by Renee Ghert-Zand
(Originally appeared on the National Ramah blog.)
Of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish children who have attended Camp Ramah in the last 75 years, Rabbi Matthew Simon has the distinct honor of having been camper number one.
Simon, now 89, didn’t really have a choice in the matter. His father, Rabbi Ralph Simon, spiritual leader of Chicago’s Congregation Rodfei Zedek from 1943 to 1987, was the charismatic engine behind the founding of the first Camp Ramah, in Conover Wisconsin. Rabbi Simon used his persuasive powers and networking skills to recruit 100 campers — a third from outside the Chicagoland area — for the camp’s first summer in 1947. There was no question that his own children would be among them.