A Think Tank for Fun!

Posted on July 28, 2017

by Jon Adam Ross, Rosh Mercaz

Camp Ramah in Wisconsin operates a full time think tank for fun. That may sound unbelievable, but it’s true! Our cabin staff spend a great deal of their days planning programs for their campers. But they don’t have to create these programs on their own. Our program design team (the think tank of master experiential educators who work as יועצי תכנון (programming consultants) during the summer has been hard at work meeting with מדריכים (counselors) to plan original, engaging activities. Some of these programs are about Israel, Jewish values, the Torah, Shabbat, or Hebrew. And some are just about having FUN! This summer, we’ve created a brand new program for cabin activities and eidah activities with a menu of really cool programs offered by the different ענפים (specialty areas) in camp.

For instance, our Music staff is offering live karaoke this summer. You pre-pick the songs, they’ll learn how to play them so you can do karaoke with a full band backing you up! Or a צריף can host a special radio show on WRMH 89.3 FM for a camper’s birthday. And our outdoor education staff is running meditation activities in the יער (forest). And outside the ענפים one cabin is this very day walking around camp dressed like Pirates for a day full of (approved) mischief. (Side joke: which staff member at Ramah Wisconsin is the favorite of pirates everywhere? Jarrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!)

One fun way we help צוות (staff) engage with Jewish values is with a tool created by Rabbi Avi Orlow at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. This Making of a Mensch periodic table contains elements that are Jewish values that we hope to instill in our campers and צוות. Every program planned at camp has to identify at least one element from the periodic table. And we have integrated these Jewish values all over camp! (for instance: this periodic table of הכרת הטוב (positive feedback) for staff in our Mercaz Kopin staff lounge.

As you can see, the staff in the Mercaz (programming center) is hard at work this summer helping our counselors make it the most fun and meaningful summer for our campers. With one more week to go, there’s still plenty of time for more bad pirate jokes!

Marking a Milestone at the “Mothership”

Posted on July 20, 2017

by Shuly Rubin Schwartz, Visiting Professor

It’s always a treat to spend time at Ramah, but it was especially meaningful to visit Camp Ramah in Wisconsin—the first Ramah camp founded—this summer during Ramah’s 70th year. To mark this special anniversary, I had the opportunity to share with counselors, senior staff members, and older campers the foundational principles that inspired the creation of Ramah in 1947. We looked at texts from the 1940s which articulated Jewish leaders’ most pressing goals and hopes for the camp. The founders felt the burning need to identify future Jewish leaders, capture time in the summer for formal Jewish education, create a vibrant Hebrew speaking environment, expose campers to the beauties and joys of Jewish living, and cultivate wholesome Jewish personalities and caring human beings.

Counselors, staff members, and older campers were animated by hearing the distinctive mission articulated by the founders, the sense of urgency in their words as they assumed the weighty responsibility—in the wake of the Holocaust—to ensure the flourishing of a robust Jewish life in America. I felt equally energized by the passion and dedication of today’s Ramahniks! We considered how and why Ramah has changed over the decades and in what ways it furthers the founders’ vision. What role does and should Hebrew play in camp today? Should Ramah expand its tent to include all who want to attend, or ought it to retain standards of study, observance and Hebrew in order to flourish in the future as it has in the past. Passionate conversations ensued even as the outstanding camp program continued: beautiful zemirot sung with fervor and joy; life-long friendships deepening; campers stretching themselves to master new skills; and instances of kindness, empathy, and chesed touching individuals throughout the community.

Ramah Wisconsin staff—from the inspired leadership of director Jacob Cytryn to the newest junior counselor—is driven to enrich the lives of campers in 2017 through the same vehicles used by the founders.  But as I watched the Tikvah campers perform a sketch that had been developed and rehearsed in partnership with Machon campers, I was also reminded of the ways in which the current Ramah vision has flourished beyond what could ever have been imagined. I could only smile with deep satisfaction knowing that the visionaries of the 1940s would be gratified to witness dedicated staff hard at work advancing Ramah’s mission in the same beautiful (though physically, much enhanced) space some 70 years later.




Immersive Israel Experience

Posted on July 18, 2017

by Carl Schrag, Visiting Educator

Imagine more than 100 teenagers grappling with how to set priorities as they build new communities. That’s how campers from Machon, Bogrim, and Tikvah spent a day last week: They worked in family groups to establish the “new” city of Tel Aviv, the first kibbutz of Degania, and the first Jewish community to live outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City in the Mishkenot She’ananim neighborhood.

It was all part of a 24-hour immersive experience created for campers by a committee of five staff members from the three aidot. They set out to fashion an experience that would prompt campers to work collaboratively to set communal priorities and to work to build a new society. Using a complex system of resources that was modeled roughly on the popular board game Settlers of Catan, the campers strategized, traded with their neighbors, and accumulated points as they built three remarkable communities on the slopes of the Kikar.

This simulation of chalutzim building pre-State Israel taught campers a lot about the origins of the Jewish state. At the same time, they had ample opportunity to reflect on the values that have been central to the 70-year evolution of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and to embrace the process of creating intentional communities.

If this simulation program was the focus of my time at camp this summer, dayenu. But it was only one of many projects that kept me busy. In the course of a weekend, more than 20 American and Israeli staff members joined an intensive seminar that explored the Israeli government’s recent decision to suspend the Western Wall compromise. While everyone came in with an opinion, they left with nuanced understanding of many notions of the complex issues surrounding the decision, and — hopefully — with more questions than they’d had before our first meeting.

During the spring, I had the opportunity to work with Camp Director Jacob Cytryn to create a nine-part Israel Education program for Nivonim, and while I was in camp I piloted the first three sessions. Nivonimers are learning about Israel’s history and exploring how current realities in the country impact their personal connections to Israel. The remaining sessions are being led by two talented veteran educators, Sean Herstein and Prof. Robin Judd. If you know a Nivonimer, ask him or her about the pilot!

There’s a reason so many people call Camp Ramah the University of Conover!

Camp as an immersive educational experience

Posted on June 29, 2017

by Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon, Rosh Hinuch

“If God put one boy and one girl of each animal in the ark, which dove did Noah send out?”  

“Can we write a midrash about that?”

—Garinim campers (7th grade) learning about gratitude, wonder and blessings.

“If I know I’m mean to my friends sometimes…what can I do to change that?”

—Shoafim camper (8th grade) exploring the question, ‘When do you take a stand?”

“I think Malcolm X’s kind of protest got more done than Martin Luther King’s.”

“I’m not sure that’s true….I think maybe both kinds were important to have.” 

—Bogrim and Machon (9th and 10th grade) campers studying Rebels of the Torah

“Echad! Shtayim, Shalosh!  Arba! Chamesh!”  

—A Garinim camper in Hebrew class, running across the grass and shouting the number of his steps in Hebrew. 

These are the moments that animate our days as educational staff members here at camp. In these moments, we see the curiosity of our campers and their desire to improve their Hebrew and to have conversations that help them grow both as Jewish learners and as people. Some of these moments are slightly off topic, but these tangents driven by students’ interests are a luxury of teaching in the camp setting where there are no tests or deadlines—only learning for its own sake.

Though most of the education campers receive at Ramah is informal, they do have two 45-minute shiurim (classes) a day:  one in Hebrew and one in Jewish studies. 

Hebrew is taught by native speakers from Israel and the classes emphasize hearing and understanding as well as speaking Hebrew.  This month the younger campers are learning about our senses.  Next week campers will focus on ‘taste’—which will culminate in a fun activity involving chocolate!  Older campers integrate Israeli culture into their lessons by viewing Israeli television shows and then discussing the content in Hebrew.

In Jewish Studies, campers in Bogrim and Machon select from a variety of electives including Jewish views on conflict resolution, Torah stories of love gone wrong, Rebels of the Torah, Israeli hip/hop commentary on conflict, and Hebrew language theater.

Younger campers study topics including Gratitude, wonder and berachot; Celebrating the entire Jewish year in one month, and Jewish wisdom on life’s tough questions.

We are also in the process of implementing several new curricular initiatives. Currently, a selection of Bogrim and Machon campers are studying parshanut, the weekly Torah portion through the lens of commentators such as Rashi.  This elective class, called Rebels of Summer, focuses on the narratives of complaint and rebellion that fill the summer parshiyot. 

In the second half of the summer, some Shoafim campers will learn about the Holocaust using a curriculum written by former Rosh Aidah and current Jewish educator, Joseph Eskin. 

A new Nivonim curriculum will immerse our oldest campers in an intensive exploration of timely and timeless issues and ideas related to Israel. In doing so, it will lay the groundwork for a more literate cohort of engaged and passionate young Jews, many of whom already play formal and informal leadership roles among their peers. Rooted in our study of מגילת העצמאות, the Israeli Declaration of Independence, campers will learn about key events and people in Israel, and consider how they relate to the country, its challenges and achievements on a personal and communal level.

In all of these classes the goal is to provide both a content-rich experience while giving campers the opportunity to have conversations about meaning.  Camp is an immersive and amazing lab where we build a summer community based around Jewish living—classes at camp are a place where campers can process what it all does and can mean to them personally.  

Meet Rosh Ivrit (Hebrew) Ayelet Ben-Shitrit!

Posted on June 2, 2017

Welcome back to our Rosh Ivrit Ayelet Ben-Shitrit!

Camp Experience:
This will be my third year as Hebrew staff. In my first year I was also on Garinim and Halutzim staff and my second year I was on Bogrim staff.

How did you find out about Ramah?
In 2013-2014 I was participating in a year of service in Chicago at Anshe Emet synagogue. I met so many people who were going to camp, so I decided to come as well! And I’m so glad about that decision!

Other camp experience:
I spent five years at the Ramah Noam camp in Israel as a camper.
I was a counselor for two years at Camp Ramah Noam Israel and one year at Ramah Noam camp in England.

Favorite thing about camp:
My favorite thing in camp is Kabbalat Shabbat by the lake, when the sun is in the sky. 🙂

Most looking forward to:
I’m excited to work with Hebrew staff, to meet new people, to see old friends, to see my campers from the last 2 years and
to use Hebrew whenever possible!

Life outside camp:
I studied at a secular and religious school in Jerusalem. I am currently working as a counselor at the Hannaton Mechina on Kibbutz Hannaton. The program seeks to train and educate a new generation of leaders who will affect change and instill the intrinsic values of Judaism and modernity in the course of their
lives, starting with their army service.

I am originally from Jerusalem, but this year I live in Kibbutz Hanaton – a Conservative kibbutz in northern Israel

Something exciting happening this summer?
Get ready for a great summer! 🙂

Meet Rosh Chinuch Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon!

Posted on May 29, 2017

Welcome back to Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon who will direct our formal education program this summer!

Years at camp:
I started coming to camp in 2008, when we moved to Wisconsin, but I only officially became a staff member in 2012. Before this summer I worked in the Mercaz (Education Center) as a Yoetzet Tichnun, a resource person assisting madrichim (counselors) as they planned programs for campers.

Other camp experiences:
I was a camper at Tel Noar in New Hampshire for a summer,  a camper at Camp Ramah in New England (Palmer) for one summer, and a staff member at Palmer for one summer where I produced a newspaper, The Ramah Reporter, with campers.

Favorite thing about camp:
I love the supportive professional environment at camp, and I love the togetherness with other Jewish educators who also want to talk about Jewish life and Jewish education morning, noon and night.

Mosting looking forward to:
I’m looking forward to learning a lot in my new job and being involved in shaping the more formal educational programs.

Life outside camp:
I went to Harvard for undergrad, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America for my MA and rabbinical ordination. Right now I work at Beth Israel Center doing Adult Education and at Ramah.

Where are you from?
We live in Madison, Wisconsin, but are moving to Greensboro, North Carolina after this summer.

Fun fact:
If I were one of the Golden Girls, I’d be Rose, at least according to the other educators in the Mercaz.

Anything else?
Ramah has become an important part of my family’s life over the past decade. I love that my children get to be part of a place where their Jewish practices are joyfully the norm, and where they feel supported and safe enough to try new things and grow each year.

Summer Camp: A Bridge, Not A Bubble

Posted on August 26, 2016

by Yael Bendat-Appell, Staff Trainer and Camper Intake Coordinator

One of the most beneficial aspects of sending kids and teenagers to overnight summerBen Kanas 3 camp is the opportunity to disconnect and unplug from the world at large.  The absence of phone, TV, internet and social media allows our youth to focus primarily on developing friendships, physical and artistic skills and their intellectual muscles.  This countercultural “bubble” that camp creates is a cherished part of the camp experience. However, while working at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin as a staff trainer, I did a lot of thinking about the role that camp should play in either protecting its campers from the harsh news of current events that do occur, or informing them about these events.  From this summer’s devastating deadly shootings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, to the Gaza war of the summer of 2014 and other incidents of terror — the question arises again and again: Do we, as camp staff, have an educational imperative to inform our campers about the news, even if it means bursting this precious bubble?

Educating our children is a precarious endeavor.  And while the bubble of camp is an important and enviable tool for child development, the bubble is not the goal in and of itself.  Jewish summer camp has the opportunity to help children reflect on who they want to be as citizens of this world once they emerge from their summer respite.  In addition to providing them with an environment for reflection, we must also provide them with the tools for how to act as citizens of the world.  Discussing the events occurring in the outside world, in a thoughtful, supportive and developmentally appropriate way, is the first step in building the kind of citizens that we hope the next generation will become.  The island in time and space that is summer camp must have bridges that connect it to reality if we want its magical and transformative effects to endure.


This post originally appeared on The Wexner Foundation blog.

Putting books in the hands of our campers

Posted on August 5, 2016

by Kara Rosenwald, Educational Consultant

In June 2015, PJ Our Way launched the PJ Our Way at Camp program at nine pilot summer camps and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin was excited to be selected as one of the camps.  This summer we join a cohort of 46 camps participating in the program, funded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

Campers can experience stories in a variety of ways, but nothing is really like having a new book in your hands – ready to take in the story shared on the pages, starting with reading page 1.

The staff at Ramah Wisconsin was excited to be accepted to PJ Our Way at Camp again this year and looked forward to expanding programs started last summer, and seeing what new things could be done.bookmobile 1

In 2015, we instituted the “Sefer Mobile” (Book Mobile) as a way of rolling out this fantastic program to our campers. This summer, Halutzim, our rising 6th graders, participated in a “camper selection” model to pick between two book choices.  They played a four-corners game that, based on their answers, led to selecting the right book based on their interests. The books were delivered to the campers the next day via the “Sefer Mobile.”

PJ Havdalah is another way PJ Our Way was incorporated into camp culture. Our youngest campers got into pajamas and met on the tennis court to end Shabbat together with Havdalah. Little did they know a special guest would be there to act out the plot line of the book they were all about to be given. The campers listened carefully and got caught up in the story…and then the guest announced that they would have a chance to find out the ending of the story by reading their new books from PJ Our Way! Books were passed out to all, while the guest continued to tell them that they each were getting two more gifts from PJ Our Way – a bookmark and a flashlight so they can read in their beds after the cabin lights go out! Perfect for summer camp!

This program, starting at camp, gets even better because it continues for campers once they return home.  PJ Our Way has a great website and campers can select a new book each month.  All parents of 9-11 year old campers will receive an email with info about the program.

Todah Rabbah to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the staff at PJ Our Way for their support and to the Ramah staff members who have incorporated these stories into their summer programming.

It is a Tree of Life

Posted on August 5, 2016

by Reuven Segal

Between the library and the lake and next to the Merkaz, stands a large and impressive tree trunk.  At Ramah Wisconsin it is said that every moment and every place is an opportunity for Jewish education, and the project I took upon myself this summer was to try and think of this tree trunk as a symbol, as a place and expression of התחדשות יהודית/Jewish renewal.

I chose to design new branches for the tree which are made of iron and are similar to the tree’s own2 branches; these new branches are hung with wind chimes of varying sounds and melodies.  The nine branches of the tree symbolize the nine aidot at camp, each one creating its own unique niggun/melody.

Onto the trunk, I carved the symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel.
During the summer I researched the various expressions in Jewish art, through the generations, which relate to the twelve tribes.  I chose the blessing given by Yaakov to each tribe as the appropriate symbol to represent each tribe.

In 1955 a wonderful Israeli artist by the name of George Hamori designed new stamps for the State of Israel depicting the twelve tribes.  These were the most widely used stamps in Israel and were also used to mail letters abroad. Many Israelis remember these stamps from our childhood, as I do, but the name of the artist was forgotten in the annals of Israeli culture and it is a real zchut, or privilege, to bring to light the artist and his creation which served as an inspiration and point of reference for my work.

At the highest spot on the trunk, close to the treetop that once was and is no more, I carved the symbol of Ramah, the burning bush which is not consumed.

I see Ramah camps as special places that express the ongoing effort to create a vibrant and relevant Judaism for hundreds of children and teens.  I believe that like the tribes of Israel and like the steadfast trunk at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, we are able to raise and educate a generation of Jewish youth who stand up tall, and will understand their role and mission in Tikkun Olam.

May we merit to fulfill the blessing:

“עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה ותומכיה מאושר”

“It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it”

1With thanks to Jon Adam Ross (JAR) for his help and friendship, to Tom and Scott of the maintenance staff, to Scott Rosen, Lilach Schrag, Ross Meltzer and to the Nagarut staff – Alex and Ilan.



Hebrew is Fun! Introducing Escape Room Games

Posted on August 5, 2016

By Lea Wohl-Segal, Rosh Hinuch

When I led a training seminar for our camp Hebrew teachers in Herzliya this spring, I discovered that all the Hebrew teachers on staff this summer share a hobby.  We are all fans of “Escape Room Games,” a popular new trend in Europe and Israel.

What happens in an Escape Room?  A group comes into a room and is given a task, like solving a mystery.  The mystery needs to be solved within a limited amount of time by finding clues around the room and deciphering codes.

In Herzliya we brainstormed about creating an Escape Room at camp and this week, thank God, we succeeded in making it happen with the help of the Solelim and Shoafim!

The great mystery in the Escape Room created by our Hebrew staff was: Where is the olive oil from the Temple?

Famous Jerusalem sites were scattered around the room.  Campers walked in the Mahane Yehuda market and had to find fruit and vegetables hiding in boxes. They passed the windmill in Yemin Moshe and saw that there was a lock with a code hidden behind it.  Then went to the Teddy Stadium where they found their Zimriya song in pieces and they needed to assemble it.

The second part of the group toured the National Library and found clues in an edition of the camp’s Hebrew newspaper, the Ivriton, published earlier in the summer.  They continued towards the olive oil jar only after all the campers sang the Hanukkah song, Kad Katan, which describes the olive oil jar found by the Maccabees.

The campers enjoyed every minute in the Escape Room and the teachers loved seeing their students having so much fun.

This Escape Room adventure was the final Hebrew class of the summer for these campers.  It was a great way of wrapping up their units on Jerusalem and other places in Israel, Israeli food, Israeli children’s songs and lots of educational games.

As one camper in Solelim said, “I’m going to tell everyone at home that learning Hebrew can be fun and interesting!”

I want to thank the wonderful Hebrew teachers who worked with these campers and congratulate them on this great program: Yael, Ayelet, Mayan, Inbal, Zahava, Inbar, Orel and Lital.

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