By Rabbi Paul Resnick
Every summer since 2007, alumni and friends of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires gather at the Salem Golf Course for a day of golf. What started as the brainchild of one alumnus to bring some of his camp buddies together for a day on the course has turned into another gateway to leadership development and engagement with camp. We just marked a decade of celebrating the golf outing!
It was 13 years ago that one of camp’s alumni decided that he wanted to create this golf event. He saw it as a networking event where alumni could connect and where new people could connect into the Ramah Berkshires family. Camp Ramah in the Berkshires was a leader in alumni engagement before it was in vogue. However, this alum was not so connected with the other opportunities for engagement that already existed – the annual Labor Day Alumni Weekend or the Ramah Basketball Association, which began 20 years ago to bring Ramahniks together to play ball in NYC. He saw the golf outing as a bridge towards the future.
At first there was some internal organizational pushback and concern about the camp community’s ability to take on this project. After all, the energies of the year-round team were focused on the summer program and its success! Our alum persisted. He wanted to give back to a place that helped shape the individual he is today. (He now sends his son to camp!) The idea caught the fancy of another alum whose family owned a golf course. It was a match made in heaven. They came to this concept from different perspectives and they, and others, formed the first golf outing committee. The annual Ramah Berkshires golf outing was born!
A summer camp producing a golf outing would add a certain panache to camp’s brand. It is taxing to create such an event when everyone is focused on the campers and staff in camp! There were challenges, but it was my great joy as the camp director back in 2007, and for many years later, to help harness alumni’s energy and commitments and to create these kinds of events. This is an outgrowth of the philosophical and educational underpinnings of Camp Ramah. We teach our campers the importance of trying new things, to explore new possibilities. To be able to experiment and sometimes fail, but to do so in a safe and nurturing environment. This fosters growth and development; this creates leadership.
The pioneering alumni who started the golf outing were advancing this ethos, an ethos they learned as campers and staff members.
The annual golf outing, like the basketball league, is an outgrowth of this lesson. When our campers and alumni see a new opportunity, camp leadership is there to lend support. It was their vision that we supported. It is this principle that encourages alumni to think creatively and produce an event such as the golf outing.
In my role today, I engage with the wider Camp Ramah in the Berkshires family – alumni, parents of alumni and friends of camp. I have had over 100 such in-person engagements in the past 18 months. I have the opportunity to hear people reminisce about their summer escapades, experiences, and how camp helped to form their lives and nurture their Jewish souls. At the golf outing this continues. Participants, who are alumni, often revert back to their teenage selves. It is rare that adults can sometimes just let loose and just be! This is another underlying principle of camp.
“Be yourself.” “I was able to remove my mask and be myself.” “I was able to experiment in a safe setting.” These are the quotes often heard from alumni of camp. The golf outing allows alumni to be themselves. It allows them to be back in camp in a metaphorical sense.
Now as adults decked out in their golf finest, enjoying a catered BBQ, they are connected to each other and to their childhoods in Wingdale, NY. What a great way to renew allegiance to camp. Through the process of every golf outing, new leadership is created and is nurtured by the year-round development team. That leadership is young and eager to become more involved with camp. It is another way to grow leadership of camp. Some are satisfied to contribute to camp this way and that is their way of connecting to camp and that’s it. For others, they feel more connected and support camp financially and/or attend the annual dinner celebration and other alumni events.
Yet for others it is an opportunity to network. They meet people who are at the golf outing who were not in their edah (division) in camp but because they have Ramah “creds,” they are automatically good people to engage. Business relationships have been another wonderful by-product of the golf outing.
And so from basketball to golf, camp leadership believes in engaging alumni in different and meaningful ways. Ideas are nurtured and traditions blossom. From grassroots to leadership, the proper cultivation, deeply woven into the fabric of camp, enables camp to cultivate its own while enabling folks to golf!
Rabbi Paul Resnick is the Senior Engagement and Planning Director at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. He served as the camp’s assistant director from 1987-1989 and as director for 27 years, from 1990 to 2016.