Family camp weekend is filled with activities!

This article was found in the Jewish voice and Herald. The link to the article can be found HERE.

Camp Ramah offers a family-friendly package

PALMER, Mass. – Have you ever wanted to attend your child’s overnight summer camp? Did you miss out on overnight camp altogether as a child? If so, Camp Ramah’s family weekend is for you.

During this past Memorial Day weekend, my husband, our two children (ages 8 and 4) and I attended family camp at the Conservative movement’s Camp Ramah in Palmer, Mass., one of a series of Ramah camps around the country.

I never did any Jewish camping as a child, or any overnight summer camp of any kind, for that matter. My husband had attended Jewish overnight camp as a child with “the other team,” as he calls it – a Young Judea Zionist camp.

I had heard vaguely of the Ramah camps but didn’t know anything about them. When I received the email announcement about the family weekend from my rabbi, I have to admit that my first thought was how appealing it would be not to have to cook or do dishes for three days. My second thought was about all the fun activities available – the typical camp smorgasbord of sports, swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, drama games and various age-appropriate activities. My third thought was about the opportunity to do some Jewish activities, including fully observing Shabbat (while we’re involved in our synagogue, we’re not observant).

Indeed, the weekend combined all of these in a welcoming, family-friendly package. The camp is located in a rustic setting on a lake with bunkhouses and community buildings set among tall pine trees. There are also open playing fields, tennis courts and a waterfront area for swimming and boating. We stayed in the camp bunkhouses, one bunkhouse per family. Normally holding about 16 campers, each bunkhouse is a pretty basic affair with rows of bunk beds and a bathroom. Meals were in the camp’s dining hall at large tables, which provided us an opportunity to get to know other families.

The weekend began Friday evening with a Shabbat service in the beautifully rustic but elegant chapel, followed by a Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat and Shabbat-friendly camp activities filled the next day. Sunday and Monday offered, among other things, swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, ultimate Frisbee lessons, tennis lessons, a Sunday night campfire and, for our family, an afternoon snooze. All the activities, including the religious ones, were voluntary, contributing to a relaxed atmosphere (this is not the case during the regular summer camp, of course, where campers follow a required schedule).

About 22 families attended the weekend. Some came from as far away as Maryland and Pennsylvania. Most appeared to be there to check out the camp as a future summer possibility for one of their children, or to preview camp life for children who are enrolled for the upcoming summer. The only other family from Providence was doing just that for one of their children.

Some especially nice features: There’s a Gan program for the nursery school set – a well-run daycare – is available if you want it. There’s also evening babysitting after the kids are in bed (but not necessarily asleep), so that the adults can participate in some childfree activity. One night it was learning with the rabbi, another night it was Israeli movie night. The camp staffers, many of whom are college students, were wonderful, and they sure can sing loudly at prayers and at the campfire. Except for instructions about page numbers, the services were almost entirely in Hebrew.

Don’t expect the usual rabbinical garb from the camp clergy. Here the camp director rabbi was clad in a tallit over his t-shirt, cargo shorts and water sandals. Some people wore kippot, while others went bareheaded at prayers.

The only less-than-totally impressive aspect of the camp was the food, an unfortunate intersection of kosher, institutional and child-friendly food. When even our 4-year old daughter’s JCC meals here in Providence feature such offerings as whole wheat mac-and-cheese and edamame, Japanese style soy beans, the Ramah food seemed like something out of the 1950s, before whole grains and, well, flavoring, became fashionable. Still, someone else was cooking and doing dishes.

Overall, it was a lovely weekend. As we left, we had to promise our children that we would come back next year.

Nina Tannenwald, a professor at Brown University, lives in Providence with her husband and two children. Contact her at

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