A Thirty Year Relationship with Camp Ramah and the Tikvah Program- a conversation with Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer
My younger brother, Larry, has Fragile X syndrome. He was in Amitzim (’88-’91) and Voc-Ed (’92’-93). I first came to camp with my extended family for Larry’s Bar Mitzvah on August 7, 1989, where he helped lead the service and had an aliyah. I came back to camp in the summer of ‘92 to work as a Solelim and Shoafim madrich (counselor) while Larry was in Voc-Ed. My first two years on staff were his last in Voc-Ed. Larry worked in the camp laundry (where the office is currently located) and lived in the newly built Voc-Ed building. It was great seeing Larry thrive at Ramah (although that first summer he did ask me ‘to get my own camp’). These early interactions with the joy of Judaism in the Tikvah program inspired me to go to JTS to become a rabbi.
(These photos are of Larry’s Bar Mitzvah in 1989 in the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah).
My first summer on staff, I met a Ramah lifer, Deborah Bromberg (82’ – present with a few breaks for more than 30 summers total) and we started dating later that academic year. Three summers later we celebrated an Aufruf in the grove with our camp friends (and Deborah’s parents who met at Ramah in Connecticut) and were married one week after camp ended. Our wedding invitation and benchers had Ramah worked into the art. We have been working at camp most years since, and our four children have grown up here (with our youngest spending her fourth month of life strapped to her Ima’s back).
(Deborah and I at our Sheva Bracot and a gift given to us from Camp Ramah on the occasion of our wedding).
Over the years, Deborah was a madricha (counselor) on A-side, Rosh Edah for Ilanot, ran a program bank, staffed and ran the Gan. She now teaches silk painting and fiber arts first month in Omanut. During the same summers, I was a madrich, taught on Limmud Staff, ran a staff learning program, was Librarian/Rosh Tefilla and now work with the Cookin’ Crew as camp’s Mashgiach (Kosher supervisor) during the summer and for our year-round retreats.
It has been wonderful watching our children grow up at Ramah New England in the gan, as chanichim (campers), and now that the oldest two have joined us as tzevet (staff). It has been very special to see them mature over the summers and Zev’s and Hadas’ hard work and success as tzevet.
(Deborah and I with our children now on Tzevet 2019)
Given that I first came to Ramah because of how important Tikvah was for Larry and our family, I am especially proud of our children’s continuing relationship with Tikvah. The importance of Tikvah to their Ramah experience is equated with their love of their beloved Uncle Larry. Every few summers my parents and Larry visit camp and he shows them the places he remembers. They know that he remembers tefillot (prayers) and shirim (songs) he learned here thirty years ago. Over the years our gan-aged children joined us at the Voc-Ed oneg Shabbat. Both of our older daughters, Hadas and Adeena, had Amitzim buddies in Adat Ha-Machon and participated with Tikvah for sport and rikkud (dance) whenever possible. Three summers ago our son, Zev, joined the staff working on tech support and this summer, he was joined by Hadas who is following in her mother’s footsteps by being an Ilanot madricha in tzrif (bunk)11 (and by doing something her mother would never do, working on ropes staff). This summer Zev lives in a staff bunk with some of the older Voc-Ed participants and has become close with them. It was a pleasure to see Zev now being invited to the Voc-Ed Oneg Shabbat on his own.
(My parents on a recent visit to Camp Ramah with Uncle Larry)
Adeena has done Amitzim sports during Machon and Nivonim summer. She has become friends with a few Amitzimers who she keeps in touch during the year. She was so excited to talk about her Tikvah experiences: Adeena said, “A few years ago I played sports with Sharon all summer and then it was so great to see her score in the last second of JV basketball. This year she scored again in Varsity; I am so proud and excited for her. This year I started a new tradition of sitting with my Tikvah friends for Shabbat breakfast. It has been wonderful to watch Jake grow up over the past summer. He knows my camp schedule and always asks me as I leave: ‘Where is Adeena going? To scrabble!’ It is fun and special to have Amitzim as part of my life now and in the future.”
(Adeena at a Peulah (activity) at Moadon Amitzim)
Our fourth daughter, Maayan, is twelve and spent her thirteenth summer at camp in Shoafim. A few summers ago we walked past a group from Voc-Ed when she turned to me and said, ‘Is Uncle Larry like the people in Tikvah?’ I told her that he was a participant in Amitzim and Voc-Ed and that some of them have Fragile X syndrome-like him. She said, ‘Now I understand about Uncle Larry and why Ramah is so special for you.’
(Our family here at Camp Ramah)