Record Group 28: Camp Ramah

JM, 2/8/95

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way: record group# -- box# -- folder#, as in R.G.1-10-32. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.


 [see caption]
A group of campers with a counselor at an open air class at Camp Ramah, 1960s. Photographer: Virginia F. Stern.

In the spring of 1994 representatives of the Ratner Center and the National Ramah Commission met and agreed that the Ratner Center would archivally process a portion of the historical records of the Ramah camps. The Ratner Center, with the cooperation of Ramah officials, carried out a survey of Ramah's records at their offices at Union Theological Seminary and in a closet at the back of the Mendelson room at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Additional Ramah records had already been located during the Ratner Center's 1987-1989 survey of the JTS attic.

The records of Camp Ramah turned out to be voluminous, covering approximately 336 linear feet, enough to fill 268 archival record cartons. As a result, the Ratner Center's director and archivist decided to limit the quantity of records processed in three ways: first, they chose to exclude the records of individual camps and to process only records of the National Ramah Commission; next, they decided to take records only up to 1989, the last year of Burton Cohen's tenure as director of the National Commission; finally, they chose to leave out financial records such as bank statements and paid bills, while keeping audit reports, budgets, and other records which more concisely describe Ramah's financial situation over the years.

In the summer of 1994, following the limitations described above, Ratner Center staff removed the records of the National Ramah Commission from their three locations and processed them. Many feet of camper, staff, and general office files from individual camps and programs, are still stored at the Seminary and in the Mendelson closet. National Ramah Commission records post-dating 1989 also remain there.

Over the course of the summer former Ramah officials Jerome Abrams and Burton Cohen each donated personal papers. Rabbi Cohen's papers have been added here in Series B. Material going back to Ramah's earliest years can be found in the Cohen papers. Jerome Abrams' papers have been processed as a separate collection. They contain a mixture of material from Ramah and the Cejwin Camps, as well as personal material from Rabbi Abrams.

Historical Note

During the 1940s, Jewish young people were fast slipping away from tradition and into the secular mainstream of American life. To combat this trend, the Jewish Theological Seminary established a number of programs meant to reconnect Jewish youth with the synagogue and to establish a new, young American-born Jewish leadership. The first Camp Ramah, which opened in Conover, Wisconsin in the summer of 1947, was one of these programs. A second, related program, the Leadership Training Fellowship, was founded in 1946.

Plans for the first camp - provisionally called Camp Solomon Schechter - were made in 1946. In that year the Chicago Council of the United Synagogue of America agreed to purchase a site for the camp and to be responsible for its operating expenses; The Jewish Theological Seminary agreed to take care of policy, program, and the recruitment of staff. Over the next few decades additional camps were founded in California, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Canada, and Israel.

The program of the Ramah camps, originally devised by Moshe Davis and Sylvia Ettenberg of JTS's Teachers Institute, includes adherence to a Conservative Jewish way of life, use of Hebrew, and a formal program of study of Hebrew and Jewish subjects. In addition, campers take part in sports, swimming, camping, arts and crafts, and other more traditional camp activities.

For More Information See: Michael Brown, "It's Off to Camp We Go: Ramah, LTF, and the Seminary in the Finkelstein Era," in Jack Wertheimer, ed. Tradition Renewed: A History of The Jewish Theological Seminary (New York: JTS, 1997); Sylvia Ettenberg and Geraldine Rosenfeld, eds., The Ramah Experience: Community and Commitment (New York: JTS, 1989); Stephen Lerner, "Ramah and Its Critics," Conservative Judaism (Spring, 1971); Shuly Rubin Schwartz, "Camp Ramah: The Early Years, 1947-1952," Conservative Judaism 40 (Fall, 1987): 12-42.

Collection Description

This collection consists primarily of records of the National Ramah Commission, 1951-1989 (Series A). The Commission is the central office, located in New York, of the Ramah camps. Also included is a smaller group of papers saved by former National Ramah Commission director Burton Cohen, 1946-1991 (Series B).

Series A, Records of the National Ramah Commission, consists of files of the Commission's national director (principally covering the years when David Mogilner held this office), general administrative files from the Commission's office, audit reports, minutes, and three notebooks documenting the Ramah Camps' Summer Training Institutes (also called the Mador), 1960-1962.

Despite the fact that these are the files of the central office, and files from the offices of individual camps have been deliberately excluded, there is a lot of material from or about individual camps here. This is because some business having to do with individual camps was handled by the Commission and because in some cases reports or duplicate materials were sent by the individual camps back to the Commission.

Series B contains historical material about Ramah saved by individuals. At present, the group of papers saved by Burton Cohen is the only group of material in Series B. The earliest material in the collection is in these papers saved by Burton Cohen. More material may be added to this series at a later date.

The Ramah camps have a deliberate educational mission, and the strength of this collection is in the large amount of educational materials, policy statements, training materials, evaluations, and other material documenting this mission's implementation.

Series List

  • A. Records of the National Ramah Commission, 1951-1989; n.d.
    • I. National Directors Files:
      • a. Alphabetical Files, 1957-1978; n.d.
      • b. Educational, Programming, and Policy Material, ca.1960s
    • II. Administrative Files:
      • a. Chronological, 1958-1989
      • b. Alphabetical, 1954-1988; n.d.
    • III. Audit Reports, 1954-1987
    • IV. Minutes:
      • a. Camp Directors Meetings, 1960-1973
      • b. Camp Trustees Meetings, 1955-1962
      • c. National Ramah Commission Directors' Meetings, 1951-1986
      • d. National Ramah Commission Staff Meetings, 1960-1965
    • V. Camp Ramah Summer Training Institute (Mador) notebooks, 1960-1962
  • B. Historical Material Saved By Individuals:
    • I. Burton Cohen, 1946-1991; n.d.

Series Descriptions

A. Records of The National Ramah Commission, 1951-1989; n.d.

I. National Director's Files
a. Alphabetical Files, 1957-1978; n.d.
b. Educational, Programming, and Policy Material, ca.1960s
Box 1 - Box 10, folder 7

These are the files of the National Ramah Director, the head of the National Ramah Commission. They are divided into two subseries. Subseries A, Alphabetical Files, 1957-1978 (with some undated files) seem to have come very largely from the desk of David Mogilner, National Ramah Director from 1970 to 1974. Material in the files pre- and post-dating his tenure is presumably that of his predecessors and of one of his successors, Burton Cohen. Subseries B, Educational, Programming, and Policy Material, comes largely from the 1960s.

The files in Subseries A are in alphabetical order by name or subject. They contain correspondence and memoranda of the National Director with camp directors and other Ramah staff members, parents and campers, and organizations related in one way or another to Ramah's programs such as the Melton Research Center at JTS or the United Synagogue of America. Also included are legal and financial documents, minutes, reports, printed material, speeches, statistics, and a range of other material. All this material documents the planning, programming, policy- making, and other administrative activities of the director of the National Ramah Commission.

While these files principally document administrative decisions encompassing the whole Ramah system, some matters relating to individual camps were handled at the National Commission's office. As a result, some material relating to individual camps, and to specific campers, parents, and staff can be found here.

One item of particular interest is a letter from Rabbi Morton Narrowe of Sweden to David Mogilner, December 22, 1971 (box 1, folder 29). In the letter Narrowe describes the influence of Ramah on Jewish camping in Sweden.

Also of note is a large section of material documenting the Mador, Ramah's counselor training program. This material, ca.1959-1974, consi sts of program material, participant correspondence, contracts, evaluations, reports, schedules, statistics, and financial material documenting the operation of this program. Of interest is a set of essays by Mador participants in which they respond to a question about their religious views, 1965 (box 5, folder 9). Similarly, a group of self-evaluations of 1973 Mador participants provides insight into the religious, intellectual, and social thinking of this group of young people (box 4, folder 23). For more Mador material see series V, below.

Subseries B consists of educational, programming, and policy material that appears to date mainly from the 1960s. A sizable portion of this material seems to come from the Poconos camp. Included here are essays, articles, course outlines, and other, largely printed or duplicated materials used in the planning or presentation of educational programs at the Ramah camps.

II. Administrative Files
a. Chronological, 1958-1989
b. Alphabetical, 1954-1988; n.d.
Box 10, folder 8 - Box 30, folder 4

The administrative files come from the National Ramah Commission's office. They are organized in two subseries, reflecting the order in which they were originally maintained. Subseries A consists of files organized chronologically, and Subseries B consists of subject files in alphabetical order.

Subseries A consists of files of essentially similar items kept for each academic year. The years represented here are 1958-1959 - 1988-1989. These files contain a mixture of material sent by individual camps back to the National Ramah Commission and documentation of situations handled by the Commission for individual camps. Files for the year 1959-1960 are missing and there is a long gap from 1981-1982 to 1985-1986.

Included for each year are files for each Ramah camp or program. These contain: correspondence with campers, parents, and staff members; applications and evaluations for counselors and program participants; examples of camp newsletters, visitors' day handbooks and other printed material from camps; and camp directors' annual reports. These annual reports - which consist of standard forms with attachments - are significant since they contain yearly statistical data plus a variety of lists and narrative and statistical reports for each camp. Included are statistics on numbers of staff and campers; information about campers' congregational affiliations, geographical distribution, and parents' occupations; descriptions of the summer's activities and events; reports from heads of divisions and programs; staff evaluations; enrollment reports; descriptions of repairs made or required for physical plants; examples of menus; and other information which cumulatively provides a good record of what went on at each camp.

In addition to the files for camps and programs, there are also files of memoranda from the National Commission to camp directors, budgetary material, documents concerning capital improvements, and material concerning the Seminary's related program, the Leaders Training Fellowship (LTF).

Subseries B, Alphabetical Files, 1954-1988 (with some undated material), consists of subject files on a wide range of subjects, all of which document the administration of the Ramah camps. Included is correspondence, educational and policy materials, reports, financial and legal materials, advertising and publicity material, applications from and lists of staff members, site blueprints, and other materials.

III. Audit Reports, 1954-1987
Box 30, folder 5 - Box 31

Included here is a somewhat fragmentary group of audit reports of individual Ramah camps and of the National Ramah Commission ranging in date from 1954 to 1987. Camps represented include: Berkshires, California, Canada, Connecticut, the day camp, Glen Spey, Massachusetts, New England, New York, Poconos, and Wisconsin. Audits for the Israel Seminar and the National Ramah Commission are also included. See the Burton Cohen files (Series B.I., below) for additional audit reports, 1949-1951.

IV. Minutes, 1951-1979
Box 32 - Box 33, folder 19

These are minutes of meetings held by a variety of Ramah bodies. Included are minutes of directors of individual camps, 1960-1973; minutes of camp trustees in California and Connecticut, 1955-1962 (no other regional minutes are included); annual, 1960-1966, regular, 1951-1979, and committee, 1959-1978 minutes of the National Ramah Commission's Board of Directors; and minutes of meetings of the National Commission's staff, 1960-1965. While there are long ranges of minutes for some of these bodies, others are represented by fragmentary or incomplete groups of minutes. Check with the National Ramah Commission's office at the Jewish Theological Seminary for additional minutes.

V. Camp Ramah Summer Training Institute (Mador) notebooks, 1961-1962
Box 33, folders 20-27

Included here are three three looseleaf notebooks (disbound by the Ratner Center for reasons of preservation) documenting Ramah's Summer Training Institute (also called the Mador) primarily for the summers of 1961 and 1962. A small amount of material from 1960 is also included. The notebooks contain correspondence and memoranda of the Institute's director, David Lieber; lists of staff members; examples of blank forms used at the Institute; course outlines; schedules; outlines of routines; curricular material in Hebrew; staff meeting minutes; director's reports; and typed journal notes (presumably Lieber's) documenting events of the summer of 1962.

For additional Mador material see Series I.b., above.

B. Historical Materials Saved by Individuals

I. Burton Cohen Files, 1946-1991; n.d.
Box 34

Included here is material gathered and saved by Rabbi Burton Cohen during the many years he was associated with Camp Ramah. Some of the material was pulled out by Shuly Rubin Schwartz (see the note in box 35, folder 9) in the process of her research on Ramah and was apparently subsequently incorporated into these files.

Included are instructional materials used at the camps, including a counselor's manual, a policies notebook, songbooks, prayer books, program evaluations and instructions, and other material. Also included are articles, reports, and other writings about Ramah; promotional material, such as brochures and buttons; material documenting fundraising and finances; and photographs.

Included also are seven files of correspondence with related circular letters, memoranda, notes, printed material, minutes, and statements going back to the earliest years of the camps (box 35, folders 9-15). Of note among these is a substantial amount of correspondence documenting the acquisition of Camp Tabor in Lake Como, Pennsylvania - subsequently Camp Ramah in the Poconos - from Rabbi Jacob Grossman. (See the Ratner Center's Jacob Grossman papers for additional information about Camp Tabor.)

Box List

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