In a typical summer, we partner with Camp Leaders to bring European university students to work in our kitchen. But in 2021 – due to COVID-19 – that model was not an option. The good news is that we are truly blessed to have our talented Executive Chef Joe Pennington back in camp, leading the considerable effort it takes to serve over 1,500 delicious meals each and every day.

Early in the summer we asked parents and alumni for help and wow – did they answer! Nearly 70 Ramah alumni and camper parents spent a week or more assisting in the kitchen. We are incredibly grateful to them – and to staff members who worked in the kitchen in addition to their official camp job – for stepping up in a big way to nourish the bodies and souls of our camp community.

This summer Benjy Forester was in camp as a Rabbinical Student Intern, helping to coordinate daily tefillah, creative forms of prayer, and programming related to Jewish life in camp. And he helped out in the kitchen. “Something really special about this summer was that we all pitched in to help,” shared Benjy. “As a staff member who had flexibility in my schedule and didn’t have direct responsibility for campers, I found myself in the kitchen quite often and one of my favorite shifts was after Shabbat dinner on Friday night.” 

“Shabbat dinner is a big delicious meal with a lot of dishes, and the kitchen clean-up shift that happened on Friday night brought together so many people who are typically busy during the week. I’d look around and see educators, rabbis, cantors, our camper care team, our most senior staff including the directors, all doing the dishes, literally rolling up the sleeves of our nice clothes and doing what needed to be done so Shabbat dinner could happen. It was really inspiring to see people pitching in that way and it was totally behind the scenes.”

“And this was a reminder that the hard work of meal preparation, serving and kitchen clean-up is done every summer by our international staff, and that we should have even more gratitude for their amazing efforts behind the scenes.”

“In the past year and a half we’ve paid a lot of attention to essential workers, people who are the beating heart of making our society function, people who are often overlooked. We wanted to thank our essential workers, Chef Joe and the kitchen team, along with the dedicated medical staff in the camp infirmary, so we threw an impromptu pep rally to thank them. (see video clip below) We recognized the sacrifice that these professionals made, after very intense years in their own lives, to come to camp and enable us to have the summer we all needed.” 

Rabbi Aaron Melman, of Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois, has graciously taken several weeks of his vacation time each summer to serve as camp rabbi-in-residence. But this year that role was done minimally because his assistance was needed in the kitchen, and the rabbi soon became a critical part of the summer kitchen team.

“All of us in the kitchen are trying to instill happiness and satisfaction from the meals that will carry over to increase the joy in camp,” said Rabbi Melman. “We’ve had a great team here; we’ve had parents and alumni with expertise in food prep and people so committed to camp that they’re doing whatever it takes to help.”

“There is a real team mentality this summer, and I think that embodies who we are as a Ramah Wisconsin family. I’ve been really happy that I’ve been able to have such a unique impact and make a difference this summer.”