Bruchim Ha'baim
November 2017 / Kislev 5778

Greetings from Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Network Director
We are excited to share our second edition of Tikvah Connects with our large Tikvah family, including participants, families, and staff extending back to Tikvah’s founding in 1970 by Herb and Barbara Greenberg. 

We invite you to read about some of the many wonderful people and programs within the Tikvah community. In this issue, we share news about:

  • Staff members and campers who continue their amazing camp relationship year round
  • Former Tikvah staff who continue to lead in the field of Jewish disabilities inclusion and education
  • A new Ezra vocational education program
  • Participants with disabilities successfully included on Ramah Israel Seminar

Our second edition arrives in your inbox at a very exciting time. Here are a few highlights of recent and upcoming events in our Tikvah Network:

  • Last week, several of our Tikvah directors, an inclusion specialist, and four young Tikvah leaders joined 1,300 people committed to disability inclusion at the 2nd Ruderman Inclusion Summit in Boston. (Read more)
  • More than 20 young adults from our various Tikvah camping and vocational training programs will join senior staff from our Tikvah Programs on our first-ever Birthright Israel: Amazing Israel-Ramah Tikvah trip in December. While there have been many past Tikvah Israel trips, this trip offers the Birthright Israel experience to participants and alumni of our various programs. (Read more)
  • At the beginning of 2018, a special group of Tikvah staff will participate in the Tikvah track at the Bert B. Weinstein Training Institute at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California under the direction of Orlee Krass, our National Ramah staff trainer and Tikvah Director at Camp Ramah in the Poconos.

As always, we invite your questions, comments, and article ideas. Please contact me at or (413) 374-7210.

Tikvah Year-Round Connections
Nate & Jake: Two Sides of a Special Tikvah Relationship 
by Jake Wassermann (Tikvah staff member) and Suzanne Aisenberg (parent of a participant in Tikvah)

Jake: Walking into kayitz 2016 at Camp Ramah in the Poconos , I was extremely nervous. Although I was a veteran of 11 camp summers, this time I was part of the launching of Yedidim, the camp’s new Tikvah program . The program’s inaugural summer would involve six chanichim, seven madrichim (including myself), one rosh edah , and one director. 

My experience with this kind of program was limited. I had been a chaver at Poconos' Tikvah Family Camp twice, but beyond that I had had little exposure to the nuances, complexities, and beauties of the world of special needs education. 

I greeted Nate as soon as his bus arrived on the first day of second session. We shared a lot about one another within the first 10 minutes, including our birthdates, and our siblings' names, birthdates, and ages. We soon moved on to one of my favorite topics: the New York City subway system. As a student in the Joint Program between Columbia and The Jewish Theological Seminary, I have become comfortable with navigating the subway, but Nate blew me away with his knowledge of it. He listed all of the stops on almost every line, all connection points, and explained how he would journey from his apartment to anywhere in the city. 

Nate and I have hung out once a week since the end of camp that summer, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the subway map through Nate's eyes. Together we have walked through Central Park and looked at the trees, travelled to a Dunkin’ Donuts in Harlem, and ridden many a subway car, Uber, cab, bus, Lyft, and Via together. I got to see Nate order his favorite meal from his favorite restaurants, and Nate had the opportunity to visit me at my job selling cookie dough, volunteering for a few minutes as I worked. 

Whenever I glance at a map to find my way home or figure out which train to take, I am reminded of the joy, curiosity, and wonder that Nate must experience when he looks at the same image. I am beyond grateful for Ramah, and for Nate for always helping me navigate this world.

Suzanne: When our son Nathaniel arrived home in August 2016 from Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where he attended the inaugural year of the Tikvah Program (thank you, Orlee Krass and Rabbi Joel!) he expressed how excited he was to know that his counselor, Jake, would be a student at Columbia University. "That's on the Upper West Side," he told me (not too far from our apartment on the Upper East Side). 

Forming friendships and engaging in social situations can be challenging for Nate as a 17-year old on the autism spectrum. What a thrill it was when Orlee and Jake reached out to our family to see if it would be possible for Jake to spend time with Nate during the school year. The Thursday evening "homework and dinner" routine became a highlight of Nate's week, and now that Nate has completed year two at Ramah Poconos, he is excited to continue these weekly visits, and also to welcome other counselors as they come through New York City. The connections have been remarkable for Nathaniel—he can't wait for camp again next year!
A Word from Tikvah Vatikim (Veterans)
My Journey from Tikvah to Executive Director at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education 
By Arlene Remz

It was summer of 1977 and the federal special education law, the precursor to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), had just been passed two years earlier. Tikvah was still young (in its sixth year), with Herb and Barbara Greenberg at the helm, and I had just graduated college and was about to start a career in special education. I was thrilled to return to Ramah for my fourth summer, this time as a Tikvah counselor. 

The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England was the beginning of the complete intertwining of my professional path in special education with my involvement in the Jewish community. My personal story also got tied in, as that summer I met fellow Tikvah counselor Sandy Remz, whom I later married.

My vision and understanding of how campers with disabilities could be included in Jewish life and community was forged that exhilarating summer. It was in large part to the support and inspiration from fellow counselors who were working in special education and related fields, and from Herb and Barbara, who were trailblazers and extraordinary mentors. 
Spotlight on New Programs
A New Ezra (Voc Ed) Program
By Daniel Olson

A beautiful, productive, and educational camp vegetable garden. Chanichim eagerly awaiting their boxes of nishnoosh (snack), and munching happily once they arrive. Staff members enjoying cholent as they learn together on a Shabbat afternoon. 

These wonderful vignettes came to be at Ramah Galim this past summer thanks to contributions of the two participants of Ramah Galim’s Ezra (vocational training) program, which I had the privilege of managing in its inaugural summer.

I am a PhD student in education and Jewish studies at NYU, where I’m working on a dissertation exploring inclusion in Jewish communities. In the past, I served as a rosh eidah in the Atzmayim vocational program at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and visited a number of vocational programs at Jewish summer camps for a research paper I published in the Journal of Jewish Education . When I saw that Ramah Galim was starting a new vocational program, I jumped at the opportunity to bring what I had learned from my research into practice. 

The Ezra participants spent their mornings sampling an array of activities, including horseback riding, boogie boarding, cycling, performing arts, and kayaking. They helped staff members facilitate the activities as much as possible by setting up kayaks, packing for the masa (overnight trip), and serving as role models for younger campers.
Spotlight on Ramah Israel
Inclusion on Ramah Seminar 2017
This past summer, Camp Ramah in New England Tikvah campers Debbie M. and Cameron B. participated in Ramah Israel Seminar. Debbie, 18, from Westchester, County, NY, and Cameron, 17, from the suburbs of Philadelphia, joined 220 other teenage Ramah campers for the intensive six-week Israel touring experience.

Debbie and Cameron were excited to broaden their Ramah friendships beyond those they’d made over the years at camp in Palmer, MA, and to visit sites they had not previously been to on family trips to Israel.

Seminar makes inclusion of campers with special needs a priority, and emphasizes community building through the lens of disabilities inclusion.

Click here to read what Debbie and Cam said about their Seminar experience.
New Partnerships
First-Ever Birthright Israel: Amazing Israel & Ramah Tikvah Trip!
By Renee Ghert-Zand

A partnership between Ramah Tikvah, Amazing Israel and Birthright Israel brings young adults with disabilities to Israel

Los Angeles Jewish communal professional Michelle Wolf’s daughter had been on a Birthright Israel trip, and she wanted her 22-year-old son Danny to have the same experience. But until recently, she thought that a free Israel tour together with young peers was not in the cards for Danny, who has cerebral palsy and many specialized needs.

To Wolf’s delight, her son is headed to Israel this December on the first-ever Birthright Israel: Amazing Israel-Ramah Tikvah trip. Ramah, the camping arm of Conservative Judaism, has organized Israel trips for Tikvah Program participants and alumni in the past. This, however, is the first one being offered in collaboration with the exceptionally successful initiative that has brought more than 600,000 young Jews to Israel since 1999.
The Beauty of Yes
By Michelle Wolf

When you have a child with significant disabilities, you get used to hearing “no.”

From nationally recognized speech therapists who say, “Sorry, my cutting-edge techniques won’t work for your son,” after you have schlepped the family halfway across the country to work with them, to Jewish educators who will open their classrooms to some “higher-functioning” students with special needs but not to those who need one-to-one assistance. Not to mention navigating the world of special education in the public school system in which you need to become an expert on the governing federal laws in order to get the services to which your child is entitled.

Such was the case with Birthright. Although I have worked on and off as a Jewish community professional for many years, I never imagined that our son, Danny, now 23, would be able to go on Birthright — the program providing free Israel trips to adults between 18 and 26 — in spite of the fact that he would be the perfect candidate in many ways.
ISO/Network Helping Make Connections
There are times when families in our network look for Jewish roommates for their adult children. At others, disability inclusion organizations let us know they are looking to hire staff. The National Ramah Tikvah Network is committed to trying to help make such “shidduchs,” or connections.

In this space, ISO (In Search Of), we list the opportunities and situations we know of. Please join the National Ramah Tikvah Network Facebook group for updates and to share “ISO” opportunities as they come up between issues of Tikvah Connects. 
  • New York City family (on Manhattan’s Upper West side) seeks a companion and mentor to work with a wonderful 27-year-old female Ramah New England Tikvah Program attendee. 5 days/ week, 4 hours/day (Fridays are flexible). There is a possibility for more hours as well. Please contact Leora Lipton at 917-400-0762.
More Highlights from Our Camps