From Jacob Cytryn, Director
This summer we celebrated our 70th anniversary by embracing our summer-long theme: פנינת תפארה / p’ninat tifarah / beautiful gem. We explored how this phrase, from our himnon (anthem), can refer to four core aspects of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, each beautiful and valuable in their own way: every individual child, the community we find at camp, the educational institution that is Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and our breathtaking campus and environs in the Northwoods. One of the key emphases of our programming was urging our campers and staff to be the best versions of themselves, to take advantage of the nurturing and loving community camp provides to expand their horizons and find their inner greatness.
As part of the theme and broader celebration, we invited a number of special guests to camp. Two scholars of American Judaism joined us from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Professor Shuly Rubin Schwartz, whose master’s thesis sorted through dusty boxes from Ramah’s early years and began to craft a historical narrative of those first summers, and Chancellor Arnold Eisen, who, in addition to expertise in other fields, helps us understand today’s generation of Conservative Jews and what Judaism will look like in the coming decades.
With all due respect to the luminary scholars, the highlights of the summer were visits from four Ramahniks of the first generation: Chaviva (Vivian) Jacobson, Lee and Judy Shulman, and Arthur Elstein. Distinguished professionals one and all, their visits to Conover were p’ninot tifarah in and of themselves. Their observations matched each other nearly word for word: “The camp as a physical space is unrecognizable, but the core values of the institution – the ruach (spirit), the yiddishkeit – they are exactly the same.” One noted that the “only things that never change are the clothing the kids wear and the smiles on their faces.”
So much has changed in seventy years, from the rituals of Zionism as the founding of Israel was in doubt and into its first years; the sense of investing in a generation of Jewish leaders who would establish a new Judaism in the wake of the Holocaust; the radical educational philosophers who impacted the design and function of the Ramah program through its first decades. And yet, so much has stayed the same. Each of our four esteemed visitors was wowed by the passion, knowledge, and insight of our campers and staff. Each was inspired by the institution that had shaped them for the last seven decades, watching it influence new generations today.
Our camp-wide educational themes provide a lens through which we can frame events during the summer that influence the entire camp, specific aidot and tzrifim, and our staff and camper populations. The celebration this summer was the conclusion of a three-year cycle exploring Ramah’s connection to Israel and Zionism, and the realities of being Jewish in America. Next year we embrace another monumental milestone as we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel with our theme of עין לציון / ayin l’tziyon / an eye towards Zion. The word עין, meaning “eye” is also a pun, as we pronounce it the same way we pronounce the letter ע, whose numerical equivalent is … 70.