Over Presidents’ Day weekend, 15 campers in our Tikvah program and 8 Atzmayim vocational participants reunited at a hotel in suburban Chicago to celebrate a Ramah Shabbat together. They traveled from far and near – New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Orlando, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Chicago – to join their counselors and their Machon/Nivonim chaverim for a wonderful camp reunion. Even though the weather and location couldn’t have been more different than the summer experience at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, this Shabbaton was a chance to reconnect and continue learning and growing.

The program theme “Free to Be You and Me,” provided a framework for serious discussions about what it means to deal with stereotypes. The theme also connected to the Torah portion of Terumah. “We learned that it took the whole community to build the Mishkan – everyone had a role and everyone had something to contribute,” said Ralph Schwartz, Director of Special Needs Programming. “We also learned that the Israelites had to want to be a part of the Mishkan construction. We know you can’t force a relationship – you have to want to be in it. This is the way to get closer to God and build a community – this is a way to continue building the Tikvah community.”

The college-age counselors were energized by the reunion. According to Ralph, “Our staff members were so proud to see participants lead the davening and the Kiddush, HaMotzi and Birkat HaMazon. The kids had so much fun and loved schmoozing and hanging out with friends. The weekend was a real bonding experience not just for campers but for our staff too.” Tikvah Program Chair Dr. Margaret Silberman added, “Ramah provides a safe and comfortable social environment for these kids, something they don’t always experience during the year. The opportunity to relax with friends and interact with the counselors can’t be taken for granted. It was truly a magical Shabbat."  

Camp Ramah in Wisconsin Director Jacob Cytryn shared, "For me, the most inspiring part of the Shabbaton was seeing the comfort and ease with which these young people so quickly returned to their Ramah community upon arriving at the hotel, greeting friends, sitting down for lunch, and beginning programming. The language of Ramah, the behavioral expectations of Ramah, the playfulness of Ramah, all seemed to emerge within seconds.”
The Shabbaton was a learning experience in more ways than one. Participants exercised their independence and social skills as they navigated airport security, flew to Chicago, reconnected with friends, unpacked their clothes, followed the schedule, participated in services, slept in a hotel, etc. The program was underwritten by two generous supporters of Ramah Wisconsin Tikvah programs. 
Everyone agreed that one weekend highlight was the Saturday night bowling and pizza party. Ralph was speechless when a very quiet camper came up to him, gave him a hug and said, “Thank you. This is the best.”