Two years ago, a delegation of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and Jewish Funders Network (JFN) members visited eight Jewish summer camps in the Northeast in three days. Despite their different locations (from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts), sizes, and movement affiliations, the camps had one important thing in common: They were successfully including campers with disabilities in the camp community.

The long bus ride provided opportunities for discussion and processing of all the group was seeing and experiencing. The energy, enthusiasm, sharing, and creative thinking led to an amazing back-of-the-bus brainstorm—how about a one-day conference on disabilities inclusion in the Jewish community after the GA 2012 in Maryland? Thus, “Opening Abraham’s Tent: The Disability Inclusion Initiative” was born.

Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO, Jerry Silverman, literally ran straight from the halls of the GA to Opening Abraham’s Tent to welcome the 120 attendees. The audience members and speakers from across North America and Israel, assembled on short notice, were a “who’s who” of the Jewish disabilities world; each made his or her way to Baltimore to be part of this historic meeting.

I was proud to represent the National Ramah Commission at the convening. Looking around the room, I saw so many colleagues from across North America, and from many different organizations in the Jewish disabilities world. Many of us reflected proudly on how we got our start in this field by working with the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah. Since 1970, the Tikvah Program has been a pioneer in serving and including campers with disabilities and in training staff members for this important work.

In recent weeks, Ramah has taken this to the next level by creating the position of director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, a position which I assumed last month and which is funded by the Oppenheimer Haas Foundation. The National Ramah Tikvah Network will expand its efforts to support the Ramah camps’ efforts to raise funds and create new programming to meet the needs of this vitally important population.

Now, two years later, nearly to the day, the GA returns to Maryland. So much has happened in the disabilities inclusion world since that initial meeting to establish Opening Abraham’s Tent. Much of the Jewish world—from synagogues to organizations to funders—is making strides toward inclusion and serving people with disabilities. We need to keep the people engaged in this effort and the issue high on the Jewish communal agenda. The work is not over.

The topics of disabilities and inclusion are now more openly discussed in religious schools, synagogues, camps, Jewish organizations, and even in the Israel Defense Forces. As a result, new disabilities and inclusion initiatives are being launched, and existing ones are being expanded throughout the North American Jewish community and in Israel. We are proud that many of the individuals establishing, leading, and staffing these initiatives and programs gained their skills and knowledge in the disabilities field by having trained and worked at Ramah’s Tikvah camping programs.

Here are just several examples of new initiatives or expansions of already existing disabilities inclusion programs:

  • The Shefa School, a new Jewish day school in Manhattan serving children with language-based learning disabilities, opened this past September.
  • The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) recently hired a full-time director of their disabilities initiative. This will allow more camps to receive resources, support, and training as they expand services to campers with a wide range of disabilities.
  • Two new Tikvah programs for campers with disabilities will be opening by summer 2016 at Ramah Darom in Georgia and Camp Ramah in the Poconos. They will be staffed through the growing pipeline of young adults who have participated in National Ramah Tikvah Network training, which now includes staff from all other Jewish camps and is funded with the support of the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of NY.

-Hineinu: Building Jewish Community for People of All Abilities, a cross-denominational partnership, recently produced a free, 32-page guide designed to increase disability inclusion in synagogues.

– JCC camps across the United States and Canada continue to expand services for people with disabilities.

– Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, continues to evolve and grow, now offering “shadow programs for maximum inclusion, where campers are FULLY integrated into a typical bunk together with supportive  ‘shadow’ staff.”

– The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and Ruderman Family Foundation launched a new Inclusion Initiative, with the goal of improving attitudes about inclusion and disabilities and ensuring full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities and their families in every aspect of Reform Jewish life.

This increased disabilities inclusion awareness and these new and expanded initiatives are due in large part to increased collaboration and sharing among Jewish institutions and organizations. In the Ramah camping movement, we have always believed that the best results come from joint efforts, and we have been eager to share best practices derived from our 45 years of experience in inclusion of Jewish campers with disabilities.

With generous funding from the Covenant Foundation, Ramah recently convened thirty camp directors, disabilities program coordinators, funders, and key shareholders from across the entire Ramah movement for a day of strategic planning around disabilities camping. This effort was an exciting milestone in our efforts to think together about ways we can both strengthen inclusion within Ramah as well as share our expertise with other camping movements and educational organizations seeking to create programs for children with disabilities and include them in every aspect of Jewish life.

Last week, I had the privilege of having dinner in Ra’anana, Israel, with Herb and Barbara Greenberg. In the late 1960s, these two humble Long Island public school teachers had the visionary idea to create a Jewish overnight summer camp program for campers with developmental disabilities. Despite opposition and concerns that it would lead to “normal kids” leaving, decrease the level of Hebrew, be too costly, and otherwise negatively impact the Ramah camping experience, they went ahead with their idea, with the support of a lone Ramah director, Don Adelman (z’l).

Now, 45 years later, Tikvah serves 320 children, teens, and young adults with disabilities in the Ramah camps throughout North America and also offers family camp and vocational training programs, as well as the launch of new inclusion programming in the Ramah Israel Seminar summer travel program. We all benefit from the Greenbergs’ and Don Adelman’s efforts and look to them as inspiration as we train the next generation of young people dedicated to making a place for everyone inside the Jewish community’s tent.

 (Source: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com)

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Telegraphic Agency

SUNRISE, Fla. (JTA) – It wasn’t Tel Aviv, but thousands of people chanting his name at a Davis Cup match following a grueling victory was a pretty good way for Israel’s Andy Ram to leave the game of tennis to which he had devoted more than half his life.

Ram, 34, and his longtime doubles partner, Yoni Erlich, had just outlasted the Argentine duo of Federico Delbonis and Horacio Zeballos in a five-set match on Saturday that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours.

With Ram sprawled out on center court — on his back, in tears — the crowd waved Israeli flags and “Todah [Thank you] Andy Ram” signs in Hebrew and chanted “Andyoni” and “Tishaer [Stay],” suggesting that he put off the retirement he had announced recently.

His teammates, wearing “Todah Andy” shirts, surrounded Ram, hoisted him in the air and carried him off the court. They proceeded to dump an ice-filled bucket on his head.

He would stay on the court for 20 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures.

At a news conference afterward, Ram talked about his actions following the match, with Erlich and coach Eyal Ran at his side.

“I ran out of energy,” he said. “Then, as I was looking up at the sky and the birds, I got very emotional. And I cried like a baby.

“I thought of my father who couldn’t be here. I thought of my mom who was here. I left home at 14 to play tennis. Most of our relationship was on the phone. It meant the world to me that she was here.”

The doubles victory had put underdog Israel ahead 2-1 in the team match, but Argentina took both singles matches the following day to advance in the international tournament.

Despite the thunderous reception — as well as the Hebrew music heard frequently during the changeovers — Ram and his Israeli teammates lamented that the match was not played in central Israel, as scheduled, rather than South Florida.

In July, the Argentine Tennis Association requested a change in venue from the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv due to security concerns surrounding the conflict in Gaza. The International Tennis Federation informed Israel in August that the match had to be moved. Israel appealed but lost; it would have to serve as host in a different location.

The Sunrise Tennis Club was selected from among several options. Much of the crowd there backed the Israelis, with a section of Argentines clad in light blue and white shirts rooting on their guys.

“We are playing here in the U.S.; it is a good feeling and yet it is not the best feeling,” Ram told JTA on Friday. “It was supposed to be in Israel. I wanted to play in front of my home crowd.”

His teammate, Dudi Sela, was a little more direct.

“The ITF made a mistake,” Sela told JTA. “We were looking forward to playing in front of 11,000 people cheering for Israel.”

Asi Touchmair, the chair of the Israel Tennis Association, noted in a statement that Israel has hosted the Davis Cup during times of war and military operations without having to move the matches.

Despite the distance and the logistics difficulties involved, Touchmair said, “we decided to play the Davis Cup in South Florida due to the warm and welcoming relationship that Israel receives from the United States, and where an atmosphere of a ‘home away from home’ will be experienced by our Israel Davis Cup team.”

Among those who made the trek to Sunrise was Andrea Eidman, an Argentine sports journalist who came from Buenos Aires.

“People asked me, who do you cheer for? And honestly, I didn’t care!” she said.

Eidman added, “For me, being present at that tennis court … with the Hebrew music going on and on, with the Israeli flags, the ‘Hatikvah,’ the shofar — it was a party from beginning to end!”

Ram, sitting in the stands on Friday with Erlich, 37, and cheering on his teammates during singles’ matches, told JTA he had no problem looking toward the future.

“I try to put it behind me, like in the past,” he said. “I am the kind of guy who is always thinking, ‘What’s next?’

“It was fun. It was a good time. Next is to focus on my kids [aged 5 and 7]. To see them growing, to be great athletes. To find myself, my way.”

Ram and Erlich – natives of Uruguay and Argentina, respectively — reached as high as No. 5 in the world doubles rankings. They advanced to 36 finals and won 20 of them, including the 2008 Australian Open. Ram also won the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2006 and the French Open mixed doubles in 2007.

Ram is particularly proud of his Davis Cup record of 19-5 following the one final victory – achieved despite pulling muscle in his left leg late in the fifth set.

“I sent Jonathan on a suicide mission,” Ram joked. “He said, ‘Just get the serves in. I will do the rest.’ ”

Erlich’s particularly strong volleys powered the duo in the final set in 91-degree heat.

Ram spoke of his partnership with Ehrlich.

“When we go on court together, magic happens. We communicate. We know what the other one will do,” Ram said.

Erlich offered, “We had motivation, energy and a lot of belief.”

Eidman summed up what much of the crowd was likely feeling on seeing Ram’s finale.

“I felt like crying when Andy Ram said goodbye to tennis,” she said, noting that the Argentina team’s Jewish captain, Martin Jaite, was playing in his final match, too.

Eidman also said, “I would have loved to travel to eretz Israel instead of America. … It hurt my heart not to go to Israel because of the war.”

But, Ram said, “11,000 people screaming Andyoni is amazing!”

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Film screened at UK House of Commons show how a Jewish and a black player broke through the color barrier and anti-Semitism- on the tennis court

Although Angela Buxton applied for membership in the All England Lawn Tennis Club in August 1958, she is still awaiting a reply. Given her tennis bonafides, this may surprise: She reached the singles quarterfinals of the French Open in 1954 and the finals of Wimbledon in 1956. And then, of course, there are those “minor” doubles championships at the French Open and Wimbledon in 1956.

“I think the reason is quite clear,” Buxton says during a conversation in the media dining room of the US Open in New York City. The 80-year-old is reporting for both Florida Tennis magazine, and her native United Kingdom-based tennis publication.

“I can only assume it is because I am a Jew,” she says in her typical feisty style.

Perhaps, but it may also have to do with her doubles partner, African American Althea Gibson at Wimbledon in 1956.

Buxton’s unique life journey began in Liverpool, England in 1934, and has included stops in South Africa, the US, India, and Israel, making her uniquely qualified to break the color barrier in the tennis world.

Buxton’s father, Harry, owned a chain of movie theaters in England. When World War II approached, Harry stayed in England to run the business, but sent his wife, Violet, and two children to South Africa. Buxton fondly recalls her seven years spent in various cities including Johannesburg and Cape Town. She attended a convent school where the nuns and other students — some of whom were Jewish — were very kind.

At eight years old, Buxton began playing in her compulsory daily tennis daily class where she showed great promise.

While the Buxtons were relatively comfortable in South Africa, it was here that Buxton experienced racism for the first time.

“We hadn’t experienced it in England. My mom was no-nonsense when we came across it.” Buxton describes her friendship with a black girl her age, the daughter of servants next door with whom she “played hopscotch and similar games.” Friends and neighbors disapproved of the friendship, noting, “We don’t mix with blacks.”

In a similar incident, the Buxton family was approached by a black young woman looking for some cleaning work. Several days later, she appeared with her six-month-old daughter, desperately seeking a place to stay.

‘You Jews are all the same. You think you own the world!’

“We offered her a job and a place to sleep — on the stoop of our flat” until the landlord threatened to evict them. Despite her mother’s attitude of acceptance, she was also pragmatic and said, “We are guests of the country. We need to keep our heads down and noses clean.”

“This incident stayed in my mind until I met Althea,” says Buxton.

Buxton’s first encounter with anti-Semitism also occurred in South Africa. Her mother Violet was in the common bathroom shared by several flats arranging her hair. When a man asked if she is finished yet, he then remarked, “You Jews are all the same. You think you own the world!” Violet took her comb and hit him. “Twice,” recalls Buxton.

Buxton reflects upon the reason for the man’s comment, and suggests, “There was no good reason — the war was on and Jews were being sent to the slaughter.”

Home again, home again

When the family returned to England in 1946, this time settling in North Wales, Buxton was a true tennis standout.

“I was head and shoulders above the rest. During the war, they had no rackets, no balls and no nets in England. I was beating girls of 18!” Her success in tennis caught the attention of various coaches including George Mulligan, from Liverpool who said of Buxton, “This is a potential Wimbledon champion!”

In 1952, Buxton played in her first Wimbledon in what is known as a “lucky loser” event. She lost in the first round and was very aware aspects of her game were still in need of improvement. Buxton easily convinced her father to finance an extended trip to California. “My father said, ‘Go, take your mother, visit the studios. Tell them you are Harry Buxton’s daughter.’ I even had my picture taken with Doris Day!”

Buxton’s first encounter with anti-Semitism in the tennis world occurred at the Los Angeles Tennis Club in 1952. The Buxtons had a six month lease on an apartment overlooking the courts.

“After two weeks of play there, and after my application for membership was accepted, they gave the money back!” They no longer welcomed Buxton as a member. Buxton matter of factly recalls, “I found out later it was because I was Jewish.”

Buxton turned this rejection into an opportunity; she began playing on the La Cienega public courts. “They were very good courts, and very good people, including Pancho Segura and Pancho Gonzales. They were Mexicans and they couldn’t play at the LA Tennis club either.”

Buxton returned to England in 1953, ready to compete. But after a 6-0, 6-0 loss to reigning Wimbledon champion, Doris Hart at the Bournesmouth Hardcourt Championships, Buxton considered quitting and decided the Maccabiah Games in Israel in October 1953 would be her farewell tennis event.

She traveled with 100 Jewish fellow athletes from England on a ship called “Artza.”

“The journey was awful, but it was fun!” Buxton won two gold medals and returned to England, ready to continue her tennis journey.

Jimmy Jones, a tennis pro and sportswriter coached Buxton, teaching her tactical strategies. She reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1955.

“Jones always told me, ‘I can help you in the formative years, but you will have obstacles along the way because you are Jewish.’ He wasn’t even Jewish! He was the most influential man in my life,” recalls Buxton fondly.

Enter Althea Gibson

In 1955, Buxton was selected by the government of England to represent her country in a tennis exhibition in India. African American player Althea Gibson was selected by the US State Department to participate in the same United States Lawn Tennis Association-sponsored event. The two women met in India.

The 29-year-old Gibson was born in South Carolina to sharecropper parents and moved to Harlem as a young child. Gibson struggled academically and often skipped school. She spent much of her time playing table tennis and eventually tennis. However, in the 1940s and 50s, most tennis tournaments were closed to African Americans.

In 1951, she became the first African American to play Wimbledon. Later, she would become also the first African American woman to play professional golf.

Becoming a US sports envoy gave Gibson a new entree into previously closed spheres.

“President Eisenhower changed her life. Althea had already hung up her racket and applied to join the army. He knew that sport was a valuable tool to enhance players’ quality of life,” says Buxton of Gibson’s opportunity to travel to India, Pakistan and Burma.

The matchmaker for the successful Gibson-Buxton partnership was Coach Jones. At various tennis events in 1956, he had observed that Gibson was always on her own and not spoken to by other players. He urged Buxton to reach out to Gibson to be her doubles partner at the French Championships and Wimbledon.

After the pair won Wimbledon, a British newspaper headlined a report, ‘Minorities Win’

Buxton, keenly aware of her own outsider status, approached Gibson, who quickly agreed to the partnership. After the pair won Wimbledon, a British newspaper headlined a report, “Minorities Win.”

Sadly, their tennis partnership came to an abrupt end when Buxton injured her wrist at an August 1956 tennis tournament in New Jersey. While she would persevere and go on to win the Maccabiah title in 1957, soon after she retired from tennis.

Buxton’s colorful post tennis-playing life has included countless adventures in and out of the tennis world, including teaching and coaching tennis, starting the Buxton Tennis Center in north London, sports writing and volunteering on a kibbutz during the Six Day War.

Asked why she journeyed to Israel during this difficult period, she smiles, “I was married at the time to Donald Silk, the president of the Zionist organization of Great Britain and Ireland.”

So Buxton took her three children, 6, 4 and 18 months old, to volunteer on Kibbutz Amiad, “helping in the dining room, the orchards and the laundry.” Buxton recalls, “Damascus overlooked the kibbutz.” Buxton has returned to Israel over the years and is one of the six founders of the Israel Tennis Centers.

Althea Gibson, however, though an American hero who was given a ticker-tape parade after her first Wimbledon win, fell on hard times and was unable to make ends meet. Buxton reached out to many friends and colleagues in the tennis world to raise significant funds intended to help her former partner, whom Buxton describes as poor, ill and considering suicide. Gibson died in 2003.

Buxton’s legacy

Buxton was inducted to the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.

Sandra Harwitt, a sportswriter who has covered more than 70 Grand Slam tennis events, includes a chapter about Buxton in her recently published book, “The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Time.”

“Angela lived in a time when women didn’t have a significant voice, yet Angela never held back from offering thoughts and opinions on everything — and pushing for her rights. To this day, she still speaks her minds and has opinions,” says Harwitt.

The active, always on the move Buxton splits her time between England and Florida and proudly reports, “I will be a great grandmother soon!”

Buxton has not yet received membership to the All-England Lawn Tennis Club. But the daughter of a successful British Jewish movie house owner is now herself the subject of a film, “Althea & Angela: A Perfect Match” about tennis and ethnicity, screened before the House of Commons on September 9.

“To be honest, I am a bit in the dark about why they are showing it — and I am going to speak off the cuff,” says Buxton.

 (Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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As the Ledger went to press, the U.S. Open tennis tournament was in full swing at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.  This year’s Open, which kicked off on August 25 and comes to a close on Sept. 8, features a number of Jewish players from around the world – as well as kosher food and a few “frum” (Orthodox) ball boys and girls.

According to kippah-wearing ball boys Eric Wietschner and Moshe Brum, “There are approximately 10 frum ball boys. The U.S. Open is very accommodating, both in terms of scheduling and about wearing kippot on the job.”  Which left one fan, Jeremy Posner of Manhattan, to playfully wonder, “Why aren’t they issued Ralph Lauren kippot?” The Ralph Lauren Polo logo is prominently displayed on shirts and shoes of all ball boys and girls.

This year’s singles and doubles men’s draw featured 18-year-old Noah Rubin of Merrick, Long Island in N.Y.  Rubin won the Wimbledon juniors tournament in July. He received a wild card to play in the U.S. Open main draw after winning the Boys Junior National Tennis Championship in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Despite losing his singles match to 66th ranked Frederico Delbonis of Argentina (6-4, 6-3, 6-0), and his doubles match, with partner Stephan Kozlov, to Jared Donaldson and Michael Russell (6-2, 6-7, 6-4), the good-natured Rubin remained proud and confident. In a post-match press conference, Rubin said, “I learned that I can definitely compete with these guys at the best level. I’m just getting used to the atmosphere, getting used to being out there with the top players in the world.”

Rubin, who attended religious school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Merrick Jewish Center, collected tennis rackets to donate to the Israel Tennis Center for his “mitzvah project.” “I want people to know I’m Jewish and I like to represent the Jewish people,” he told the Ledger. Though he has not yet been to Israel, “I will be going!” he says, noting that his sister, Jessie, who served as vice president of Hillel and captain of the tennis team during her student years at Binghamton University, has been to Israel twice – once on a Birthright trip, and once on a JNF service trip. Though he’s missed the first week of classes, Rubin will now head for Winston-Salem, N.C. to begin his freshman year at Wake Forest University.

Four days before the start of play, Rubin had the opportunity to go head to head with the world’s number one player, Novak Djokovic, at an exhibition match benefitting New York’s John McEnroe Tennis Academy, where Rubin previously trained. Likewise, Diego Schwartzman, 22, a Jewish tennis player from Buenos Aires, Argentina, ranked #79 in the world, faced Djokovic in the first round of the Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium. While Djokovic beat Schwartzman 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, he hugged the Argentinian following the match and offered him both a compliment and some advice. “Diego is a talented player; very quick on the court. He has to work on his serve a little bit more,” he said. “I just wish him all the best for the future, you know, to keep on working. He’s talented. He has good potential to be a higher-ranked player.”

For Canadian Sharon Fichman, 23, ranked #112 for singles and #76 for doubles, the road to the U.S. Open was a tough one. After injuring both her ankle and knee in the months leading up to the tournament, she recently underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear. Still, she managed to play both singles and doubles matches – losing both in the first round. “I will get there.  It will just take time, effort and patience,” she said.

Israel’s Dudi Sela chats with fans after winning his first round match.

Israelis in the main draw for singles include Dudi Sela, Shahar Peer and Julia Glushko. In Sela’s first round match, the 83rd-ranked player battled back to defeat Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq. After losing the first set in 17 minutes, Sela came back to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. He lost in the second round against seventh seed Grigor Dmitrov of Bulgaria, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Sela now turns his attention to the Davis Cup World Group play-offs against Argentina, to take place Sept. 12-14 in Sunrise, Fla. Israel’s Davis Cup team consists of Sela, Amir Weintraub, Andy Ram, Jonathan Erlich and alternates Tal Goldengoren and Bar Botzer. The match was scheduled to be hosted by Israel, but was moved to Florida given the recent situation in Israel.

Shahar Peer, ranked #155, defeated Amanda Konta in the first round, 6-2, 6-3, but lost in the second round to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, #121, 6-7 6-3, 6-2. Julia Glushko, ranked #101, lost her first round match to American Madison Brengle, 6-3, 6-2.

Sportswriter Sandra Harwitt, who has covered more than 70 Grand Slam tennis tournaments for such publications as espn.com, Tennis Magazine and The New York Times, was on hand to sign copies of her new book, The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Time. Harwitt notes the presence of other Jewish players in this year’s U.S. Open, including American Scott Lipsky and Camila Giorgi of Italy.

Among those included in Harwitt’s book – and a spectator at this year’s Open – is British Jewish tennis star Angela Buxton, now 80. In 1956, Buxton reached the Wimbledon singles finals, and won the French Open and Wimbledon doubles championships, teaming up with Althea Gibson, who was the first African American to cross the color line of international tennis. The remarkable story of their partnership is recounted in the recent movie, Althea and Angela: A Perfect Match, and the book, The Match: Althea Gibson & Angela Buxton: How Two Outsiders – One Black, the Other Jewish – Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History.

Finally, tennis fans in search of a kosher hotdog, sausage, knish, pretzel, deli sandwich and the like need search no further than the Open’s Kosher Grill, located near court 17 and open for lunch and dinner every day but Friday night and Saturday.

(Source: http://www.jewishledger.com)

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