It was Friday night, June 29, 1956 — the first Shabbat of the first full summer of Camp Ramah in California. One hundred and fifty of us, probably dressed in white, sat nervously on benches in Kikkar Tziyyon, as that area of camp had been named, waiting for the kabbalat shabbat service to begin.
I grew up in a small Jewish community, and for the first time I was exposed to the religiosity of Ramah, which had a huge impact on my life. Our counselors spoke mostly Hebrew to us, and it was great. I learned so much from this experience, which sustained me throughout my life.
In the course of my junior year at Hebrew University, I met dozens of Ramahniks from across the United States and Canada and was impressed with their common commitment to Jewish life, as well as by their unbridled enthusiasm about Ramah.
In the movies, when the hero or heroine has the defining, life-changing moment, the camera dramatically swoops in, the music swells to a crescendo, and the rain suddenly stops as birds begin to sing.
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 definitely would not have moved to Israel if it were not for Camp Ramah. Looking back on all these years, I think that camp, like Israel, was a kind of utopia.
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.
Looking back to my Ramah experiences, I can trace a clear connection to my years in Ramah and my eventual aliyah. I began a long (and still ongoing) career with Ramah in 1957 at the age of ten at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.
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.