When I was first approached to become a member of the Ramah Service Corps and create “Ramah style” programs to implement in the synagogue setting, I was thrilled. I would be given the opportunity to bring the magic of Ramah to others through experiences and activities often found only at camp. To me, Ramah has always been a place where campers are proud to learn and experience what it means to be Jewish, where they can participate in activities that make Jewish learning enjoyable, and a place where programs are innovative and fresh. It was my hope, that bringing this “Ramah approach” into the synagogue and school setting would allow the students to see that learning can be entertaining and worthwhile, and that more specifically, Jewish learning is not just found exclusively from textbooks or classrooms.
When planning programs for synagogues across the southeast region, I often found myself remembering activities implemented during past summers in camp. I planned an Israel exploration, where students learned about the culture, geography, and foods of Israel in a deeper way. Instead of just a surface-level understanding of the sites in Israel and learning about the various places in Israel, students dug their way through an “archeological dig” to find tiles that they could use to decorate wooden Jewish stars. For a more engaging way to learn about Israeli foods, students experimented in making their own hummus and participated in a blind taste test of homemade and store bought hummus. They learned Hebrew phrases to use when asking for food in the “Israeli restaurant” that we created. Students quickly saw that the features and ideas they learned in textbooks could come alive in the class. They became excited to continue learning about Israel and expressed hope about visiting Israel one day.
Like many activities in a school setting however, it is a challenge to get the students excited when first beginning programs. Students had to see that the activities offered a variety of experiential opportunities, and that there was more than just traditional classroom learning. Once students began having positive experiences in the activities, I found that that this momentum carried into future programs. In fact, students were stepping up to contribute Jewish knowledge of their own to the exercises. For example, when asked to decorate their favorite Jewish holiday on a cake, the students requested to include three facts about the holiday and how it is celebrated. The students were creating their own connections, taking an activity that was about creativity, and adding additional meaning to the experiences. It was truly amazing to see.
Looking back on the programs, I found that they not only increased student enjoyment of classroom activities, but also allowed the students to see that learning did not just have to take place in the classroom or with a teacher lecturing to them. The students also asked for more opportunities to participate in these “camp style” activities. It was at these moments that I knew that these students were not only learning the lesson, but were having a Jewish experience. They were becoming just as passionate as I am about these Jewish programs, and they wanted more. To me, it’s not just about teaching information to students, or participation in activities that implement Jewish values. Instead, it’s about blending the learning of Jewish values and ideals in a way that allows all ages of students to fully experience the subject matter, using a variety of techniques. Taking the idea of ‘learning Jewish’ into the more experiential ‘being Jewish’ brings a level of interest and excitement that is not usually seen in the typical classroom. This is something seen every day in the camp setting, and can be brought into the community setting. This is what I learned from Camp Ramah, and I am blessed to have been able to share it with others outside of the camp environment. I want the students to believe and feel excited about being Jewish and experiencing Jewish ideals and values. That is what I got from Camp Ramah, that passion and excitement, and to be given the opportunity to share that with future generations is truly an amazing experience.