Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day

I just received an e-mail message from Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the director of the National Ramah Commission which oversees all of the Ramah summer camps. In his message, Mitch describes the Facebook project taken on by Ari Magen, an 11th grader who used to be a camper at Ramah Poconos. Ari created a Facebook group encouraging all his friends to wear their Ramah Poconos t-shirts to school on November 15. When he began this effort in September, he had no idea how powerful a tool he was creating for the entire Ramah camping movement. According to Ari, over 1000 Ramahniks saw his message and joined the effort.

As I was reading Mitch Cohen’s e-mail about “Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day,” I thought how funny it would be if I was wearing a Ramah t-shirt today by coincidence. I unbuttoned my flannel shirt and looked down to see that I was in fact wearing a Camp Ramah Yahad in Ukraine t-shirt (pictured). Without even trying I participated in this effort.

Here is Ari’s description of “Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day”:

I went on Facebook and created an event called “Wear Your Ramah Shirt to School Day.” When I created it, I was only thinking about the Poconos campers wearing their shirts. I didn’t even think about the other Ramah camps. I was very excited for all of Ramah in the Poconos to don our latest Ramah Shirt. On everyone’s profiles, groups, and events there is a feature called a “Wall”. The wall is a place where people can just write stuff and it can be seen by whomever visits the event site.. The next day, I logged on and started to see comments on the events wall. I expected to see a few comments from my friends, but I realized that these weren’t chanichim from Poconos, but from all of the other Ramah camps. Since I intended for the event to be just for the Poconos, I was very surprised to see other people joining in. But, when I went back and re-read the title of the event, I realized that Poconos wasn’t in the title. You know how every camper thinks their Ramah is just “camp.” Then, I thought “Wow, this was a great mistake that I made!!”

I began receiving questions such as, “I was in Israel this summer, can I still participate?” or “I work, can I wear my shirt anyway?”, or I wasn’t at camp this summer but I want to join in. Is that okay?” and my favorite question was, “I wear a uniform to school, what should I do?” Realizing that people were taking this so seriously, I changed the description of the event to, “Wear your latest Ramah shirt to show your Ramah pride!!! If you wear a uniform I’m very sorry you can’t wear it to school. This is open to all Ramah camps, from Poconos to Israel and everywhere in between!!!! If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to message me.”

Every couple of days I checked to see how many people were “Attending”. After the third day or so it had reached 100 people. After about 3 weeks, there were over 900! Then I put out a challenge to try and get to 1,000 people. By the time I went to bed last night (after choosing which of my many Ramah t-shirts to wear), there were 1058 people.

Make that 1059 Ari. Even if #1059 was by accident.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Is Camp Ramah TOO Jewish?

The Forward just published an interesting article about a long-standing debate: “Is Jewish summer camp fun enough?” Many parents of Jewish day school students argue that their kids should get a “break” over the summer and not be subjected to more Jewish education. Of course, Jewish summer camps that emphasize prayer and Talmud Torah (Jewish learning) like Camp Ramah, Camp Moshava, Camp Yavneh, Camp Stone, etc. also have other activities like sports, waterskiing, art, and drama.

The opening paragraph of this article is misleading. Columnist Rebecca Spence writes, “At Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Jewish campers wake up every morning at 7:30 and daven the morning prayers. After some swimming or maybe a Frisbee game, the older kids can, if they want, daven again in the afternoon. And at the end of a day that includes a 45-minute Judaic learning session, well, they can… daven again.” Add up the time spent in prayer services (even including the “optional” afternoon and evening minyanim), the 45-minute class, and mealtime and these campers are still left with many hours of typical camp activities.

Rabbi Mitch Cohen (Ramah)My colleague Rabbi Mitch Cohen (pictured), director of the Ramah Camps, makes a bold (but true) statement in this article, explaining, “Families who spend a fortune on day school education and then send their kids to nonreligious programs in the summer in some ways are wasting their investment.”

The trick of course is to create summer camping experiences that emphasize Jewish living 24/7 with prayer services, learning opportunities, and Shabbat observance while also offering serious summer activities like sports. Having served as a staff member at three of the Ramah camps (Wisconsin, Nyack, and Canada), I can honestly say that they are successful at this synergy.

For three summers I served as the director of the Ropes Challenge Course at Camp Ramah in Nyack and was always cognizant of the synergy between Jewish education and outdoor camp fun. In that vein, I published a curriculum that was used at Ramah to teach Jewish values, Hebrew, and Torah to the campers while they were participating in the Ropes course and climbing wall.

I’m optimistic that the Foundation for Jewish Camping will work to ensure that Jewish summer camps where Judaism is a focus will be able to provide top-notch extra-curricular programs like sports taught by instructors one would find at the best sports camps in the country, as well as outdoor adventure activities that rival any secular camp.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller