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Uriel Levitt was devastated.  Late last week, he received the news there will be no camp this summer.  Uriel, 24, a Silver Spring, Maryland resident is a longtime participant in the Tikvah camping and vocational education program at Camp Ramah in New England.  The Ramah camping movement has been including people with disabilities in its camps since 1970.

Uriel participates in weekly year round activities like the “Shabbos is Calling” video chat with counselors and friends, and he has participated in many virtual programs set up by Ramah New England and the National Ramah Commission in recent weeks to keep campers engaged during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Uriel’s parents, Matt and Dina, wrote in an email of appreciation to camp director, Rabbi Ed Gelb, and Tikvah Director, Dr. Bonnie Schwartz, that Uriel showers and dresses early for Shabbat so he can join the Ramah New England community in their pre-Shabbat Kabbalat Shabbat programming, and he “pushes” the family to quickly finish their family havadalah on Saturday nights so he can join Ramah Havdalah.

Uriels’ parents know how what a summer of no camp will be like for Uriel. “This is very hard news.  Uriel will be really upset, but that reflects the beautiful truth that Camp Ramah in New England is so beloved.  We’ll just have to find ways to inject “Ramah-ness” into Uriel’s summer experience, in whatever ways we can.”

Uriel is artistic.  He and his parents quickly came up with an idea.  “Uriel and we decided that this would be an amazing opportunity to give back to Ramah and the three other organizations that have been providing him with activities and a sense of community during this difficult and isolating time.”  Uriel sat in his room and designed an inspiring t-shirt and will be donating 50% of the profits from the sales to these four organizations.   

On the first evening after the order form went “live,” Uriel received orders for more than 20 t-shirts– half chose Camp Ramah New England as the place they would like their donation to go.  The Levitt’s add, “We know it will be a small dent in Ramah's “Need Bucket” but it will be delivered with infinite love and gratitude for everything that Ramah has given to Uriel and by extension the Levitts over the years.”  Please support Uriel’s efforts, and his kind support of organizations making a difference. Order t-shirts here: https://tinyurl.com/EarthStrongTshirtForm

It will surely be a tough summer without camp—for Uriel and for thousands of campers and their families. Thank you to Uriel and the Levitts for offering one way to find opportunity in an otherwise tough situation.  Everyone appreciates your love of Ramah and Tikvah!  We look forward to seeing you back in person next summer.


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The book finally arrive—just in time to begin reading it over Shabbat.  We gave a plug for Judith Heumann’s new book  Being Heumann:  An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist at our recent National Ramah Tikvah Network discussion of Crip Camp—with Judy and Isaac Zablocki, Director of Film Programs at JCC Manhattan and the Director and co-founder of ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival.  Check out the video of our discussion here:

 

https://howardblas.com/2020/05/11/a-discussion-of-crip-camp-a-disability-revolution/

 

I just started the book and, in a week when so many in the camping world are feeling sad about camps being cancelled this summer due to Covid-19, I wanted to share a few quotes from Judy which remind us just how important camp is for campers with and without disabilities.  Judy first attended Camp Oakhurst, then Camp Jened.  She writes:

 

Page 24: “At camp we tasted freedom for the first time in our lives.  Camp is where we had freedom from our parents dressing us, choosing our clothes for us, choosing our food for us, driving us to our friends’ houses.  This is something we would have naturally grown out of, like our nondisabled, friends, but we live in an inaccessible world, so we have not.  We loved our parents but we relished our freedom from them.  I met my first boyfriend at camp…”

 Page 25:  “The freedom we felt at camp was not just from our parents and our need for their daily assistance in order to live our lives. We were drunk on the freedom of not feeling like a burden, a feeling that was a constant companion to our lives outside of camp.”

Page 27:  “But camp was completely different.  Camp was for us.  It was designed specifically for our neeDs in mind and our parents paid for us to be part of it.  Our participation wasn’t contingent on someone else’s generosity; it was a given.  I didn’t have to worry that if I wanted to do something or go someplace, I’d have to ask somebody for a favor.  I didn’t have to feel guilty about how much work it took to get me dressed and take me to the bathroom.  The counselors were paid to do these things for us, which made all the difference in the world….At camp, I didn’t have to worry about what I needed, or how much help I could ask for at one time…CAMP, I THOUGHT, WAS WHAT IT WOULD FEEL LIKE IF SOCIETY INCLUDED US.”

 

I am honored that Camp Ramah has been including campers with disabilities for the past 50 years.  We celebrated 50 years of Tikvah in Israel last April as part of our Tikvah Israel Bike Ride and Hike. We were delighted to honor Tikvah’s founders, Herb and Barbara Greenberg. Camp Ramah in New England was scheduled to celebrate “Tikvah at 50” this summer, but it will be rescheduled.  May we continue to include, support and embrace all campers!

I look forward to sharing more of Judy’s wisdom in future posts.

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Thousands of families across the country received very sad news this week—their children will not be attending their beloved camp this summer.  That means 4, 6, 8 or more weeks of kids home with little structure, and few opportunities to socialize with friends in the great outdoors.

Yesterday, a friend posted this request for ideas for occupying kids:

“Putting this out there to my Facebook friends, since many of us are in the same boat… Does anyone have a clue what they're doing with their kids all summer now that camps are officially shut down? I'm open to any ideas that get them outside and being social (while remaining socially distant and safe.)”

Within 19 hours, he got 51 responses, ranging from rent an RV and drive cross country, to put them up for adoption!  Other less dramatic options included buying a trampoline and riding bikes, and creating a project based program- an hour online a day and then they have to build/create/do off line.  In response to this last suggestion, someone shared news of a Canadian-based newsletter and FB group, Backyard Camp [https://backyardcamp.ca/?fbclid=IwAR39kckaNfQRzvzSB4F4nsRbLS5bCP1GKvLjjiPWjx4lS-HWhd9lnApztM0]. 

While parents clearly have a lot to balance this summer—between working, cooking meals, and keeping kids engaged, there are clearly many creative, fun, educational–even low(er) stress options.  As a start, many camps and camping movements are offering several hours of virtual camp programs per day.   

This summer provides a wonderful opportunity to think of the things you enjoyed as a child and share them with your children.  Think also of the life skills they will need to learn and get a jump NOW!  Here is a start. 

-take a hike!

-make a terrarium

-learn basic meal prep (and baking!)

-learn how to do the laundry! (bonus points for learning to iron!)

-yard work: cutting the grass, raking, trimming hedges, weeding

-plant a garden

-music appreciation (listen to music from different eras, genres, etc)

-paint by numbers

-do tie dyeing

-draw with colored pencils

-build a model (I loved tanks, cars and planes as a kid!)

-start a business! (one camper of mine, a 24-year-old with Down Syndrome, started a t-shirt company—he has one design for now and is selling online and donating part of the profits to some organizations he and his family care about)

-limit time on the computer, but know, there are some wonderful, educational things you can do online:    tour a museum, learn a language,  learn an instrument..  

The summer may not be easy, but it can certainly have moments of skill-building, togetherness and FUN!

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These days, in the absence of any professional sports taking place in the US, any sports story catches the attention of sports fans.  Even stories about the new date (and shorter length) of the Belmont Stakes, Noah Syndergaard’s Tommy John surgery (https://nypost.com/2020/05/20/why-noah-syndergaards-mets-future-is-so-murky/) or Rob Gronkowski “bulking up” (https://nypost.com/2020/05/21/rob-gronkowski-is-bulking-up-ahead-of-his-buccaneers-debut/) occupy the sports pages.

It has been rare to find a truly important sports story.  Fortunately, a few publications have chosen to spotlight the important work of tennis player Noah Rubin and his “Behind the Racquet” project.  Rubin and more than 135 fellow athletes have thusfar posed for a picture–hiding their faces behind the strings of their rackets—and sharing a struggle they have faced on the road to greatness—from eating disorders, depression and anxiety, speech and language issues and death of parents.

Noah is a real mensch, as are various family members.  I have been following his career for years and have been privileged to interview him, his mom and sister several times.  We should all admire his bravery, recognize that it is ok to be open about our own vulnerabilities, and cut professional athletes a break—they are people too, struggling with their own issues. 

Please read my three Noah Rubin articles (from the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post), and two fine articles from this week in ESPN and ITF Tennis Newsletter:

 

https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-teen-tennis-star-set-to-play-at-us-open/

https://howardblas.com/2019/08/22/noah-rubin-finds-his-strength-on-both-sides-of-the-racket/

https://howardblas.com/2016/08/28/israeli-jewish-players-make-waves-in-tournament-before-the-main-event/

 

https://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/29178989/on-racquet-noah-rubin-brings-tennis-players-mental-emotional-struggles-focus?fbclid=IwAR0i8IgsXfniCoznujyexm9FiQsfamcsgKiv5JMRppmB9dMSNGSwPXXUJ1g

 

https://www.itftennis.com/en/news-and-media/articles/noah-rubin-it-is-okay-to-prioritise-happiness/?utm_campaign=1414947_This%20Week%20-%20210520&utm_medium=email&utm_source=emailtwocircles&dm_i=4OYA,UBS3,3HGF9K,3OXDR,1

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