Ramah Communities Are Places of Belonging

At Ramah New England, belonging is a core value and practice. At all three Ramah New England camps – Camp Ramah New England and our day camps in DC and Boston – we work to create environments where each person has a place, is welcome, and is made to feel integral to the camp community. Each person is essential to the Ramah family and together we help each other grow to be our best selves. 

To ensure exceptional care for every camper and meet a wide range of needs, our camps individualize the support that campers need. At our overnight camp, this may include an individualized support plan developed by our Camper Care Specialist in conjunction with the camper and their family and home support providers.  

For some campers who require a higher level of support at any of our three camps, the Tikvah Program provides the best structure for ensuring these campers have successful camp experiences. This groundbreaking program, which began at Camp Ramah New England over fifty years ago, now supports campers and several staff members across our three camps. Each camp has a slightly different model, with all aiming to provide the necessary level of support, celebrate people of different abilities, and integrate them within the wider camp community.  

At Camp Ramah New England, the Tikvah Program is comprised of teens and pre-teen campers in the Amitzim edah (unit) and young adults in the Voc Ed Program. While these Tikvah participants may live separately from their neurotypical peers, they have numerous opportunities each week to learn from one another and forge new relationships. 

Amitzim campers spend time with their Tzad Bet (B-side older campers) several times a week: during swim time in the Agam (lake), during sports, and during their Avodah (work) period. In addition, several members of Nivonim, the oldest edah, also run programs for Amitzim two mornings a week.  

The Amitzim and Machon campers have developed a particularly tight bond. During Avodah, Amitzim and Machon campers are paired to deliver the mail; when they have finished, they play board games. These two edot also cooperated extensively to perform Mamma Mia! last week for the entire camp; Amitzim and Machon campers were paired in all key roles, with the Machon campers helping to cue the Amitzim campers. Eliana Bazer, Rosh Amitzim, notes that these “partnerships foster a sense of inclusion that isn’t forced. From a young age, the other campers see Amitzim participating in all regular activities; there is a natural integration between the groups. These joint activities also give Amitzim campers opportunities to meet more people around camp and to feel more comfortable in communal settings, such as in the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall).” Nora S., an Amitzim camper, had fun being paired with Machon campers for the play; they helped her with her speaking parts. She “liked hanging out with them and getting to know them better.” 

At Ramah Day Camp Greater DC, the Tikvah Program supports campers in whatever way they need so they can spend their days alongside their same-aged peers. Mira Tash, the Tikvah Director, notes that “the magic of Tikvah and the Jewish value of belonging is happening silently in the background” of camp. It is everyone’s responsibility to “create a space where everyone belongs,” and everyone learns the “skills of patience and acceptance.” In addition, several members of the staff receive support to enable them to be successful in their roles. 

At Ramah Day Camp Greater Boston, which is in its first full summer, campers and staff with visible and invisible disabilities have been included and supported from the start – and they are contributing a great deal to the camp community. A sensory space has been established for campers who might need a break from their regular routine. A quieter lunch space has also been provided. Staff member Tzviyah Kusnitz has provided training and tools to enable other staff members to provide their campers with appropriate support. And Binny and Matthew, adults with disabilities, have joined the camp staff in an informal vocational training program.  

 By including people of different abilities in our three camp communities and providing them with the support that they need, our campers (and staff) are learning that each person is a deeply valued member of these communities.