The Story of Ramah Israel Seminar

 Ramah Israel Seminar is designed to deepen and enhance the meaning of Israel among those who grew up in the Ramah Camping Movement. The experience has been described as “life-changing” and “transformative.”

The framework of the program allows participants to experience Israel within the familiar context of Camp Ramah culture, friends and often familiar staff members. Building on years of Israel connections through camp, school and family (over 60% of Seminar participants typically visited Israel previously), Seminar is able to take participants on a journey that is a loving, yet nuanced, view of Israel today.

The educational design of the Seminar program gives participants the opportunity to enjoy themselves while grappling with various elements of Israel’s complex social, political, religious and cultural reality.

 

The flow of the program is also the “Story of Seminar.” We begin in the Galil, a beautiful place in which we start to build our Seminar community (large and small), and create our unique Seminar culture. Our staff “models” Seminar life and leads through example and love, as the hanichim slowly acclimate to their new home.  By the end of the week, we are settled, we have enjoyed, the norms for the program are set and we are on our way.

We continue to Jerusalem (with a little stop to meet our USY friends), as we settle down to our home until the end of the program. In Jerusalem we will explore Israel through many perspectives, celebrating, praying, hiking, volunteering , mourning and learning together.  We leave for Host Shabbat, and return to Jerusalem, we go to Etgar and return to Jerusalem. We take part in Israel Unwrapped, and return to Jerusalem.  We go south, and return to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, with the amazing week in the Galil in the background of our minds, becomes our home, at least for awhile. It is fun to leave our kvutzot for Etgar and then again for Israel Unwrapped. We love our friends and our tzevet, but the choice days breaks up the “Shigra” enriches our experience by taking us out of the “Mundane” and helps us appreciate the experience even more.

In the Negev and the Arava, we change the pace and move fast, at least until noon every day. We hike, swim, sleep and continue our Seminar life. The change of pace allows us to begin to reflect on the experience in the desert, the place of quiet and heat, which is the birthplace of Judaism and the Torah.  The place of Ben Gurion, where he put his dream to the test when he was almost 70 years old. Why conclude  Seminar in the desert? Faith comes out of the recognition that we are part of something greater than ourselves, and there is no place to realize that better than a place where you are most alone as an individual and a community, in a most primitive and soulful way.  The place where survival is not to be taken for granted.

 

After touching the desert, we come back to Jerusalem, ending our journey together with a day on the beach, followed by a final day visit to the Kotel and Mount Herzl, and the celebration of our final Shabbat together as a Seminar community.

These final activities bring together the paths of our Seminar journey:  Great fun with our friends as we enjoy the Mediterranean Sea;  At the visit to the Kotel we contemplate our dream-which we know is only partially fulfilled (which leaves us more room for further dreaming!);  Our visit to Mount Herzl helps us touch the depths of the price we pay for this place, as imperfect as it is;  Then, as we internalize it all, we sing Lecha Dodi together, with one leg in our home in Jerusalem, and the other, in our far away home, wondering what it all means. Quite a package to take home.

Ramah Israel Seminar is divided into six educational units. Within these units, every day is dedicated to a theme related to the unit. The titles of the units are:

  • People, Land and Community: The Galil and the Golan
  • Jerusalem as the Center of the Jewish World
  • The Dream and the Reality of Israel
  • The Leader Within: Jewish Leadership Today
  • Culture and Society in Israel ( a total of 7 days of special interest opportunities)
  • The Negev, Zionism and You

Each unit is designed to raise questions that illustrate the promise of Israel as well as her present and future challenges.  Most central is to illustrate why these challenges are so compelling to Jews throughout the world and in Israel.

 

Some examples of questions we ask and how Seminar illustrates these questions:

  • What is Israeli culture? Program: Meet with artists, musicians, chefs and filmmakers in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Sderot.
  • From Mount Moriah to Givat Ram-What is the meaning of Jewish sovereignty? Program: Visit the City of David to encounter both the ancient history and the modern dilemma/struggle of unearthing history within a political storm. Visit Givat Ram and the seat of the modern Jewish government. What are the connections between the two mounts? What does it mean to you?
  • What does it mean for Jews to be the majority? Program: Meet with Arab teens and try to understand their lives as a minority among Jews.
  • What is the connection between the reality of Israel and the dream of 2000 years? Is this what we prayed for over the centuries?  A Two Day Program has been built on this question:

-Spend a day in Jerusalem where we meet with leaders such as Professor Rabbi David Golinkin (a past madrich on Seminar), to explore issues of religious diversity in Israel, and take part in a neighborhood game that brings us in contact with the diverse populations of different neighborhoods to hear what they have to say about the State of Israel in their lives.

-When visiting Tel Aviv, take part in a study tour that explores the connection of today’s city to the founders of 1909, (who saw themselves as creating a brand new society). What were their dreams? Where do we find those dreams in the Hebrew graffiti on the walls of the buildings? 

 

Beyond the “Formal” educational program, there are many elements that also define the Seminar experience:

  • Creating a unique “Camp Ramah” consisting of all camps
  • Recreational elements- hikes, swimming, biking and other outdoor adventures
  • “Camp” activities such as talent show, Zimriya, hugim
  • Shabbat: Tefila, study, social time, Zmirot, Oneg Shabbat
  • Practical leadership, vaadot, group dynamics
  • Ivrit: Language study, practical use, Avera shel Ivrit
  • Personal choice elements (Etgar and Israel Unwrapped)
  • Mifgash with Israeli teens
  • Creating relationships with staff members who are personal examples
  • Free time and fun
  • Tefila 3x per day (praying, creating mood, themes, texts, experiential, content)
  • Social experience and meeting other Ramahnicks
The success of Ramah Israel Seminar will be seen in the ways our hanichim unwrap this package throughout the remaining years of their youth, and its impact on them as people who are beginning to make the ultimate choices in life.