Reflections of the Tikvah Family Shabbaton


By Emma Gelb, Nivonim ’15:

I spent this past weekend working at the Tikvah Family Shabbaton at Camp Ramah in New England (Palmer). As I left my house Friday morning, I was hesitant. Sure, I’ve worked with Tikvah families before, and yes, I’ve stayed away from home before. Yet, I was anxious.  I would be the youngest staff member there, at age 16. Everybody else was at least 19 years old. Would I be able to fit in?  Flash forward a couple of hours. I’m walking to our first staff meeting. Another staff member walked up to me and we start talking. About a minute later, her friend was talking with me as well. By the end of the staff meeting, everybody seemed to be excited to be working together. Another hour later, families started to trickle in.

This past weekend, my role was to help any family that needed it. I quickly acquainted myself with the Gladstone family at dinner. I looked around and all I saw was happiness.  As the night went on, we did shira, and then we broke off into groups. There were two staff members running the activity in my group. Even though I hadn’t been assigned to lead this, I was the third member leading by the end. The next morning, I woke up and got ready for breakfast. As everyone filed in, greetings were exchanged from one person to another. It was at this moment that I looked around and felt like everybody here was family that I had known my whole life. Ronen and his family walked in. As soon as he saw me a huge smile spread across his face and ran up to give me a hug. We finished breakfast and went to davening. I was sitting with a little boy named Ronen, and his big sister Eliya. Hardly anybody in the room knew the tunes to the prayers, yet everyone was singing and dancing as best as we could. After davening we broke off into groups. I was a counselor for Yareach (ages 13-17 year olds). We heard a story, went on a scavenger hunt, and took a nature walk.

After lunch we had our second staff meeting.  The meeting was kicked off with a couple of parents telling us about how much this weekend meant to them.  I sat there thinking, now I get it. This weekend is a weekend where these parents don’t have to worry. They can sit back and watch their kids have a blast.  I looked around everywhere at everyone all weekend and I felt a true connection to God. I felt overjoyed. These people surrounding me this past weekend already feel like they’re family. This is where I want to be. After our staff meeting, we had a half hour of free time. Then we broke off into groups for later afternoon activities. I was supposed to be in charge of the parachute games, however, most families wanted a different option. So, me and my co-leader Brittany headed into the gym. There, we met up with some counselors who were running the bouncy house. We spent hours in the gym that afternoon just hanging out, working with the kids, talking amongst ourselves, laughing, and sharing stories.

After Shabbat ended, we had havdallah. Everybody stood in a circle. Kids in the middle. The kids looked at the candle, mesmerized. I was truly inspired. The Jewish community we had right there in that moment was priceless. Everyone was connected. Everyone together, relaxed and happy. Then we had dancing. I had one of the small kids in my arms and was helping in leading the dances. Everyone was doing their best to learn the dance and everyone was having a great time. Later on we had dinner, and art activity, and a bonfire. At the bonfire, everybody was sitting huddled in together, singing talking laughing. I thought about how I hadn’t been this overjoyed about anything in weeks. Maybe even months. With a kids around me in their beanies and us huddled in coats eating s’mores, I was filled with glee.

Sunday morning rolled around, and everyone met up at breakfast. Once again, kids ran up to me giving me a hug. I felt at home. We ate breakfast and broke off into groups for more activities.  Lastly, we all came together for lunch and a talent show. It was amazing to see how much these kids had grown over the weekend. Slowly coming out of their shells, and being able to really express themselves. At the end of the Shabbaton, I felt the exact way I do when I leave camp. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to have more moments like these past couple of days. But I was also extremely happy. I felt so lucky to have had this experience, and take part in an event bigger than me. I am proud to say I will be returning for the second Tikvah Family Shabbaton in May. If you or your family are interested in joining the Spring Tikvah Family Shabbaton, May 27-29 (through Sunday only), please contact or click here for more information.