Celebrating Tikvah and Founders Barbara and Herb Greenberg

The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England’s overnight program in Palmer continues to be the premier Jewish camp program for children, teens and young adults with disabilities. Each summer, this richly developed program serves 75 young people with a wide range of learning, social and developmental differences. Our summer community of over 1,000 people is enlivened by the inclusion of young people of all abilities who share in the magic of camp. And we continue to seek opportunities to make the Ramah experience available to an ever widening circle of campers and staff members.

Today, it is hard to imagine CRNE without the Tikvah Program; it is as integral to camp life as the Agam (lake), the Horshah (Grove), the fields, and the other camp edot (units). It is the visionary leadership of Barbara and Herb Greenberg, who founded the Tikvah Program in 1970 and who served as its directors until 1998, that has made CRNE the extraordinary community it is today.

Kayitz 2019 will be Tikvah’s fiftieth summer. On April 1, hundreds of Ramahniks gathered in Jerusalem to mark this milestone and to pay tribute to the Greenbergs’ extraordinary leadership. They received a lifetime achievement award from the Ramah movement and spoke movingly about the impact of Tikvah in the lives of countless campers and families, and in their own lives.

In their remarks, Barbara and Herb emphasized that the success of Tikvah was not a foregone conclusion in 1970, when it was viewed as a radical departure from the usual segregation of people with developmental disabilities; a number of other camps had previously rejected the program. The Greenbergs emphasized that Ramah’s willingness to embrace this experimental program “paralleled the well-known midrash in which God offers the Torah to various nations, but only Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) accepts it.”

During Barbara and Herb’s nearly thirty years of leadership, Tikvah has become an exemplary model of inclusion of people with disabilities. The impact of their work is felt every summer in Palmer and has created ripples of inclusion and acceptance throughout the Ramah movement, in Jewish camps everywhere, and in many Jewish communal organizations in the U.S. and Israel. We are forever indebted to the Greenbergs for their wisdom and tenacity in forging a new path for young people with disabilities. Todah Rabbah!


Barbara and Herb Greenberg taught adolescents with developmental disabilities in the Nassau County, New York public school system for several decades. In 1970, they launched the Tikvah Program and directed it through the summer of 1998; they then moved to Israel. They have had several opportunities to reflect on Tikvah’s early years and its continuing impact and legacy.*

Barbara and Herb identified the significant need for an inclusive Jewish summer camp:

In the late 1960s, most children and adults with disabilities were being returned from institutions to their communities. It was an enormous challenge for Jewish families. As the Greenbergs noted, at that time, “Jewish communal and religious institutions did not have the resources to deal with these revolutionary changes in the mental health arena. … Families of these children remained invisible to the Jewish communities [but] craved a Jewish education and identity for their children.” [2] It was a challenge to even identify and then recruit the eight adolescents with developmental disabilities who would form the first cohort of the Tikvah Program. And the recruits themselves had never experienced social interactions with their non-disabled peers. [2]

The program was offered to other camps, but only Camp Ramah was willing to undertake it:

Barbara and Herb shared their “concept of a summer camping program for youngsters with special needs … to various Jewish organizations during the winter of 1969-1970, but only Camp Ramah in Glen Spey, New York, which would later relocate to Palmer, Massachusetts, directed by the late Donny Adelman, embraced the challenge, the opportunity, and the responsibility of initiating such a program.” [3]

Once the program was launched in kayitz 1970, Donny was its consistent champion. He talked about Tikvah at every staff meeting, telling the staff that the program “provided a structure whereby the entire community could concretize many of the Jewish values inherent in the Jewish educational curriculum of the camp.” [2]

Barbara and Herb worked to change attitudes in the early years of the program:

From the start, Barbara and Herb sought to maximize the opportunities provided to the Tikvah participants. Yet many staff members, including Israelis, were uncomfortable around people with disabilities and unaccustomed to having them in their midst. [2] The “thinking of the time [was] that youngsters with special needs should be separated from the community.”[2]

From our current vantage point, it is hard to imagine that in 1970, “virtually no one had ever encountered this population since, at that time, they were not integrated into communities, synagogues, youth groups, or schools.” [3] The Greenbergs, along with the rest of the Tikvah staff, urged the staff and campers to avoid categorically labeling Tikvah participants and instead to “evaluate each Tikvah camper as an individual with specific strengths and needs.” [1] Facing resistance from some staff members, the Greenbergs had to fight hard to ensure that Tikvah participants got access to the same camp activities – and even access to the same medical services. [1]

There was much that was entirely new in the program’s philosophy and approach. In that first summer, the Greenbergs “informed our staff that, with God’s help, we would develop, together, a new ‘oral Torah’ based on Jewish values, that would change societal attitudes, expectations, and goals for this population.” [3]

Reflecting on the legacy of their work at Ramah:

As a very early mainstreaming effort, there were no models to guide the development of the Tikvah Program. It was “necessary to work closely with camp leadership to develop goals and expectations for Tikvah population before each innovative project was introduced.” [1]

Barbara and Herb emphasize that “Camp Ramah was open to institutional change and afforded us opportunities for experimentation and innovation.” [2] Tikvah’s inclusive model also “spawned many additional projects through Jewish North America” and in Israel. [1] This model also encouraged the parents of Tikvah participants to seek greater integration of their children in school. [1]

Looking back almost fifty years, the Greenbergs can see that their work not only transformed the lives of the campers who participated in the Tikvah Program but the Ramah community as a whole. “We never anticipated how the inclusion of the Tikvah Program in all its various aspects would stir the spiritual senses of the Ramah community and encourage so many of its members to discover enriched value and significance in mitzvot.” [2]

* This information is taken from two articles authored by Barbara and Herb Greenberg, [1] “The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England,” Forward from 50 (1999), and [2] “Our Tikvah Mission: A Recipe for Leadership,” Ramah at 60: Impact and Innovation (2010), both published by the National Ramah Commission; [3] their remarks at a Tikvah event in Jerusalem on April 1, 2019; and an interview.

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