This month, members of Camp Ramah in New England’s Tikvah Program returned to their home communities in New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Florida and California. Unlike their neurotypical peers who have year-round opportunities to participate in Jewish life, learning and socialization, our campers with such special needs as autism, cognitive impairments and cerebral palsy will sadly return to isolation and a lack of meaningful Jewish connection. And they will long for their return to camp in 10 months. How can the campers and their beloved counselors stay connected year-round? “Shabbos Is Calling!”
“Shabbos Is Calling” is a Ruderman Family Foundation-funded weekly video conference program for members of the Tikvah community. Each Thursday night, campers and staff members log on and the faces and names of their friends appear, Brady-Bunch style, across the screen. Staff members prepare stories about the weekly Torah portion and upcoming holidays, lead songs and facilitate 30 minutes of weekly “schmoozing” where the campers share their week – birthdays, school plays and sports meets – and what they’re looking forward to that Shabbos.
As Roberta, Sam’s mother, reports, Sam’s camp friends are his only Jewish friends, so “Shabbos is Calling” is the only Jewish activity he does with friends during the year. Sam looks forward to his weekly computer chat with camp friends all year. Or as Betty, mother of Ilyse, writes: It makes summer camp life and not just camp.
“Shabbos Is Calling,” underway in four Ramah camps so far, is a wonderful tool for keeping children and adults with and without special needs connected and engaged year-round.