Jul 9, 2009

JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen Visits Ramah Camps

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A Message from Rabbi Mitch Cohen,
National Ramah Director 
July 9, 2009
17 Tammuz 5769
 !קיץ נפלא ברמה

  JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen Delights Campers & Staff at Visits
to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin & Ramah Day Camp in Wheeling, IL

"Whenever I need inspiration in this job, I'll think back on my visit to Ramah
and find strength that there is great hope for our future."

 - JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen


The Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Dr. Arnold Eisen, traveled with me to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and the Ramah Day Camp in Wheeling, Illinois, last week. We traveled from Chicago to Ramah Wisconsin with Dr. Jeff Kopin and Mort and Miriam Steinberg. Jeff is the President of Ramah Wisconsin and Mort, a former president of Ramah Wisconsin, is the Immediate Past President of the National Ramah Commission.


Chancellor Eisen at Ramah Wisconsin

On Monday afternoon, Rabbi David Soloff, Director of Ramah Wisconsin, greeted us and welcomed us into the camp's magnificent multi-million dollar chadar ochel (dining facility), just built this year. We toured camp and learned about its outstanding programs firsthand. We saw young Jewish leaders and role models in action in music, dance, theater, and visual arts, and in other areas of formal and informal Jewish education - Hebrew and text classes as well as beit midrash and kollel study. In addition, Chancellor Eisen met with JTS students working at camp, Israeli shlichim, senior administration, staff trainers and supervisors, and hanhallah (rashei edah and rashei anaf). (Pictured from L-R: Rabbi David Soloff, Miriam Steinberg, Mort Steinberg, Dr. Jeff Kopin, Chancellor Arnold Eisen, Rabbi Mitch Cohen)


In each of these meetings, Chancellor Eisen discussed his aspirations for JTS and the Conservative Movement, and stressed the importance of Ramah camping for the future success of Conservative Judaism. According to the Chancellor, "Ramah is one of the most successful endeavors our Movement has ever created, because at Ramah we can create Jewish time and Jewish space, without interruption from general society." According to the Chancellor, "We need to take the lessons and patterns of Ramah and extend them to many other aspects of our Movement," to inspire more commitment, more passion, and more Jewish pride. 


Wisconsin Chadar OchelDuring the question and answer periods at each session, Chancellor Eisen was asked a wide range of questions, including what he forecasts for the future of Conservative Judaism, how Masorti Judaism in Israel can be strengthened, how arms of the movement can work better together, and how the link between Ramah and JTS can be intensified. Chancellor Eisen's answers were forthright and to the point; the staff, campers, and board members I spoke with were extremely impressed by his wisdom and engaging personality. (Pictured here: The new chadar ochel complex at Ramah Wisconsin)


On Tuesday morning Chancellor Eisen delivered a moving d'var torah to the Nivonim edah (rising 11th graders) during tefillot. After breakfast, he taught two classes to bunk counselors, comparing the writings of Mordecai Kaplan and Abraham Joshua Heschel. The discussion and questions in both sessions were electrifying, and the counselors were disappointed that the sessions could not last longer. After one session, Chancellor Eisen was so enthusiastic that he went straight to Rabbi Soloff and declared: "I would pay YOU to be able to teach these young adults throughout the summer!"


When we returned Tuesday evening to Chicago, Chancellor Eisen addressed a small group of community leaders at a dessert reception at the home of Jeff and Beth Kopin. Chancellor Eisen spoke enthusiastically about his trip to Ramah Wisconsin and the impressive programs and leaders at camp. On Wednesday, we spent time at the Ramah Day Camp in nearby Wheeling before departing for New York. Director Lori Stark and lay leaders Lisa Tenzer and David Kushnir showed us around and the entire camp of 200 campers and 60 staff welcomed us during tefillot with a ruach-filled singing of hevenu shalom aleichem!


Throughout our camp visits, I consistently heard praise for Chancellor Eisen's vision and for the way in which he engaged each group he addressed. It is truly a privilege and pleasure to work with Chancellor Eisen, a strong advocate for Ramah camping, and a true leader for the Conservative Movement.

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