“Shabbos Is Calling”–The Weekly Tikvah Pre-Shabbos Conference Call!

It all started when I had lunch two months ago with Suzanne Abrams, mother of our amazing Tikvah camper and Yom Berkshires track star, Shira Engel (Shira was also a bat mitzvah student of mine, so I know the Abrams/Engel  family well!).  We discussed Shira’s summer and Suzanne told  how the very moving story of how she put in her Amitzim Davening CD (the Tikvah take home project!) in the car radio, as they were pulling out of camp.  Shira listened to the CD and sang all the way back to Manhattan!  How could we TRULY make the Tikvah experience—the songs, the chevre, the relationships with her friends and counselors—more year round?!

At that moment, a light bulb went off in my head!   As a Jim Josephs Fellow at the Lookstein Center of Bar Ilan (I was honored to be one of 14 Jewish educators selected to be part of this  first cohort), I am learning new online technologies and will be charged with creating an online collaborative community.  Just that week, I told Suzanne, the fellows had learned about Oovoo (oovoo.com), free video chatting for up to six people.  Perhaps we could find a way to use technology to connect our campers in the off season?! 

“How about a pilot program where a few campers and few counselors wish each other ‘Shabbat Shalom’ each week?  Suzanne was intrigued and excited by the possibility. I promised to be in touch in a few days.

As I left Café Classico, I couldn’t contain my excitement.  First stop—call Avi Finder and Elisheva Laymen—two loving, enthusiastic counselors who have been with Tikvah for two summers and are currently studying special education.  Avi’s ruach is contagious—we credit her with introducing the hit song “Shabbos Is Coming” to our edah.  Both Avi and Shev were in!

I wasn’t sure if all campers had video cameras on their computers.  I suggested that we use another tool which we have been using at camp for quite sometime—freeconferencecall.com.  And we can consider switching to video chat down the road.  Shev took the lead in getting a conference call number.  We targeted a few campers—Rebecca Yormark, Riffy Wolpert, Shira Engel—and all were excited to participate.  And we gave the program a very special name—“SHABBOS IS CALLING!”  I sent out an introductory email and left the program in the able hands of Avi and Shev.

In the days leading up to the first call, Shira worked very hard to master the art of dialing in to a conference call.  In her mom’s words, “Shira just LOVES the calls.  She looks forward to them every week and always reminds me to make sure that she is free to call in.  She especially loves the idea of her own "conference call".  She dials in by herself, which fosters her independence, something we are always building on,  and seems to view the calls as her own private time with her counselors.  Prior to the calls, she would mention camp but now that she has been participating in these calls weekly, she talks about camp all the time and how much she misses it and loves her counselors.  It's as though the calls have allowed her to keep the feeling of camp close.  It has reinvigorated her connections and her love of the whole experience.  She can't wait to go back. Thank you for providing her with this weekly "taste" of camp!” 

Diane Yormark, Rebecca’s mother, reports similar happiness in the Yormark household.  Just before the phone call hour, our daughter runs around the house announcing it is almost time for the phone call and asks us all to be very quiet.  She loves her Camp Ramah phone calls and likes that it's all about her.” 

The counselors, who send out reminder emails to the families and plan songs, stories about the parsha, and general “schmoozing” for each “Shabbos Is Calling” session, do it out of their love and dedication to the campers and the Tikvah Program.  Elisheva reports, “It was great.”  On one Thursday 6:30 p.m. call, special guest, Ariella Rosen, our beloved rosh edah/division head from Kaytiz 2009, called in.  “We sang ‘Shabbos is Coming," the "edah song", "Kol ha Olam Kulo" and we told a story about Parshat Toldot. Rebecca, Riffy and Shira all had a chance to lead a song and everyone was really energetic. As always, its a great start to our weekend!:

I was also lucky enough to join the group for a “Shabbos Is Calling” session.  As Avi Finder observed, “Shabbos is Calling’ is like being at camp every week for 15 minutes. It comes just in time as the chaos of the week is adding up and Shabbos is just around the corner. The few minutes of camp and Shabbat songs and hearing about everyone's week is the most perfect way to prepare for Shabbat. It's one of the best parts of my week!”

This wonderful Amitzm group is off and running with the “Shabbos Is Calling.”  The entire Voc Ed program has been invited to a similar program with Voc Ed advisors, Marcia Glickman, Anna Elfenbaum and Chana Fuld.  Several calls have taken place and excitement is building.

I am delighted to hear from parents like Suzanne Engel who writes, “It is so fabulous that you were able to get this going and I hope that it will open the doors to other projects of this kind. I know that you are working on that.  We are very excited to offer this and other initiatives which will help connect our campers, families, staff members and Friends of Tikvah in the “off season.”   In 18 days, I am offer to Israel for training with the Jim Josephs Fellows.  We will be at the Lookstein Center at Bar Ilan, learning new technologies and sharing ideas about building online collaborative communities.  I can’t wait to come back with new ideas which we can implement in our Tikvah community!

Categories: Tikvah