Powerful Jewish Camp Experiences: Planting the Seeds for a National Alumni Network
Ramah Wisconsin campers and staff in 1951. Where are they now?
By: Joel Einleger
Much has been written recently about efforts to build and support people networks in the Jewish world, including a recent post here by my colleague Leah Meir. Network building has become sufficiently important that the Schusterman Foundation hired Seth Cohen, Director of Network Initiatives, to lead and catalyze their efforts towards this goal.
As an experiment in this arena, AVI CHAI and the Maimonides Fund recently joined forces to support the National Ramah Commission’s efforts to build a national alumni network called Reshet Ramah for their estimated 250,000 camper and staff alumni (this is what you get when you have been running camps since 1947!). Most camps hope to galvanize their alumni in fundraising and staying connected with other former campers or staff with whom they shared fond summer experiences. What’s unique about Reshet Ramah is the goal is to build connections among Ramah alumni – regardless of which of the 12 Ramah camps they attended – by offering local activities and programs inspired by the Ramah camp experience that will be appealing to them today. These are expected to include Shabbatonim, camp retreats, learning experiences conducted both locally and on-line, all adapted to the ages and interests of the alumni in each community. Some programming will link to local Jewish institutions so that these Ramah-based experiences might become part of the area’s JCC and synagogue repertoire and even attract those without a Ramah background.
A good camp experience generates great friendships and a strong connection to the camp community. Many Ramah alumni also note the impact that the summer experience had on their Jewish engagement, so it makes sense to translate those experiences and make them contemporarily appealing and relevant. And since the Jewish people continue to wander, and young adults often don’t live in the community closest to the Ramah they attended as camper or staff, connecting alumni locally with each other provides opportunities to foster regionally-based Ramah communities around the country.
In her Jewish Week article, Helen Chernikoff asks whether alumni will be willing to channel powerful memories formed at one specific camp to become part of a local Ramah network that incorporates alumni with similar experiences at other Raman camps. No doubt this will depend on the quality of the programming offered and the success at recreating the most satisfying aspects of the camp experience. She also asks whether other movements have the potential to follow Ramah’s lead.
In a conversation last week with Simon Klarfeld, who was recently appointed Executive Director of Young Judaea , we discussed YJ’s similarities to Ramah in inspiring long-term engagement in Jewish and Israel experiences that may have begun at camp. Hopefully Reshet Ramah will enjoy early successes that will provide valuable learning for other camp movements watching the roll out of this experiment.
Joel Einleger is Director of Strategy, Camping Programs at The AVI CHAI Foundation