Commentary Magazine

Hebrew Camping

To the Editor:

As a parent of four children who have spent four summers at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, I should like to present my reactions to Morris Freedman’s recent description of Ramah in Connecticut (“Camp Ramah: Where Hebrew Is the Key,” May 1955). While Ramah undoubtedly serves as a training center for those who later find their way into the rabbinical, teaching, and social service professions, a much larger group of children is exposed to a positive, challenging, emotional and intellectual experience unequalled in American Jewish life today.

Ramah must come as a surprise to those who know the average summer camp with its superficial, puerile cultural program, catering to the taste for comic books and television which represent the highest intellectual goals to which many of our children are taught to aspire at home. Ramah campers know Hebrew to a degree, and are able to increase their command of the language. This is at once a satisfying intellectual achievement for the child, and a firm bond tying him to the Jewish community for a lifetime.

The emphasis on prayer and ritual at Ramah is not onerous and is accepted by all the campers, since it is the norm of the community. The carry-over of observance into their daily lives after they leave camp is dependent on the home environment and the motivation of the children themselves. But even for those who ultimately do not arrive at observant Judaism, the experience is healthy.

Practically all Ramah children come from homes of high intellectual standards. The parents have wrestled with the problem of the cultural mores of the community and have decided that something more must be done than just to drift with the stream. Camp Ramah is the instrument for providing that basic love for learning which is conspicuous by its absence in an environment in which “egghead” and “intellectual” are almost terms of derision. Working and living with teachers and students whose goals are not financial, but rather intellectual, is a rewarding experience. Friendships are begun at Ramah which last throughout the years. And I must say that there is a finer spirit of camaraderie and less emotional difficulty among the campers than I have seen in any other camp.

There is no danger that the cultural American background of these children will be diluted by their love for Hebrew. It is inspiring to see and hear these children use this modern language with love and humor in their play, their daily life, their music and dramatics. They are all the richer for having learned a second language in a living context vastly superior to the sterile classroom atmosphere of modern language in the high school.

If Mr. Freedman could have approached his Ramah assignment without preconceived judgments, he would certainly have come away filled with rejoicing and hope about the sustained survival of Judaism in America. There are many Jews, including myself, who feel that Ramah is one of the finest contributions of a religious institution to the development of a richer Jewish life in our country.

(Dr.) Alexander Richman
New York City



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