questions. One alumnus explained that before he came to Ramah, he was in a dark place, lonely and with little motivation. During his time at camp, he made friends who have lasted to this day.  Another panelist shared, “Whenever anyone invites you to go out, go, or else they will think you are a loner, and they will stop inviting you.”

Several alumni expressed their gratitude for camp as a place where they explored and increased their Jewish religious identity, where they had the chance to live in an immersive Jewish community, lead services, and learn a lot.  Everyone listened intently, absorbing advice on how to achieve the next step of independence, socialization, education or employment.

Moses was apprehensive and unsure of himself at the burning bush.  Some of us, and especially our campers and participants, feel the same way when we try something new.  While no one can say if one of them will one day become a leader like Moses, everyone at the Shabbaton is now ready to take on new challenges and risks.  In the special needs programs of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, adolescents and emerging adults with special needs can find support, accommodations, acceptance, and inspiration to be all that they want to be.

2017 Tikvah and Atzmayim Shabbaton

Posted on January 20, 2017

by Natania Lipp, Tikvah Senior Counselor 2015

Some spend Martin Luther King weekend traveling, relaxing, or visiting friends and family. For our Tikvah campers and Atzmayim (vocational) participants, this weekend involved a little of each at Camp Ramah’s Tikvah/Atzmayim reunion. On Friday, 44 campers, participants, and alumni from the Tikvah program gathered from all over the United States at the Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston, Illinois, for a biennial winter Shabbaton. This weekend simulated camp’s inclusive and energetic environment with a typical camp Shabbat schedule and interactive programming.

The Shabbaton’s theme, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, gave participants the space to catch up with old friends and connect with new ones. For many Ramah campers, these interactions come naturally–they stay in touch with friends during the year or meet up with them during breaks to pick up where they left off. For our Shabbaton participants it is not that simple. This weekend provided the social connections they might not have at home, creating perhaps their most memorable weekend of the school year. “They’ll still be talking about it at camp this summer,” claimed Ralph Schwartz, Director of Ramah Wisconsin’s Tikvah program.

One of the highlights was the Atzmayim alumni panel on Saturday morning. Alumni answered questions about where they are now: what jobs they have, what long-term goals they are working towards, and what they are struggling with along the way. In a room of lively campers and participants, the crowd fell silent as the alumni described the skills they learned at camp and the employment or education they have found since. Their responses were raw and honest as they expressed their struggles with meeting people and growing their social circles, and that sentiment truly resonated with every listener. The alumni quickly transformed from new faces to role models in the eyes of the current Tikvah generation, creating a special and unique moment for everyone.

On Saturday night, the group went out for bowling and pizza. Here, they were greeted by a few of their Chaverim (10th grade Tikvah buddies), and old friends and staff. Everyone relaxed and enjoyed their time together over a few games and many slices of pizza. “The amount of joy and laughter in the crowded bowling alley Saturday night was matched only by the amount of pizza. Everyone was having so much fun cheering each other on and socializing. You could never tell who was winning because every time someone would roll the ball down the lane there were whoops and high fives all around- even if it was a gutter ball,” reported Miryam Bernard-Donals, the head of the 2016 Atzmayim program.

The weekend provided the laughter, the Shabbat energy, and the warmth of friendship that everyone misses most about camp. The campers, participants, alumni, and staff alike all left on Sunday feeling reinvigorated from the excitement of the weekend and eager to reunite again.


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