Joseph Eskin just finished a year as a Fellow at Mechon Hadar. He was a camper for five summers at Ramah Wisconsin and worked as a staff member for eight years, three of them as the Rosh Eidah for Tikvah, and most recently as Rosh Yahadut. He is originally from Evanston, Illinois and now lives in New York City.
Like a lot of kids who grow up at Ramah camps, during the years I spent at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, I dreamed of one day becoming a counselor. Camp was important to me for so many reasons: it was where I connected most deeply with Judaism, where I hung out with my best friends, and where I learned to be a community leader. I hoped that one day I could help make Ramah the same kind of place for my campers. When I was hired as a Tikvah counselor in the summer of 2010, though, I worried that I would not be able to live out my dream of what it meant to be a counselor. As a camper, I had spent hardly any time interacting with campers in Tikvah – which at Wisconsin includes campers with social and learning differences, many of them on the Autism Spectrum – and I doubted that my job as a counselor would bear any resemblance to the goals I had dreamed of.
Seven years later, I look back on my work with Tikvah, that summer and in the five summers which followed, as my proudest accomplishment, and give thanks for the skills I have gained and the lessons I have learned. As a high school teacher, I try to see every student as an individual, to notice what works for each student and what doesn’t, and to help each student grow in the areas most important to them. My work in Tikvah pushed me to set high expectations for all my campers and students, to expect great things of them and to find ways to support them on the path to achieving such great things. I learned to approach those around me with a problem-solving mindset, to start with a belief that any skill or lesson is doable, and to think creatively about how to get there. Most importantly at camp, I realized in my years at Ramah that in Tikvah as much as anywhere else, I could live out my childhood dream of being a counselor. As much as in any other eidot, Ramah is where campers in Tikvah connect most deeply with Judaism, meet their closest friends, and grow into leaders of their community. The growth and learning campers in Tikvah experience over the course of each summer is a model for the kind of development all Ramah campers can have, and I am proud of the impact Tikvah had on my Ramah camp as a whole, demonstrating the centrality of inclusion and diversity to the Ramah experience. I am lucky to have been connected to Tikvah, and I encourage everyone who is interested to seek out similar opportunities.