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Camp Ramah and FJMC: A Special Relationship

In addition to supporting the Darkness into Light scholarship program administered by USY, FJMC clubs and regions recognize the importance of our youth and have chosen to support them in many ways. Here are reports from three of the FJMC regions that support Ramah Camps.

Anshei Darom

There had been strong interest in creating a southern Ramah Camp for decades. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the process was initiated. At the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club convention that year, FJMC Executive Director Rabbi Charles Simon suggested to Alan Sussman of Temple Israel’s men’s club in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Gene Sacks of West End Synagogue’s Men’s Club in Nashville, Tennessee, that the time was ripe for the creation of a new FJMC region in the southeast, outside of Florida.

Sussman and Sacks were flattered by the opportunity, but felt strongly that some type of meaningful project was needed to bring together men’s clubs from such a wide geographic area. Serendipitously, during the convention, they were introduced to National Ramah Commission Director Rabbi Sheldon Dorph. As a result of this meeting, they recognized the need for a Camp Ramah in the southeast and proceeded to spend the next month on the phone urging fellow men’s club members and regional leaders of all branches of the Conservative movement to support such a momentous endeavor.

In November 1993 a meeting was held in Charlotte, attended by Eric Singer (whose father Sol, z’l, had spearheaded efforts in the 1960s to create a Ramah Camp in the south), as well as members of the FJMC, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Rabbinical Assembly, National Ramah Commission, and numerous other lay leaders. A matching grant of $40,000 was pledged by three generous leaders and this grant was matched over the next several months by organizations and individuals. A feasibility study determined that there was a tremendous amount of support and a founding board was established, a site for the camp near Clayton, Georgia was proposed, and Ramah Darom was born.

The partnership between Ramah Darom and Anshei Darom (the southeastern region of FJMC) continues to this day. Regional retreats for members of men’s clubs throughout the region have taken place at Camp Ramah Darom every since 1998, and the donation of gifts and scholarships to the camp from men’s club members is ongoing.

From its inception, members of men’s clubs from Anshei Darom have given financial support and have provided leadership to this outstanding institution. This partnership represents a wonderful model for committed Jewish men to emulate.

– Dr. Eugene Saks, past president of Ramah Darom and the Anshei Darom Region

Middle Atlantic Region

In 1980, Lee Linder, president of the Middle Atlantic Region, proposed a regional event to support Camp Ramah in the Poconos. It was decided to create an annual concert of well-known entertainers, held in different region synagogues. Since the region’s kippah color was gold, the concert was originally named the Golden Yarmulka Youth Campaign Concert. In 2002 it was changed to the Golden Kippah Youth Campaign Concert. As a result of the untiring and determined efforts of Lee Linder, who led the project for 19 years, and his successors, the concerts raised approximately $1,250,000 over 29 years (1980-2008).

The first funded project was an indoor sport activities center, which was named for Lee on visiting day 2003. The next was the refurbishment of all 30 camper bunks. When the refurbishing was completed the bunks were renamed the “Condos.” Financial- need scholarships were the next project supported by the concerts.

Throughout the concert years, there was no paid staff, and all proceeds went to Camp Ramah in the Poconos.

After a short hiatus, a new era in regional support for Camp Ramah in the Poconos has begun. All monies raised through the Tour de Shuls PA-NJ Ride are earmarked to fund the new softball field and tennis courts. Thus the region helps Ramah continue to nurture and develop our youth, enhancing the future of the Jewish community.

– Mike Brassloff, based on information provided by Michael Weingram, both past region presidents

New England Region

Since 1970, Camp Ramah in New England has offered a special program to meet the social and religious needs of developmentally challenged Jewish adolescents. The Tikvah (hope) Program provides the full Ramah experience – swimming, boating, sports, the arts, dance, dramatics, and more – under the supervision of specially trained staff. Like all Ramah campers, Tikvah campers receive intensive Jewish education that includes Judaic classes, daily religious services, Hebrew language, and bar and bat mitzvah training.

The New England Region of FJMC has been sponsoring events in support of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah, located in Palmer, Massachusetts, since the early 1990s. The events have included a raffle, a concert and most recently, the region’s Tour de Shuls. Several Tikvah leaders and Tikvah campers participate as riders and/or helpers in the annual event.

Since the relationship began, the region has given the camp over $100,000. In addition to a hand-scribed scroll of Lamentations donated to the camp, region leaders personally purchased three sailboats which are named for FJMC activities: World Wide Wrap, Yellow Candle and Art of Jewish Living.

In 2001, the region relocated its annual retreat to Camp Ramah in New England. The retreat, formerly named the Laymen’s Institute, celebrated its 66th year in June 2012. The retreat of NER (New England Region, FJMC), held every year since its inception in 1945, is the oldest continuous men’s Jewish retreat in the United States.

Camp Ramah in New England has placed a permanent plaque of appreciation in honor of the region’s support of the camp and its Tikvah Program.

– Arnold Miller, region president

 
 
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