The writing on the cake said “Israel Seminar 1966 – 50th Anniversary,” and although nearly 30 participants of the original 82 (plus a number of spouses and partners) had already been together for 24 hours, there was still a feeling of wonder and amazement as we looked back together. After all, many of us had not seen each other in 50 years! As participant Howard Winter said, “I can’t describe to any of you what this Shabbat has meant to me. So much came flooding back in such a short time. It was wonderful to see the kind of people our Ramah friends have become.”
The first Seminar to Israel was organized in 1962, and we were the 5th group of wide-eyed 16- and 17-year-olds that Ramah brought to Israel for an 8-week summer experience of touring, exploring, and learning. We came from Ramah camps in Pennsylvania, New York, New England, Wisconsin, and Canada. Many of us had never traveled by plane before, and certainly not overseas. We all remembered the excitement of landing on the old airstrip at the Lod airport, a few even bending to kiss the ground. Furthermore, the State of Israel, established in 1948, was only one year older than we were! Of course, to teenagers, anything before we were born seemed like ancient history.
Israel was, to our inexperienced eyes, a rapidly developing country with ancient ruins and vast expanses of desert and mountains, but also modern buildings, hotels, beaches, and populated cities. Still one year before the Six Day War, we were unable to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, then within Jordan’s borders. But we were able to peek over the rooftop of a tall (8-story?) building through well-guarded sandbags and over the walls into the Old City. Security was always a concern, even then, and we were searched on buses and in movies and supermarkets. Yet, we were also aware that we, as American Jews in Israel, were having a unique experience of belonging to the majority culture for the first time in our lives.
On September 16, we travelled to Temple Adath Israel in Merion, PA, from Israel, California, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and the Philadelphia area to remember, recall and reminisce. What ensued was a traditional Ramah Shabbat as we remembered it, with services (using the traditional melodies from 1966), singing of old popular songs, and enjoying Shabbat meals together. No Ramah experience is complete without study, and participants prepared Divrei Torah and afternoon programs: Israel: Then and Now; Israel: 50 Years of Business and Technology; Ramah: 50 Years of Evolution; and Jewish Education: Then, Now, and Moving Forward.
Following Havdalah, we had an evening of socializing, watching old “home-movies” taken that summer of our exploits, and singing old pioneer songs of a former generation! The weekend concluded with Sunday brunch, where the main topic of conversation was how we might continue to nurture the renewed connections with the group. We all agreed that we should hold our next reunion in Israel in a few years!Barry Mann commented that, “It was really a wonderful weekend of re-connection — and meant so, so much to me on many levels. I really found it to be a profound and inspiring life milestone.” A common life-changing experience, even for only two months so many years ago, has continued to bind us together, and we all felt richer for it.We are indebted to Rabbi Abigail Treu and Reshet Ramah for providing support services in anticipation of this reunion: helping to locate participants, providing administrative assistance, and managing the registration and finances for us. If other groups are interested in a reunion of their own, we can now offer an established format to facilitate your efforts!