Original Article Publish On The Ramah in The Rockies

Max Newman was a beloved participant in the Tikvah Program for four summers.  When Max approached age 18 and it was time to graduate Tikvah, director Rabbi Eliav Bock and Tikvah Program founder and Director, Elyssa Hammerman, decided to think creatively.  They created a vocational training program for one this summer!  The program consists of job training, serving as edah (divisional) support staff, and training in leadership skills.

“The program has gone beyond our expectations!” reports Hammerman. “Max is a total part of the community his independence has impressed us all.”  Including Max as a staff member happens naturally.  “All 140 staff members are his buddies and took him in,” notes Hammerman.

Co-workers have reached out to Max to help wrap tefillin, and to help him calculate proper tip at a restaurant on his day off.  “The staff is totally accepting and welcoming, because that’s the type of staff we have here at Ramah in the Rockies.  Max genuinely cares about fellow staff members, regularly asking how they slept and how their day is going.  They view Max as part of the team, a valuable member of our Kehillah Kedosha (holy community).”

Hammerman notes that there have been some challenges but reminds us, “We all have challenges, and Max is like all of us—when he has difficulties, fellow staff members help him through it!”

Director Rabbi Eliav Bock has long been a supporting of the Tikvah Program and of creating opportunities at camp.  “We believe in creating a warm and welcoming community at Ramah in the Rockies.  Over the past few summers we have developed our Amitzim program for campers with special needs.  As some of our campers have now grown up at camp, we want to ensure that they continue to feel at home at Ramah even as they grow too old to be a camper.  We also see our camp as a terrific training site for young adults with special needs to develop basic life skills.  Max was willing to be in our pilot program, and we are honored to have him as part of our community.”

Howard Blas, director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, sat down with Max—outside of place of his employment at the greenhouse at Camp Ramah in the Rockies—for an interview.

How old are you?  18

Where are you from?  Chevy Chase, Maryland

What do you do during the year?  I attend Ivymount School in Potomac, Maryland.  I plan to graduate in December, 2017.

What do you plan to do after you graduate from high school?  Hopefully attend Montgomery College

What do you hope to study?  Ornithology

Tell me about your interest in birds?  I like to take hikes to see birds, I have feeders and birdbaths on the deck of our home in Chevy Chase, Maryland (I live with my parents and two younger sisters).

How long have you been coming to camp?  four years as a camper.  This is my first year on staff.

How did you find out about camp?  My dad heard about it.  I love nature and this camp focuses on outdoor adventure.

What are some of your other interests?  Folk music (Kingston Trio), geography (locations and nicknames of the 50 US States), food (my favorite is fois gras)

How is being on staff different than being a camper?  Being a camper is harder than being on staff.  You get less freedom and couldn’t make your own decisions like now.

How did you decide to come back to camp in a vocational training program?  Rabbi Eliav said we should have someone from Tikvah on staff—not just anyone.  They admired my qualities—being responsible and my love for nature.

What do you do each day?

I help with the goats, chickens and the duck.  I work in the garden. I pull weeds, and I pick herbs and other crops.  I meet with Elyssa four days a week, Monday through Thursday. I am with the Ilanot edah perek dalet each day, and I help the campers—I show them around and remind them to put on sunscreen.  One time when a camper called me and another counselor “fat,” I told him that’ s not a nice thing to say.  The kids really like me.

What do you do at night?  I usually go to sleep.  I am not a night owl; I am a morning lark!

What do you do on days off?  I have gone to Woodland Park and gotten pizza in a restaurant.  I watched the “Finding Dory” movie.  I ate donuts, ice cream and Japanese food.  The other options for days off are Colorado Springs (which I am planning to do this Sunday on my next day off), Denver, Boulder, Wellington Lake, and staying at camp.  

Read more

Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

Dudi Sela, the only Israeli player in the main draw, was practicing at the US Open on Friday with hitting partner, American Sam Querrey, ranked No. 32 in the world.

When the US Open draw ceremony took place Friday morning at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, several coveted spots for the Grand Slam tennis event, which gets under way on Monday, were marked with the word “qualifier.”

The names of the men and women filling these 16 spots would not be known until the end of the day Friday. These 16 men and women are the lucky 32 players out of 256 who won three matches in last week’s US Open Qualifying Tournament to advance to the first round of the main draw.

The US Open Qualifying Tournament typically includes players ranked between 105 and 250 in the world.

Israeli tennis players Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub won first-round matches last Tuesday.

Weintraub, ranked 209, defeated American Daniel Nguyen, but lost in the second round to ninth-seeded Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic. Stepanek has competed in 14 previous US Open tournaments and reached the fourth round in 2009.

Glushko, ranked No. 148, needed just under two hours to defeat 500th ranked Miharu Imanishi of Japan, 6-4, 7-5 in her first-round match. She lost to American Jennifer Brady, the 18th seed in the qualifying tournament, 6-4, 6-0. Weintraub and Glushko’s matches took place late Thursday evening and were interrupted by rain.

Despite Weintraub and Glushko’s status as top-ranked Israeli players, they must often compete in qualifying events for entry in major tennis tournaments.

In an effort to obtain ranking points, Weintraub often elects to enter lower level Futures and Challenger Tour events.

Weintraub has been outspoken about the pleasures, stresses and financial challenges he faces on the professional tennis tour.

“I will cover a lot of miles, sleep in a lot of hotel rooms, eat in a lot of restaurants, and get to see a lot of amazing cities,” he said. “And when I have a few minutes of down time, I look forward to talking to friends and family on WhatsApp, catching up with a few of my favorite TV series on the computer, and taking videos of funny things from the tour.”

Glushko and Weintraub earned several thousand US dollars for advancing to the second round of the qualifiers.

Players reaching the first round of the main singles draw receive $43,313. Players reaching the round of 64 earn $77,118.

Tournament winners and runners up receive $3,500,000 and $1,750,000. Glushko and Weintraub have each earned slightly more than $50,000 to date in 2016.

Meanwhile, Noah Rubin, a 20-year-old Jewish Long Island native, reached the third round of the qualifiers before losing on Friday afternoon to Karen Khachanov of Russia, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

“It was tough, it was a roller coaster of a match. I had to fight,” Rubin told The Jerusalem Post in a post-match interview in the US Open Media Center.

“It was great to have people cheering for me and supporting me. I want to make them proud.”

Rubin, in his second year of professional tennis, reached a career-high ranking of 160 and returns to tennis after a two-anda- half month absence due to a foot injury. Rubin will soon travel to Asia for a few tournaments then return to the US for the indoor tournament season. He hopes to qualify for the Australian Open in January.

Rubin, who celebrated his bar mitzva with a tennis theme, is proud of his Judaism. His sister participated in a Birthright trip, and although he has not yet been to Israel he says he “want[s] to go very badly. I want to get out there. Maybe on Birthright, or for a tournament or on vacation – once things settle down in my career.”

Dudi Sela, the only Israeli player in the main draw, was practicing at the US Open on Friday with hitting partner, American Sam Querrey, ranked No. 32 in the world. They practiced in the prestigious Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Sela, ranked No. 80, will face Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay on Monday in his first-round match. Cuevas, ranked 20th in the world, is the 18th seed in the US Open. They also met in the first round in New York last year, with Cuevas winning in four sets. With play beginning at 11am EST, the Sela-Cuevas match is the third match of the day on Court 4.

Read more

Original Article at Ramah In The Rockies

For chalutzim (campers) at Ramah in the Rockies, the masa (outing) is an integral part of camp. This summer, our Tikvah campers spent three days and two nights at Chatfield State Park, a very well-organized site with all of the necessary facilities for our campers, including showers, toilets, lake, playground, etc.

After setting camp up, our group headed over to the lake and took a stroll along the beach. When we returned to our campsite, we cooked a delicious meal of veggie burgers accompanied with roasted sweet potatoes and onions. We played some games by the campfire and headed to bed early. The following morning, we hiked along the dam overlooking the lake and then went swimming. After lunch, we met up with Amber, one of the park’s rangers, and she taught us about the wildlife in the park. She showed us skulls, skins, and furs of the different animals. Then Amber took us to clean the beach of the lake as part of our service project. We concluded with a scavenger hunt along one of the park trails. That night, we had a Mexican fiesta, complete with salsa, chips, guacamole, rice, and beans. Each of our campers enjoyed a different part of their masa experience. The facts that we had such an organized site and that our vans had all of the food and games needed to keep our campers occupied and entertained made it very easy!

Other than some rainy moments, our campers had a great time. All agreed it was a positive experience and that they would happily do it again! 

Howard Blas, director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, was very impressed when he learned details of our masa during a recent visit to Ramah in the Rockies. “I have been taking Tikvah campers on masa (we call it “Etgar”) for the past fifteen years at Ramah New England. Many Tikvah programs don’t have such camping trips. I thought our one-night, two-day hiking, canoeing, and rafting trip was impressive. But, wow! The Rockies’  three-day masa is amazing!” 

This blog is being reposted in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

Read more

In a special new Sight Line feature, we look at four growing trends in the early childhood arena.

Multi-generational Learning

The average age is 92 at Mount St. Vincent, a retirement home in Seattle, yet the atmosphere is alive and vibrant. That’s because Mount. St. Vincent shares its building with the 125 children and teachers of the Mount’s Intergenerational Learning Center preschool. Students and residents learn together, laugh together, and care for each other.

This preschool model is a way to maximize resources, but it’s also part of a growing trend of intergenerational educational programming, currently being explored by institutions across the field of early childhood education. Proponents of this model suggest that young children benefit from extra nurturing and attention, awareness of the aging process and comfort around those with disabilities, a chance to learn social skills, and preparation for the world beyond school. Older adults gain the sense of being needed and appreciated, an opportunity for social interaction, and a way to counteract boredom and loneliness.

What’s more, intergenerational learning holds value in the world of Jewish education as well, where there’s a particular focus on the transmission not just of knowledge, but also of a mesorah – a tradition. Intergenerational learning provides a framework for passing on Jewish values and experience from one generation to the next.

Learn more about this burgeoning trend through these additional resources: Penn State Extension’s Intergenerational Guidebook, Generations United’s Intergenerational Fact Sheet, and Virginia Cooperative Extension’s best practices in Intergenerational Programming.

Deep Experiences in Nature

For a few hours each day, preschool students at Fiddleheads Forest School in Seattle zip up their waterproof suits and head into the forests of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens to explore. They build shelters, hunt for earthworms, follow eagle calls, and go on “listening walks” where they silently focus on the sounds of the outdoors. Students are trained to notice, to take in what’s around them, examine, and formulate ideas about what they see. Outside the classroom it’s difficult to plan what students encounter, so teachers at Fiddleheads have gotten used to following their students’ attention, prompting discussion and investigation based on what they see and find interesting.

Fiddleheads Forest School is not alone. Early Childhood programs across the country are tapping into this concept of immersion into the outdoors by creating opportunities for children to interact with nature, and using the natural world as a key learning tool. Preschool students are being given more opportunities for child-centered outdoor investigations, unstructured play and exploration, and hands-on nature based activities.

New research shows that children who play and learn in nature grow up healthy, smart, and happy. What’s more, this model encourages exploration and curiosity, teaches scientific method and observation skills, supports creativity and problem solving, helps reduce stress, provides young children with positive experiences of the natural world, affords a wider diversity of learning experiences, and allows for increased physical activity – which reduces childhood obesity and leads to greater focus. Gardening and tracking the changing seasons helps develop patience and attentiveness and provides a platform to teach about nutrition. Outdoor exploration teaches social and emotional skills, as it allows for a greater variety of interactions with peers. Even in urban settings, early childhood institutions are finding ways to incorporate nature into the learning. They are planting gardens, exploring local parks, or just heading outside to peek at the weeds, smell the flowers, and find some insects.

For more information on deep experiences in nature for early childhood students, take a look at resources from these institutions: Early Childhood News, Head Start, Bank Street College of Education, NC State University, and Green Hearts.

Mindfulness for Miniatures

At the Children’s Community School, a preschool in Philadelphia, PA, students spend time breathing, stretching, and posing. They listen to bells, observe quiet time, participate in yoga-centered movements, and visualize thoughts. Students discuss how a high note sounds, how breathing like a snake makes their chest and mouth feel, and how sitting up straight and tall affects their body and thoughts.

This is all part of the school’s mission to infuse the curriculum with mindfulness, which, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the biologist who coined the term, is the act of “paying attention on purpose.” At Children’s Community School, students are trained to take notice of things like their breath and their movements. They learn to say things like “I notice that I’m tired” or “I feel like I need to move my body.”

Research is showing that being mindful and building self-awareness can have positive health benefits such as alleviating physical and emotional discomfort and stress. Coupled with studies demonstrating how mood and emotional states affect learning, this makes a strong case for purposefully instilling mindfulness in the classroom. There is a growing trend in early childhood education to do just that.

Traci Childress, the Co-Founder of Children’s Community School, speaks about the importance of building “mindfulness muscles” at a young age so that students become familiar with the routines and exercises and can use them to problem solve. And practicing mindfulness offers benefits for teachers, too, by improving their own well-being and helping them become more effective teachers.

For more information on mindfulness in education, take a look at these resources: Mindful Schools, Antioch University Mindfulness Blog, Association for Mindfulness in Education, Mindful Teachers, and Learning and the Brain.

-By Eitan Novick, for The Covenant Foundation

Inclusive Pre-Schools

When Joan Shrensky made aliyah in 1981, a friend with a child with disabilities, knowing of Shrensky’s background working with Head Start in the U.S., asked if she’d consider starting a gan that included children with special needs. Mercaz Harmony was born. Today, it’s known as Magen Avraham/Gan Harmony, and it serves 64 children—with and without disabilities—in four classes in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. Children ages 2 to 6 with Down Syndrome, autism, developmental delays and other disabilities receive occupational, speech and language, and play therapies and an extensive “sensory diet” through the course of their long, stimulating day, alongside neurotypical children.

When children with disabilities from Magen Avraham graduate at age six, they go on to a wide range of programs—from special education schools, to mainstream and inclusive schools. And the typical children go on to a life of greater understanding of and comfort with people who are both similar and different from them.

STARS Early Childhood Intervention Program of the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC in Houston, Texas, an inclusive pre-school in the United States that could be thought of as a sister-school to Gan Harmony, is similarly impressive. In the Bertha Alyce Early Childhood School, approximately 10% of the 160 students, ages 2 to 5, have visible and invisible disabilities and developmental delays.

According to Faye Bankler Casell, a child development specialist and consultant to the program, who recently assumed the position of assistant director of preschool services, notes that the STARS program began more than ten years ago as a self-contained classroom— and has evolved ever since to be more inclusive. “The students were developing in the self-contained classes, but we realized that if they were primarily with other students who had social and speech and language delays, they won’t gain as much,” Casell reports. “A few years ago, our director felt we could do even better. Last year, we dipped our toes. First, one child was mainstreamed; by the spring, six were included. By this past fall, we were ‘all in!”

This school year, all sixteen students were included in the morning sessions, with the program carefully tailored to the needs of each child. Numerous therapies including speech and language, occupational and music therapy, were offered in a flexible manner. “I know it sounds insignificant, but the students with disabilities all had cubbies in the classroom with their typical peers–and their names were on the door and roster—with no distinction from the other students,” reports Casell. Students returned to the self-contained classroom for the periods after lunch. The next step in the evolution of the program? “Next fall, we are shuttering our self-contained classroom!”

The response to the increasingly inclusive program has been overwhelmingly positive. For parents of children with disabilities, notes Casell, “It has changed their attitudes about what their children can do”—and they are pleased that the special education staff is not hovering around their children. Some graduates of the program go on to attend public schools and participate in neighborhood sports programs; others attend special education pre-schools.

Parents of typically developing children are similarly pleased with the better staffing ratio and overall number of adults in the lives of their children. Casell observes, “When some of the typically developing children need various therapies or modifications, no one looks askance.”

-By Howard Blas, for The Covenant Foundation

Read more