Recently, I participated in a webinar entitled “Inclusion and Sensitivity.” It was impressive not only for the content but for the fact that it was a collaborative effort of the Conservative Movement’s Ramah Service Corps and the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Camps. The coordinators of both training programs realized that the topic of inclusion was “important, beneficial and useful for all of the fellows in their current and future work.” This collaboration between camping groups of the Conservative and Reform Movements is one of many wonderful partnerships emerging.
This year, “Hineinu: Jewish Community for People of All Abilities,” a cross denominational partnership for inclusion was announced. In Boston, members of Yachad (Orthodox), Tikvah Ramah (Conservative) and Jewish Gateways (community) have participated in several joint activities. Staff members trained in Ramah’s disability camping programs often go on to work for Yachad (Orthodox), and teach in religious schools of various denominations.
This year’s GA, which took place two weeks ago near Washington, DC, featured a two hour session entitled, “Disability Inclusion and the Federation Movement: Why, How, and the Time Is Now” and a one hour session entitled “Access Granted: Creating Inclusive Communities;” presenters and attendees represented every part of the Jewish World.
I am privileged to regularly speak with my colleagues from Yachad, URJ, JCC camps, and The Foundation for Jewish Camp—to name a few. We share best practices and resources; we discuss sensitive matters, we support each other in our work and we celebrate successes. Increasingly, we in the camping world are speaking to our colleagues in day schools, supplementary schools and informal Jewish education. I speak and meet regularly with my colleagues at Matan and Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. We attend the same conferences, participate in the same webinars, and deal with many of the same issues.
Our campers in the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England are constantly showing us that each program, organization and movement has something important to contribute. A “typical” Ramah (Conservative Movement) camper may come from a Reform temple and attend year round social activities sponsored by Yachad (Orthodox) or Friendship Circle (Chabad). And they may attend a specialized secular program or college, vocational training program and sometimes even a Catholic school.
I believe we are on the road to internalizing the simple wisdom we read each year on Sukkot in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. In Chapter 4, verses 9-12, we learn, “Two are better off than one – because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up the other, but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up.” The biblical commentator Rashi says it quite simply: “Two are better than one–IN EVERY WAY.”
May we continue to find ways to work together–to help our campers, our families and ourselves!
Howard Blas is the director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England as well as the newly-appointed director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network. Howard also teaches children with a wide range of disabilities for bar and bat mitzvah. Howard recently received the 2013 Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.