Tikvah Triumphs in Trying Times
When Camp Ramah in New England first learned that our chanichim (campers) would be spending more time at home due to the pandemic, Ramah M’Rachok (Remote Ramah) was created to bring the ruach (spirit) of Ramah and warmth of summer friendships into our campers’ homes. From its inception, our Tikvah participants have been a significant and enthusiastic presence at all virtual community-wide activities – from Bingo to Havdalah! In fact, some of them have also joined online events offered by other Ramah camps, as well as the weekly National Ramah Shira (sing-alongs)!
While many Ramahniks are familiar with the myriad of virtual programs currently available, few are aware that the Tikvah community has been offering participants in Amitzim and the Vocational Education programs weekly opportunities to “meet up” for over 10 years! According to Howard Blas, Director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network and former Tikvah Director at Ramah New England, we started Shabbos Is Calling using telephone conference calls to help campers connect, combat feelings of isolation, and offer continued access to a Jewish community during the year. With technological advances, the phone calls evolved into video conferences and eventually into Zoom sessions – a forum that has become comfortable and familiar for many of our participants. It turns out that Tikvah was way ahead of its time!
Lily Jacobson, one of our Amitzim counselors, who just completed her sophomore year at University of Rochester, has been facilitating Shabbos Is Calling each week since the fall. When asked about her experience, she said,
“During these uncertain and challenging times, Shabbos is Calling has been a consistent and positive light in many Tikvah camper’s lives. Many of us feel isolated and lonely while in quarantine, but this weekly call allows the Tikvah community to stay connected and engaged. Every Thursday evening we catch up, sing songs and reminisce about camp.”
Since March, in addition to Shabbos Is Calling, Tikvah’s summer leadership have been volunteering their time to expand programming. It’s wonderful to see the staff enjoying themselves just as much as the participants! Amitzim, Voc Ed Ma’avar, and Voc Ed have had reunions and get-togethers. Just last week, Voc Ed and Voc Ed Ma’avar celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) together, learned fun facts about Israel and discussed gifts they would give to the State of Israel. Other hangouts have included sharing weekly highlights, tefillot (prayers), meditation, eating dinner together, and playing games. Though not the primary focus, inevitably campers bring up feelings about the virus and having to stay at home, uncertainty about upcoming plans, a general desire for a return to more familiar routines, and hopes of returning to camp this summer.
While Shabbos Is Calling has had many fans, our current Zoom calls are reaching an even wider audience. As an added bonus, for those who have had limited exposure to Zoom, the weekly meetings provide an opportunity to learn real-life technology skills and etiquette. Sharon Nerenberg, one of our Voc Ed participants, shared her thoughts about joining the group get-togethers:
“I love doing Tikvah calls during the virus because we get to see and talk to our friends throughout the year. We also have special themes that make the calls a lot more fun. We play games and have lots of fun. We learn how to mute ourselves so that everybody can hear us and not hear back noise. The only thing about the calls is you have to remember to unmute before talking. I love these calls so much! Thanks!”
For many of our Tikvah participants, the hangouts represent a highlight of the week. Especially for the young adults in our vocational programs, seeing Ramah friends on Zoom has become a priority and one of the few consistent aspects of their schedule due to the fact that work, classes, and recreational activities are temporarily limited or suspended. Cheryl and Kevin Slane’s son is a participant in Voc Ed. They shared:
“There are no words to explain how much Camp Ramah’s online Zoom and Facebook events have enriched Ben’s life during this very unsure time for him. It gives him some normalcy seeing his friends, counselors and Bonnie! Thank goodness for Camp Ramah New England stepping up to the plate so quickly to give our special needs children a respite from Covid.”
While our virtual Tikvah activities have primarily focused on our summer participants, their parents recently had their own Zoom get-together as well. The goal was to provide parents with the opportunity to reconnect, talk about how their families are doing, consider the upcoming summer, and provide support for each other. The warmth, acceptance and shared sense of understanding was palpable.
We are living through an unprecedented time. One of the most difficult aspects of our current situation – and especially for “camp people” – is the need for “social distancing.” While it can be challenging to keep a positive perspective, Tikvah has truly found the silver lining, continues to thrive, and is stronger than ever! May this blessing continue long after the pandemic subsides and may we all be together again very soon.