Original Article Published On The Jewish Philanthropy

The light bulb went off in the final minutes of the Zoom discussion of the movie “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” with disability rights pioneer and icon, Judith Heumann. In the Q&A for members of the Ramah camping community, one participant asked, “How do we give the typical campers a Tikvah experience if there is no camp this summer?” He was acknowledging the important reality that campers and staff would be denied the important opportunity to meaningfully interact in person with campers with disabilities from the Tikvah inclusion program.

Without missing a beat, Judy suggested that our synagogues and Jewish communal institutions mark the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which coincides with the same year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Tikvah.

The ADA, a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disability, was signed in 1990 by President Bush. The law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and imposes accessibility requirements on public transportation. Ironically, religious entities like synagogues are completely exempt from portions of the ADA. All of their facilities, programs, and activities, whether they are religious or secular in nature, are exempt.

The ADA became a law twenty years after the Ramah camping movement started including campers with disabilities. In the early years, inclusion in Jewish summer camps was not a “given”. It required the persistence of passionate visionaries.

In the late 1960s, two special education teachers, Herb and Barbara Greenberg, proposed that Jewish children and young adults with disabilities be included in Jewish summer camps. Despite opposition by people claiming it would bankrupt the camps, disrupt the structure of the camps, lower the level of Hebrew and cause the “normal” campers to leave, the Greenbergs persisted. One Ramah director, Donny Adelman, said, “Why should Ramah exist if not for this reason?” He agreed to have Tikvah at his camp in Glen Spey, New York. In 1970, the camp welcomed eight young adults with disabilities. The camp soon moved to Camp Ramah in New England in Palmer, MA.

At around the time of Tikvah’s founding, Judy Heumann, a young camper with polio, was attending Camp Jened in upstate New York. “Crip Camp” profiles a group of teens with disabilities, including Judy, who attended Camp Jened during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Judy went on to become one of the most important and influential voices in the disability rights movement. Crip Camp won the Sundance Audience Award for US Documentary earlier this year.

Heumann personifies the history of disability rights in American. She fought to be included in the NYC public school system, took on the Board of Education in New York for the right to obtain a teaching license, founded Disabled in Action, and organized over 100 activists with disabilities to stage sit-ins in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The sit-ins laid the groundwork for the ADA.

Heumann’s years of activism include serving in the Clinton and Obama Administrations. Judy has a new memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, and she is a proud and involved Jew and member of Adas Israel in Washington, DC.

Camp Ramah and the National Ramah Tikvah Network’s growth and development parallel Heumann’s lifetime of activism. We have continued to expand the inclusion of campers with disabilities in our camps in North America, and in our Israel programs.

I worked as a Tikvah counselor in 1984 at Camp Ramah in New England, served for many years as a division head and Tikvah director, and currently serve as the director of our National Ramah Tikvah Network and of the Tikvah Program at Ramah Galim in Northern California. In 2015, when Ramah Galim was about to open its doors, director Rabbi Sarah Shulman and her board of directors insisted they open for all campers only once a Tikvah program was in place.

Tikvah programs have served several thousand campers with disabilities, and dozens of our staff members have gone on to work in fields related to disabilities inclusion. Most importantly, perhaps, is the shaping of attitudes for thousands of campers, staff members, families, and Israeli staff members.

The Ramah Camping Movement is not offering in-person camp programs this summer, and we will reschedule some of our “Tikvah at 50” festivities. However, we continue to offer robust programming to all of our Ramah campers online. Each day, our campers, with and without disabilities, participate in various Ramah-style programs virtually. Tikvah vocational program participants are engaged in a 12-session virtual vocational training program.

Thanks to Judy’s suggestion, Ramah will jointly celebrate “Tikvah at 50” and “ADA at 30.” Activities will include a panel discussion entitled “Jewish Journeys: Tikvah’s Role in the Jewish Disability Narrative” and staff/parent movie nights featuring clips on the theme of disabilities inclusion, singing and dancing, prayer services and more.

We greatly appreciate Judy continuing to encourage us at Ramah to do more to be inclusive and aware of the needs of people with disabilities. Here are other ways Judy suggests the Jewish community mark ADA at 30:

  • Share sermons or divrei torah (from the bima or in writing) about ADA
  • Screen and discuss “Crip Camp” and other ReelAbilities movies which show the many abilities of people with disabilities
  • Make concrete strides to go beyond ADA to be more inclusive in our shuls
  • Review what has been done thus far for disabilities inclusion and establish objectives for between now and February (Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month).
  • Engage disabled and non-disabled people from your community – if not already doing so. (Many have already established task forces and working groups.)

Thousands of Jews have grown up at Jewish camps that include people with disabilities. They have seen first-hand how important it is for everyone to feel included. Let’s celebrate ADA at 30 with a renewed commitment to including everyone!

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During these tough times, it is especially important to celebrate happy occasions.  That is why invitations to celebrate Zoom and occasional in person brisses and baby namings, b’nai mitzvahs and weddings have been so meaningful.

Tomorrow, the Ramah Camping Movement embarks on a week of events which mark two historical events:  Tikvah at 50 and the ADA at 30.   

The Tikvah Program has been including campers with disabilities at Ramah camps since 1970.  We began to celebrate this milestone in 2019 in Jerusalem at the start of our last Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hike; to kick off the ride and hike, we honored Tikvah’s founders, Herb and Barbara Greenberg.  We had hoped to continue the festivities with an event at Camp Ramah in New England this summer. Instead, we will continue on Zoom tomorrow evening, when we also mark the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush. It is a civil rights law which prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations. Ironically, religious entities like synagogues are completely exempt from Title III of the ADA. All of their facilities, programs, and activities, whether they are religious or secular in nature, are exempt.

At Ramah, people with disabilities participate in all aspects of camp—camping and vocational training programs, they serve as staff members, and they attend Israel programs.  The impact of Ramah on campers, family members, staff and the entire Ramah community is extraordinary.

Tomorrow night, we kick off our special week with “Jewish Journeys: Tikvah's Role in the Jewish Disability Narrative”—it will focus on the growth and impact of Ramah’s Tikvah programs over the past fifty years, through the lens of Tikvah alumni, parents, staff, and community members.  There is still time to register:

We will also be singing and dancing in celebration of Tikvah, viewing movie clubs and discussing disabilities inclusion, and more.

Keep an eye for special events in celebration of ADA at 30—start your search here, on the ADA Anniversary website!


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This has been a very tough five months for lovers of live music, for artists and for anyone connected with the music industry, including roadies, sound and light engineers, ushers, food and merch vendors and anyone who owns a food establishment near a concert venue.   The disappearance of live music happened so abruptly!

The last big concert to take place in NYC before Covid-19 struck was “The Brothers:  Celebrating 50 Years of the Allman Brothers Band” at Madison Square Garden.   Warren Haynes shared the story of the shift from great live music to “limited” music to no music in “The Power of Live” (June 2020) issue of Relix Magazine.

 Two days after the packed MSG show, Haynes, Jackson Browne, Dave Matthews and others played the Love Rocks NYC benefit concert at the Beacon Theater in NYC—before a small audience of family and friends—due to coronavirus concerns.  That was it—no more live music.  So sad. 

I know that feeling of disappointment.  I was supposed to attend some of the much anticipated shows celebrating Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh ‘s 80th birthday at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester March 13 – 15, and I was planning on seeing several Dead and Co shows this summer. 

Admittedly, some musicians have done their best to make their live music available to fans during these tough times.    Each week, fans enjoy Phish’s “Dinner and a Movie,” Weir Wednesdays (Bob Weir and the Wolf Brothers), Dave Matthews Band (also on Wednesdays), Moe, String Cheese Incident, Dead and Co (Saturday nights) and more. There are many free weekly concerts offered online.

And some musicians have gotten very creative—Ben Folds performed each Saturday night for about 13 weeks from a rented apartment in Sydney, Australia.  Holly Bowling has performed The Living Room Sessions regularly, where she plays whole sets of Dead and Phish shows.  And there are others.

Trey Anastasio of Phish was asked if he and his band would consider playing a show on Zoom, where he, Fish, Page and Mike are in separate “squares.”   He dismissed it.  He speaks frequently of just how much the musicians and audience play off of each other.  He even pointed out in the Relix issue and in interviews that he drives his band crazy by never knowing what song he will open with—he waits to “feel” the vibe of the crowd before deciding.

So, what is it about live music that makes it so important—and magical—for fans and performers?  Obviously, on a practical level, performing live is a big part of how musicians and their crews pay the bills. But the live music experience is so much more than a financial transaction between performers and fans.

Most performers love what they do, they give it their all each night, and they play off the electricity of their fans.   This is what keeps musicians like Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend performing in to their 70s and even 80s.

In the aforementioned Relix issue, Don Was, president of Blue Note records, a famed producer and bass player who has played with Bob Weir and Jay Lane in the Wolf Brothers, looks at live music’s draw “in both scientific and mystical terms.”  He notes, “There’s a body of work that establishes how live music creates social bonding and a wave of synchronicity.  There’s a lot of research that indicates we experience greater enjoyment in the presence of live music and by being part of a larger group.  A lot of it just has to do with dancing, which is why it transcends genres…I think any body movement encodes emotional information and, when you experience that with others, there are social consequences.  You establish a rapport, a sense of community—people like each other more, they trust each other more, and they cooperate more.” 

He goes on to say, “There’s something about the presence of the performer in the room that makes a difference.  …it’s a sense that the audience has the ability to influence the performance…. everyone gets swept away, and I see it as a spiraling tornado.”  

I think Don Was hits the nail on the head—and he helps us understand just WHY we are missing live music so much.  It is the shared experience, the all-in-it-together feeling, the job, the swaying and dancing.  We are all missing these experiences of connecting with other music lovers, and with the musicians themselves. 

On one hand, the return to any in person still feels very far off. How will it possible for tens of thousands to pack MSG for a Springsteen concert, or LockN or Coachella for a music festival?  And we know how smaller clubs are suffering—it is nearly impossible to practice social distancing in a small space, and club owners will never make a profit if the venue is not packed.  On the other hand, there are some promising signs ahead. 

Check out the City Winery Outdoor Concert Series an hour north of Manhattan, featuring Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Martin Sexton, Joan Osborne and others. They are following strict safety guidelines:

All guests are required to complete a contactless temperature check and wellness questionnaire prior to entrance, masks or face coverings are required when entering and moving throughout public areas where social distancing is not possible, and seating will be by pods.  [“We are no longer seating unaffiliated parties together.  As such, tickets for this show will be sold for a single pod seating 2, 4, 8 or 10 people- select the appropriate group size for you and your companions.  You're welcome to take off your mask in your pod.”]

And LockN, originally scheduled for June, is still moving ahead in Arrington, VA, from October 2nd-4th.  They will also be following New Safety Policies, including masks, social distancing, cashless transactions, health screenings, and extra handwashing and sanitation stations.

Live music is SO important—for fans and musicians. We tip our hats to the musicians who continue to share live music online for their fans, and to City Winery, LockN and others who are doing the best to safely reunite fans and musicians.

See you at the show!


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Usually at this point in the summer, I would be finished running an overnight camp program and would be visiting other camps across the country.  After eating meals, attending activities and otherwise just hanging out with hundreds of campers ages 9-16 and staff ages 18 to their mid-twenties, I would be tuned in to the kinds of things that are on the minds of children of all ages. Usually, camper questions are something like this:

-Did I get any mail?

-Can I borrow your Shabbat dress?

-What is my job on the job wheel? (Yuck, I HATE bathrooms!)

-When is Visitors Day?

-Is there a cookout tonight?

-Do I have to go on the camping trip?


Campers are generally so engaged and happy to be with friends that their few questions focus on life beyond camp.  Young counselors are generally in their happy place in camp and also focus mostly on the here and now.

-Where should I go on my day off?

-How do I look in this dress?

-Can I Venmo you?

-Who are you rooming with this semester?


This summer, most kids continue to be “stuck” at home.  Some are in day camp programs.  A few are at overnight camps, where their parents are praying no one will get Covid-19.   The questions I am hearing are mostly from bar and bat mitzvah students I continue to see on FaceTime and Zoom. 

Recent questions—all serious and one provocative—include:

 -Can we get a dog?

-Do you think we’ll get in to Hershey Park if we drive all the way down, or will it be closed if it is too full?

-Can we rent an RV to go on vacation?

-Is it ok if we eat pork in front of you? (referring to his upcoming outdoors, socially distanced bar mitzvah) 

To my delight and surprise, I haven’t heard any kids ask, “When will we stop having lessons for the summer?”  I think everyone has lost track of time—and the lessons actually serve as a not so horrible way to spend an hour each week!




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