COVID-19 Updates & FAQs
With deep sadness we share that our Board of Directors voted to make the difficult decision to close both our Palmer overnight and DC Day camps for all sessions for kayitz (summer) 2020. We share your grief and disappointment as we have worked tirelessly over the last several months to find a safe and responsible way to open.
In making this decision, the Board relied on the unanimous guidance of the National Ramah and our local medical committees, as well as the advice of our professional staff. None of the recent announcements from Maryland or Massachusetts have provided us with a path forward. While we do not expect to run any significant in-person programs at our camps this summer, if there are opportunities to bring small groups to either camp later this summer or in the fall we will pursue them.
Please click here to read Rabbi Gelb’s full letter to the community.
Please click here to see a recording of our Overnight Camp town hall meeting from Monday night, May 20th.
Please scroll down to see FAQs and a number of additional resources.
Previous Updates From Rabbi Ed Gelb:
Click here for our May 13, 2020 update.
Click here for our April 30, 2020 update.
Click here for our March 25, 2020 update.
Support Documents and Other Mental Health Resources:
Additional Resources From the ACA (American Camp Association):
Responding to Change and Loss — National Alliance for Grieving Children
Keep Calm– Webinar covering the science behind managing stress (Michelle Post M.A., LMFT)
We are asking all 2020 camp families to please complete an on-line form, which will be sent out on Thursday May 21 at approx. 5:00 PM EDT, to indicate what portion of their 2020 tuition they are willing to donate to camp, and what remainder they are asking to be refunded. We ask that all families complete this form by Monday, May 25. We hope that all of our families will stretch, in order to be able to donate as significant a portion of their tuition as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions:
A: This decision is as devastating to us as it is to our Ramah families. We have been trying to find a way to open since the crisis began. In making this decision now, our Board of Directors relied on the unanimous guidance of the National Ramah and our local medical committees, as well as the advice of our professional staff. None of the recent announcements from Maryland or Massachusetts have provided us with a path forward.
In Judaism, the concepts of Pikuach Nefesh (preserving life) and Sakanat Nefeshot (endangering life) are powerful principles that require us to follow the advice of medical professionals and take great care in the risks we take. Vayikra 18:5 states, “You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which humanity shall live: I am the Lord.” It is our collective assessment that our overnight camp cannot operate safely should, despite our best efforts, an outbreak of COVID-19 occur while 850 campers and staff are living, eating, and sleeping in the confined spaces of camp. We also believe that we cannot keep our day camp families safe given the fluid and dynamic nature of this environment. Our medical team believes the risks are too great and the unknowns of this disease too many for us to open our camps.
Please click here to read Rabbi Gelb’s full letter to the community, and please read on to the next question to see additional information on why the National Ramah medical committee, along with Ramah New England medical committee, felt that it was unsafe for us to open this summer.
A: At the recent meeting of the National Ramah Commission Medical Subcommittee, lead doctors from each Ramah camp unanimously recommended against the opening of our day camps and overnight camps this summer. Our Ramah New England medical committee agreed with this assessment.
Some of the doctors on these committees directly addressed the policies and procedures announced by several private camps that plan to open this summer. Noting the lack of reliability of current testing procedures, our committees rejected the assumption that pre-camp testing can realistically produce a COVID-free “bubble” at camp. It is assumed, therefore, that camp would be required to manage cases of COVID, which our committee deemed an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of campers, staff members, administration, and infirmary personnel.
Recent reports of Kawasaki inflammatory disease among COVID-positive children, resulting in a number of deaths in the US, while rare, highlight the lack of adequate current knowledge about this new virus. Our doctors did not believe that social distancing policies could realistically be enacted in a camp setting, with unacceptable consequences should policies not be strictly adhered to. The data from other group living environments, such as jails, cruise ships, and homeless shelters, which are somewhat analogous to a camp setting, have shown that one or two positive cases usually lead to an infection rate of approximately 35% within the population.
There was unanimous agreement among the doctors on the National Ramah Commission Medical Subcommittee that the hoped-for progress with testing, treatments, prevalence of virus within our communities, and clear federal and state guidance has not materialized, and in some ways has worsened. Although a theoretical model of a camp opening with pre-camp screening, repeated testing, excluding admission to those most vulnerable, and managing the virus within camp could be hypothetically constructed, this would in effect be an “experiment” with the lives of our campers, staff, and families. No doctor on this committee believes that it is responsible for Ramah to risk the health of our camp community under these circumstances.
A: As was explained in-depth in our answer to the previous question, the doctors on our medical committees did not believe that it would be responsible for Ramah to risk the health of our camp community under these current circumstances.
We have listened carefully to the voices among our community who encouraged us to find a way to open camp. We have spent countless hours attempting to find some scenarios in which we could open camp in some form. We understand, as do our camp families, that there is always some inherent risk in operating a summer camp. However, we believe that our parents trust us to only open camp if we felt that we could reasonably ensure the safety of their children. As detailed above, we felt that there was too much risk, and too much that we don’t know about this virus, to feel comfortable opening camp.
A: There are several reasons why we felt we needed to announce a cancellation of our full camp season at this time, including but not limited to:
We do not foresee enough significant changes happening in the next few weeks that would allow us to feel confident about opening second session while still leaving us enough advance notice to properly prepare camp to open.
We felt it necessary to release our staff and allow them to pursue other options for the summer (other work, summer classes, etc.). While we know many staff-members will not be able to find other employment this summer, we did not believe that it was right to hold onto staff commitments any longer.
We recognize the tremendous anxiety among so many of our camp families, children, and staff-members, which was exacerbated by not knowing what was going to happen this summer. While we have waited longer than many other summer camps to make our cancellation announcement – a delay borne from our hope that, with additional time, we would be able to find a path towards opening camp in some form – we did not think it was right to prolong this uncertainty any further, especially considering all of the factors listed above.
A: We will not be able to hire or pay any summer staff. We are hopeful that some members of our staff will be able to find other opportunities this summer (other work, summer classes, etc.).
We hope to be able to assist our families and our staff-members by connecting families who might be interested in hiring great Ramah staff-members for personal work with their child(ren), whether in-person or on-line. Additionally, we will soon be surveying our families regarding their interest in virtual programming this summer. If there is demand, we may be able to hire some summer staff-members to help run this. More information on all of these possibilities will be coming soon.
A: We are committed to meeting our families’ needs during this uncertain time. We are offering full refunds on 2020 tuition for those families who request that.
However, tuition refunds would represent a dangerous cash drain for our organization. If we receive requests to refund the full amount (including deposits and tuition) from all of our families, we will have a major cash shortfall of $1.75M in the fiscal year that ends September 30 – a devastating financial situation for our organization.
We are hoping that everyone will agree that they should donate some portion of their tuition in recognition of the work Ramah has already undertaken for our families. We are hoping that many more of our families will be in the position to give even more generously so that Ramah can meet all of its financial obligations and be able to survive and thrive and begin planning for kayitz 2021.
We are asking all camp families to please complete an on-line form (“jotform”), which will be sent out on Thursday May 21 at approx. 5:00 PM EDT, to indicate what portion of their 2020 tuition they are willing to donate to camp, and what remainder they are asking to be refunded. We ask that all families complete this form by Monday, May 25.
Please continue reading our answer to the next question for a more complete picture of our financial situation and why we need donations in order for Ramah New England to survive.
A: Since our fiscal year began on October 1, 2019, we have been planning for kayitz (summer) 2020. We spend the ten months outside of the summer planning for camp, running programs, recruiting staff and campers, and maintaining and preparing our camp properties.
Our total budget this year was $6.3M, funded almost completely by tuition revenue.
Now, having taken a number of difficult steps to address the current crisis, we have cut our expenses in half, to $3.1M. Starting in March, when the COVID-19 crisis began, we significantly reduced our expenses, took a SBA PPP loan through the federal program, and gained access to a $500,000 line of credit. Now that we have made the difficult decision to close our camps for kayitz 2020, we are making additional and dramatic cuts: our summer staff will not be paid, our orders for summer food and other supplies will be cancelled, and our year-round staff members will face layoffs and pay cuts.
Parents have made tuition payments totaling $3.1M. We are committed to meeting our families’ needs during this uncertain time. However, tuition refunds represent a significant cash drain. If we receive requests to refund this full amount, we will have a major cash shortfall in the fiscal year that ends on Sept 30 – a devastating financial situation for our organization.
Ramah needs a total of $1.75M from our parents, alumni and friends to meet this year’s financial obligations and to pivot and begin planning for summer 2021.
Already, many people who love Ramah New England have said that they will step up to help address this dire situation. This includes the members of our board, all of whom have pledged to support Ramah to meet this challenge. This also includes dozens of families that already have told us that they would convert some or all of their tuition payments into donations – they have committed $180,000 to help Ramah turn the corner. Together with many alumni and friends, $1M has been pledged to help Ramah weather this storm.
Now, Ramah needs additional donations of $750,000 from our parents, alumni and friends. We hope that you, along with all of our parents, agree that a portion of your tuition payments should be donated in recognition of the work Ramah has already undertaken for our families this year. Ramah needs you right now so that our camps can return as strong as ever in 2021 and beyond.
The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the Jacobs and Eisen families and our board of directors have stepped up to encourage our families to help at this urgent moment. Together, they will give $1 for every $1 of tuition payments that you designate as a charitable contribution to Ramah now, up to $500,000.
For more information on camp’s current financial situation, please click here to see the slides that Stuart Katz, the President of our Board of Directors, presented to the camp community at our town hall meeting on Wednesday night, May 20th. Please click here to see the full recording of that town hall meeting.
A: We are heartened that the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the Jacobs and Eisen families, and our Board of Directors have created a special matching program to encourage our families to act immediately. These donors will give $1 for every $1 of tuition payments that you designate as a charitable contribution to Ramah now, up to $500,000.
We applied for and received an SBA PPP Loan. Our hope is that a significant portion of this loan will be forgiven, but we will have debt to repay from that loan.
A: We are asking all 2020 camp families to please complete an on-line form, which will be sent out on Thursday May 21 at approx. 5:00 PM EDT, to indicate what portion of their 2020 tuition they are willing to donate to camp, and what remainder they are asking to be refunded. We ask that all families complete this form by Monday, May 25. We hope that all of our families will stretch, in order to be able to donate as significant a portion of their tuition as possible.
A: The most significant challenge we are currently facing is to find a way to address our $1.75M budget shortfall for our current fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1st, 2020.
If families were to roll-over their 2020 tuition towards 2021, that would mean that Ramah New England would be using next year’s money in order to pay for this year. That wouldn’t significantly help us in the long term. It would, in effect, just be moving our problem down the road a few months.
Our focus right now is on finding a way to close out our 2020 fiscal year in as small a hole as possible, and then be able to enter our 2021 fiscal year in the best state we possibly can. This will allow us to be able to open for kayitz (summer) 2021 and run the best program possible.
A: We are committed to refunding 2020 tuition for all families who make that request. However, we need to review all of our family’s answers to the questionnaire, in order to determine the total amount of refunds requested. Once we have that answer, we can make determinations as to the method and timetable for our issuing those refunds. We will give answers to our families as soon as possible.
A: The “jotform” questionnaire being sent to all 2020 families includes an option to sign up for summer 2021! (We ask families to please complete that form by May 25.)
Our Palmer overnight camp will be opening our regular application, for new campers, very shortly.
We are offering a Palmer overnight camp Early Registration PRICE FREEZE – summer 2020 regular tuition rates for summer 2021 – until August 16, 2020. All families will need to complete our full on-line registration form when it is open, and pay their deposits, by August 16, 2020 in order to receive that Early Registration discount.
Day camp families can register for 2021 now but rates and discounts will not be published until the fall.
A: We wanted to keep the “jotform” questionnaire being sent to families on Thursday May 21 as simple as possible. So while that form allows families to check a 2021 session they’d like to sign their child(ren) up for, there are no additional questions.
However, there is a lot of information we ask of families in the full on-line registration form that we will need to have for 2021. Additionally, there are legally-required “waivers” at the end of that full on-line registration form that we need parents to sign.
• For questions about Kayitz 2021 registration, and/or if any of your child(ren)’s information is displaying incorrectly on our online form — please contact Marggi Shechanah.
• If you think there is an error in your 2020 tuition paid/owed, as displayed on our online form — please contact Ken Milgram.
• For questions about your donation to camp — please contact Mindy Goldstein.
• For any other questions regarding the functionality of our online form — please contact Josh Edelglass.
• For any other questions regarding your child(ren) enrolled in our overnight camp — please contact Talya Kalender.
• For any other questions regarding your child(ren) enrolled in our day camp – please contact Rabbi Jill Levy.
• For any other questions regarding our decision about kayitz 2020 — please contact Rabbi Ed Gelb.
A: Early next week, we will survey our families to hear which at home camp opportunities they would like for this summer, and then we will offer options to help serve your needs and to keep the Ramah community together. We are also looking into creating a platform for matching summer counselors with families who want to hire personal counselors/childcare helpers in their homes. More information will come shortly.
A: We are heartbroken for our Nivonim 2020 campers. It continues to be our hope that we will be able to gather our Nivonim 2020 campers in-person at Palmer at some point in the future. In the meantime, we are hoping to offer distance/virtual opportunities for our Nivonim campers to develop their leadership skills and be leaders in our Ramah community.
A: If you are a camper or staff-member who was scheduled to be on one of the DC flights, please call Southwest Airlines at 1-800-IFLYSWA in order to cancel your camper(s) flight reservation(s) per their policy.
If you are a staff-member with a flight booked from Israel, please contact Ed Pletman to arrange the cancellation of that flight.
A: Our friends at Pack My Rx have shared the following note:
To all camp families,
In light of the COVID-19 situation and Camp Ramah’s decision to cancel the summer of 2020 in order to ensure your camper’s safety, we, at Pack My Rx, will be issuing refunds to all families that completed registrations for 2020. If you need prescriptions transferred to your local pharmacy, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will take care of that for you.
Wishing everyone a safe and healthy summer,
Diana and Tania
And The Pack My Rx Team
Through our Ramah M’Rachok initiative, we are offered an array of on-line camp-style programming for families and children of all ages from March-June, 2020.
After surveying our families to hear what additional at home camp opportunities they were interested in for this summer, we launched our Ramah Ba’Bayit online programming options for June-July, 2020. Over 400 campers signed up.
Additionally, we created My Ramah Madrich, a platform for matching summer counselors with families who want to hire personal counselors/childcare helpers in their homes. Please contact us for more information.