Written by Rabbi Mitch Cohen, National Director, Ramah Camping Movement
In recognition of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, Rabbi Mitch Cohen is the fourth contributor to our weekly D’var Torah (word of Torah) blog post, where guest bloggers link the week’s Torah portion to the theme of inclusion.
At the beginning of this week’s parasha, Tetzaveh, God commands Moses to establish a ner tamid, an eternal light, to shine in the sanctuary built in the desert. This command for a flame to “burn continually” is the basis for the centuries-old custom of having a ner tamid in every synagogue. More than just a fulfillment of this command, a continuously burning flame has been a powerful symbol of everything from the survival of the Jewish people to the importance of recognizing God’s presence in our lives.
At Camp Ramah, we use a myriad of indoor and outdoor spaces for daily prayer, yet few of these spaces have a ner tamid. Instead, we are proud to have the ongoing “flame” of inspiring experiences and people.
Among our greatest sources of perpetual inspiration at Ramah are our programs of inclusion for children, teens, and young adults with a variety of disabilities, special needs, and exceptionalities. Our Tikvah, Breira B’Ramah, and Camp Yofi programs offer individuals and families intensive positive Jewish experiences within the joyful environment of a thriving summer camp peer community.
As I visit each Ramah camp, I am constantly reminded of this perpetual flame of inspiration. In recent summers, I have seen a young man with Down Syndrome celebrate his bar mitzvah, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome receive training to work in a nearby public library, a family with an autistic child marvel at the connections made among their typical children and the siblings of other children with autism, and friendships created between campers in Tikvah and their typical peers.
The challenge we face, however, is to never let these flames diminish. This means that Ramah leaders are constantly seeking to expand opportunities for inclusion, establish new programs for new populations, and help foster continued connectedness for our campers and staff year-round.
As Moses and Aaron faced the challenge to provide oil for the ner tamid in the desert continuously, so we all must challenge ourselves to keep this “flame” of inclusion alive, with more program options, and especially, more outreach to families and their children with disabilities.
May we all be blessed with the light of both our physical and symbolic ner tamid and inspire our next generation to keep these flames burning bright.
For more information about Ramah and its programs, visit www.campramah.org.