The Special Relationship Between Tikvah and Our New Chadar Ochel

This post was written by Dr. Bonnie Schwartz, Director of Camp Ramah in New England’s Tikvah Program.

One of the highlights for the Machane Ramah community this summer has been the opening of the new chadar ochel (dining room)! We have all enjoyed the experience of eating and sharing this brand new space, its state-of-the-art kitchen, along with its air conditioning, plentiful bathrooms, projector, and high-tech allergy board sign! It’s already been an amazing venue for our 4th of July celebrations, Shabbat meals and Shira (singing), and we know that there is more to come!

However, while the new chadar ochel is special for all of the chanichim (campers) and tzevet (staff) at camp, it is particularly exciting for our Tikvah program participants, who have the opportunity to work inside and outside of the kitchen! As in the past, in the new chadar ochel, our Voc Ed participants wash down and set all of the tables for Tzad Aleph lunch – a service sincerely appreciated by the kitchen crew. In addition, the new kitchen in the chadar ochel was especially designed with Tikvah in mind and with a work space created for assisting our Voc Ed (Tochnit Avodah/Vocational Education) participants to build their vocational skills, specifically related to food preparation and service.

This year, Camp Ramah in New England partnered with the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) to develop a special curriculum for our Voc Ed program. For almost 40 years, the CASE Single Step Program at the Community College of Baltimore County has been offering adults with learning differences and disabilities the opportunity to take college courses and earn a degree or a certificate, with many options that include a vocational focus. With our input, CCBC designed a food preparation curriculum, which utilizes industry information taught in their college courses and adapted and individualized it for our Voc Ed program, taking into consideration the rules of keeping kosher that apply to our camp kitchen. During staff week, a trainer from CCBC provided an intensive training course to our Voc Ed staff to prepare them to administer the curriculum.

The results have been fantastic! Each day, a small group of Voc Ed participants assigned to the food preparation worksite gather to learn about kitchen and food safety, cookware, utensils, commercial appliances, knife safety, and more! In addition, they spend a couple of hours each day working in the chadar ochel assisting the kitchen staff to prepare for the upcoming meals. For example, in the past few days, they have sorted hundreds of utensils, scooped 108 bowls of sour cream, sliced 3 cases of strawberries, poured 45 bowls of chips, prepared 163 sandwiches for the Six Flags trip, and sliced and arranged about 1000 pastries for Shabbat! What’s amazing is that they are truly contributing and producing in large quantities, just like the rest of the kitchen staff, and receiving accolades for the service they are providing!

Our chadar ochel is a place where we all eat together, sing, dance, connect, and develop lifelong friendships and memories. This year, we are grateful that our new chadar ochel is also a place where we prepare, cook, and learn together. It is a symbol of the warm and inclusive community that is Ramah.

This project is supported by generous funding from The Green Family Foundation, The Ruderman Family Foundation, the New England Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs Tour de Shuls, the participants of and donors to the Ramah Israel Bike Ride & Hiking Trip, and other private supporters of our Tikvah Program.

Categories: Tikvah, Voc-Ed