Camp Ramah, the camping branch of the Conservative Movement of Judaism, has provided special needs populations with an exciting camping experience for over 30 years. The Tikvah (meaning hope in Hebrew) Programs are located in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, California and Canada and serve Jewish adolescents with developmental delays, mental retardation, autism, Aspergers syndrome, Down syndrome and other conditions. The overall website for Ramahs special needs program is http://www.campramah.org The website for Camp Ramah in New England, http://www.campramahne.org, states, Tikvah campers are placed in special programs that allow them to integrate into camp activities whenever possible, with appropriate supports, and special educational and social skill development.

The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England is located in Palmer, Massachusetts. It is an 8-week program for teens 13-21. Campers enjoy a variety of activities and electives, such as swimming, boating, archery and more. Pre-vocational skills training and social skills groups are other components of the program. The Tikvah Program is further divided into Amitzim for ages 13-17 and Vocational Education (Voc Ed) for 18-21 year olds. Members of the Tikvah Program go on an overnight camping trip and take several small trips throughout the summer, such as attending baseball games, horseback riding, and blueberry picking.

Camp counselors are college or graduate students carefully screened and trained by the Tikvah program director at each camp. Former Camp Ramah New England campers make up the majority of counselors. The Tikvah Program Director Howard Blas states, We know how much the program offers campers with special needs. It is the impact on the typical campers and staff members which is truly exceptional–there are hundreds of stories of former campers who went on to work as counselors in the Tikvah program, and on to become pediatricians, psychologists, professors in special education–or just more sensitive people. Two to three counselors live in the bunks with the Tikvah Program campers. Each summer there are an average of 23 Amitzim campers and 12 Voc Ed campers, with the camper to staff ratio being about 2 to 1.

Tikvah Program campers are fully immersed and enmeshed into a variety of aspects of Camp Ramah. They have three meals a day with the rest of Camp Ramah campers. They also participate in such camp-wide activities as Sabbath services, song and dance festivals and plays, as well as during some electives and other activities. The campers with special needs, like all campers at Camp Ramah, put on a divisional play in Hebrew and English near the end of each summer. The Amitzim campers meet with fourteen year old buddies from other divisions of camp two times a week. They have the opportunity to do a variety of activities together such as go on nature walks, rehearse lines for the play, listen to music together, etc.

Fifteen and sixteen year old campers also interact with Amitzim members during swimming, sports, and in the process of preparing to become future camp counselors.

The Voc Ed members, who are also full members of the Ramah community, can be found learning hospitality skills by preparing guest rooms for valued guests to the camp, delivering mail to other campers, helping recycle, picking vegetables from the gardens for meals and much more.

Howard Blas is the director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England. He has a Masters of Social Work and a Masters of Education. His relationship with the Tikvah program began in 1984 when he began serving as a counselor. Howard believes parents are the experts on their children and that communication with parents is essential. The parents are truly amazing, Howard expresses, It is not easy sending your child from Minnesota, Florida, Iowa and Kansas (as well as closer destinations) to camp in Massachusetts — for eight weeks. I always tell the parents that I am an over communicator — I would prefer they call and email too much rather than too little. I often pick up the phone to tell families to simply report on the wonderful day to day things we did — swimming, blueberry picking, archery…

The Tikvah Program has other exciting news. Funding was obtained for a recent summer trip for the Vocational Education program to go to Chapel Haven to visit past campers and learn more about options for the future. Chapel Haven was featured in a past issue of our newsletter and provides special education and independent living resources for adults with cognitive disabilities, http://www.chapelhaven.org Howard Blas had also recently lead two twelve-day trips to Israel for current Tikvah campers and alumni of the program. Their trip focused on learning about Israels culture and history. Finally, the Tikvah Program received funding for a three year pilot program to establish an inclusion program for younger campers. An additional counselor will be added to bunk with the campers, creating 1:3 counselor to camper ratio. A consultant has been hired and everyone is very eager to move into this new chapter of the Tikvah Program.

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Howard was interviewed for Yale’s Developmental Disabilities Clinic Newsletter – Summer 2005 edition, what follows is the excerpt containing Howard’s interview. The original newsletter can be accessed here: http://www.med.yale.edu/chldstdy/autism/summer2005.pdf

Camp Ramah, the camping branch of the Conservative Movement of Judaism, has provided special needs populations with an exciting camping experience for over 30 years. The Tikvah (meaning hope in Hebrew) Programs are located in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, California and Canada and serve Jewish adolescents with developmental delays, mental retardation, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Down syndrome and other conditions. The overall website for Ramah’s special needs program is http://www.campramah.org The website for Camp Ramah in New England, http://www.campramahne.org states, Tikvah campers are placed in special programs that allow them to integrate into camp activities whenever possible, with appropriate supports, and special educational and social skill development.

The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England is located in Palmer, Massachusetts. It is an 8-week program for teens 13-21. Campers enjoy a variety of activities and electives, such as swimming, boating, archery and more. Pre-vocational skills training and social skills groups are other components of the program. The Tikvah Program is further divided into Amitzim for ages 13-17 and Vocational Education (Voc Ed) for 18-21 year olds. Members of the Tikvah Program go on an overnight camping trip and take several small trips throughout the summer, such as attending baseball games, horseback riding, and blueberry picking.

Camp counselors are college or graduate students carefully screened and trained by the Tikvah program director at each camp. Former Camp Ramah New England campers make up the majority of counselors. The Tikvah Program Director Howard Blas states, “We know how much the program offers campers with special needs. It is the impact on the typical campers and staff members which is truly exceptional — there are hundreds of stories of former campers who went on to work as counselors in the Tikvah program, and on to become pediatricians, psychologists, professors in special education — or just more sensitive people.” Two to three counselors live in the bunks with the Tikvah Program campers. Each summer there are an average of 23 Amitzim campers and 12 Voc Ed campers, with the camper to staff ratio being about 2 to 1.

Tikvah Program campers are fully immersed and enmeshed into a variety of aspects of Camp Ramah. They have three meals a day with the rest of Camp Ramah campers. They also participate in such camp-wide activities as Sabbath services, song and dance festivals and plays, as well as during some electives and other activities. The campers with special needs, like all campers at Camp Ramah, put on a divisional play in Hebrew and English near the end of each summer. The Amitzim campers meet with fourteen year old buddies from other divisions of camp two times a week. They have the opportunity to do a variety of activities together such as go on nature walks, rehearse lines for the play, listen to music together, etc. Fifteen and sixteen year old campers also interact with Amitzim members during swimming, sports, and in the process of preparing to become future camp counselors.

The Voc Ed members, who are also full members of the Ramah community, can be found learning hospitality skills by preparing guest rooms for valued guests to the camp, delivering mail to other campers, helping recycle, picking vegetables from the gardens for meals and much more.

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Original Article Published On the Jewish Ledger

ORANGE — A physician, psychologist and a hospital medical worker are meeting one evening in the classroom of a local synagogue. But this 9*attending Al-Anon, which met some of her needs.

“I recently attended a JACS weekend and it was so spiritually uplifting. We were all people who somehow underwent this incredible gift of experiencing terrible experiences: abuse (alcohol, drugs, emotional, spiritual, physical, etc), pain, loss of faith, etc., and yet we found that we were given another opportunity to start over and have the unity, the understanding, the identification with one another. There was a feeling of belonging, and safety within this framework of people who you didn’t even know. I met so many baal teshuvot [sic]…women who were turning their life over to the care of G-d, as they understood him…It was and is very empowering. I always knew that there were people like me somewhere out there.”

Alcohol: Drug of Choice

It is difficult to determine the number of Jews battling chemical dependency. A 2001 JACS study, “Characteristics of a Population of Chemically Dependent Jewish Men and Women,” was published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. The study, of 379 individuals who were part of the JACS database, showed that while 71% of respondents reported using more than one substance, alcohol tends to be the drug of choice for chemically dependent Jews. Also, the study shows a relatively large proportion of women substance abusers, and the study does not support the hypothesis that alcoholic Jews suffer from lack of education, poor income, alienation, or loss of religious conviction.

While JACS has been a source of support for so many Jews around the world, it is likely that many Jews with chemical dependency issues are still not attending meetings.

The JACS New Haven group meets on Sunday nights from 8-9 p.m. at Temple Emanuel, 150 Derby Ave. (Route 34 and Dogwood) in Orange. Contact jacsnewhaven@aol.com or call 203-988-3601.

Where to Go for Help

There are 64 JACS groups in 21 states, and there are additional groups in Israel and four other countries.

The national JACS organization may be contacted via their website at http://www.jacsweb.org or via email jacs@jacsweb.org or at 212-397-4197.
There is a JACS meeting each week in Stamford [Monday nights at 8:30 n Open “Pathways to Life” at Jewish Family Services – 111 Prospect Street, Stamford n contact Netta Stern at (203) 921-4161 ext. 122 nettastern@ctjfs.org. Congregation BEKI in New Haven hosts weekly AA meetings on Thursdays at 8pm Visit http://www.beki.org

For more details (go to “Tiqun HaOlam n Social Action Projects” and follow the link for “AA Meeting”).

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Original Article Published on The Jewish Ledger

WATERFORD — Rabbis across the country recently received an important pre-Pesach letter from Eli Zborowski, chairman of the American and International Societies for Yad Vashem.

“I am a Holocaust survivor and the words from slavery to redemption’ hold special meaning to me,” Zborowski wrote.

He then asks that rabbis and their congregants collect Pages of Testimony for the Yad Vashem Online Names Database to help ensure that every victim has a place in our collective memory.

Already the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, which was opened in November 2004 for global access (http://www.yadvashem.org), is helping to make sure victims of the Holocaust are recorded. It currently has recorded close to three million names.

Dr. Romana Strochlitz Primus, a Waterford resident, mother of four, and a member of the executive board of the American Society for Yad Vashem, has been involved in the collection of testimonies since 1977.

“We submitted forms for grandparents, aunts and uncles killed during the Holocaust. And we encouraged others to get the data in as well. We even sat with some of them to insure that they filled out the forms,” she said.

Primus, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and she served as chairperson of the Life Reborn Project, in which collected artifacts and hosted an international conference in January 2000 on Jewish Displaced Persons, 1945-1951.

Primus acknowledges the usefulness of the on-line database and sees potential for increased interest in the Holocaust.

Primus recounts the story of two sisters, Clara and Chana, who last saw each other in the Budapest Ghetto in 1944. Until a granddaughter began using the database, the sisters assumed the other had died during the Holocaust. The sisters, who both live in Israel, have since been reunited. Primus also notes that the on-line nature of the database allows for easy entry and is less threatening, especially for younger people.

“I hope they will become more interested in the Holocaust and find a direct connection.”

Primus has mainly used the on-line database to make corrections to entries of her family members, and to point out duplications. For example, Primus notes that her maternal grandfather was one of 12 siblings. When the youngest survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel, he also submitted the pages of testimony, which had already been submitted by Primus. “It is really important to get duplications out and for Yad Vashem to have credible claims about the numbers,” notes Primus. “It is important to have an accurate history of the Holocaust.”

Primus was delighted when, three weeks ago, she found news of a living relative she hadn’t known.

“When I was looking in the database, I found my paternal grandmother. Another person was also searching. She wrote and said that my grandmother was her aunt.”

Yad Vashem began collecting Pages of Testimony in 1955. Approximately 30,000 new pages of testimony are recorded each year. More than two million names have been recorded on pages of testimony since 1955 and an additional million names have been taken from other archival resources.

According to Rachelle Grossman, director of communications for American Society for Yad Vashem, there has been “overwhelming interest” and “several million visits” to the site thus far.

Dr. Romana Strochlitz Primus will be honored by the American Society for Yad Vashem at its Fifth Annual Spring Luncheon on Wednesday, May 25. For more information, call American Society for Yad Vashem at (212) 220-4304 or send an e-mail to info@yadvashemusa.com.

Primus has mainly used the on-line database to make corrections to entries of her family members, and to point out duplications. For example, Primus notes that her maternal grandfather was one of 12 siblings. When the youngest survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel, he also submitted the pages of testimony, which had already been submitted by Primus. “It is really important to get duplications out and for Yad Vashem to have credible claims about the numbers,” notes Primus. “It is important to have an accurate history of the Holocaust.”

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