Richard Gavatin & Linda Spitzer Gavatin

We met at Camp Ramah in Israel in the magical summer of 1968. We were both 15.

There were two kids from Sweden. I was one of them. I met the girl who became my wife then. Her name is Linda from St. Louis, where we live now.

We had a great time; this was the first summer that Camp Ramah was in Israel. We arrived in Jerusalem, the Goldstein Village, and before we even unpacked, we were taken to a big hall and given a lecture on security and safety. This was the summer after the Six-Day War.

We traveled all over Israel for 7 weeks. We visited almost 100% of Israel. We were in Haifa, Safed and the Golan Heights in the North, Caesarea, Natanya, Herzliya and Tel-Aviv on the Mediterranean, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, in the middle of the country. We were at the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi (the most beautiful place on earth?). We visited Sde Boker where Ben-Gurion’s Kibbutz was, and we spent a lot of time in Eilat.

We participated in an outdoor concert in Bethlehem with Richard Tucker and other singers in Verdi’s Requiem. Beautiful. What an atmosphere. We visited Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem and my wife, who is a Five Generation Hadassah volunteer, regarded that as a highlight – we both now volunteer for Hadassah in the States. We were all over the place. We even ventured in to Gaza which back then – already – was a very unfriendly place.

Linda and I were “boyfriend/girlfriend” in Israel. Very innocent, holding hands, but we were apparently lovers in our heart, as we never forgot each other after that. I went back to Sweden and she went to college (in Ohio, but still), and then she came to visit me in Sweden and I came to St. Louis and then I moved here in 1987 and we got married in a Conservative Synagogue.

One of the signs that we were “close” already then, at the age of 15, was that one day we were given some “free” time in Tel-Aviv and I wanted to buy a gift for my mom in Sweden. I asked Linda if she wanted to go with me to help me pick out something. We found a necklace that I gave to my mother and that she wore every single day between 1968 and 1984 when she passed away. When I came to St. Louis, three years later, I gave it “back” to Linda and asked if remembered it. She did.

We have no kids but Linda’s siblings do, and their kids are at Camp Ramah, and Linda’s brother, and sister-in-law (now a rabbi) used to be counselors at Camp Ramah.

How important for my sense of belonging was Camp Ramah? Immeasurable. No words can adequately describe the role of that summer in my commitment to Judaism. It was the turning point for me and without that summer at Camp Ramah, I would most likely have gone the way most European young Jews go: into assimilation. That is a one-way street with no return. Thanks to Camp Ramah I survived as a Jewish person! Thanks and congratulations on 60 years, and we wish you the best for the next 60!

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