Our numbers increased on Friday afternoon, as family members and friends of our riders and hikers and Gordon Tours staff joined us at Hotel Yehuda on the outskirts of Jerusalem. We changed out of our gear into Shabbat clothes (many into “Ramah whites”), and met for Kabbalat Shabbat on the hotel’s outdoor terrace. Following spirited Ramah davening and dinner, we assembled for a discussion of Ramah’s many inclusive programs for children and young adults with disabilities.
Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Network Director and the new Director of the Ramah NorCal Tikvah program, gave some background on the history, growth, and range of Ramah’s special needs programs. Orlee Krass, the Director of the new Tikvah program at Ramah Poconos, spoke about the impact of the first year of the program on the Ramah Poconos community, and told us about National Ramah training programs for Tikvah staff. Ralph Schwartz, Director of Special Needs Programming at Ramah Wisconsin, told us about the Atzmayim vocational program, in which participants have job placements in nearby Eagle River, Wisconsin. A highlight of the evening was hearing from four people on the bike ride/hike who have children who have participated in Tikvah programs. They movingly described the joy and happiness they and their children feel to be so naturally included in Ramah camps. The bikers and hikers clearly felt even more connected to what we are all doing here in Israel–raising money for scholarships to enable more campers with special needs to attend Ramah camps.
On Shabbat morning, many elected to sleep a bit later, have a leisurely breakfast, and again experience Ramah davening, which featured many of our young staff members and volunteers reading Torah. Some of us found time to squeeze in a run, some yoga, or a swim in the outdoor pool.
Shabbat slowly wound down with a discussion on the growth of Ramah, along with Mincha, Seudah Shlishit, Maariv, and a spirited Havdalah with Ramah Darom director Geoff Menkowitz playing guitar. Our participants enjoyed a free evening in Jerusalem, getting to bed early in anticipation of an early departure this morning.