National Ramah Commission, Inc. of The Jewish Theological Seminary
September 2015 / Tishrei 5776
Dear Friends of Ramah,

Since 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

We are delighted to share these glimpses of our programs.

Many more articles and blog posts can be found on the Tikvah Network news page.
contributionsContributions to the Inclusion Field
investmentPhilanthropic Investment in Ramah, 2014-2015
  • National Ramah received a $350,000 grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation to support the establishment of new Tikvah programs at Darom and Poconos; to expand vocational education programs at California, Canada, New England, and Wisconsin; and to continue the TIPTOE (The Inclusion Project: Through Our Eyes) inclusion-themed video contest for all Jewish camps in North America. Ramah is pleased to be a co-sponsor of the inaugural Ruderman Inclusion Summit.

  • The Leo Oppenheimer & Flora Oppenheimer Haas Foundation provided the National Ramah Commission with a grant of $220,000 over three years, enabling Ramah to expand the capacity of the National Ramah Tikvah Network. 
israelRamah Israel
Ramah Seminar
Alexa Chalup, a longtime member of the Ramah New England community, was able to participate in Ramah Seminar this summer because of special funding this year from the New York Teen Initiative. Interviewed about her Seminar experience for "Alexa + Ramah Israel Seminar = Success," Alexa described some of her favorite moments: seeing the sun rise on Masada and hiking to a waterfall. Elizabeth Chipkin, the Seminar inclusion specialist and a veteran Ramah New England Tikvah staff member, reflects on the experiences of Seminar campers with disabilities in "LOTEM: Making Nature Accessible."

Travel with Ramah Israel Institute
This winter, the Ramah Israel Institute will lead two inspirational, specially designed trips to Israel:        
  • Tikvah Family Trip, December 20-30, 2015 (travel dates in Israel): for families with children with disabilities

  • Tikvah Camper Trip, December 20, 2015 - January 1, 2016: for current participants and graduates of a Ramah Tikvah/vocational education program
overnightOvernight Camp Programs
Ramah Berkshires
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. In "Growth and Inspiration at Breira B'Ramah," a staff member reflects on how she has observed one of her campers "create strong friendships, a connection to Judaism, and most importantly, grow as an individual and become proud of who she is."
Ramah California
Ramah California
There were many highlights for this year's Amitzim edah in the Tikvah program at Ramah California, including spending time with their chaverim (buddies) from the Kochavim edah; a peulat erev (night activity) on the "mystery of the missing wedding ring," a tiyul (overnight trip) to Lake Casitas, chug (electives), Maccabiah, several field trips, and Yahadut (Jewish learning) focused on the midah (value) of kindness.

Amitzim 2015 Photos
Ramah Canada
Ramah Canada
For staff member Noah Gropper, no time is more special than when Tikvah arrives at the agam (waterfront). "Never is the level of enthusiasm on the waterfront as high as it is while Tikvah campers are in the water ... The eagerness to swim and the determination to learn that is displayed by Tikvah campers is unparalleled at camp. The energy that is brought to the agam by Adat Tikvah helps fuel the agam staff and pushes us to try and spread this excitement to other campers." One of the campers says, "Every day we have swim lessons and a boating activity. I am working on achieving one of my swim badges. I am very excited!" Read more and watch a video featuring Julia, one of the campers in the Ramah Canada Tikvah program.
daromRamah Darom
Ramah Darom
This summer, Ramah Darom proudly launched the Henry and Annette Gibson Tikvah Program for teens diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The program was a tremendous success. As Dr. Audra Kaplan, Ramah Darom Tikvah Director, wrote, "The measure of our success was feedback received from parents, words expressed so beautifully: 'I can't begin to thank you for enabling my daughter to have the time of her life! She engaged in so many new and exciting activities that she otherwise would not have been afforded the opportunity to do; from archery and volleyball to swimming in the lake and tubing not to mention the incredible Jewish experience that has now enriched the lives of three of my four children. It was a life-changing experience for her." Read more

Ramah New England
Ramah New England
A highlight for the Tikvah campers at Ramah New England this summer was their etgar (camping trip), which included hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and rafting down the Connecticut River. Campers split up into different groups for activities during the day and then returned to the camp site to cook dinner, make s'mores over the camp fire, play games, and sleep in tents (read more). Another highlight was a trip to visit campers with disabilities at URJ Kutz Camp. Activities included swimming, karaoke, and dancing (read more). Read also "Friends of Tikvah Teach Baking, Storytelling, and Dance," about the many guest instructors who came to visit camp this summer.

poconosRamah Poconos
Ramah Poconos
The new Tikvah Residential Program at Ramah Poconos will open for a four-week session in summer 2016, along with a two-week Taste of Tikvah program. The addition of these two new programs, combined with the Tikvah track at Ramah Day Camp and the Tikvah Family Camp, means that Camp Ramah in the Poconos will now offer a continuum of experiences for children and families with special needs. Construction on the new Tikvah cabin has officially begun, the search for a Tikvah director is underway, and enrollment is now open!
Ramah Rockies
Ramah Rockies
This summer, the Tikvah program at Ramah Outdoor Adventure benefited from a new sensory tent made possible by a grant from the Harvey and Gloria Kaylie Foundation. This new space is filled with therapeutic equipment for use by campers with disabilities. Shai, a counselor in the Amitzim edah, said, "It is a safe and relaxing haven, a place that instantly puts kids at ease." One half of the sensory tent is a quiet oasis where chalutzim [campers--literally "pioneers"] who feel overwhelmed can relax, while the other side is for chalutzim who need to expend excess energy or experience sensory stimulation. Read more
Ramah Wisconsin
Ramah Wisconsin
A highlight of this summer's Tikvah program was the b'nai mitzvah ceremony for three Tikvah campers. "With a few family members, Tikvah, Machon (10th graders), and select guests from around camp in attendance, our first Bar Mitzvah stepped to the podium wearing a brand new tallit and his great-grandfather's tefillin. After working all year with his teacher in his home congregation--and with additional help from his camp counselors--he proceeded to lead the entire gathered community in a full morning service, including reading the entire weekday Torah reading and saying blessings over the Torah for the first time." Read more

vocedVocational Education Programs
Ramah's vocational education ("voc ed") programs assist young adults with disabilities in finding meaningful work experiences in camp as well as in nearby towns. The recent Ruderman Family Foundation grant supports vocational educational initiatives at Ramah California, Canada, New England, and Wisconsin, and encourages voc ed inclusion programs at other Ramah camps.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilties Act, National Ramah Tikvah Network Director Howard Blas wrote "Falling Off a Cliff: Vocational Education and Placement Essential for People with Disabilities."
Ramah California Jesse Blasberg (photo, far left) is a recent graduate of Ramah California's Ezra vocational program. In his graduation speech, Jesse talked about much he has learned at camp: "Programs we have done in Ezra, such as going out to the bank in Ojai and working in the office, have taught me independence, organization and how to live with other people ... Camp Ramah has been especially important for me because I'm Jewish and it is important to me to be in such a positive place with so many Jewish people. In the future I plan on getting a job helping people navigate the airport and having my own apartment. I plan on continuing to live independently and I hope to stay in touch with my friends from Ezra staff."

Ramah Canada
The participants in Avodah, the vocational program at Ramah Canada, work in a variety of settings both in camp and in the nearby town of Utterson, Ontario. In camp, voc ed participants work in the new "Keeping it Kosh" cafe, where they help to prepare non-bake treats (see photo, right) and to serve coffee and other snacks. Twice a week, they volunteer at a local hotel, gardening and assisting in the laundry room (see Canadian Jewish News photo). Shayna Zack, Rosh Avodah, says, "Performing these tasks help the participants understand how meaningful their work is and how much of a difference they make in the camp community as well as in the communities around them." Read more
New England
Ramah New England
Participants in the Tochnit Avodah voc-ed program engaged in job exploration programming, exploring their strengths and interests, having mock interviews, building resumes, and visiting job sites. Whether they set up the dining hall, delivered mail, baked delicious cakes, created designer pizzas (see photo, right), prepared the guest house for visitors, or assisted with children's activities, their contributions to the camp community were significant. A highlight of the summer was the participation at this year's NewCAJE conference of five Ramah New England voc-eders in a panel discussion about inclusion in Jewish communities at home and at camp. Read also "Moving Up," describing how David Dalnekoff, a longtime member of the Ramah New England community, is using the skills he learned at camp now that he has made aliyah.

The Atzmayim vocational program served 11 program participants this summer. They had placements in a variety of settings in local Eagle River, Wisconsin, including Trig's grocery store, Walgreen's, the Northwoods Children's Museum, and the Eagle River Roasters coffee shop. In an article that appeared in the local newspaper, Ari Feldman, first session Atzmayim Division Head, is quoted as saying, "A great thing about the program is that the participants get a ton of customer interaction, which translates into a lot of positive and necessary real world skills." Read full article
familyFamily Camps and Retreats
Ramah's camps for families with children with disabilities were recently featured in "Jewish Camps Have Made Special Needs Families a Top Priority":

Tikvah is designed so people are ready to understand [my son's] needs and work with him. We don't have to spend the whole time explaining his differences and can relax and enjoy being at camp and spending time as a family."

- Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, participant, Poconos Tikvah Family Camp
and editor, The New Normal 
Camp Ohr Lanu at Ramah California
Camp Ohr Lanu
Camp Ohr Lanu brings families together for a retreat of study, prayer, respite, support, and fun in the beautiful hills of the Ojai Valley. In "An Impossible Dream Come True," parent Jennifer St. Jude writes, "It was like they magically gave the girls wings as they entered the gate. My daughters turned corners, overcame challenges, and soared with the love and support of their beautiful chaverim (camp-assigned buddies). The amazing Ohr Lanu / Ramah team reviewed each child's needs and challenges and they found ways to accommodate or overcome their obstacles. They also knew their strengths and talents and never missed an opportunity to nurture and shine a light upon them as well. By the first full day, both girls had found their Gan Eden and I, as their witness, was moved to utter tears of joy and relief. We had found our hearts there."

Registration is now open for next summer's program (August 19-22, 2016).

Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom
Camp Yofi
Michael Roochvarg and his family participated in Camp Yofi for three years, when Michael was a young child.  In this moving blog post, Michael reflects on returning to Yofi, this time as a staff member. He writes, "I remember things that were discussed at my sibling lunches when I was a sibling ten years ago sitting in that very same circle talking about my brother. When they say how much they love Camp Yofi, how much it means to their families, and how they 'wish they would never grow out' of the program so that they could come back year after year, words lose meaning. Nothing begins to describe the bonds and intangible connections that are made between families and between campers at Camp Yofi." Read more

Registration will open soon for next summer's program (August 10-14, 2016).
Tikvah Family Camp at Ramah Poconos
Highlights of Tikvah Family Camp include a campfire complete with singing and smores; Friday evening Shabbat services around the lake; Shabbat morning services dancing with the Torah; and, most significantly, time for families who face similar challenges and triumphs throughout the year to get to know each other, share stories, and experience camp as they have never before had the opportunity to do. Each child with special needs is paired with a chaver, or friend, who acts as his/her buddy throughout the program. One parent wrote gratefully, "It was such a magical experience for all five members of my family and we can not thank you enough for everything. I can't wait until next year." Read "The View from Bunk 15," a beautiful poem expressing one parent's feelings about Tikvah Family Camp.

Registration will open soon for next summer's program (August 17-21, 2016). 

Tikvah Family Shabbaton at Ramah New England
Ramah New England
Held each fall and spring, the Tikvah Family Shabbaton brings families together in a unique, supportive community. In "All Paths Lead to Camp," a parent writes, "Over the past two years, our family has been to three Tikvah Family Shabbatons. We've made friends that will stand the test of time. We've felt nurtured as a family in a way that we didn't think was possible. The experience of participating in a Shabbaton that was designed to be inclusive for children with special needs and their families was a revelation to me about how things could be."

Registration is now open for Shabbatonim taking place November 6-8, 2015, and May 27-29, 2016.
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 At Machaneh Ramah Yomi, campers in the Tikvah program enjoy all of the activities in camp with their friends, sometimes with extra support. Other times, campers can participate with their friends without extra help. Every day is full of fun activities, enabling all of the chanichim to learn and grow. According to one camper in the Tikvah program, "At Ramah Day Camp, I had a great summer. I made a lot of friends and I learned a lot. My friends helped me be comfortable at camp and I like to see them during the year too. I can't wait to come back next year for another amazing summer with my friends." Read about one highlight of the summer, a movement and dance workshop on celebrating differences and learning how to appreciate one another. 

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 works with families to accommodate campers with disabilities. Enrollment of campers with disabilities is made on a case by case basis to ensure that the camp 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 Spring Leadership Training Conference, May 2015
Training for the staff of the National Ramah Tikvah Network is supported by the Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip, and the Ruderman Family Foundation (training for staff of Ramah vocational education programs). Staff members from Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Camps, Young Judaea (YJ) Camps, and other Jewish camps participated as well.

In the following blog posts, participants in National Ramah Tikvah Network training reflect on their experiences:

Click here to read additional blog posts about National Ramah Tikvah Network Training.
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