What’s Happening at Ramah
Ramah Service Corps: Growth and Inspiration
by Liz Spevack, June 2012
Building on the momentum of a highly successful inaugural year, the Ramah Service Corps has continued to grow, inspire, and educate in its second year. An initiative generously supported by the Foundation for Jewish Camp, the Ramah Service Corps introduces the magic of camp to thousands of Jewish children and brings Ramah-style programming to synagogues during the school year. The program grew to include 29 interns, an increase of 60% over last year, and this summer there are 93 new campers attending Ramah camps from Ramah Service Corps communities. This is a true testament to the effectiveness of this initiative and the excitement it has generated about Jewish camping.
At the heart of the Ramah Service Corps are the interns, talented college-age Ramah staff alumni who are working as teachers and youth leaders in synagogues and other Jewish institutions across the US and Canada. In their role as Ramah Service Corps interns, they bring dynamic, Ramah-style programming to the work they are already doing in their communities. Amy Skopp Cooper, National Assistant Director, explains, “The Ramah Service Corps initiative allows interns to build upon their successful work at Ramah camps and offers them a setting to put their skills and creativity to use year-round. We are thrilled that the program grew this year to allow us to bring Jewish camp experiences to even more communities and to nurture an even greater number of future Jewish leaders.” These future leaders had a busy year planning a wide array of Shabbat, holiday, and Israel-themed programs, and they have engaged in recruitment and outreach efforts within their synagogue communities to spread the excitement about Ramah and Jewish camping.
Capturing the magic of Shabbat at Ramah is a priority for many of the interns. Through their creative and thoughtful programming, interns brought Shabbat to life for students in new and eye-opening ways. At Adath Israel in Merion, PA, Ramah Poconos staff member Becka Lefkoe led Ramah-style Shabbat morning services, complete with beloved Ramah melodies and a spirited parashah skit. Ramah Nyack staff member Rachel Parkes organized Shabbat morning services at Temple Israel Center of White Plains, NY, that featured several Ramah Nyack madrichim (counselors), who sat with the students during tefillot to facilitate and enliven the experience and later led parashah-related activities for the students. Across the country at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA, Ramah California staff member Myra Meskin coordinated a Shabbaton for over 80 religious school students with the goal of providing an authentic Ramah Shabbat experience. “Because Shabbat is such a special time at camp, and such an influential part of the experience, I thought that one way to get students excited about coming to camp for the summer would be to give them a taste of what Shabbat in camp is like,” explains Myra. Students were introduced to the traditions involved in keeping Shabbat, and to the value of building and being a part of a Jewish community. To that end, students created and sent Shabbat-O-Grams, sang zemirot, experienced a harga’ah (bunk bedtime activity), engaged in Ramah-style tefillot, and participated in a scavenger hunt and Israeli dancing.
As any Ramahnik knows, the end of Shabbat in camp has a uniqueness all its own. Aily Leibtag, Ramah Canada staff member and intern at Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, captured the post-Shabbat experience by holding a girls’ sleepover featuring havdalah, something many of the students had never before experienced. Activities were led by Ramah Canada madrichim wearing Ramah t-shirts (see photo, above). The girls participated in ice-breaking activities typically done on the first night of camp, designed to create friendship and community. Says Aily, “The ability to bring Ramah into the synagogue has made the youth excited about coming to programs. Personally, it gives me the tools to engage the kids in a fun way, but more importantly, in a meaningful way. The response from parents has been very positive and I think the RSC program is mutually beneficial to both Ramah and the synagogues.”
Jewish holidays have also been celebrated with the ruach of Ramah at many synagogues. Marcy Morris, Ramah Darom staff member and intern at B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, FL, organized a Tu Bishvat Israel experience that had children planting and learning about Israeli culture, food, dance and geography through stations centered on different cities in Israel. Students made falafel and salad in Tel Aviv, built tents and sipped tea in the Negev, and wrote their own notes to be placed in the “Kotel” in Jerusalem (see photo, above) Ramah Berkshires staff member Jennifer Stern brought Passover to life at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York with her interactive Passover Experience. Students built pyramids, took part in a blind taste test of different Passover foods, and re-enacted the crossing of the Red Sea.
Another goal of the Ramah Service Corps initiative is to create an awareness of Jewish camp and the transformative effects of a rich Jewish camping experience. Many interns undertook both formal and informal recruitment efforts, from visiting religious school classes to talk about camp to family recruitment evenings, as Ramah Outdoor Adventure staff member Matthew Levitt did at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, IL. While kids participated in carnival and camp games, parents met with Ramah leadership to hear about all that camp has to offer.
Also at the forefront of the Ramah Service Corps initiative is the mentoring and nurturing of the interns and their development as Jewish professionals. Interns participate in a series of training webinars, sponsored by the National Ramah Commission, that are designed to help them build their skills and prepare for their programs. The webinars, led by Dr. Zach Lasker, Ramah Service Corps educator and Director of Melton and Davidson Education Projects at The Jewish Theological Seminary, educate interns on topics ranging from leadership to marketing, and experiential education to programmatic assessment. The webinars also provide a valuable forum for idea sharing among interns. While the focus of last year’s webinars was on experiential education, this year the theme of leadership has guided the training. The first webinar focused on how interns can serve as leaders to market and recruit for camp; other webinars have focused on how interns can convey the “Ramah story” from a vantage point in an organization, as well as on how interns can be leaders for Israel education.
Our young leaders were also nurtured through the Winter Leadership Training for Ramah Service Corps interns. Funded by The Covenant Foundation, the training allows interns to gather together and learn about innovative, experiential camp programming and how to successfully bring it to their communities. The interns were inspired by the program and returned energized by all they had learned.
Looking ahead, the Ramah Service Corps is gearing up for another great year of growth and innovation, and will continue its mission of supporting more young Jewish leaders as they bring the magic of Ramah to communities across North America.
Click here to read biographical profiles of the 2011-12 Ramah Service Corps Interns.
“The ability to bring Ramah into the synagogue has made the youth excited about coming to programs. Personally, it gives me the tools to engage the kids in a fun way, but more importantly, in a meaningful way. ”
Ramah Service Corps Intern