A Reinvigorating Weekend at the Weinstein Institute

The Ramah movement invests in our young leaders with opportunities throughout the year to hone their leadership and mentorship skills and reinvigorate their personal connections to Judaism. Among the highlights of the year was the recent Bert B. Weinstein Institute for Counselor Training – an extraordinary occasion for professional and personal growth for twenty of Camp Ramah in New England’s returning tzevet (staff) members.

On January 5, 2017, the largest staff delegation in Ramah New England history entered the gates of beautiful Camp Ramah in Ojai, California, for the Weinstein Institute, which brings together 2nd year and 3rd year madrichim (counselors), Tikvah madrichim, returning Rashei Edah (unit heads), and Ramah Service Corps fellows for a Shabbat of learning, training, and re-energizing. Participants had opportunities to learn core counselor competencies, programming techniques and ideas, creative approaches to Jewish teaching, and mentoring and supervision skills – all taught by senior Ramah leaders, including  camp directors. Participants selected sessions that addressed their own needs and interests: a skill to improve upon, a text to learn, or a teacher to learn from. Our 20 madrichim and Rashei edah walked away from the weekend feeling that they had gained concrete skills and ideas that would serve them throughout the summer. They now feel better prepared to embrace and conquer the challenges that await them when they return to Palmer in just a few months.

A significant aspect of the Weinstein Institute is the way in which we simulated a few days at camp in the middle of January. Madrichim came together in a space filled with singing and dancing, Hebrew and tefillah, close friends, and people who they had never met but who share strikingly similar experiences and values. Many of our madrichim remarked that they had not found a similarly fulfilling expression of Judaism on their college campuses, and that coming back to a camp environment allowed them to get the “dose of Ramah” they needed to hold them over until camp starts in June.

Additionally, many of our madrichim who did not go on Ramah Seminar in Israel had not been previously exposed to the power of the entire Ramah movement. How amazing it is, our madrichim marveled, that someone from the other side of the country could know the same songs and dances, do the same cheers in the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall), and have so many of the same traditions as we do! Hannah Weisman, a freshman at the University of Maryland who will be back to Palmer this summer as a second year madricha, explained that “what was really special about [Weinstein] is that it gave me and my fellow Ramahniks a sense of belonging to more than just our individual camp. At Weinstein, I felt that I was truly a critical part of an organization — a movement — that positively changes people’s lives not just in Palmer, but all over the world.” Third year madricha and McGill University sophomore Sarah Binney describes how she was able to see “Ramah as a movement from a much broader prospective, which gave [her]  confidence in the future of Ramah and Conservative Judaism.”

Perhaps most importantly, madrichim left the Weinstein weekend feeling very positive about the work that we do at Camp Ramah and their decisions to be a part of it. The pressures of college academics and internship opportunities may make it challenging for madrichim to choose between what they want to be doing and what they think they’re supposed to be doing. But through exciting sessions from Conservative movement leaders such as Chancellor Arnie Eisen, madrichim understood that their time spent at camp isn’t only fun and rewarding, it’s important and has an impact far beyond what they see. Princeton University freshman Gabi Swagel said that “[Weinstein] reaffirmed the importance of Ramah to me personally and the crucial role Ramah plays in strengthening our joint Jewish future.” All of our madrichim are key parts of that Jewish future, which, more and more, depends on the Ramah experience that they provide to our chanichim (campers).

We’re thrilled that so many madrichim were able to take part in this year’s powerful Weinstein Institute. This program ensures that our madrichim will come back to camp with honed skills, boundless energy, and a tremendous faith in the Ramah cause.