All 14 of Camp Ramah's past directors are being honored at the Dec. 3 gala, among them some of the top leaders of the Southern California Jewish community, and the late author Chaim Potok.
Rabbi Jacob Pressman, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, was co-director of the first pilot summer in 1955 with 62 campers, and Rabbi David Lieber, president emeritus of the University of Judaism, directed the first official summer in 1956. Today Ramah in Ojai serves about 1,300 kids in several sessions over the summer.
"Camp creates in our minds and hearts and souls an ideal memory of ourselves and an ideal memory of the Jewish community that gives people a sense of hope and a sense of what is possible in the Jewish community," current director Rabbi Daniel Greyber said.
For Greyber, that explains why so many former campers and directors go on to become leaders in the Jewish community, and why many campers uphold their summers in Ojai as models of spirituality and community.
Rather than celebrate the anniversary at a rubber chicken dressy affair, Ramah invited alumni and community members to camp Dec. 3 for a day of swimming, sports, art and camp activities. A memorabilia exhibit will be on display, and the ceremony and luncheon will take place in the Gindi Chadar Ochel (dining hall) and on Ramah's famed hill.
The year-long festivities began with several Shabbat reunions at local synagogues and a dinner in Manhattan. At camp this summer, veteran alumni joined current campers to spend the day and sing camp songs that haven't changed.
Among the other honorees are: Miriam Wise, a founder and teacher at the University of Judaism who co-directed with Pressman in 1955; the late Walter Ackerman, who directed for 10 of the early years; Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz, rabbi emeritus of Sinai Temple who directed 1963-73; Alvin Mars, education director for the Jewish Centers Association who directed Ramah from 1978-84, then went on to the UJ and then to direct the Brandeis-Bardin Institute; Rabbi Edward Feinstein, rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; and Brian Greene, director of Westside Jewish Community Center.
For information, call (310) 476-8571 or visit www.ramah.org.
Milken Students Grill Education Minister
Israel's Minister of Education Yuli Tamir had her work cut out for her when she met with a group of 40 10th-graders at Milken Community High School Nov. 13. The students, all of whom will spend four months in Israel starting in February, met with Tamir for a private Q-and-A following a general presentation to the ninth through 12th grades.
The students asked Tamir about the differences between American and Israeli teens, about funding university education, and about how the Israeli school system helps kids deal with the stress of living under the threat of suicide bombers, katyushas and kassam rockets.
But where they respectfully pressed Tamir -- who has a doctorate in political philosophy from Oxford University -- was on the issue of ethnic segregation in Israel's public schools. The students, who had been briefed on some basic facts about the Israeli educational system prior to the speech, were deeply troubled by the separate schools for the religious, the non-religious and Israeli Arabs, and neighborhood schools that effectively segregate according to socioeconomic levels.
At least three students asked about the topic, unsatisfied with Tamir's acknowledgement that indeed it was a problem, or by her assertion that Army acts as a great equalizer.
"It's very difficult to undo what has been a basic fact of the Israeli educational system," Tamir conceded. "We want the children of Israel to grow to respect the different ways of life and to understand that people live different lives. We want them to know we are all part of the structure of Israeli society."
The 40 students are members of the Tiferet Israel Delegation, a new program that will take students to Israel from February to May. They will continue their Milken education at the Alexander Muss Institute for Education, where they will dorm, and do a special course in Jewish history, going out to the sites they learn about.
The heavily subsidized program replaces a program where 10th-graders would live with Israeli families for two months in the spring, and the hospitality would be reciprocated to an Israeli delegation at Milken.
The new program still pairs students with families, but is more structured and academically focused so students are well-supervised and up to speed when they come home.
In her talk to the school, Tamir discussed the importance of bringing American youth to Israel not just for their own benefit, but for the impact such exchanges have on Israeli kids.
"When our students have the opportunity to meet a delegation like the one you are sending, they find within themselves something they didn't know was there -- they find a hidden layer of their identity that with this encounter they have the ability to expose and to discuss and to reflect on."
New Schools Chief Visits Kehillat Israel
New LAUSD Superintendent Admiral David Brewer attended family services at Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades on Friday night, Nov. 17 -- his first visit to a Los Angeles synagogue since he took over leadership of 1,130 schools serving 877,000 students.
Brewer spoke in the main sanctuary, and his speech was more inspirational than political as he wove in ideas of how he plans to work with communities and set high expectations.
"He's very inspirational," said Kehillat Israel member and LAUSD Board President Marlene Canter, who suggested Kehillat Israel when Brewer said he would like to visit faith communities in his first official week on the job. "His passion is for kids. He is doing this not because he needs the job, but because he cares so deeply about the kids."
Following his talk in the main sanctuary, Brewer visited the youth service for 150 fourth- through sixth-graders. He talked to the kids about creating and sticking to goals, and had them pledge to read a book a week for the rest of their lives.
Before and after the speech, parents brought up issues that concern them in their local schools -- the Paul Revere Middle School and the Palisades Charter High School. Brewer, along with LAUSD's chief instructional officer Ronni Ephraim, promised to look into parents' concerns about class sizes at Paul Revere.
"The reaction of my congregation to Superintendent Brewer was fabulous," Kehillat Israel's Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben said. "People were very impressed and you could almost feel a collective sigh of relief when he was speaking, as people got to experience him first-hand and felt a greater sense of security and confidence knowing that LAUSD was in good hands with a man of substance, conviction and commitment."
Chief Rabbi Visits Sephardic Day School
Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, visited Tashbar Torat Hayim Hebrew Academy, a Sephardic school on the Westside in October.
Preschool students greeted the rabbi, and the rabbi spoke to students from pre-first through eighth grade.
Amar shared Rabbi Akiva's parable of the fish and the fox, explaining to the students that just as a fish cannot live without water, a Jew cannot live without Torah. The rabbi blessed the students and urged them to continue on their path of education and to keep the customs and heritage of Sephardic Jews.
For more information on Tashbar Torat Hayim, call (310) 652-8349.
Winter Camp Opportunities
Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, the religious Zionist youth group, is hosting Mosh Choref, a winter camp for fifth- through eighth-graders in Big Bear Jan. 24-28, to coincide with Orthodox day schools' winter break.
Chabad's Camp Gan Israel is also hosting a winter camp -- with separate dates for boys and girls -- at its new facility in Running Springs during the late January break, as well as during the conventional winter break of Dec. 22-Jan. 1.
The camps will offer students a combination of snow sports and a Shabbat experience.
For information on Camp Gan Israel Running Springs visit www.cgirunningsprings.com . For information on Mosh Choref, visit www.bneiakivala.org.
T.A. Kids in L.A.
Thirty-one students, nine parents and three staff members from the Magen School in Tel Aviv visited Pressman Academy this month as part of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership Program of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles -- the largest delegation to visit Pressman in the eight years the schools have been enjoying the partnership.
The visitors stayed with host families from the Pressman Academy/Temple Beth Am community. In the spring, sixth-graderzs from Pressman will travel to Israel to complete the exchange program.
"Our students' direct experience with Israeli children their own age deepens their relationship to the State of Israel and is often the foundation of a long friendship," said Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, education director of Pressman Academy.
For information, call (310) 652-7354 or visit www.pressmanacademy.org.
Today I am ... Responsible
Students aged 12-15 are invited to submit an essay describing how and why they have incorporated the values of kindness, charity and social justice into their bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Areyvut, a New Jersey based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting charity and social justice, will awards the first-place winner a digital camera or an iPod, along with a $180 Giving Certificate that the student can direct to a charity of his or her choice through Tzedakah, inc. Second and third place prizes will offer gift certificates to Jewish publishers. A 250-750 word essay is due by Jan. 1, 2007.
For more information about the contest and entry rules, visit www.areyvut.org/Action/bmec07.asp.
Short Story Contest
Authors aged 18-35 years are invited to submit a short story on a Jewish theme or topic to the 18th annual David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Contest for Young Adult Writers, sponsored by the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education. Up to three prizes, totaling $1,000, are being offered. The award honors the memory of David Dornstein, a CAJE conference assistant and short story writer and reader, who lost his life in the explosion of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988. Original stories may be up to 5,000 words and must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2006.
For information visit www.caje.org.