Making Camp Ramah Even More Special(ty)

Today’s kids can learn anything from organic farming to circus arts.

by Nancy B. Scheff

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Ramah camps have always been known for offering campers a diverse menu of electives and choices in their schedules. But in recent years, they’ve created an even bigger smorgasbord of specialty programs from which campers can choose.

At Ramah Darom in Georgia, for instance, campers entering tenth grade go to university – Nivonim University, that is – a program that lets them choose a “major” in which to develop advanced skills. The choices include fine arts, fitness, aquatics, media arts, music, and organic farming. At Ramah Wisconsin, entering tenth graders have 45-90 minutes a day to explore areas of interest such as outdoor education, radio and woodworking, while at Ramah Berkshires, older campers choose a daily chug, or club, for team-oriented activities such as basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, and dance.

At certain camps, there is an extended time period – usually a week – dedicated to a single elective. Kishroniyah (from the Hebrew kisharon or talent) is the week-long program for older campers at Ramah New England. Options vary annually and include traditional offerings, plus innovative ones such as circus arts. Ramah Canada and Ramah Wisconsin offer what they call Shavua Sababa (Awesome Week) with visiting experts offering in-depth instruction. At Ramah California, options include surfing and Jewish-African embroidery.

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Rising eighth graders at Ramah Berkshires travel offsite for Sababa Bogrim, their week of specialty instruction. This summer, options included a biking trip in Massachusetts, cooking classes at New York City’s Kosher Culinary Institute, and theater or visual arts at the Brandeis University high school arts program.

Established in 2010 in the Colorado Rockies, Ramah Outdoor Adventure is the first Ramah overnight camp dedicated to a single specialty. With its focus on outdoor adventure and challenges, it stresses environmental education. During its first summer, Ramah Outdoors served 120 campers. In 2013, the camp welcomed more than 340 campers (grades 3-12) from all over the United States, Canada, Israel, and Mexico, along with 85 staff and specialists.

Bridging the gap between a stand-alone camp and a program within a camp is the Ramah Basketball Academy (RBA) at Ramah Poconos where campers participate in the traditional program for the first session. Then they spend five to six hours a day in intensive basketball instruction for the second session. The camp plans to offer a Ramah Tennis Academy next summer.

Nancy B. Scheff is Director of Communications for the National Ramah Commission.