Today is January 18, 2020 -
by Jay Gordman, President of the Board of Trustees
Allison and I had the opportunity to spend a recent Shabbat visiting our boys at Camp Ramah. What a fantastic experience. It isn’t very often that we fully embrace Shabbat, by taking time away from our busy lives, completely disconnecting and simply being with family and friends. It was incredibly refreshing.
Like last year, I was going into the weekend looking for what makes summer camp an important experience for our kids and what brings them back year after year.
This year’s visit provided me with a bit of a surprise. As I spent time with Spencer and Preston, their friends and counselors, the topic of leadership came to the forefront. Much of this had to do with the experiences Spencer is having in his Nivonim summer at camp.
For background, the Nivonim year at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is for kids who are going into 11th grade. It is also the last year they are campers. Each Jewish summer camp has slightly different variations, but leadership is a common theme. Just like everything at camp, leadership development isn’t a class, it is completely experiential. It doesn’t start in the Nivonim year, it has been part of camp since their first year. Here are a few examples of what we observed:
Getting the Job Done
Early in the camping experience, the kids learn responsibility by helping to set up and clear at meals, as well as setting up for Shabbat and daily services.
This experience evolves to spending a summer working with special-needs kids. The kids are integrated into the regular programing, and the leaders spend time 1:1 working to help this special group of campers grow.
As the Nivonim year sets in, the kids are involved in mini- internships where they can help run part of camp or take on a major program. We have campers leading arts programs, dance programs and even the camp-wide sports day.
Camp is Only the Start
Growth as a leader doesn’t end as the camping experience ends. Many of your campers have graduated to the role of counselor. They are now the leaders at summer camp and are beginning to develop the next generation of leaders.
A great example is Zev Krausman’s summers at Camp Ramah Darom. He has had the opportunity to lead key programming areas including farming – only the kid from Nebraska! This summer, several of Beth El’s youth are spending the summer as counselors at Jewish summer camps.
As with all Jewish summer camp experiences, this is an extension of what our kids receive at Beth El. Our kids participate as madrechim at BESTT, tutors at jr. congregation, counselors at Kamp KEF and in leadership roles with USY. Eadie and Amy do a fantastic job of developing our kids into leaders.
No matter how much time I spend at Jewish summer camps, each time I visit I come away more impressed with the experiences our kids are receiving.