JTS Leaders Are Inspired By Their Visits To Ramah Camps
"Visiting Ramah is one of the most enjoyable things I get to do all year. Ramah is incredible. It does an amazing job of building the Jewish future and Jewish leaders. Ramah is a critically important part of JTS's mission."
- JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen
Each summer, leaders from The Jewish Theological Seminary visit Ramah camps and have the opportunity to spend time with campers and staff. Topics of conversation range from questions about their own personal Jewish journeys, to the future of Conservative Judaism, to study opportunities at JTS. We are delighted to be able to share with you some of what those JTS leaders and Ramah campers experienced in recent weeks.
Chancellor Eisen and I spent the Shabbat of June 28-30 at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, and inspiration was everywhere. Each year, Chancellor Eisen comes with me to visit at least one camp. Being at Ramah Poconos was especially moving to Chancellor Eisen. "I grew up in Philadelphia but my parents didn't send me to Ramah," he said. "I always wished they had. I finally feel like I've come home."
Dr. Eisen, a scholar of Torah and modern American Judaism, spoke to the entire camp during Kabbalat Shabbat services, and taught various groups of staff and campers throughout Shabbat. During Friday night singing, Chancellor Eisen commented, "I love watching the youngest campers looking wide-eyed as the camp erupts with ruach. Clearly this forms a deep impression, leading to their desire to grow up here." After Shabbat, he said, "I was so moved on Friday night in the chadar ochel when the counselors blessed all their campers prior to kiddush. Watching young counselors then go up to their former counselors to ask for their blessing showed how much of a family there is at Ramah."
(L-R) Rabbi Mitchell Cohen; Andy Markowitz, Rosh Gesher; Chancellor Arnold Eisen; and Rabbi Joel Seltzer, Director
We were also lucky enough to share the camp's joy when two young alumni, Matt Kanoff and Liz Steele, celebrated their aufruf during Shabbat morning services. "Ramah is where our relationship blossomed and it is wonderful to be able to celebrate with these young campers," said Matt. Matt and Liz are getting married on August 25, surrounded by their Ramah friends.
On Sunday morning, Chancellor Eisen addressed the Ramah Poconos Board of Directors, praising the camp and their dedication as lay leaders to the future of Ramah.
Whether in conversations with young Israeli mishlachat members or while teaching the hanhalah (senior camp leaders), Chancellor Eisen shared his great optimism about the future of Ramah, JTS, and the Jewish community. JTS and Ramah are working together more closely than ever, and it was my personal pleasure to accompany Chancellor Eisen to camp and hear his thoughts and reflections.
Dean of JTS Rabbinical School Visits Ramah Berkshires, Ramah Canada, Ramah Darom, and Ramah Nyack
Rabbi Danny Nevins at Ramah Canada with children Sam, Leora, and Talya
Rabbi Daniel Nevins, the Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and Dean of the Division of Religious Leadership at JTS, spent time atBerkshires, Canada, Darom, and Nyack this summer. His reflections on his visits appear below:
"While the primary purposes for my visits to four Ramah camps this summer were to reinforce the relationship between JTS and Ramah, and to scout for new talent to recruit for our undergraduate and graduate programs, I also went with an ulterior motive. Well, two, to be truthful, since I was certainly eager to see my own three kids at Ramah Canada. But I also wanted feedback on a prayer that I have written for the forthcoming Siddur Lev Shalem. It is an environmental prayer for Shabbat designed for the end of the Torah service, and I have written it in both Hebrew and in English. At three camps--Berkshires, Canada, and Darom--I taught the prayer to a small group of camp educators and asked for their feedback. Each time I was treated to some positive response followed by constructive criticism. And each time I went back to the text and edited it a little more so that it could benefit from the collective wisdom of our Ramah community. In addition, the beautiful natural setting of many prayer services at the various camps helped me access the blend of awe and textual allusion that could enrich this prayer throughout the year. I am grateful for the opportunity to study and pray with the campers and staff of Ramah and will hold these memories dear as we enter into the new Jewish year."
JTS Executive Vice Chancellor Spends Shabbat at Ramah New England
(L-R) Rabbi Ed Gelb, Director; Michelle and Marc Gary; and Josh Edelglass, Assistant Director
Camp Ramah in New England had the privilege of hosting Marc and Michelle Gary as guests the Shabbat of July 12-13. Marc is the Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer of JTS. In addition, Marc and Michelle are Ramah New England parents and Michelle is a Ramah New England alumna.
Marc shared words of Torah with the high-school-aged Machon and Nivonim campers, speaking about the power of words to shape an experience. As we strive to do at Ramah, he tied together our Jewish and American identities, connecting the beginning of Moses' speech
אלה הדברים to the 130th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. He challenged campers and staff to use speech like Moses and Lincoln in order to sanctify our experiences both at camp and in our lives year-round.
Micah Cowen, a Nivonim camper, said, "I feel like the Garys' visit was beneficial both for Nivonim as a whole and for me personally. I think that his speech was applicable to people in our day and age, and really spoke to our edah. Having someone from JTS come to speak to us was very meaningful to me because I feel like he is an important leader in the Conservative Movement, and it shows what it means to be a leader of a people." Yoni Gelb, a Machon camper, added, "I like how he connected the Torah with American history because we study American history in school and that made it very relatable."
Later in the day, Marc greeted former and current JTS students for a Shabbat afternoon oneg overlooking the lake. Among the group were not only incoming and graduating students, but also rabbis and cantors already in the field, including a recent JTS graduate en route to her naval chaplaincy post off the coast of Japan. Marc and Michelle joined the camp in closing out Shabbat with the poignant experience of seudah shlishit and havdalah, capping off a Shabbat of intellectual and emotional encounters enriched by the Garys' visit.
Ramah California Hosts JTS Provost
Dr. Alan Cooper, the Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies and Provost of JTS, spent the Shabbat of July 12-13 at Camp Ramah in California. During his visit, he led a discussion with Solelim (entering 8th graders) about the words, "Shabbat Shalom." In addition, he spent time talking to madrichim and mishlachat on topics in Jewish education and leadership.
Campers and staff members were delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Cooper. "He has an incredibly broad spectrum of knowledge and he truly understands the wisdom of the Conservative Movement. It made me feel more empowered as a Conservative Jew and that I had more say in the future of the Jewish people," said counselor Gabe Kachuck.
Tzevet member Emma Maier added, "Dr. Cooper was so down to earth and willing to talk about anything. ... As I come from a Reform background, hearing from someone high up in the Conservative Movement really changed my perspective. He also spoke briefly about performing at Woodstock, and it was amazing to see how someone could have two different sides that really complement each other." (Emma's reference to Woodstock alludes to the fact that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Cooper performed in the band Sha Na Na.)
JTS Provost Alan Cooper with Wendy Rosenthal, Yoetzet
Dr. Cooper found his visit to be rewarding and inspiring. He said, "I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for your important work. ... my moments of engagement with kids and staff alike were a delight. My biggest regret was not having allotted more time, especially for conversation with the members of your extraordinary staff (including the shlichim)."