More than 450 professional and lay leaders, funders and camper and staff alumni from seven overnight camps, three day camps, and Israel programs—all proudly bearing the name Ramah—came together at The Jewish Theological Seminary on Sunday, October 14, 2007 to celebrate 60 years of Jewish camping. The “Onward from Sixty” conference and celebration was underwritten by a generous grant from Phyllis and Ab Flatt of Toronto, Canada.
The Ramah Camping Movement currently serves over 6,500 campers and 1,500 college-aged staff members each summer, and has touched tens of thousands of lives over the past 60 years. Professor Arnold M. Eisen, the new chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, stated in his keynote address that “Ramah is one of the most successful endeavors the Conservative Movement has ever created, because at Ramah we can create Jewish time and Jewish space, without interruption from general society.” Chancellor Eisen continued, “We need to take the lessons and patterns of Ramah and extend them to many other aspects of our Movement, to inspire more commitment, more passion, and more Jewish pride.”
Panelists included (l-r) Ab Flatt, Jerry Silverman, Julie Beren Platt, Harold Grinspoon, John Ruskay, Peter Geffen
Programs throughout the day featured discussions on a wide range of topics, including Israel programming, leadership development, the educational mission of Ramah, special needs camping, and research studies on the impact of Ramah on the Jewish attitudes and practices of college students. Trinity College researcher Dr. Ariella Keysar presented her extraordinary findings about the significant impact of Ramah on college students, noting that Ramah graduates are three time more likely to date only Jews, four times more likely to attend synagogue services, and three times as likely as the general Jewish population to spend significant time in Israel. At another session, presenter Dr. Joseph Reimer of Brandeis University, a Ramah alumnus, urged the audience to encourage the best and brightest of the Conservative Movement to consider becoming future directors of Ramah camps.
In addition to camp reunions, dinner, singing and Israeli dancing, the conference featured a panel discussion entitled “Investing in Ramah: Our Extraordinary Past and Dreams for the Future.” The discussion was moderated by National Ramah Director, Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, and National Ramah Assistant Director, Amy Skopp Cooper. Rabbi Cohen stated that “Ramah camps, through their integrated systems of formal and informal Jewish educational experiences, inspire young people to become more committed to Judaism as a culture, a religion, and as a way of life."
Panelists included philanthropist Harold Grinspoon and the president of the Foundation for Jewish Camping, Jerry Silverman. Both encouraged federations, foundations and funders to give more generously to Jewish camping, which is now recognized as the most effective vehicle for building strong Jewish identity. Another panelist, Dr. John Ruskay, a Ramah alumnus and currently the executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, urged the Ramah leadership to maintain and strengthen Ramah’s religious and educational core values. Peter Geffen of Kivunim, also a Ramah alumnus, emphasized that an extraordinarily large percentage of North American professional Jewish leadership shares a Ramah experience.
Reunion of campers and staff from Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Wingdale, NY
The day culminated with a screening of “Ramah: Transforming Lives,” a newly-produced short film, as well as in-house entertainment from Ramah alumni who have gone on to become professionals in theater, music and opera.
Throughout the day, Ramah alumni from 60 years reunited and told stories of the great impact that Ramah has had on their lives. In one touching moment, the president of Camp Ramah in California, Julie Beren Platt, whose husband Marc Platt is the producer of the Broadway show Wicked, became acquainted with Caissie Levy, a member of the current Wicked cast on Broadway and a former camper and staff member at Camp Ramah in Canada. As Julie met and embraced Caissie, soon to be the lead in the Los Angeles production of Wicked, they both commented that their Ramah connection made this very special.
Conference co-chairs included Morton M. Steinberg, Chair, Board of Trustees of the National Ramah Commission, Inc.; Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director; Amy Skopp Cooper, National Ramah Assistant Director; and Dr. Jeffrey Kress, Assistant Professor of Jewish Education, The Jewish Theological Seminary.
Ramah is the camping arm of Conservative Judaism. Ramah programs operate under the educational and religious supervision of The Jewish Theological Seminary.
Visit the National Ramah website at www.campramah.org.