Inclusive Jewish Community Continues Year-Round

For 45 years, Camp Ramah in New England has fully included all campers – regardless of disability – in the routines of camp life:  swimming and boating, sports and the arts, daily tefilot, and Shabbat celebrations.  Each summer, CRNE’s warm and inclusive Jewish environment enables campers with disabilities in CRNE’s Tikvah Program to maximize their social, independent living and vocational skills.

For all members of its summer community, CRNE’s commitment to nurture Jewish souls and promote Jewish friendships does not end in August; it continues year-round, both in Palmer and in home towns where Ramahniks gather.  This commitment to providing meaningful Jewish and social experiences year-round is especially important to young people with disabilities, many of whom struggle to maintain appropriate peer relationships.  For many of them, their closest friends are their camp friends.  In recent years, CRNE has expanded its year-round programs for young people with disabilities, as campers and their parents have passionately requested.

These efforts fully flowered in February with the marking of Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM).   Early in the month, Tikvah participants, families and staff members gathered for a reunion at Max’s Deli in the greater Washington, DC area.  On February 13, Tikvah participants, their parents and staff members joined college students from Columbia University, Barnard College and List College (the undergraduate program of the Jewish Theological Seminary) to daven Kabbalat Shabbat and share dinner, zmirot and favorite camp songs.  Tiki Lipton, a long-time Tikvah participant, shared with the group her own experiences as a teen with a disability and her suggestions for how to reach out to teens and young adults with disabilities.

And there was much more to mark JDAM:

  • Howard Blas, Director of CRNE’s Tikvah Program and of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, was the scholar-in-residence at an Inclusion Shabbaton in Newton, MA
  • Tali Cohen, Director of Vocational Services at CRNE, Matthew Levitt, a Tikvah parent, and Josh Sachs, who attends CRNE’s vocational program, joined with representatives of other Jewish camps to speak with DC-area families about the benefits of overnight camp for children with disabilities
  • CRNE partnered with other Boston-area organizations, including Gateways, Yachad, JCCs of Greater Boston, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, among others, to present a film screening for the ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival
  • Shabbos is Calling, a weekly video chat that attracts campers and staff who discuss the weekly parsha and upcoming holidays, sing together and just schmooze, continued its long run of great online get-togethers – including a recent pre-Purim costume party!

More opportunities to socialize with old friends and to make new ones are coming up.  This coming weekend, five young adults who participate in CRNE’s vocational training program will join their peers for a reunion in Palmer.  Next month, the third Tikvah Family Shabbaton in Palmer will provide families with young children with disabilities the opportunity to spend the weekend in a nurturing and accepting environment.  Several graduates of our Tikvah Program will serve on our childcare staff.

Our campers and staff members look forward to being together and renewing their friendships when camp re-opens in Palmer, in just over 100 days.  But until then, CRNE will pursue its mission to provide year-round Jewish programs and social opportunities for all members of its community.