Our Tikvah participants joined the whole camp for a trip to Six Flags. Every year, I wonder if this is the best use of our time. It is a fun day, but it is very taxing. We assess the campers and their needs (Which rides? How much supervision? Water park?) and we assign two or three staff members to each group. For me, the main reason to go is to be part of a camp-wide trip. All campers and staff walk the park proudly displaying their Camp Ramah shirts and high-fiving fellow campers as they cross paths in the park. I am sure campers would notice that Tikvah was missing if we opted out of the trip.
How do I know how integral Tikvah is to camp? The trip took place the day after the Amitzim Play. NEVER is the camp so quiet, focused, attentive and respectful as when the Tikvah campers act, sing and dance up on stage. Each camper has a part, well-suited to his or her needs or abilities. The lines are projected on the wall so audience members can follow along (in case they can’t hear the words). One staff member, in camp for the first time and at the play with her young children, had tears in her eyes as she came up to me afterwards to tell me this was the best moment of camp so far. Some audience members chanted names of campers; others clapped. All will return to the world more sensitive to people with special needs.
Our various buddy/peer mentoring programs also help assure that campers will have comfort around and appreciation for people with all abilities and disabilities. Every day, our Bogrim Buddies join our Tikvah group at job sites and the Machon Buddies join our Amitzimers in sports. And the Nivonim MiNis (Madrichim B Nivonim counselors that are Nivonimers) are working with us in many capacities as they develop their leadership skills. Nearly every day, a bunk of campers joins us for tefillot. They sit with our campers and co-lead with our campers. This, too, will go a long way towards feeling comfortable with people of all abilities.
To conclude: When people ask about Tikvah’s role in camp, I often say having Tikvah at Camp Ramah in New England is as natural as having
swimming or Shabbat at camp. Shabbat Shalom!