What’s Happening at Ramah
National Ramah Trains More Than 400 Young Leaders This Spring
By Julie Berger and Lonni Romirowsky, June 2011
Culminating a year of more movement-wide collaboration than ever before, this spring, the National Ramah Commission sponsored a host of leadership training programs across North America and Israel for emerging young leaders from the movement’s eight overnight camps and three day camps. Rabbi Mitch Cohen, Director of the National Ramah Commission, emphasizes the importance of these movement-wide training programs. “As I travel to all the Ramah camps each summer, I meet an increasing percentage of each camp’s staff that have participated in movement-wide training programs. It is extremely gratifying to see, in action, the positive impact of these training programs on the individual participants as well as on our camp programs overall,” he says.
Close to 400 key educators, including mishlachat (Israeli staff members), North American Israel educators, rashei edot (division heads), Daber Hebrew Language Fellows, staff of special needs programs, and lead educators for the Ramah Philanthropy Initiative participated in this spring’s inspiring programs.
Israel education is a critical component of the Ramah experience, and significant resources are dedicated to developing the skills and knowledge base of staff members who play key roles as Israel educators. The involvement of shlichim (Israeli emissaries) in all aspects of camp life is the basis of the movement’s hallmark approach to providing this Israel education. Working with Ramah’s partners at the Jewish Agency, Ramah directors spent five days in April at Kibbutz Shefayim in Israel, training the more than 150 new shlichim who recently finished their army service. Amy Skopp Cooper, Assistant Director of the National Ramah Commission, who led this mishlachat training program, says, “This intense period of training not only prepares shlichim for the Ramah experience, but also provides them with an opportunity to think about their relationships with Israel and how they are going to present that to others.”
Ramah’s commitment to Israel education is further reflected in the Ramah Israel Leadership Initiative (RILI), which is supported by a grant from the Legacy Heritage Fund. Building on the foundation of mishlachat involvement, RILI trains North American educators to continually advance Israel education in Ramah camps. A highlight of this year’s RILI training was a Shabbaton retreat for returning counselor-age tzevet (staff), held from April 1-2 at Camp Ramah in Nyack, New York. “It was truly inspirational to see this group of young staff members come together to express their passion about Israel and to share their ideas about how to convey their love for Israel to their campers,” said Ami Hersh, the RILI project coordinator.
The RILI Shabbaton was followed on Sunday, April 3, by a New York City conference and training session that was open to all Jewish educators. Dr. David Bryfman, Director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership at The Jewish Education Project, was the keynote speaker for the conference, which included sessions about issues affecting modern-day Israel, including aliyah, Israeli pop culture, and American adolescents’ relationship to Israel.
Following the success of the April trainings, senior and specialty staff from all of the Ramah camps came together from May 22–26 at Camp Ramah in New England as three exciting training seminars converged for the first time: the Winer Institute for Rosh Edah Training, the Daber Hebrew Language Fellows training, and the inaugural Ramah Special Needs Network Conference.
The Louis and Shoshanah Winer Institute for Rosh Edah Training has brought together the rashei edot from all of Ramah’s overnight camps for more than two decades. Its goal, says Cheryl Magen, a long-time Ramah camp director and current National Ramah Commission educator, is “to train rashei edot in many of the key areas that they need to succeed as leaders, supervisors, educators, and administrators.” To prepare these leaders for the many hats they will wear, they participate in sessions on building strong staff teams, developing Jewish educational programming, and designing the staff week trainings they will use with their madrichim (counselors).
As always, Winer received rave reviews from participants. Shayna Flink of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin remarked, “I felt that Winer helped me get in the right mindset for camp, and I will enter into the summer feeling more confident and supported. I was able to leave Winer with new relationships, skills, and an even deeper appreciation for the Ramah community.” Aliza Sebert of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires expressed her thanks to the Ramah leaders who trained the Winer participants: “I have gained so much knowledge, met incredible peers, and learned from the most amazing role models, the Winer staff. You have taught me so much!”
Funded by the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Daber Hebrew Language Initiative aims to increase Hebrew language usage in all the Ramah camps. The National Ramah Commission ran multiple Daber trainings this spring, including sessions in Israel for Daber Fellows and lead Hebrew educators based abroad, and a session for day camp staff members. The largest of the Daber training programs took place alongside the Winer training program at Camp Ramah in New England, and provided in-depth sessions on theories of language acquisition, methodology, and program sharing. New this year, staff members from different camps were paired for a programming contest and charged with designing an impactful camp-wide Hebrew project. In addition, there were sessions for Winer participants on how to incorporate the Daber program into edah programming and best collaborate with their Daber Fellows.
Daber Fellow Stephanie Elgart of Camp Ramah in the Poconos was highly motivated by the training program. She said, “I am so, so excited to work hard and learn more Hebrew this summer and to help my campers learn along with me. The training helped me feel prepared and supported.” Participants in the Daber training, just like their Winer counterparts, had high praise for the Daber seminar leaders. Ruth Geller of Camp Ramah in New England said that the Ramah Daber trainers were “Hands down...the best prepared, most dedicated, most professional Hebrew language teachers I have ever worked with!”
Enhancing the energy and engagement of the Winer and Daber trainings was the first-ever Ramah Special Needs Network Conference. Eight Ramah camps offer special needs programs, and this conference provided a forum for tzevet working in these programs to share their knowledge. According to Eli Jacober of Camp Ramah in California, “It was reassuring that many of us share common experiences and that together we could create a comprehensive list of approaches and new techniques to bring back to camp with us.” Shayna Fel, the coordinator of this Ramah Special Needs Network Conference, added, “We also discussed the role and responsibility of the special needs staff in educating the rest of the Ramah community on issues related to the special needs population.”
Finally, the educators of the Ramah Philanthropy Initiative (RPI), through which campers at different Ramah camps have the opportunity to explore issues of social justice and philanthropy, also participated in training last month. On May 17, the lead educators from each participating camp reviewed the program’s curriculum and addressed questions during a conference call led by Abbi Sharofsky, who previously served as the coordinator of RPI.
Dita Ribner of Camp Ramah in Nyack said of the positive impact of her experience at one of the National Ramah spring training programs: “I can't imagine an institution more committed to fostering professional leadership than Ramah. It's a true privilege to be part of it.” Support from the National Ramah Commission and cooperation across Ramah camps are at the core of all these training initiatives. As the trainings aim to give tzevet all the tools they need to provide children with an enriching summer, they emphasize that all of these jobs are meant to be done in tandem. Each individual trained makes our entire tzevet stronger. It is this knowledge that confidently sends our staff members to camp prepared and excited for the summer to come.