TIKVAH: Innovation and Year-Round Community

The Tikvah Program, which was established in 1970 as one of the first residential camp programs for young Jews with disabilities, has long provided participants with extraordinary experiences for growth within a warm, immersive and Jewish camp setting. Howard Blas, who has directed the program for over a decade, was recently recognized by the Covenant Foundation award for his leadership of Tikvah. Many camps look to our Tikvah Program as they seek to establish or expand their own programs for young people with disabilities.

Tikvah‘s strength rests on the social exchange within a warm and embracing Jewish community of people with differing abilities. Tikvah participants benefit from the daily opportunities to make friends and build social, independent living and work skills within a fully inclusive environment. Every Ramah camper and staff member benefits from living in a community that values every person’s unique gifts; Camp Ramah in New England would simply be a different – and lesser – community without the Tikvah Program.

Let us share just two of the many ways in which Tikvah continues to evolve:

Innovation in Vocational Education:

Several programs under the Tikvah umbrella include opportunities to develop and deepen work and independent living skills: our Vocational Education Program for young adults with disabilities; our teen Amitzim program, which includes a daily “avodah” experience; and our Post Voc Ed Program, in which staff members with disabilities receive support in their workplaces.

The Voc Ed Program, with 18 participants in 2013, has been the focus of intensive study as we look to innovate with new approaches to vocational education in a summer setting. Last summer, we intensified training at work sites and increased the number of work locations and the types of work available, with particular focus on expanding opportunities to train in food services in the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall), Café Ramah, and the newly launched Voc Ed Bakery.

Tali Cohen, the new year-round Director of Vocational Services, recently joined our staff. Under Howard’s and Tali’s leadership, in kayitz 2014, we expect to add more job coaches, take additional steps to ensure that the curriculum teaches skills aligned with the expectations and needs of employers, and provide additional training to staff members who work with Voc Ed participants.  We also will be using a more person-centered approach to create individualized vocational goals for each participant. 

Extending the Tikvah Experience Year-Round:

To enable Tikvah participants to renew relationships and socialize in a supportive and Jewish environment, Camp Ramah has extended the program to numerous off-season experiences.


In December, a dozen young adults, accompanied by Howard, Tali and Tikvah staffer Ilan Layman, took a trip to Israel.  It was an extraordinary opportunity for teens and young adults with disabilities to experience Israel much as their peers without disabilities often do.  Click here to see the Jewish Week video interview of Howard, Tali and some of the trip participants. 


Our first-ever Tikvah Family Shabbaton, to be held at camp on March 28-30, 2014, will give families with children with disabilities – whether connected to Tikvah or not – the opportunity to relax, celebrate Shabbat, and meet other families with similar experiences.  To learn more, click here.


We have also created numerous other on-line and in-person opportunities for our Tikvah community to gather:

  • Shabbos is Calling:  this weekly video conference gives Tikvah participants the opportunity to renew social ties and happily anticipate Shabbat.
  • Social programs, like the Hanukkah party in NYC this past December and the trip to the Science Discovery Museum in Acton, MA on January 26.  Click here for Museum trip info.
  • ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival:  Camp Ramah is the co-sponsor of a screening of Anita on February 5, at the JCC in Newton.  Anita is the story of a young woman with Down Syndrome who, after the nearby JCC in Buenos Aires is bombed, learns not only to care for herself but also touches the lives of those around her.  Click here for schedule and to register.

For more information about these year-round programs, contact Tali Cohen

By Rabbi Ed Gelb, Director, and Howard Blas, Tikvah Director

Categories: Director, Tikvah