This past week I was privileged to be able to dedicate three days to three significant areas of my job. I devoted time to Breira B’Ramah, the bigger picture of the Conservative Movement and our present and future staff members.
Beginning with last Sunday, I attended a National Ramah day long conference, Al Pi Darko. The conference focused on the various special needs populations in the Ramah camps, highlighting where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow
Well planned and well executed, the conference gathered experts in the field, parents, staff members and directors of the various camp programs. I was proud to attend with several of our key people representing our own Breira B’Ramah program. Over ten years ago, we were the first camp in the Ramah movement to introduce the idea of an inclusive model for campers
I spent time with Jason Lieberman, who twenty years ago, opened my eyes to the need to bring to camp children and teens with different needs. Jason needed and needs crutches to walk. He used a motorized device at times too. He is now 35 and an advocate for people with special needs. He spoke at the conference. I was reminded then that he often publicly states that his high and low points in life were Ramah interactions. His high point was being a camper for three memorable summers and enjoying camp with other teens his age. His low was not being able to participate on Israel Seminar with his peers. Remarkably, this past summer, his parents, enabled the Seminar program to have a wheel chair participant. We have come a long way!
I left the Al Pi Darko conference with keen determination to review our current program and decide the next steps with our Breira B’Ramah committee.
Driving down to Baltimore, later that day, I was energized and ready to participate for a day in the Conversation of the Century, the 100th anniversary convention of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Twelve hundred people committed to the movement – rabbis, supporters and folks from around the globe – gathered to have frank and thought provoking discussions concerning where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow. I was inspired listening to Dr. Ron Wolfson who taught us to think about relationships. He contends that it’s not a new program that will attract and keep folks involved with a synagogue; it is relationships with people that keep people involved. He emphasized that authentic relationships are created at camp.
Of course! Dr. Ron Wolfson has it right —it’s all about the relationships. Long ago, I learned the importance of this from one of my mentors, Dr. Skip Vichness. After Skip left Ramah to pursue other interests in the camping world, he said that what he missed most about Ramah was the people. After spending a full day at the convention and rekindling relationships with many Ramah folks I left inspired to keep cultivating and nurturing those connections.
I then drove down to University of Maryland and met with our staff members. College freshmen, sophomores and juniors met with me, to connect to further their relationships with “camp” through dialogue with me and with each other. I sat with a first year student who was a first year staff member in 2013 and was new to camp. I asked him if he learned any skills in camp that helped him assimilate into college life during these first few weeks. He certainly did
He was new to CRB this past June and now feels he has all kinds of relationships with people his age and older. He developed skills of meeting and connecting with people. Just one summer at CRB helped to make the transition to school that much easier.
The following day I traveled up to JohnsHopkinsUniversity for my first visit there. I spent time with the Hillel director and with our staff members in 1:1 meetings. Each and every staff member I met with thanked me for making the effort to come to see them on their campus. I realized that they enjoy engaging in dialogue in a relaxed setting on their turf. No program. No big meal. Conversation and time – fostering the relationships that we delight in creating as being part of the Ramah family.
Whether it is the connection we enable our Breira B’Ramah campers to have because we provide an amazingly successful summer program or the connections we have with our staff members, we take pride in what we do. This past week’s events for me certainly inspired me to treat each child and teen al pi darko, to treat each according to his/her own needs and to continue to foster those great Ramah connections!