Earlier today our Ramah Wisconsin Board of Directors and Va’ad recognized Ralph Schwartz for 17 years of inspirational leadership as Director of Special Needs Programming at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Executive Director Jacob Cytryn, expressing gratitude on behalf of the camp community said, “Ralph, you have changed the DNA of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, fundamentally altering how we build community, embrace diversity of all types, and see the holiness and potential of each individual person. For those of us that have worked alongside you, benefited from, and witnessed your work, we will never forget it. And, in a manner so appropriate to your humble character, always shining light on others, many successive generations of Ramahniks will benefit from your efforts without ever knowing there could be any other option, and without being able to identify the visionary and force who laid the groundwork for a better camp. Thank you.”
Ralph spoke of the profound impact that the Ramah experience has had on him, thanked his family for their loving support, and closed with these words, “I wish to thank the people who taught me the most about life – Tikvah campers, Atzmayim participants, Shiluv campers and staff. I will never forget you.”
Director of the National Ramah Commission Amy Skopp Cooper presented Ralph with the Pras Ramah, the highest Ramah award, for his outstanding contributions to the special needs programs at Ramah New England, Ramah Berkshires and Ramah Wisconsin. Kol HaKavod!
In a heart-warming show of appreciation, dozens of alumni, parents, and staff members recorded videos and sent in written tributes to thank Ralph for his compassionate and tireless work to create transformative experiences for thousands of young people. Here are a few excerpts.
From an alum:
As a person with a disability, I tried many different overnight camps and I was lucky to find Camp Ramah’s Tikvah and Atzmayim programs. I finally felt accepted for the first time in these camp programs. I learned alot about living independently, working in the community and having fun in a Jewish setting. I am now more confident, have a job and live on my own. Thank you Ralph for all of your help and support.
From a staff member:
I’m honored and grateful to have worked with and learned from you. You were the absolute perfect person for the job, but we all know it was so much more than a job. You taught me that it is okay to make mistakes, that special education is good education, and how to lean into laughter and silliness (#Ralph_is_Old_As_Dirt). Most of all as a social worker, mensch, and fierce pickup basketball player, you’ve been an incredible role model for me. Growing up, you were one of the few social workers I could be real with, and you showed me how to be myself in this work, always grounding yourself in your values. You deserve all the love and gratitude that you will surely be showered with.
From parents of an Atzmayim alum:
… Under your leadership in Atzmayim our son began to embrace opportunities that highlighted his personal growth and newly developed skills. We will never forget the first time we saw him volunteer for an aliyah at Shabbat services. I asked how and when this happened to which you replied, “He loved having aliyot at camp!” You make it possible for him to feel true pride in himself, a lifelong gift we will always remember. Thanks to your unwavering support, our son has beautiful memories of summers at Ramah and weekend retreats with friends. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for educating, nurturing and deeply caring for our precious son!
Ralph will join our 2022 staff for one month this summer to serve as director of our Shiluv inclusion program.