What’s Happening at Ramah
Ramah Steinberg Fellowship: Trip to Germany
by Amy Skopp Cooper, National Assistant Director, September 2010
Twelve senior Ramah camp staff members have just concluded an incredible ten-day learning experience in Germany, involving education about Germany, its history and its Jewish community, and time spent with the Masorti community in Berlin over Shabbat.
(Please click here or on the photo above to watch an inspirational video of highlights from the trip.)
This NRC trip, part of our ongoing Morton M. and Miriam Steinberg Fellowship programming to bring our young adult leaders to Jewish communities around the world, was funded substantially by "Germany Close Up,” a non-profit educational organization in Germany providing American Jews the opportunity to visit Germany, tour historical sites, meet with the Jewish community, and learn about modern Germany. Michael Cohen, a long-time member of the Wisconsin Ramah community and a rabbinical school student at The Jewish Theological Seminary, led the trip on behalf of Ramah. Michael spent this summer working with the Masorti community in Germany.
During the ten-day program, participants were asked to write daily reflections of their trip. These excerpts capture their collective experience:
After a long week filled with informative tours, meaningful conversations, and powerful memorials, the twelve of us Ramah leaders on Germany Close Up prepared ourselves for Shabbat and together we departed our hotel to walk to shul at the Oranienburger Synagogue. As we approached the synagogue, the excitement built within our group. We talked of how after only one week after camp’s end, we each longed to spend Shabbat with Ramah again. While the friends by our side may have been strangers to us just five days ago, we entered Oranienburger Synagogue on Friday night connected not only by our recent shared German experiences but also and more significantly by our passion for the ruach of Ramah. As the rabbi welcomed everyone, she spoke first in German, then in English, recognizing the two different communities at Oranienburger Synagogue; however, when the synagogue filled with the words and melodies of Kabbalat Shabbat, the two different communities united over our common language and wording. It was an incredible experience to sing with such kavanah among eleven other Ramah leaders in Germany, where only sixty years ago we would have been persecuted for such actions.
-- Merrie Aaron, Ramah Nyack
I sit here atop one of the thousands of stone slabs that make up the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It's just so many, so overwhelming. There are other people here, walking along parallel paths, but the spaces are too small for anyone to walk beside me. How alenated and alone all those people must have felt. But I look up and there expands the heavens above me. I can only see a piece of it, but I know it stretches far beyond what I can see. It is a contemplative place, where one can go to consider the state of the world, the state of one's life. It's uneven, unstable, moving still in time and space. There are surprises around every corner, not knowing what to expect. Will I be the same after leaving? Could one get tired of such a place? Overwhelmed and unnerved by the emotions it presents? In the end we must find our way through, find our way out, into the light, the open possibilities. With a memorial one would think there would be a need to step back in time- it seems though that the need is really to look forward. Where do we go from here? How do we rebuild from these scattered stones? This is our task.
-- Myra Meskin, Ramah California
The Jews were kept in isolation from the rest of the prisoners, in a couple of barracks grouped together, away from everyone else. In the minds of the Nazis, this would remind them of their low status and keep them subservient, but to the Jews this was really a blessing in disguise. The Jews living in this couple of barracks really built their own makeshift community. The adults snuck food to the kids who lived there, and they used their contraband Judaica to celebrate the Jewish holidays which they spent in the camp. This reminded me about the power of community, not only in times of simcha and prosperity, but maybe more importantly in time of desperation and isolation. I became hyper aware of how special this experience has been so far, surrounded by people with whom I feel an incredibly strong sense of community, after having known them for just a few days, because we share this mutual and very important shared life experience of Ramah. Each one of us has had a totally different experience and each has taken away different things, but we are still bound to one another and to this greater Ramah community with the years that Ramah has positively affected us, and we have (hopefully!) positively affected Ramah in return.
-- Heidi Zimmerman, Ramah Wisconsin
Yesterday, Thomas (the tour guide) told a few of us on the trip that his grandfather was a Nazi….we were able to hear each other speak, not as oppressor and victim, but as a friend speaks to a friend.
-- Sam Rotenberg, Ramah Darom
Adom Olam--the special tune used is synonymous with moving on--the end of camp, a transition to a new time. Today, we brought this Ramah tradition to Berlin. On our last morning tefillot at the Synagogue, the Steinberg Fellows for the last time brought life to the Oranienburger StraBe Synagogue with a rousing Shacharit service. For all of us, it marks the end of a long, inspiring, summer and a transition to a new year at school or work. Together, our Ramah Kehillah Kedosha completed our experience together in Germany. A prominent theme of our trip was singing and bringing life to German Jewry. It was only fitting that we sang together, with kavanah, the final Adon Olam.
-- Zack Silverberg, Ramah Canada
With the camping season just now concluded, National Ramah is pleased to begin another year of extensive staff training programs for Ramah leaders, with a growing list of wonderful funding partners.
Click here to watch an inspirational video of highlights from the trip.
It was an incredible experience to sing with such kavanah among eleven other Ramah leaders in Germany, where only sixty years ago we would have been persecuted for such actions.
-- Merrie Aaron, Ramah Nyack