by Rabbi Ami Hersh and Dana Levinson
It’s the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. You’re a young Jewish adult in New York City, seeking opportunities to help elderly homebound Jews recover after the storm’s devastation. Imagine if you had an app for that, one that not only gives you some ideas and direction, but also allows you to share your experiences through photos and videos with other like-minded friends. Or what if you want to engage in conversation around Jewish civic values, and had an app that makes that possible while inviting you to post a photo of yourself outside the voting booth on Election Day? Or an app that lets you learn with a growing community of young Jewish adults on campuses throughout North America as part of a weekly Virtual Mishmar, posting Jewish texts, questions, and inviting your video responses? Or an app that promotes “meet-ups” around Israel advocacy, charity races, Sukkah building, and Shabbat meals, and keeps you connected and engaged with Jewish peers? All that and more characterizes Ramah365 – a runaway success that has identified a young adult sweet spot, and is helping to satisfy a real hunger for Jewish engagement.
The story of Ramah365 begins with a visionary funder and an established institution that “lives” innovation from summer to summer. When the Covenant Foundation held a conference in July 2011 to introduce Jewish educators to the potential of gaming as an educational tool, the Ramah Camping Movement sent Dana Levinson, a student at the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary and a long-time Ramah camper and staff member. Little did anyone imagine that the nexus of funder, professional development, great ideas, a tradition of creativity, and youthful energy would yield a growing, world-wide network of Ramah alumni connecting, learning, volunteering, meeting, and celebrating together in new and meaningful ways.
With the support of a Signature Grant from the Covenant Foundation in January 2012, our Ramah365 team developed the app’s beta version, meriting one of two annual awards by the June 2012 Jewish Futures Conference. At that conference and in other public forums where we have presented the app,, including NCSY’s YouthCon in August, we have quite literally been inundated with questions and interest on the part of many other Jewish educators who are intrigued by the app and its potential. In testing since the middle of July, we officially went live on October 25. Already 600 young adults have downloaded the app, 300 missions have been completed, and the excitement is building.
In just a few short months, the app has become so much more than we initially imagined. We couldn’t know, going in to this project, how the app would evolve. We hoped it would be a comfortable meeting place for Ramah staff and alumni, where they could make connections while being involved in learning and rich Jewish experiences. Yet with the leadership of a young adult committee who create and monitor missions, continually act on ideas from users, and keep content fresh and new, Ramah365 is rapidly becoming a magnet for Jewish engagement year-round. In particular, what’s been so exciting is how the app users themselves continually cross social media boundaries – using Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, and YouTube – to widen the circle, build upon the app’s missions, and demonstrate their own initiative to create Jewish experiences that are personally meaningful to them.
The official launch of the app last week took place simultaneously in New York City, at Binghamton University, and in Jerusalem. More than 100 college-age Ramahniks spread across those three central sites came together to launch the app through live-streamed learning, sharing, and celebration. We witnessed the power that social media can have in both cultivating and promoting in-person engagement – in our minds, a necessary ingredient in the growth of Jewish community. (We even garnered two celebrity shout-outs through re-tweets from HBO’s Girls and from a Ramah alum who has a lead role in Pitch Perfect, a new Hollywood film!) Through Ramah365, we see first-hand how the future educators and lay leaders of the broader Jewish community can be nurtured and encouraged. It’s our firm belief that, through the empowered leadership and ongoing involvement of our committed young people, and the opportunities this app provides to Ramahniks to build on their formative summer experiences, Ramah365 can be a powerful tool in our efforts to ensure life-long Jewish engagement and continuity.
Rabbi Ami Hersh is the Program Director of the National Ramah Commission and the Assistant Director of Ramah Day Camp in Nyack. Dana Levinson is a graduate student at the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Ami and Dana lead the team of Ramah staff and alumni who are working on Ramah365. Follow Ramah365 on Twitter and like Ramah365 on Facebook.