The day I got the email our family’s life changed. The president of our synagogue had forwarded it to me from a member who regularly donated to the Tikvah Family Camp program at Ramah in the Poconos. He thought that there might be families at our synagogue who would be interested in attending the program.
All of the major signposts of my life are linked to my attending Jewish residential camp at Camp Ramah, in Ojai, California. My career working with individuals with disabilities started at Ramah. Ramah is where I met my dearest friends. Ramah friends introduced me to my husband, so it was fitting that two years later we were married there.
Camp has been a magical time for all seven of our children. They’ve had a wide range of experiences from being campers to working as staff. Camp has enlarged my children’s circle of friends as well as provided a variety of new experiences. Shira will be joining her siblings next summer as she goes from being a camper to working at Camp Kaylie.
There are professions, there are jobs, and there are fields that you go into because it matches everything you value. I am a Jewish communal professional — I’ve been a camp counselor and unit head, a youth group director, a therapist and a middle school guidance counselor. I am constantly overwhelmed that people allow me into the most private and intimate parts of their lives. They trust me to listen and be supportive during some of their most vulnerable times, such as my job at URJ Camp Coleman.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM)! JDAIM is “is a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them.a unified initiative to raise awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide.” Inclusion at Jewish camp is a topic that is very important to us at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Many of the camps we work with offer programs to campers with a wide range of disabilities. We are working to increase these opportunities, elevate staff training on inclusion, and increase community awareness about the inclusion programs that exist around them. To further the effort, we are running a series dedicated to discussing disabilities at Jewish camp this month.
Tawonga just launched our very first bar and bat mitzvah training in the Bay Area, and I am so excited to offer more context here on our blog about this program.
My first summer at Jewish camp was back in 1994. In a move a bit out of character, I returned home from Hebrew school one day BEGGING my parents to send me to camp. And while my parents supported this choice, I’m sure there was some hesitation about having a bunch of college students “parent” in their stead for a month.
I love my girls. We have a blast together. We ski ALOT. We make endless fun of each other. Secret shopping trips and schlep into the city to seek out the newest ramen restaurant. But between passing 8th grade math and 6th grade science, Hebrew school carpools and sports practices, my relationship with my husband (who I also love dearly) barely has a chance of making it past the negotiations of who is driving carpool to a camp friend’s Bat Mitzvah nearly two hours away that weekend.
Standing in a tight circle in the woods of Northern California, a dozen 11-year-old boys brace their bodies to catch their companion. With eyes closed, body clenched, and arms crossed over his chest, the boy in the middle of the circle calls out to his summer camp bunkmates: “Spotters ready??”
“For my house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:5)