I grew up on Long Island in a relatively assimilated home. My parents went to the local Conservative synagogue three days a year. Our home was not kosher, yet my mother lit Shabbat candles each Friday night, often after getting home late from the family paint store. The Passover seder was an occasion to use the “good dishes,” not to change the dishes. My father had grown up in an Orthodox home in Brooklyn, and my mother came from a totally nonobservant home. Together they were content with a typical second-generation lifestyle that was proudly Jewish and purposely minimally observant.
For a reason that still remains a mystery to me, my parents decided to send me to a new Jewish camp. It was the summer of 1955, and at the age of seven, I began my Ramah life at Ramah Connecticut. When Connecticut closed, I went on to be a bunk counselor in Palmer. It was this experience that would change my life, and then by extension, the life of my family. There were a handful of individuals who influenced me to follow my career choice of medicine. It was Ramah, however, that influenced how I would ultimately elect to live my life as a Jew and create a Jewish home. It was at Ramah that I developed a love of the Hebrew language, a commitment to Jewish observance and traditions, and a real attachment to the State of Israel.
I was introduced to my future wife by our Hillel rabbi. Barbara had never gone to Ramah; however, she had attended a Federation camp. When Barbara and I talked about getting married, I insisted that we visit Ramah together. So one Sunday in the summer of 1968, we drove up to Ramah in New England. On the way home, I informed her rather matter-of-factly that someday our children would go to Ramah. For me this was a given, not even open for discussion. Barbara developed her love for Ramah as she watched our four children go through Ramah Berkshires from Kochavim to staff. I, of course, relived my Ramah experience vicariously through my children, summer by summer.
It has been more than fifty years since I first walked into a Ramah camp. Ramah has grown, and its programming has changed with the times, but its educational mission is unchanged. Ramah continues to offer those magical summers that change the lives of both campers and staff. I hope that fifty years from now my grandchildren will still be as enchanted by Ramah as I continue to be.
Charles T Mann, M.D., is president of the National Ramah Commission.