Ramah Camping Movement
National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary


"Ramah is perhaps the best incubator for passionate, modern traditional Judaism. We need more and more of our young people attending existing camps and we need to seek ways to build new ones."

- JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen


July 18, 2014 / 20 Tammuz 5774


Dear Ramah Leaders,

Each summer, leaders from The Jewish Theological Seminary visit Ramah camps and have the opportunity to spend time with campers and staff. Topics of conversation range from questions about their own personal Jewish journeys, to the future of Conservative Judaism, to study opportunities at JTS. We are delighted to be able to share with you some of their experiences in recent weeks. 

Shabbat Shalom,

   Mitch Cohen
Rabbi Mitchell Cohen
Director, National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary
Instills Conservative Jewish Pride


by Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director


(L-R) Ramah Wisconsin Board President Arnie Harris, JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen, Camp Director Jacob Cytryn, National Ramah Director Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, CEO Rabbi David Soloff, and Board President Elect Jon Sherman

I was privileged to travel with JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen to Ramah Wisconsin this past Shabbat, where he served as scholar in residence, speaking with many groups of staff as well as Nivonim, the oldest campers. In a packed staff lounge ("the Kopin") Friday night, Chancellor Eisen made a powerful case for why he is a proud Conservative Jew, and why the teachings and theology of Conservative Judaism are authentic and dynamic for so many modern Jews (whether or not they actively affiliate). He gave some very specific advice regarding improving our communities in synagogues, on campus, and in our camps and schools. As he often states, "Ramah is perhaps the best incubator for passionate, modern traditional Judaism. We need more and more of our young people attending existing camps and we need to seek ways to build new ones."

After the talk, and throughout the weekend, staff members engaged the Chancellor with questions and comments, sharing their successes and frustrations with organized Jewish life. "I wish more people could hear him speak," one 19-year-old counselor told me. "He inspired me in a unique way and I can't wait to get back to campus and try to make things better."

Also in attendance at this and other sessions were Ramah Wisconsin lay leaders and community rabbis. As Rabbi David Soloff, CEO, said, "Chancellor Eisen has a unique gift in teaching and inspiring. We absolutely need to have him and other JTS scholars spend more time at our camps, which will in turn attract more young leaders to attend JTS and pursue careers in Jewish leadership."Camp Director Jacob Cytryn added that having Chancellor Eisen at camp is a special privilege. "Our counselors from North America and Israel really enjoy serious intellectual stimulation. We so appreciate that Chancellor Eisen makes Ramah a priority, and took the time to travel here and offer so much of himself."

Reflections on Visits to Ramah California, Ramah Canada, and Ramah Outdoors


by Rabbi Daniel Nevins, Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and Dean of the Division of Religious Leadership


One of my favorite tasks as a JTS dean is the chance to visit several Ramah camps each summer. I travel to see our JTS students who work at camp, to recruit for our programs, to teach Torah, and in general to "shep nachas" from the magical world created by the campers and staff each summer. This year I was privileged to visit Etgar B'Ramah (Ramah Outdoor Adventure) in Colorado for my second time, Ramah California for my first time, and Ramah Canada, where my own kids have been campers and staff, for perhaps the twentieth time (only a slight exaggeration). Later this summer I also plan to visit Ramah Nyack, where my middle child is working as a counselor.


Rabbi Nevins in Colorado Summer 2014
Rabbi Daniel Nevins in Colorado

My observations? For all of the dramatic differences in topography, program, and personnel--and they are dramatic--the Ramah "brand" is remarkably constant. In each camp I found a passion for excellence, a love of Jewish life, a deep connection to Israel, and a commitment to help every member of the community grow as a person and as a Jew. Unfortunately, my visit overlapped with the abduction and murder of Israeli teens Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrah, may their memories be for a blessing, and the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas. I spoke at length with Israeli staff members and campers, helping them share their grief and anxiety, even as we continued to build a sense of resilience for the Jewish people in this challenging time. 


One thing that struck me in the camps is the sense of experimentation in Jewish prayer. As always, prayer at camp is a "tale of two minyans," with conditions making for both the best and the worst of prayer life. The best is obvious--what can beat the sound of hundreds of voices singing Kabbalat Shabbat before a vista of mountains (in Colorado) or a tree-lined lake (in Canada)? But camp is also a challenging place for prayer. Campers are often tired, and tefillot can become more of a routine than an experience of deep spirituality. This is true everywhere that people pray, but the heavy concentration of young teens can make for a challenging environment. What I observed is a great spirit of innovation in the camps, as staff and visiting clergy sought to infuse prayer with joyous music, thoughtful meditations, and a deep sense of purpose. How lucky are our campers to be in an atmosphere that values both keva and kavanah, the established forms of Jewish worship and the need to infuse our words with new meaning and music.


One extra treat for my travels was the company of my oldest daughter, Talya, who returned too late from her gap year to return for a second year of staff. She is a patriotic Ramah Canada person, but this summer she got to see two new camps. Through her eyes I saw once again how fortunate we are to enjoy the treasure of our Ramah camps, in all of their variety. I thank the remarkable staff for their creative and unceasing work, and the thousands of families that send their children to the spiritual highland that is Mahane Ramah. 

Reflections on Shabbat at Ramah Darom


by Marc Gary, Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer


Havdalah at Ramah Darom
Havdalah at Ramah Darom
I had an amazing time at Ramah Darom last Shabbat. Although the Georgia sun is hot, it is not nearly as warm as the Southern hospitality I enjoyed from Camp Director Geoff Menkowitz, former JTS student; Program Director Sarah Attermann, current JTS student; and the entire staff. I had the privilege of leading a limmud session on Friday night with the Cornerstone Fellows (third-year counselors) on the ethical issues surrounding donations of ill-gotten gains. On Shabbat morning, I davened with the two oldest edot, Nivonim and Gesher, and gave the d'var Torah on Parashat Pinchas. And on Shabbat afternoon, I was delighted to host an oneg for JTS students and alumni and to speak with the many campers and staff who are interested in attending JTS. Shabbat concluded with the unique Ramah Darom havdalah ceremony followed by incredible, high-energy dancing. All in all, my visit to Ramah Darom was one of the high points of my summer.

Are you a Ramah alum? Use Reshet Ramah's new online community to reconnect with old friends and reminisce about those good old days at Camp Ramah. Please help us to add as many alumni as possible by joining our online community and sharing this news with your friends!
Ramah is the camping arm of Conservative Judaism. Together, our programs provide Ramah experiences for 10,000 children, teens, and young adults annually. The National Ramah Commission of The Jewish Theological Seminary provides oversight and educational planning on behalf of the network of Ramah camps throughout North America and Israel.

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