by Benjy Forester This semester, I was privileged to be a member of the first ever cohort of the Nachshon Project, a semester abroad in Israel aimed at cultivating Jewish leaders and professionals. This cohort of 21 people includes 5 veteran Ramah Wisconsin staff and is run by two former Ramah Wisconsin staff members.
One of the program’s main goals is to give its members, all of whom work at Jewish summer camps, an interest in becoming a Jewish professional. The curriculum features sessions with tremendous individuals who come from backgrounds of education, entrepreneurship, academia, the rabbinate, and beyond, each one giving us a different piece of the puzzle of what it means to be a leader in today’s Jewish world. The program also includes numerous Shabbatonim, weekend visits, to different places that embody the various ideologies and components of Israeli society, including Yafo, Tzfat, Alon Shvut, and Kfar Giladi.
Having such large Ramah Wisconsin representation, but also meeting new peers from other Jewish summer camps, has afforded us the opportunity to reflect on our camp’s many strengths, and also the chance to consider how we can take our experience to enhance camp.
Something we have noticed is how our experience at Ramah has taught us Jewish and general leadership skills that give us tremendous poise and comfort in different settings. One example is that in formal Nachshon programming, Ramah Wisconsin fellows are introspective, sharp, and bold, skills that we gained from experiences like participating in discussion groups as campers or limmudim as staff members. Also, we noticed that in any shul we enter, we have the comfort to pick up a siddur and follow along, a tremendous ability that we wouldn’t have if camp hadn’t pushed us to lead and facilitate tefilot. Even at the Breslever shul in Tzfat, which felt like an entirely different planet from the lower kikar on Erev Shabbat, we adjusted quickly and embraced the opportunity to observe and participate in a different community’s worship.
As we return to camp just days after our experience in Israel ends, we know that the skills, knowledge, and perspective gained in Israel will make us better staff members and educators. Being with camp counselors all semester means we get in “camp mode” sooner than mid-May when we would normally finish our semester, and we eagerly anticipate the chance to put our Israel experience with Nachshon into practice at Ramah.