When the idea of including campers with disabilities in Ramah camp was proposed in the late 1960s, there was a great deal of pushback. Fortunately, we have come a long way since the first Ramah camp began including people with disabilities through its Tikvah Program in 1970. Following in this Ramah tradition, Ramah Galim was founded with inclusion as a core value with Tikvah as part of our camp from the beginning — and we get more inclusive each summer.
This year, we began in-depth discussions about inclusion—for people with disabilities and for everyone—during staff week. The Tikvah staff led a Shabbat afternoon program consisting of stations where we learned texts, discussed benefits and challenges of inclusion, and shared concrete strategies for facilitating inclusion. The Tikvah staff also modeled spirited musical Tikvah davening (prayers) for the camp over Shabbat. The entire staff was more excited than ever before to genuinely include and model inclusion for their campers.
Ramah Galim has reached new levels of inclusion. Inclusion is no longer a “program;” rather it is a mindset and an attitude that reflects our values. Two of the 12 campers who started the summer in Tikvah selected Ocean Exploration as their maslul (specialty track), which they seamlessly attended daily with campers from other edot (divisions). The rest of the Tikvah campers rotated through such activities as kayaking, biking, wall climbing, gardening, and performing arts with peers from other divisions. Additionally, each day, Tikvah joined Bogrim and Nachshonim for morning prayers. I have lost track of the number of Friday afternoon, and Shabbat day and weekday evening peulot erev (evening groups) that have included Tikvah and another edah.
The most wonderful part is that inclusion is no big deal. Campers with and without disabilities participate in camp activities daily—from maslul, to meals, Havdalah, singing and dancing, and Yom Sport.
In this very special summer, when children have been apart for so long, it is a delight to see all campers playing, learning, and enjoying being Jewish together, in their special home, just a short walk from the waves of the Monterey Bay. May we continue to grow our naturally inclusive Ramah Galim community.