Howard Blas's blog

Join Us: "Toward Inclusion: Perspectives on Disability, Social Responsibility, and Belonging”

The Jewish disabilities inclusion community has long served as a model of collaboration and cooperation between of various backgrounds.  The recent Ruderman Inclusion Summit in Boston assembled hundreds of people from all parts of the Jewish world.  And the Ramah TIkvah Network has served Jewish campers of all backgrounds since 1970.  A “typical” camper may come from a Reform background, attend a Conservative Movement camp, and participate in activities sponsored by Chabad (Orthodox) or Friendship Circle. 

The Typical Israel Experience And A Whole Lot More

Eight brave young adults with disabilities from across the United States traveled to Israel over winter break as part of Ramah Israel Institute’s Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip. Most of this year’s travelers are current participants in or recent graduates of the various vocational training programs at Ramah camps. They are in transition to the world of work and, in some cases, moving from their parents’ homes to other living environments. Their itinerary included many of the sites and experiences of a “standard 10-day Israel trip" and a whole lot more.

Ramah offers a Tikvah Israel trip every two years.

Tikvah participants in Israel. Courtesy of Howard Blas

"Falling Off A Cliff": Vocational Education And Placement Essential For People With Disabilities

When the Tikvah Program for campers with disabilities was started in 1970 at Camp Ramah in New England, no one imagined a day when people with disabilities would be meaningfully included in Jewish camping. Now, 45 years later, every Ramah camp in the United States and Canada serves people with disabilities. The National Ramah Tikvah Network includes overnight camp programs, day camp programs, vocational educational programs, family camps and retreats and Israel programs. At Ramah, inclusion is natural, seamless and expected.

Vocational campers at Ramah New England. Courtesy of Howard Blas

Webinar This Weekend: Inclusive Camping Tips From Ramah

While there is still snow on the ground in parts of the northeast and most people are ready to transition from winter to spring, camp professionals think about summer all year long! We hire staff, recruit campers, host reunions, plan programs and participate in professional development. It is so important to share experiences with other camp professionals and to learn from them.

At Ramah, the camping arm of Conservative Judaism, we are excited to share our experiences in inclusive camping with colleagues from throughout the Jewish camping world.

That's one reason why the National Ramah Tikvah Network is looking forward to hosting an in-person seminar (which will also be presented as a webinar) entitled, “How Inclusive Camping Benefits Typical Campers, Campers with Disabilities, and Camp’s Bottom Line.

In Israel: Taking Inclusion To A Larger Level

On a recent visit to a Pikud HaOref, Home Front Command base in Ramle, 14 miles southeast of Tel Aviv, a soldier tells me a very animated story about his role in Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s military operation in Gaza: “My job was to copy the papers for our soldiers to drop from planes over Gaza this summer!” The soldier, in uniform with his bright orange beret on his shoulder, happens to have Down Syndrome. 

He is very excited about his job in the base print shop. Another soldier with a visible disability proudly recounts the visit to the base the previous day by IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Ganz.  “We saluted him and gave him a present — olive oil that we made on the base!” 

Twenty five other soldiers with disabilities perform similarly important jobs each day on the base. If Tiran Attia and other visionaries have their way, Tzahal, or the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), may become a “game changer” in Israel for inclusion and for shaping attitudes about people with disabilities.

IDF Soldiers. Courtesy of Howard Blas

Ramah Bikes Across Israel

An enthusiastic group of 72 bike riders and hikers, ages 13-73, arrived in Eilat on April 30 after biking since April 24 all the way from Jerusalem. They made the trip -- the Ramah Israel Challenge -- to support special needs programs at Ramah camps in the United States and Canada.

Howard Blas
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