By Avi Shapira (Nivonim 2019)
In early January, 122 madrichim and madrichot (counselors), rashei eidah (division heads), and amitei Ramah (year-round Ramah fellows) from across the Ramah Camping Movement joined together to participate in the Weinstein Winter Leadership Institute, an inspiring 3-day virtual staff training conference. Avi Shapira, a senior at Evanston High School in Evanston, Illinois, shares his thoughts on the experience:
The notion of being a madrich at Camp Ramah has always seemed like part of a distant future. I mean, I’ve been a Ramah camper for about 12 summers now so I’ll just be a camper forever, right? But all of a sudden my Nivo summer came and went, the summer I was supposed to be on Ramah Seminar came and went and my 18th birthday recently came and went. So now I find myself, rather shockingly, on the verge of my first summer on tzevet (staff) and what will hopefully be a fruitful continuation of my already rich Ramah experience. In normal circumstances, there are so many aspects of being a madrich that new staff members must take into consideration. How do I plan fun peulot? How do I provide support for a homesick camper? How do I balance my tzevet responsibilities with my own mental well-being? And the question that most new staff members ask themselves: How can I best impact the summers of my campers, the same way my own madrichim did for me?
These are all more than valid questions and ones that I have been pondering for quite some time now. But with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been thousands of new variables to consider in terms of running camp safely and re-fostering the camp atmosphere we all love and cherish. In terms of first-year tzevet members such as myself, it’s daunting to think about all the ways the Ramah community, and the world for that matter, has changed since we last stepped foot on the kikar.
With this in mind, I recently participated in the 2021 National Ramah Weinstein Winter Leadership Institute. While normally all the participants would have flown out to Camp Ramah in California, this year’s seminar occurred virtually on Zoom. The best way to describe it is as one big Ramah convention. It was a chance to meet fellow Ramah tzevet members from across the country and immerse myself in a vast exchange of ideas that will improve the overall level of staff excellence. For first-year tzevet members, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn from those with staff experience and to truly understand the scope of my role as not only a madrich but as a teacher, parent, older sibling, friend and all the other hats one wears as a counselor at Ramah. At first, I thought that not having been on staff previously would leave me lost and without any experience to rely on in discussions. But after the first few sessions, I realized that I did in fact have experience with staff members — they were through the lens of my camper experience. This allowed me to approach the concept of being on tzevet in a more open-minded manner as I was able to reflect on my time as a camper and all the ways my counselors did their absolute best to ensure me and my eidah-mates would have the best summer possible.
Another aspect of my Weinstein experience that I’d like to acknowledge is the monumental effort by the Ramah Camping Movement to stay educated on contemporary issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion. In this world full of hatred, it is imperative for Ramah camps across the country to remain safe spaces for people from all different backgrounds. I specifically enjoyed listening to guest speaker Yavilah McCoy, an African-American Jew who spoke to us about the importance of racial inclusion at Ramah. She led us through a variety of activities that helped us examine our identities as they relate to camp and how to foster an environment where all campers feel included as part of the Ramah family. The session with Yavilah McCoy was one of many where the importance of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) at camp was highlighted.
Ever since my participation in Weinstein, the idea of me being a tzevet member at Ramah in Wisconsin for Kayitz 2021 has turned into a reality. I cannot wait to get back to my home away from home, a place that we’ve all been deprived of for far too long. I look forward to continuing my Ramah journey as I help my campers along their own. I think for all members of the Ramah community, this summer will be one of healing and of joy as we rekindle our collective love for camp.
Click here to watch video highlights of the 2021 Weinstein Winter Leadership Institute.