Tikvah: Realizing the Hope by Dr. Bonnie Schwartz, Tikvah Director
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and an opportunity for us as a community to reflect upon where we have come from, where we are going, and what we hope to achieve.
This summer marks the 50th summer of our Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah – in summer 2020, our community will gather to celebrate Tikvah’s five decades. This incredible milestone is a tribute to Herb and Barbara Greenberg, our Tikvah founders, and Donald Adelman (z”l), the camp director who made it possible. It was a hope, a dream, a vision. Even though the social environment was very different at that time, through perseverance, it became a reality. Since it was first established in 1970, our Ramah in New England Tikvah Program has continued to evolve and has served as a model of inclusion for other educational and recreational organizations.
At Ramah in New England, our Tikvah Program continues to thrive, accommodating campers and staff through our camper, vocational and staff support programs. Each summer has become an opportunity for children and young adults with all abilities to share in the magic of camp – to sing, swim, dance, play, work, celebrate Shabbat together, learn from each other, and create new friendships and understandings. During the year, our participants enjoy weekly Shabbos Is Calling video chats, which give our summer campers an opportunity to stay connected. In addition, our Tikvah Family Shabbatons provide a special weekend experience during which parents, siblings and children with disabilities share the beauty and fun of celebrating Shabbat at camp.
In thinking about camp and Tikvah, I’d like to share a new Tikvah tradition that emerged this past summer. Every Friday night, in our Chadar Ochel (dining hall), the entire camp gathers to enjoy a sumptuous traditional Shabbat meal of soup, chicken, brownies, and more, which is followed by the room erupting into song and dance to truly celebrate the joy of Shabbat. We have a similar celebration during Seudah Shlishit (third meal) on Saturday evenings at the end of Shabbat. Our Tikvah participants enjoy the music and merriment and actively participate during these celebrations.
However, this summer was different. This summer, the song Al Kol Eleh – a favorite at camp – took on special meaning for our Tikvah program. Al Kol Eleh was originally written by Naomi Shemer. The song speaks about accepting the bitter with the sweet and is a prayer that asks for protection for Israel, for our people, and for “all these things.” Within the song is the phrase “al tishkach et hatikvah”, which literally means, “do not forget the hope”, because Tikvah means hope. The tradition that started this summer is that each Shabbat, when the whole machane (camp) sings this song, our Tikvah campers and staff become excited; with eager anticipation, they stand up and await the opportunity to proudly belt out “al tishkach et hatikvah!” – the phrase in the chorus that mentions Tikvah. It’s beautiful to watch, as the group sings louder than anyone else in the room. It is a chance for our Tikvah community to actively participate in the greater Ramah community in a very visible way – to make their presence known. When they sing out “al tishkach et hatikvah,” they are saying “Look at us – we are Tikvah” – we are fully involved and we represent the tikvah – the hope – of what can be possible when our children, teens, and adults feel understood, accepted, and included.
This moment signifies the realized hope – a dream from 50 years ago come true – and it represents the hope that as a community and a society we will continue to work together to do even better! It reminds us to creatively think outside the box as we continue to develop strategies and accommodations that will make it possible for all children, teens, and adults to participate together in a meaningful way and for each of us to continue to feel like an integral part of our community.
Wishing all of you a meaningful and inspired month!