Reflections on the Ramah Service Corps Fellows Conference:
Who says summer camp is only in the summer?
A few weeks ago, I packed a bag, ready to escape the cold, and hopped on a flight to California. I attended the Ramah Winter Training Institute at Camp Ramah in California, as a part of the Ramah Service Corps Fellows. At this conference I was blessed to be a part of a cohort of my peers from all the Ramah camps. Aside from the blessing of being back in the camp setting in the middle of winter (not to mention visiting my childhood camp), it was great to really see camp magic happening all around me.
The conference featured six different tracks, each with their own sessions and activities. In each track the cohorts gathered to sharpen their skills, and gear up for the summer. The Ramah Service Corps track was a little different, in that our focus was on bringing the summer into our year-round positions.
As a member of the RSC, we each work in synagogues, schools, and youth groups, to bring the magic of camp to the rest of the year. We use our skills as Rashei Edah, Madrichim, and Moomchim, and infuse synagogue, school, and youth group life with camp-style programs and Jewish learning.
A true highlight- on the second day of the conference, we woke up bright and early, and made our way to Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am to see one of our fellow RSC Fellows in action. Josh Warshawsky led a spirited musical shacharit service for the middle schoolers, in which we got to take part. I and another fellow, Alan, were treated to catching up with many of our former campers briefly after shacharit. Afterward we heard a bit about Josh’s many hats within the synagogue and school, and what he has been doing to bring camp to school life.
Our next site visit was at the Zimmer Children’s Museum at the Jewish Federation, meeting with Esther Netter. While taking us on a tour of the museum, Esther told us, “A day at a good museum is a lot like a good camp program.” We heard all about the thought, intention, and planning that went into the various parts of the museum, and making it accessible to a diverse population. Seeing all the kids and activities going on at this museum, it felt less like a “museum” and more like a collection of playgrounds and role playing sets. I guess that’s what Esther meant by museums being like camp. She gave us another piece of advice that stuck with the group, “Share your failures. Talk about them. It’s what you will learn the most from, more than your successes.”
Later, Alisha Pedowitz, from BJE-Los Angeles, joined us to talk about Service Learning, and using active service projects and debriefing sessions as experiential service learning. To model this, we took part in helping the Zimmer Museum prepare materials for a future workshop, and cleaning some of the toys. We cut out pictures and shapes, and cleaned the toys, and had a great time together.
The final part of the day involved an interactive cell phone and picture scavenger hunt throughout parts of Hollywood. We had a great time roaming the city and coming up with cool ideas for creating our own monitored scavenger hunts.
The conference itself really was an exercise in modeling activities that we could all use in our camp, synagogue, school, and youth group lives. We had a great time sharing our best practices. Of course, we also shared our failures and challenges, and crowd sourced ways to improve them. By bringing all of us together at this conference, we each strengthened our network of colleagues, of friends, and fellow camp people. Thank you to Amy Skopp Cooper, Dr. Zachary Lasker, Esther Netter, Alisha Pedowitz, Josh Warshawsky, Dan Messinger, and Rabbi Joel Alter for all facilitating, teaching, and presenting to the cohort.