“Camp time always had another meaning for me: it’s the strange time-bending phenomenon that makes a few weeks feel like years, as can only occur in the summertime, at sleepaway camp. Deep friendships are forged, sagas unravel, and memories are stored away, all the in the space of a few weeks. During the rest of […]
A camper at Ramah Berkshires (1966–1971), a counselor at Berkshires and Poconos (1973–1976), and then a yo’etz and educator at New England (1993–2000), my memories of Ramah span three phases of my life: childhood, young adulthood, and fatherhood.
I was always interested in Jewish tradition from the time I was very young although I didn’t grow up in a halachically observant home. I was thrilled to go to Israel on the Ramah Community Program (part of Ramah Seminar) in 1970.
This is a story I have wanted to share for a long time, but I knew that it would be understood only by those who have been touched by the magic of a Camp Ramah experience.
I was sixteen when I first attended a Ramah camp. It was an eye-opening experience for me. It was the beginning of more than twenty summers in which I thrived at four Ramah camps, not to mention an occasional Shabbat at Nyack as a Jewish Theological Seminary ( JTS) student.
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.
I started my twenty-five years at Ramah in the summer of 1951 as a junior counselor at Ramah in the Poconos. My senior counselor was Yochanan Muffs, z”l. On the other side of the bunk, the senior counselor was Samuel Schafler, z”l, later to become president of Hebrew College.
Ramah didn’t just “change my life” in the colloquial sense. It really changed my life in virtually every sense and every way.
I spent most of my summers during that wonderful decade, the 1960s, at Camp Ramah — or better, Camps Ramah: the Poconos, Nyack, Israel Seminar, back to Poconos for Mador, and then three summers at Ramah in the Berkshires, where I ended my Ramah career as segan rosh machon.
My friends’ stories about life at summer camps with Indian-sounding names hardly prepared me for my first summer at Ramah in the Berkshires. I had expected that like my friends from home, I, too, would learn survival skills and improve my performance on the ball field.