National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary
New Initiatives and Highlights from
the National Ramah Tikvah Network
February 2015 / Adar 5775
Dear Friends of Ramah,

#JDAM15Since the first Ramah Tikvah program opened in 1970, the Ramah Camping Movement has continued to be a pioneer in the field of inclusion of Jewish campers with disabilities. The National Ramah Tikvah Network of programs (Tikvah, Breira B'Ramah, and Camp Yofi) now operates in all Ramah camps across North America, offering the inspirational Ramah camp experience to Jewish children, teens, and young adults with a wide range of learning, developmental, cognitive, and social disabilities. Regardless of their geographic location, families are directed to the Ramah camp that best suits their child's needs. For more information, visit our online program directory or download a printable directory

This past year, the National Ramah Tikvah Network has been supported by grants from The Covenant Foundation, the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Foundation, Eileen and Jerry Lieberman, the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of NY, Leo Oppenheimer and Flora Oppenheimer Haas Foundation, the Poses Family Foundation, The Ruderman Family Foundation, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and other funders and donors committed to inclusion. Numerous other foundations and families support the inclusion programs at individual Ramah camps.

In recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, we are delighted to share these new initiatives and glimpses of our programs.
initiativesNew Initiatives
  • Ruderman Family FoundationRamah has received a $350,000 grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation to support the establishment of new Tikvah programs and expand vocational education programs.

    • Over three years, Ramah Darom and Ramah Poconos will each receive $100,000 towards the creation of new Tikvah programs. Both Darom and Poconos have run successful family inclusion camps for a number of years.

    • Continuing its ongoing support of Ramah's vocational education programs, the Ruderman Family Foundation has granted $150,000 over three years for vocational education initiatives at California, Canada, New England, and Wisconsin.

  • In recognition of Ramah's leadership in the field of inclusion, the Leo Oppenheimer and Flora Oppenheimer Haas Foundation has provided the National Ramah Commission with a generous grant enabling Ramah to appoint Howard Blas, Ramah New England Tikvah Director, as the Director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network. (Read press release.) Howard works closely with Orlee Krass, National Ramah Tikvah Network Coordinator.

  • The UJA-Federation of New York, through an incubator project of The Jewish Education Project, is supporting the expansion of opportunities to include teens with disabilities on Ramah Israel Seminar

  • In May, the 2015 Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip will raise funds for all Ramah programs for campers with disabilities. To join thousands in support of Tikvah, please consider sponsoring a rider or hiker, or donate directly to Ramah special needs programs.

  • The Covenant Foundation sponsored a September 2014 conference attended by directors of our disabilities programs, camp directors, lay leaders, funders, and other stakeholders on the topics of "Creating a Vision for Tikvah" and "Ramah as Leader in the Disabilities Field."

  • 1st Place - Simone Rotman | Camp Ramah in California
    1st Place - Simone Rotman
    Camper, Ramah California
  • Many inspirational videos were submitted to TIPTOE (The Inclusion Project: Through Our Eyes). This inclusion-themed video contest for campers and college-aged staff members from all Jewish camps is a partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation. (View the winning videos.)

  • Ramah continues to look for ways to collaborate with our partners from other Jewish camps to establish best practices in field of disabilities camping.

    • In partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Ramah is producing a comprehensive resource guide for use by all Jewish camps seeking information and support in creating, maintaining, and expanding their disabilities and inclusion programs. The guide will be available this spring.

    • National Ramah Tikvah Network training in May 2014 and January 2015 included staff members from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Camps, Young Judaea (YJ) Camps, and other Jewish camps. The next Tikvah Network training will take place in May and is open to staff members from all Jewish camps (download flyer). 

    • Ramah professionals frequently consult to other organizations that are interested in launching or expanding disabilities programs; for example, Elana Naftalin-Kelman, Ramah California Tikvah Director, is currently working with Camp Young Judaea - Texas. Similarly, Ralph Schwartz, Ramah Wisconsin Director of Special Needs Programming, and Howard Blas are working with our partners at Nativ on the design of Yozma, a new program track for young adults with cognitive and social challenges.

  • This December, the Ramah Israel Institute will lead a Tikvah Family Trip to Israel for families with children with disabilities. (View trip information.) At the same time, there will be a Tikvah trip to Israel that will include participants from the Tikvah programs at a number of Ramah camps.
glimpsesGlimpses of the Ramah Disabilities Programs

Campers, staff, and family members who participate in Ramah disabilities programs speak of their inspirational and magical experiences in the highlights below:

Many more articles and blog posts can be found on the Tikvah Network news page.
camperOvernight Camp Programs
Ramah Berkshires
Breira B'Ramah at Ramah Berkshires is a fully integrated inclusion program for campers with mild to moderate learning, emotional, and/or social challenges. Breira B'Ramah campers are largely indistinguishable from their peers and participate in all camp activities with minimal modifications. The program is tailored to the unique needs of each individual. Read "A Beautiful Conclusion," the inspiring story of how this individualized approach enabled Joshua* to complete his Gesher (oldest age group) summer (*name changed; pictured right: Joshua as a young camper). 

Ramah California
Ramah California
Ramah California's Tikvah Program participants, staff, and guests come together at the end of each Shabbat for "Yasher Koach Awards," when each individual is congratulated for their successes. In "Havdalah - The Best Time of the Week," Michael Raileanu, a Jewish educator at Ramah California, gives us a window into these awards: "[Visitors] are immediately swept up in the noise, the cheering, the sense of accomplishment, and in the pride of achievement glowing on the faces of everyone, camper and staff, around the circle."

Ramah Canada
In "Getting Over My Fear of Sending My Daughter with Special Needs to Sleepaway Camp," Esther Yermus writes about overcoming her anxieties about sending her daughter, Rebecca, to camp for the first time, and how Rebecca thrived in the Ramah Canada Tikvah program. "At camp, Rebecca feels independent. She is free of our constraints and has the extraordinary opportunity of being with her friends all day, every day....At camp, Rebecca revels in the social interaction that most young adults take for granted....we recognize that whatever our anxieties are, it is vital for Rebecca to enjoy what other children and teens enjoy: the sunshine, the lake, the woods, canoe trips, friendships, and the independence that summer camp provides."

Ramah Darom
Darom TIPTOE Video
Ramah Darom is proud to be launching its own Tikvah Program this summer for teens diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In "Ramah Darom Opens Doors to Special Campers," camp director Geoff Menkowitz describes the philosophy of Tikvah at Ramah Darom. "This is a real inclusion program. There are other camps for children with special needs in the south, but our vision is to provide one that embraces children with autism spectrum disorder in the broader Jewish community. Practically speaking, a parent may have one child on the spectrum and two neuro-typical kids, and they could all go to the same camp. We want a shared camp community, a shared experience, the same T-shirt for all campers, the same social networks." View a camper-made video that explains the value of inclusion at Darom.

Ramah New England
"Reimaging Arts and Crafts: G-dcast Goes to Ramah" describes how campers in the Tikvah program at Ramah New England "'became master animators' this summer, creating two Jewish-themed animated videos during a week-long immersion on site with G-dcast staff. The initiative, funded by The Covenant Foundation, tapped into the campers' creative, artistic, and playful spirit and culminated in a camp-wide screening of their works." 

Ramah Poconos
Ramah Poconos

Building on its highly successful Tikvah Family Camp, Ramah Poconos plans to open a new Tikvah program in the summer of 2016. In "Ramah Poconos Planning New Special Needs Program," camp director Rabbi Joel Seltzer describes plans for "an inclusive camp where kids with special needs are living alongside typical kids and are participating in the programming and part of the fabric of the community and spending the summer together." The camp is establishing a special committee to determine how the new program can best accommodate campers with disabilities.

Ramah Rockies
In "A 12-Year-Old Weighs in on Jewish Camp in the Colorado Rockies," Kaspar Wilder blogs after her fourth summer in the Tikvah program at Ramah Rockies about her challenges and triumphs at camp. She describes her definition of "Masa," a camp outing: "It means beauty. It means camaraderie and strength that will change you, inside and out. It means Ramah. High place (the literal translation of the word "ramah"). Eventually you must return to the faraway world you once called home. Where showers are daily and machines a common sight. But you are different. You have returned from a high place. So when your friends ask, "You went to the mountains?" your response will be, "Even higher."

Ramah Wisconsin
In "Family Pays Tribute to Tikvah Program," Rita Berzin discusses the impact that the Tikvah program has had on her son, Adam, who has attended camp for five summers. The Berzins live in New Jersey and Adam travels to Wisconsin for camp: "We make the effort to send Adam to this program, which is so far away, because the effects on his self-esteem, independence, and identification with the Jewish community have been so powerful...There are programs for children with disabilities in this area, but few if any that include the children with their typical peers. Generally they are segregated programs, but that's not what the real world is like. ...Inclusion is what I think Ramah Wisconsin does well." 

vocedVocational Education Programs
Four Ramah camps offer vocational education ("voc ed") programs, which assist young adults with disabilities in finding meaningful work experiences in camp as well as in nearby towns. Ramah voc ed programs were recently featured in a JTA article, "Camps Promote Inclusion and Job Skills with Burgeoning Vocational Programs."
Ramah California's Ezra vocational program for young adults with disabilities was highlighted in the Jewish Journal article "Ramah's Special Needs Programs Turn a Camp into a Home." According to Roni Rosenbaum, the parent of a participant, "It's really one of the most incredible programs that you can imagine for these young adults. They are not just integrated into everything that the whole rest of the camp does, they're rock stars. Kids in the rest of the camp actually fight to be their buddies."

In "Summer Is for Work Too, Not Just Play," Shayna Zack discusses the transferable social and work skills gained by Asher, a participant in the Avodah program. She writes, "At the lemonade stand he is responsible for getting to work on time, then pouring and serving drinks to campers. This can be a daunting task, as the lineups are often long and the campers are thirsty and impatient, but Asher gets it done with a smile on his face. He has graduated from working with a staff supervisor beside him, to serving on his own....In the future, Asher hopes to apply all of the skills he has acquired throughout the years at camp and in his transition program to one day work in an airport." 

New England
"Ramah's Tikvah Program for Campers with Disabilities Offers Summer Fun in a Jewish Setting" highlights the Tochnit Avodah vocational education program at Ramah New England. Twenty-one year-old Josh Sachs, who has Down syndrome, helps in the kitchen, making pizzas (see photo, right). According to Josh's father Steven, having this responsibility has led to great improvements in Josh's "maturity and his ability to stay on task." Similarly, Dina Levitt, the mother of 18-year-old Uriel, says that her son has "this amazing opportunity for growth and independence" where "he's got the 24-7 opportunity to hang out with Jewish kids" and learns to model his behavior, "the whole point of inclusion."

In "Summer Camp, Life Skills, and Confidence," Marcia Cohodes writes about the impact of her son's participation in Tikvah and Atzmayim, the vocational program at Ramah Wisconsin. "I can honestly say that each summer we witnessed significant social and emotional growth, along with life skills development; all of which has contributed greatly to his self-confidence. Through these programs, our son was given a safe, nurturing Jewish environment in which to grow and develop on all levels. Through Ramah and its culture of acceptance, our son was able to experience community-building in a Jewish context and after five years, he leaves with a solid Jewish foundation. 
familyFamily Camps, Travel, and Retreats
Registration for 2015 programs is now open!
Tikvah Family Shabbaton at Ramah New England
April 24-26, 2015 

Held each fall and spring, the Tikvah Family Shabbaton brings families together in a unique, supportive community. In "A Safe Place," Benay Josselson writes, "As a parent, particularly a parent of a child with disabilities, there is immeasurable value in having a weekend free of judgment. And that is exactly what we got at the Shabbaton. The parents and tzevet at the Shabbaton understood our family in a way that most people at home cannot comprehend." 
Camp Ohr Lanu at Ramah California
June 4-7, 2015

In "The Unexpected Way My Son with Down Syndrome Blossomed at Jewish Camp," Aimee Ennik reflects upon her family's experiences at Camp Ohr Lanu: "Like many parents of children with disabilities, we have long struggled with keeping Nathan connected to our Jewish community. He enrolled in religious school a few times over the years, but it was never very successful....When he tried to join groups of kids on the playground, they told him to stop following them around....A few days at Ohr Lanu gave Nathan what he never had before--a Jewish experience filled with adventure, acceptance, friendship, and above all, true, meaningful inclusion and a lifetime of special memories." 

Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom
August 5-9, 2015

Aaron S., a 13-year-old with autism, had his first aliyah to the Torah at Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom this summer. After studying for a year, Aaron inspired everyone as he recited the blessings. His mom, Cyndi, wrote, "It was beautiful and we were able to share the moment with so many of our Yofi 'family!'"

Ramah Darom was proud to honor Perry Birbrager, a 7-year veteran staff member of Camp Yofi, at "The Power of One," an Atlanta event recognizing individuals who have contributed to the field of inclusion.
Tikvah Family Camp at Ramah Poconos
August 19-23, 2015 
In "Another Kind of Holy Land," Ellen Seidman writes about her son's experiences at Tikvah Family Camp at Ramah Poconos: "Max is a friendly kid, but this kind of socializing--the kind that happens naturally at camp, the kind that happens with siblings of kids with special needs--was a whole new experience for him. This is what I long for Max to have in everyday life: People who get him. Kids who welcome him. An entire world that's welcoming to him. We found it at camp. Obviously it's a special setting, a holy land all its own. ... But Tikvah, which means 'hope' in Hebrew, had given me plenty." 

tftTikvah Family Trip to Israel
December 19-31, 2015 
Families with children with disabilities are invited to join the National Ramah Tikvah Network to explore Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Masada, the Dead Sea, and much more! (No prior Ramah affiliation required.) Price: $2,335 per person (land only) based on double occupancy. Price is subject to change. Click here for additional information or contact Orlee Krass, National Ramah Tikvah Network Coordinator.
dayDay Camps
Ramah Day Camp - Chicago area In partnership with Keshet, a Chicago-area program for Jewish children with special needs, Ramah Day Camp hosts a day camp experience for children ages 5-11 with a wide range of disabilities. Campers enroll through Keshet, but are fully integrated with Ramah campers. Children may attend camp for a four-week or eight-week session. 

Ramah Day Camp in Nyack is committed to the value of inclusion, founded in the Jewish ideal that teaches that we are all created B'tzelem Elohim, in God's image. Campers with disabilities follow the regular camp schedule with support and accommodations as needed. Ramah Nyack has a camper care team on staff consisting of a special educator, social worker, and psychologist who work closely with camp staff to provide the needed support to all campers. Enrollment of campers with disabilities is made on an individual basis to ensure that children can successfully be accommodated in the program.

Ramah Day Camp - Philadelphia is committed to providing a Jewish summer camp experience for campers ages 4-13 with social and developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, learning and processing differences, and anxiety disorders. Campers with disabilities follow the regular camp schedule with support and accommodations as needed. Ramah Day Camp's camper care team consists of educators, special educators, and psychologists who work closely with camp staff to provide the needed support to all campers. Enrollment of campers with disabilities is made on an individual basis to ensure that children can successfully be accommodated in the program.

Ramah Day Camp - Greater Washington, D.C. In keeping with Ramah New England's longstanding commitment to inclusion, the Ramah Day Camp of Greater Washington will work with families on a case-by-case basis to accommodate campers with disabilities. Enrollment of campers with disabilities is made on an individual basis to ensure that we can successfully accommodate the child within the camp program. As the day camp grows in years to come, Ramah Day Camp is committed to expanding opportunities for campers with disabilities.
trainingStaff Training Initiatives
Staff members at the National Ramah Winter Leadership Training Conference, January 2015
The National Ramah Tikvah Network provides training conferences and professional development to staff from all Ramah camp programs for campers with disabilities, as well as additional marketing for all of these programs. Most recently, Tikvah staff members from six Ramah camps (and one representative from Camp Young Judaea - Texas) met in January for four days of intense learning, sharing, and training about working with campers with disabilities. Read more

Training for the staff of the National Ramah Tikvah Network is supported by the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of New York, the Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip, and the Ruderman Family Foundation (training for staff of Ramah vocational education programs).
Click here to read participants' reflections on training that took place in May 2014, at which Ramah staff members were joined by counselors from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Camps and other Jewish camps.
Ramah is the camping arm of Conservative Judaism. Together, our programs provide Ramah experiences for more than 10,000 children, teens, and young adults annually.The National Ramah Commission of The Jewish Theological Seminary provides oversight, educational planning, and coordination on behalf of the network of Ramah camps throughout North America and Ramah Programs in Israel.

For more information, visit

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