Ramah in the Early 50’s
by Leah Broyde Abrahams
Written in 2006
Today, in the city where I have lived for 40 years, when I tell people that during my teens I spent eight weeks each summer in overnight camp, they are astonished and appalled. My neighbors’ idea of summer is working and having the older kids keep an eye on the younger ones, maybe taking some family trips and enrolling their children in a one-week bible day camp or the YMCA day camp with one overnighter.
There is no way to convince them of the sense and the satisfaction in studying in the morning and doing art, drama, swimming and canoeing in the afternoons, then hoping to see the boy I was having on crush on at the evening activities or during Friday night dancing!
But, for me, for my personal, intellectual and emotional growth, it made wonderful sense. My counselors, who weren’t much older than me—but I didn’t realize it at the time—were unique individuals with strong personalities—I had Suki Fox, Sue Mogilner, Mimi Halkin, Sherry Israel; Leah Abrams for dramatics; Vivian Basset for swimming; Bernie Ochs, the waterfront director who was every girl’s dream man; Yochanan Muffs—whom I didn’t appreciate enough and Buzzy Porten, whose enthusiasm for learning still inspires me today. When I didn’t have a boyfriend and thought everyone else did, I’d confide in my counselor who was able to reassure me that someone, some day would realize my specialness.
We learned how to parody prayers and translate Broadway musicals. We learned how to get along with people we didn’t like and how to find the person who was the right size to trade clothes. (Maxine Cohen still insists that when Rananah Kliers and I did the mitzvah of bikur cholim when Maxine was in the marpeah, we were both wearing her clothes!)
And when my mother came to visit and complained that it was such a beautiful day and here we were having an indoor jacks tournament on a dusty floor and why weren’t we outside getting fresh air, I didn’t mind because I knew that as soon as Visitors’ Day was over, the tournament would continue!
And friends—one of the best parts was that you could keep up with friends during the year in Chicago. LTF, Hebrew High School, overnights, and the big annual reunion. Of course it wasn’t always easy; Leslie Vile lived in Kansas City, Liz Pielen in Minneapolis, Gail Capitol in Michigan. I lived in Rogers Park and my Chicago region friends were spread out over the city and the suburbs. But my enthusiasm and longing for camp never waned during the year and as the next summer approached, my only thought was—would I get a scholarship so I could go back?
The 2003 reunion of “First Decade” campers was a confirmation and a revelation. Everyone there acknowledged that he or she had had similar experiences in Camp during those crucial years. And it wasn’t until the reunion that I discovered the reason: We were an educational incubator for brilliant idealists who wanted to inculcate love of Judaism, of learning, of knowledge. They wanted us to learn to take responsibility for our own lives, to grow into leadership roles and to feel compassion for the wider community. This was the Camp’s mission and the directors and counselors did everything they could to make it reality. I don’t know how to attach value to each of the life experiences that produced the Leah Broyde Abrahams of 2007. But I will say that I give high marks to my Ramah years for the implementation of that audacious, visionary educational experiment and the potential it recognized and nurtured in all of us.
Leah Broyde Abrahams
Green Bay, WI