by Natania Lipp, Tikvah Senior Counselor 2015 Some spend Martin Luther King weekend traveling, relaxing, or visiting friends and family. For our Tikvah campers and Atzmayim (vocational) participants, this weekend involved a little of each at Camp Ramah’s Tikvah/Atzmayim reunion. On Friday, 44 campers, participants, and alumni from the Tikvah program gathered from all over the United States at the Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston, Illinois, for a biennial winter Shabbaton. This weekend simulated camp’s inclusive and energetic environment with a typical camp Shabbat schedule and interactive programming.

The Shabbaton’s theme, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, gave participants the space to catch up with old friends and connect with new ones. For many Ramah campers, these interactions come naturally–they stay in touch with friends during the year or meet up with them during breaks to pick up where they left off. For our Shabbaton participants it is not that simple. This weekend provided the social connections they might not have at home, creating perhaps their most memorable weekend of the school year. “They’ll still be talking about it at camp this summer,” claimed Ralph Schwartz, Director of Ramah Wisconsin’s Tikvah program.

One of the highlights was the Atzmayim alumni panel on Saturday morning. Alumni answered questions about where they are now: what jobs they have, what long-term goals they are working towards, and what they are struggling with along the way. In a room of lively campers and participants, the crowd fell silent as the alumni described the skills they learned at camp and the employment or education they have found since. Their responses were raw and honest as they expressed their struggles with meeting people and growing their social circles, and that sentiment truly resonated with every listener. The alumni quickly transformed from new faces to role models in the eyes of the current Tikvah generation, creating a special and unique moment for everyone.

On Saturday night, the group went out for bowling and pizza. Here, they were greeted by a few of their Chaverim (10th grade Tikvah buddies), and old friends and staff. Everyone relaxed and enjoyed their time together over a few games and many slices of pizza. “The amount of joy and laughter in the crowded bowling alley Saturday night was matched only by the amount of pizza. Everyone was having so much fun cheering each other on and socializing. You could never tell who was winning because every time someone would roll the ball down the lane there were whoops and high fives all around- even if it was a gutter ball,” reported Miryam Bernard-Donals, the head of the 2016 Atzmayim program.

The weekend provided the laughter, the Shabbat energy, and the warmth of friendship that everyone misses most about camp. The campers, participants, alumni, and staff alike all left on Sunday feeling reinvigorated from the excitement of the weekend and eager to reunite again.