Ramah Darom, an overnight summer camp and year-round retreat center, is celebrating 25 years of operation this year. The organization threw a kickoff event to the festivities this month, and plans for more fun and memorable events for the rest of the year.
The kickoff event, A RAMAHrkable Night, took place Jan. 16, gathering more than 600 visitors through Zoom for Havdalah, music and memories. The feature of the night was a 20-minute video called “The Legacy of Ramah Darom,” which featured interviewers with founders, staff, participants and other people who have both impacted and been impacted by the organization throughout the years.
Flora Oynick, one of the chairs of the 25th-year celebrations, said of the event, “The RAMAKrhable Night celebration made it clear that Ramah Darom is not only a place. It is a feeling, a connection, a community and a guiding light that every single one of us has touched and has been touched by.”
CEO Wally Levitt discusses future plans. “We will be holding additional online events, plus posting photos and memories all year on social media, and will encourage others to share their memories as well,” he said. “Another way we are celebrating is by creating a display in the Levine Center, our central building. It’s a giant timeline of the highlights from the last 25 years, placed on a long wall.”
Levitt, who joined Camp Ramah as the CEO about two years ago, speaks highly of the organization and the community it has built, even during COVID times. Though camp wasn’t held in-person last year during the pandemic, Ramah Darom ran a series of physically-distanced getaways during the summer and fall and plans to operate its annual Passover retreat this spring. The camp plans to reopen this summer.
In another milestone, Levitt mentioned that this year, camp alumni have formed the Camp Ramah Darom Alumni Association. It holds alumni events, offers resources and opportunities to alumni, and provides an alumni newsletter called “The Hill Times.”
Leah Gross, a Camp Ramah alumna, recounts how her time spent at Ramah enhanced her life even after she left. “Camp is where I met my best friend; it’s where I met my husband. And now I sing the ‘Shema’ and ‘Rad Hayom’ to my son every night before bed. It’s undeniable that it [camp] holds so many important memories and has influenced even the simplest routines in my life.”
Leah Fingerman is Gross’ best friend and another camp alumna. “We met at Ramah the summer of 2001, and we have been best friends since. We grew up at camp together, being called ‘The Leahs.’ She was the maid of honor at my wedding.”
While the organization has had to adapt this year due to COVID, Levitt said it has found ways to keep people connected virtually, and has held a few scheduled events, as planned, while maintaining proper health protocols.
Since July, Ramah Darom has held Mishpachah B’Ramah family retreats. They last from two to five days, and offer families the opportunity to enjoy camp activities in a safe, socially distanced environment. Activities include swimming, archery, yoga and bike rides. Levitt said that hundreds of people have been able to safely attend these getaways with their families.
The next retreat is for Passover, which Levitt says is “one of our biggest events of the year.” The family-friendly gathering will be held March 26 to April 5. Levitt noted the “amazing food and incredible speakers” planned for the retreat.
Camp Ramah Darom will reopen in June for summer session with plans to welcome over 700 campers. The camp has worked with its medical committee to make sure it is safe for campers, and is following COVID protocols.
“Camp may look a little different this year, but it will still be exciting,” Levitt said. “What has been amazing to me is the unbelievable sense of community that we have at Ramah Darom; they come to our beautiful campus in the mountains and are forever connected to the magic of Ramah Darom. It is a special community, and we are so excited to bring people back together again.”