It’s hard to be in the middle. Politically, the far right has put mainstream Republicans on the defensive, and the left has sent centrist Democrats scurrying to identify with populism. Religiously, fundamentalism on the right has opposed any form of change, and an aggressive atheism on the left has mounted a war against traditional beliefs. Yet, while the extremes may sometimes foment revolutions, the middle keeps society going. And the middle is the hardest place to be.
How do you create a meaningful Israel experience for young adults with special needs? Video blogger Aaron Herman spoke with Covenant Award winner Howard Blas, Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, Tali Cohen, Director of Tikvah Vocational Services and participants about their unique Israel experience.
I came to the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England in 1997 and was a camper in the Amitzim (the brave ones) division of the Tikvah program for campers with disabilities for about five years. Coming to Ramah was mostly my parents' idea. We were looking for a Jewish camp mostly, and that was basically it.
Those of us who have grown up in the Conservative movement have heard the conventional wisdom for years — Camp Ramah is the best and most successful program that the movement ever developed. We would even hear this from Jews across the spectrum who admire with envy this jewel of a program that formed lifetime bonds among alumni and created a community of knowledgeable, proud, energized, committed, Zionist young Jews.
It is a sunny Shabbat afternoon in early August at Camp Ramah in California. The oldest Machon campers have finished lunch, enjoyed some free time, and have reconvened on the hill under a large tree for their Shabbat afternoon learning session. I am honored to be this week’s guest teacher, and I take the opportunity to talk to 75 fifteen-year-olds about an incident that put Ramah in the national news over the last two weeks.
The painful story of a blind 15-year-old who was asked to leave Camp Ramah in Canada because he was too hard to accommodate has touched off the latest debate about the inclusion of people with special needs in organized Jewish life.
The Conservative camp movement admits the Ontario camp — one of eight overnight camps in the Ramah network — made mistakes, but says it’s being unfairly maligned in the aftermath.
One of my very favorite movies is Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride , based on the classic novel by William Goldman. The movie is wonderful for a whole host of reasons, but essentially, it is a whimsical riff on the idea of “true love.” Wesley and Buttercup, the hero and heroine, endure all kinds of outrageous misfortune, but ultimately, their destiny is to be together.mTrue love wins out.
It seems that every significant study of the Jewish people is released while we read from the Book of Numbers, the book that derives its English name from the first official census of the Jewish people. It’s as if counting the Jewish people is imbedded in our DNA. That census, conducted 3,000-plus years ago, however, was much more limited in scope: Only men age 20 and older who are able to go to war (Numbers 1:3) were to be counted. From the Torah’s census of 603,550 Israelites of age for war, scholars estimate that the total population was in the 2.5 million range.
As I write this, I am winging my way back from California- Camp Ramah in Ojai, California to be exact- and three days of a rabbinic retreat called "Beit Midrash in the Hills." The program was sponsored by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, part of the American Jewish University of Los Angeles, in partnership with the Rabbinical Assembly, the professional organization of Conservative rabbis, which I currently serve as president.
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