Why My Blind Son is Returning from Camp Ramah in Canada a Month Early

For the rest of the story, see part two of this post here.

My almost-16 year old blind son, Solomon, was supposed to spend 8 weeks in the second-oldest Aidah (age group) at Camp Ramah in Canada, a Jewish camping program affiliated with the Conservative movement. My wife and I went to visit him and our 12 year old daughter this week. While there, the camp director told us that he was sending Solomon home four weeks early at the session break because “the camp is not able to accommodate Solomon’s needs for the full 8 week session.”

This is Solomon’s fifth year at camp. Sol went for one session each summer for the previous four years, but this year, called the “Magshimim” year, required campers to enroll for the full summer. Solomon was thrilled to go for both sessions. He loves camp, and for the first four summers, it appeared that Ramah loved Solomon and was completely willing to assign extra staff and arrange for some Braille materials so Sol could participate fully in the camp program. There were some rough spots. Camp staff did not always do everything they could have to ensure that Sol had the proper materials and was fully included in every activity, but we were confident that the director was committed to full inclusion, and neither we nor Solomon let the small things bother us very much.

This summer, a new director took the helm just a month before camp started. He didn’t know Solomon and we didn’t know him. Nevertheless, we assumed that the camp’s prior commitment to accessibility and inclusion would be maintained. We were wrong. Part of the Magshimim summer is a five day overnight camping trip. Although the overnight has three tracks for kids of varying levels of fitness and ability, the counselors, Rosh Aidah (unit head), Yoetzet (advisor/parent liaison), and camp director met and decided, without consulting with Solomon or with us, that they didn’t have the staff to accommodate Sol on the camping trip. Further, they also decided that they couldn’t continue to accommodate Sol for the second four weeks of camp. Ultimately, the final decision to remove Solomon from camp rested squarely on the shoulders of the new director, who decided that the camp was not willing to either hire an additional staff member or redirect a small amount of current staff time to helping with Solomon’s special needs.

Among the reason he gave for sending Solomon home early was that Sol takes too long eating his meals and showering, and requires help moving from activity to activity, which he also does very slowly. He also suggested that the Magshimim program requires moving around camp and engaging in camp activities independently, something which is nearly impossible for a blind camper with no vision to do. Note that at no time did the Yoetzet (advisor/parent liaison) bother to contact us regarding these issues. Had she asked, we could have given her some simple solutions for speeding up Sol. Also note that while it is standard procedure to include 15 year old students with special needs in discussions of their public school Individualized Educational Program, the camp held all of these discussions about Solomon without including or consulting with Solomon.

The first thing that Solomon told us when we saw him on the first day of our visit was that he wanted to return to camp next year, and that he would do anything and give up anything, including a possible trip to Israel tailored to blind students, for the opportunity to return to camp for his final summer. Our conversations with the director took place at the end of the second day of our visit, while Solomon was on a one night overnight with 8 other campers, who also had not gone on the 5 day overnight. We told the director that he had to tell Solomon why he was being sent home from camp early and why he would not be given the opportunity to return to camp at all the following year.

On the final morning of our visit, we sat in the director’s office as Solomon heard the news from the director. Solomon was brilliant. After saying that he was heartbroken at hearing such totally unexpected news, he saw through the holes in the director’s flimsy explanation of why he needed to go home and asked the same question that Marisa and I had asked the night before: “The camping trip is over – what is happening in the second four weeks that would be difficult for me to participate in?” There was no real answer to that question. The director’s explanation boiled down to a statement that the camp is not willing to devote the resources to continuing to include Solomon fully in the program. During our conversation the previous evening, I had challenged the director’s lack of commitment to inclusion – he kept using the language of “not able to fully accommodate Solomon’s needs,” and I got him to admit that the honest answer was that the camp is no longer willing to fully accommodate Solomon’s needs. Solomon knew immediately that it was a case of “not willing to,” rather than a case of “not able to.”

I should note at this point that the Camp Ramah system, consisting of nine camps, has a special needs program called “Tikvah.” Each camp specializes in a subset of special needs, such as ADHD, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, learning, emotional, and developmental disabilities, neurological impairments, and physical challenges. Solomon, while blind, does not fit into any of these categories. He attends a public college preparatory high school and with minor modifications, completes the regular curriculum.

The major part of my Jewish identity was formed at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. I loved Camp Ramah, and because of that my children went to Ramah. This director has betrayed the values of the Jewish camp that I love. The Conservative movement is on record supporting accessibility and inclusion in our institutions. Camp Ramah in Canada is now on record stating that if you have a physical disability and need greater support than the “typical” camper, they will not devote the resources to fully include you in their camp program. You might say that this is not true – they devoted the resources to giving Sol a terrific half summer, it’s just that asking them to accommodate him for the full summer is expecting too much. To this, I say ask Solomon if being the only camper asked to leave camp early, not being able to participate in the full overnight or in the second half of the program, not being able to celebrate the final banquet with his friends, is enough. You can guess what the answer is – being half way included is not enough.

After that painful meeting, sitting in the dining hall with Solomon eating breakfast, I watched the campers sing and dance to a contemporary version of a teaching of Rabbi Akiva:

“Love your neighbor as yourself – This is the fundamental principal of Torah.”

If I didn’t laugh, I would have started crying again. The camp can sing and dance all they want about loving one’s neighbor, but until and unless they back up the words with action, Camp Ramah in Canada will be a place that Rabbi Akiva would be ashamed to be associated with.

For the rest of the story, see part two of this post here.

 
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166 thoughts on “Why My Blind Son is Returning from Camp Ramah in Canada a Month Early

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  5. In 1985 I was a camp counselor at the Reform Jewish camp in Oconomowac, WI – OSRUI. There I had the great pleasure of working with and being a counselor for a blind camper. He taught me far more than I was able to provide in “extra-help”. He taught me how to explain a rainbow to a blind camper. I am deeply ashamed at the callousness of the camp experience that your son just went though. Camp should be fun.

  6. Up until about three years ago, I too attended Ramah. Ramah Berkshires to be exact. My father is a conservative Rabbi, and both my parents worked at Ramah Palmer for years. I had started there in the first year, cochavim, and since then, my parents had been preparing to send my brother Jonah, who has down syndrome to Ramah. They had dozens of meetings with the head of the inclusion program, the head of the camp, gave references from my brothers public school teachers, resource room teachers, and classroom aides. Ultimately, after my parents agreed to work at the camp for the session in case Jonah was having difficulties, he was accepted. The whole family was so happy, because we would be going to Ramah all together. Two weeks later, my parents received a phone call: Jonah was no longer allowed to attend Ramah. Sorry. I Knew it was all a mistake. I sent emails to the directors of the camp, Rabbis I had respected, hero-worshipped. Finally I spoke to the director of the camp. He told me that Ramah berkshires was not able to accommodate Jonah. I quoted Talmud, telling the rabbi that all people are created in G-d’s image. He ignored me, and afterword told my mother that it was inappropriate for her to allow me to speak in such a manner. In a week, my brother, sister and I will all be heading off to our third summer of Young Judaea. Ramah’s rejection truly was a blessing in disguise.

  7. Hi Rabbi. My name is Jack Fuchsman. I am in Crusy with Solomon. Those who do not know, I was Solomon’s big brother in usy this year. We have a big sibling little sibling thing in USY. This year at our final regional convention I had the great opportunity to be Solomon’s big brother. At the time I did not know much about Solomon except that he was blind. But to my greater knowledge when I started talking to him, I realized this was not your ordinary guy. Solomon is brilliant. During the activity’s we had, Solomon participated like everyone else. Instantly Solomon and I connected. What happened in this situation at Camp Ramah in Canada is truly embarrassing for me to hear. Last year was my Nivonim summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. This is the summer going into 11th grade. Last summer I met a guy named Tyler. He was I believe 19 years old. Like Sol, he is blind. But unlike the situation at Canada, Tyler fit in instantly. He was in the older version of Tikvah. 18 years old and older. Tyler was always praying, walking around camp, and was there all 8 weeks. With saying that, it makes no sense why Sol could not have stayed at camp all 8 weeks. Tyler was able to, Sol couldn’t? In conclusion Sol is a great kid and I hope that the director understands he made a terrible decission

  8. Thank you for sharing this painful story. I am sorry that this happened to your son and hope that the camp director reads the comments here and sees the disappointment the Jewish community feels in this Ramah. They should extend a huge apology to him and your family and immediate institute an inclusion policy with appropriate staff if necessary to allow him to return to camp.

  9. When I read this article this is upsetting, First , the Camp Ramah has special needs for students, childrens that require some assistance. Solomon should be able to go to the Camp !!! Definately , inform the Director , the Head Person , Coroporate of Ramah to HIRE !!! People !! Staff that can work with Special Population !!! He can ENJOY ! Have Fun at Camp !!!
    I work in BCPS at a high school as a Personal Aide. This summer was looking for a job – did not get a job. I would love to work . Solomon’s family you continue this pursuit of him attending Camp !!! Good luck with Everything !

  10. As someone who oversaw staffing at a (non-Ramah) Jewish summer camp for several years, I would point out that it’s particularly tricky to make staffing adjustments mid-stream. Rabbi, you acknowledge that additional resources would be appropriate were Sol to stay at camp for the second session. My personal experience is that obtaining such resources at the 11th hour is quite difficult and expensive, even where possible. All summer camps, let alone Jewish summer camps, need to be extraordinarily cautious about bringing staff into the fold — staff that are responsible for the physical and mental health and welfare of many children (usually at a ratio of 4 or 5 to 1). Hiring new staff takes significant time and diligence. And, by mid-summer most hireable former staff are likely to have other plans and commitments that they cannot or will not break.

    Futhermore, it may be that the director, even with attempts to bring on more staff, has only enough staff to barely address of the basic needs of the camping program in general, let alone provide extra 1 on 1 support (as many have suggested) for a camper whose family appears not to have explicitly communicated that need up front or offered resources to provide or find appropriate accommodation.

    Some will undoubtedly read this comment and proclaim that “the camp should have known because Sol had been there for 4 summers.” However, in this case, there is a new Director who would not have historical knowledge about resource distribution, the family has not sought extra resources via the Tikvah program, Sol’s needs appear to have changed (as noted by other commenters on this thread with first-hand knowledge) and Sol’s length of time at camp had increased, which can really make a difference for particular children.

    I hope that the Board who made the decision to hire a Director only weeks before camp, makes some effort here to find out how they might support this Director, who is undoubtedly in an incredibly difficult position, and this family and child in coming to a resolution that works for ALL staff and campers.

  11. If any person commenting above had the privilege to even spend a week at Camp Ramah in Canada they would understand that camp “not willing” to accommodate the needs of its campers and provide them the best possible summer is the furthest thing from the truth. Having spent the last 9 summers at Ramah in Canada as both a counselor and a camper I have learned that is the single most resounding message. I do not know the full story in Solomon’s case but I think it is important for every person commenting to think about this issue constructively. Ramah has an incredible program, Tikvah in which 18 young adults with disabilities are given the opportunity of a lifetime to spend 6 weeks at Ramah as integrated into the camp as possible. To many campers, this is their favorite time of the year and they savor every moment they have at Ramah. I know because I had the absolute privilege of being a Tikvah counselor. To say that Ramah is not an inclusive community is not only a tragedy but insulting. However, to be a Tikvah counselor takes an immense amount of energy and experience working with individuals with disabilities. It would be impossible to fulfill our responsibilities to our campers without the huge support system we have at Ramah (not to mention the additional staff). I do understand that Solomon does not fit into the categories of a tikvah camper but he does require additional time and support. Support that at this time Ramah is not able to provide. I urge each of you to put yourself into Solomon’s counselors and rosh edahs shoes: I am sure they spent countless hours discussing suggestions and trying to find a solution. However they have limited if any experience working with individuals with disabilities and are just not capable to handle the situation. There is no doubt that Solomon is a wonderful asset to Ramah but unfortunately Ramah is not uniquely a camp for individuals with disabilities and does not have the capacity at this time to cater to Solomon’s needs. This is an important part of the story. Ramah did not feel comfortable jeopardizing Solomon’s safety and experience at camp. Most importantly Solomon’s time at Ramah (if even for one month) should be celebrated as an exemplary case of inclusion. His counselors should be commended for going above and beyond to create a safe space for Solomon and not criticized for not being able to adapt to these unique circumstances. Having spent so much time at Ramah I know that camp will do anything for its campers and for people who do not know the story in its entirety to questions Ramah’s motives is wrong.

  12. No- this is not acceptable. Someone needs to notify the offices of Ramah- they need to know about this outside of that particular camp. It’s beyond appalling and I am confident that Ramah will NOT be pleased about this.

  13. Although this series of events is unfortunate, it should not have been publicized. It is Lashon Harah; it only adds to the problem that is distancing ourselves from Mashiach’s arrival. Posting this created a huge Chillul Hashem. It should be taken down immediately.

  14. This is such a shame. I am a young Rabbis wife in Charlotte NC and I would think that if the camp asked around they could have gotten someone to volunteer for Sols needs. I know I would be happy to. I have worked as a camp counselor in my teens and would love an opportunity like this. I know internships pull kids away and that contributes to the understaffing of camps. Had they just made you aware someone could have been found free of charge and this backlash could have been avoided. Also the director would have been a hero instead, such a shame and a waste.

  15. Take all the strength and supportive comments and ignore the anonymous ones. You’ve done right by your son, who sounds like a wise boy. We should be inclusive of all kids, even those differently-abled.

    The very fact that Solomon was registered for the full session parks the responsibility on the shoulders of the camp. It wouldn’t have broken the bank for them to bring on another counselor if that is what it would take for them to fulfill their commitment. My daughter is a camp counselor and the pay is very low $200-$300/week at best.

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  17. Hi Rabbi. My name is Jack Fuchsman. I am in Crusy with Solomon. Those who do not know, I was Solomon’s big brother in usy this year. We have a big sibling little sibling thing in USY. This year at our final regional convention I had the great opportunity to be Solomon’s big brother. At the time I did not know much about Solomon except that he was blind. But to my greater knowledge when I started talking to him, I realized this was not your ordinary guy. Solomon is brilliant. During the activity’s we had, Solomon participated like everyone else. Instantly Solomon and I connected. What happened in this situation at Camp Ramah in Canada is truly embarrassing for me to hear. Last year was my Nivonim summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. This is the summer going into 11th grade. Last summer I met a guy named Tyler. He was I believe 19 years old. Like Sol, he is blind. But unlike the situation at Canada, Tyler fit in instantly. He was in the older version of Tikvah. 18 years old and older. Tyler was always praying, walking around camp, and was there all 8 weeks. With saying that, it makes no sense why Sol could not have stayed at camp all 8 weeks. Tyler was able to, Sol couldn’t? In conclusion Sol is a great kid and I hope that the director understands he made a terrible decission.

  18. I think everyone should stop. take a breath, and consider both the realities of the situations, and think about the other side. This is a father who is deeply hurt. Of that I have no doubt. But I am also certain that this was a decision that camp did not arrive at very quickly or take lightly. However, it is apparent most to me that only one side is willing to burn bridges.

  19. I wrote notes to both management listed in the Raman Canada website and the info@ramah.org addresses. You should address this to the Ontario human rights commission.

  20. This should be unacceptable to all zconservative Jewry. Sometimes the only Jewish education a child receives is at Camp. I am ashamed at the camp , directors, and Board Members. Lenny Shapiro Calgary

  21. My heart is breaking for Solomon having to leave his beloved camp. These kids live all year to return to camp and their friends. I am so angry and wish I had a magic wand to wave to fix this totally unfair situation. Having spent the last number of years working at Ramah Palmer, I am aware of lots of things that can be done to provided extra support for kids with special needs to live in a regular bunk. I saw it happen day after day and it just made me smile; this just makes me weep. I hope the situation can be rectified and Solomon can return to be with his friends for the rest of the summer.

  22. Dear all,
    It is much easier to point and critique from miles and years removed from camp as many of the above knee jerk reactions have done. As a former counsellor who has dealt with kids who require “special attention”, I can say confidently that camp provides a wonderful environment for them. Should I ever have a child with similar issues, I have no doubt in my mind that Camp Ramah in Canada would be my first and only choice for my child.
    However, this article takes a dangerous and inflammatory one sided view on this individual case that did not end to the purest satisfaction of the parents, and I am sure camp is certainly regretful of that. Yet it is quite offensive that you, Rabbi, would ignore what camp has done for 5+ years for your children when the program no longer became the right “fit”. This is no ones fault, yet it seems very much that you are looking for someone to blame. That is understandable, yet unfair to point it at the very people who have created such a love for camp in your son and have worked tirelessly to provide such an environment that he would want to come back to year to year.

    Numbers are numbers, hiring one counsellor for one kid isn’t a reality. Was there ever the suggestion for you to contribute to the care of your son?
    taking a step back from the mudslinging here, it seems to be to be as simple as this. Growing up, when the kids were less independent, the camp program was a sustainable option for your son. However, as the activities and expectations grew, it no longer became a fit. I have no doubt to your sons kind heart and wonderful nature, and he certainly didn’t ask to be treated in such a manner.
    You have chosen to take an unfortunate path to venting your frustration with the situation.

    • No, this is the perfect path to vent frustration. If an organization is flourishing under the assumption that it is beneficial and accommodating to all, then the myth must be broken.
      While I have read dozens of comments of tears and frustration, may I suggest that what needs to be done is a huge writing/email/phone-call campaign to the head offices of Camp Ramah demanding apologies to this family and more control over Camp Ramah directors and staff, clarity of requirements and limitations and sensitivity training for those directly involved with campers and families and an oversight committee to take care of such problems immediately to prevent the ruination of any campers’ summer not due to his or her fault.
      Stop whining everyone! Take some action! Those who did not care enough to take care of this young man will not care if you write your entire life history. They will neither read nor care unless you may a huge fuss.
      Now, go do something productive and stop writing so much!

    • Hiring one counselor for one kid happens all the time. If at the end of the day, Ramah Canada has become such an institution whereby the numbers matter more than our children – then this Ramah is not part of the Ramah movement that I know.

    • very well said. I understand the parent’s frustration but as a Rabbi I would have expected more than lashon hara.

    • The crime here more than anything is the blindsiding of the child and the family. It is one thing to discover the the resources of the camp cannot accommodate a camper with a disability. But rather than engaging in conversations with him and/or his parents about the issues that came up to see if they could be remediated in some way, they were simply told he was not allowed to return for the remainder of the summer with no warning. This approach is lazy and cruel. Have you ever read that one should judge a society by how it treats its weakest members? While Sol sounds very accomplished in many ways and could hardly be considered weak from my estimation, the camp certainly regarded him that way, and treated him without appropriate compassion. I am grateful to the Rabbi who shared this story–too often the spector of lashon hara prevents unjust or abusive situations from coming to light. Without this kind of public discourse, nothing will change.

  23. As a former madrich at Camp Ramah in Canada who has directly worked with Sol and another blind camper, I can say that the title of this article is very misleading. Sol is a great kid and an incredible addition to the Ramah community, but the reason that he was not allowed to return was not just the fact that he was blind. Sol has other impairments that are most likely to blame for Camp’s decision, and seeing the misleading title of your article all over twitter is upsetting and frustrating. Also, Camp is understaffed this year, and just because they are having a difficult time finding the appropriate number of counselors should not justify your actions of slandering the amazing establishment that gave your son the 5 best summers of his life. I am sure camp would love to have more counselors on hand but that is simply not the case. Camp Ramah is an amazing doogmah of how to act and teach according to Jewish values, and your actions unfortunately are not.

  24. My message to Sol:
    I attended Ramah as a camper and later as a staff member. As everyone who has been an active member of the Ramah family knows, the bonds that we share with our fellow campers are among the strongest we will ever feel. I remember what it’s like to wait all year to be reunited with your soul mates. You’ve suffered an injustice. But beyond that, I hope that people realize that valuable time with loved ones has been taken from you. I’m impressed to read that you handled the news with poise. I hope that others, who are judging your situation negatively take a minute to realize what was truly at stake; time with true friends, in a Judaism-rich paradise. My heart is with you.

    For the responses that I’ve read, that defend the camp not having the resources this year:

    It’s repulsive that the dialogue about accommodating Sol was not a collaborative effort between the camp and the family. I fail to believe that there isn’t one reasonable (feasible for the camp) accommodation that could have kept a camper in the system.

    Depending on the Ramah, many of the younger staff members make as little as $1000 for the whole summer. Did Sol need so much help that he needed his own personal counselor for 2nd session? I don’t know. But it would have cost the camp as little as $500; the sum is paltry compared to the value of what it would have provided. Had others known that money was needed to keep Sol in camp, I would hope that donations would have fulfilled and then surpassed the amount needed many times over. Also, finding staff members isn’t as hard as one might think. I’ve seen would-be staff members turned away because they couldn’t sign on for a whole summer (this happens more with specialty counselors than with bunk staff). Had an email been sent out to alums, synagogues, and other Ramahs, who is to say that there wouldn’t have been many candidates to be last-minute staff for Sol? The camp clearly did not exhaust any mental effort is accommodating this young man.

    Love to Sol; I hope your friends made a small ruckus at camp and have been writing you.

    • This is a unique summer, camp was not short-staffed during the summers that you are referring to when they were forced to turn away many two month contracts due to having too many applications.

  25. I am in tears after reading your story. That is so unfair and horrible. Your son is a mensch – gifted with immense strength and courage. Shame on Camp Ramah in [Canada]. Shame on the staff and the director. Thank you for sharing your story and making us all aware of the situation.

  26. I hope that people will reconsider sending their children to this camp that discriminates against children with special needs. The camp should be ashamed. My husbands aunt who is now 67 years old and has been blind since birth went to camp and was included in everything.

    • maybe you should do some research before you comment. Ramah Canada has an amazing program for called Tikvah for special needs campers and just this summer started an “Avodah” program for Adults with special needs who may be too old for Tikvah. Your comment is inappropriate and reckless.

  27. I am the mother of a nine year old low vision daughter and I was so so sad to read this. Her school and camp (both Orthodox) have been amazingly inclusive of her and have bent themselves into pretzels to accomodate her. I was wondering the following — around here (NYC) there are hundreds of teens who volunteer their summers — without being paid — working at Camp Simcha (for sick and special needs kids) and working as shadows for children who need it. They do it because they love to do it and because it’s a mitzvah. I cannot imagine there isn’t a teen somewhere who can go to camp and work with Solomon as a shadow — to help him get from place to place, etc. Certainly in New York, where I live — there is even funding for it…can that be a possiblity for him? It is a fabulous chance to teach a teen what it means to be a person…and given that Ramah is such an otherwise amazing experience…maybe there’s a boy out there who actually wants to do this…

  28. Dear Rabbi Krishef,

    I am staff member at Camp Ramah in Canada who has worked directly with both Solomon and his twin brother Zack over the past two summers (In fact just a few days ago I held Sol up while he water skied). As someone who has given so much of my time helping the two of them I am stunned and appalled at the ungratefulness you have shown in disparaging the Camp and the staff members who have worked so hard to make Camp an accommodating place for your children. It is very unfortunate for Sol that, despite his cabin being assigned an extra counselor, he is unable to handle the rigours of being a Magshimim camper as he is an enthusiastic kid and a pleasure to be around. What you have conveniently ignored in this well written plea for support is that Sol has issues outside of his blindness that are more detrimental to his position as a camper than his visual impairment (for the sake of Sol and has family I will not go into detail). It became apparent over agonizing discussion during first session that Solomon does not display the independence necessary to remain in camp in a manner that would be conducive for both him, the staff and his fellow campers. I will be very sad when Sol leaves but I know that it is the right decision for everyone, I hope that you will handle this decision maturely and be there to help Sol through this tough time. I also hope that in the future you will thank the staff and camp that have worked so hard to help out your children over the past 5 summers instead of showing them the disrespect you have displayed in this article.

    • I appreciate as a committed camp staff member you have a different view of this matter. But no matter how much information you believe was excluded about Sol’s needs in this post, and even if the Director and staff do not think that camp can accommodate him any longer – that ship has sailed. Camp is underway and he is enrolled (and a long time member of the camp community). It became the obligation of the Director and staff to do whatever was necessary for the next four weeks and then assess afterwards. Since you did not dispute it, one assumes that this decision was made without a conversation with with Sol or his parents in advance? (I am assuming you do not have children – the thought of being blind-sided by this kind of information when arriving at camp for visiting day is truly shocking.) These problems were not unsolvable – especially if the appropriate parties had been engaged. How did everyone think this was going to play out? I do not necessarily support the use of social media in these matters, but in the absence of common sense, what options do people have?

    • I believe that Rabbi Krishef’s blog showed the appropriate level of gratefulness about the years of wonderful summer camp experiences Solomon has had at Camp Ramah in Canada. The letter also clearly pointed out the mistakes that were made this summer, and by whom. He takes responsibility for being “wrong” with certain “assumptions,” and expresses frustration at the camp’s lack of communication and attempt to involve Solomon and his family regarding potential solutions. The main point here is that the camp director had a serious choice to make, and it is the opinion of one father, and many others, that the choice was wrong.

    • I am deeply sorry that I did not make it absolutely clear that Solomon has experienced tremendous love from the staff, especially from the waterfront staff. I am fully aware that Sol has some mild physical impairments in addition to his blindness, but at this point his diagnosis for the purpose of his educational program is visual impairment. The issue of independence is related to his vision. Ramah is a very difficult, nearly impossible, place to navigate for a person with no sight. There are very few well defined paths, and a lot of uneven ground.
      Sol was admitted to camp for two session. If there was a sense that he couldn’t handle the program, that should have been discussed before the camp cashed our checks. If there were ongoing problems, we ought to have been notified — we could have helped. If the camp accepted him but didn’t take his additional needs into account when hiring staff, that’s a problem. But to tell Sol four days before the session break that he is going home because the camp didn’t hire enough staff is not right.
      In addition, I do not accept your premise that Magshimim (or Alonim) ought to be reserved only for the kind of kid with a certain level of physical ability. I believe that the Ramah experience can and should accommodate Jewish children with a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional abilities, gifts, and deficits.

  29. This is really horrible. Camp is where many American kids learn not only Jewish values but also self and Jewish identity. This behavior on the camp’s part was harmful, irresponsible and shameful.

  30. I am somewhere between tears and feeling sick at the moment – I can empathize with these parents – My son is being “asked” to leave a special needs Jewish Summer Camp because his ADHD and anxiety are presenting in not typical ways – I have spent time on the phone, drove up one Sunday after we got a call, emailed charts, given strategies to them- This is the new director’s first year and my son does not fit into the model of camper she was promised – I spoke to a friend who works at a “typical” camp and she was telling me that this year they have a camper who is having a very difficult time and the parents are in denial so the director decided to hire an extra set of a hands just for this boy and now all is well -

  31. I am a Camp Ramah in Canada parent, alumnus and Board member. One of my children has Down syndrome and is in the Tikvah program. I was also part of the hiring committee to select the new Director. My experience at Ramah has been entirely positive, and I know the new Director is an advocate for those with exceptionalities; he is a capable, sensitive and extremely committed leader, and I feel fortunate to have him at the helm. More than any other Jewish organization (and I serve on the Boards of several), Ramah has demonstrated the boundless benefits of inclusion, not just for those with special needs, but for the entire community. I caution everyone to reserve judgment, and not jump to conclusions based on one anecdotal experience. I have confidence that decisions were made thoughtfully, in consideration of the entire camp’s needs, and based on the reality of the camp’s limited resources.

    • As a Board Member, Ruth, perhaps you can find out what really went into this decision, and share it on this thread. I would love to hear how “thoughtfulness” played into the decision.

    • We “reserve judgment,” why? With all due respect, I believe the Board acted very poorly last December, first “accepting” Michael’s “resignation,” and then allowing out a shameful set of communications over what had happened. As you are a board member, I’ll take it as a given that you know the real reasons why he’s gone. The present situation simply wouldn’t have happened, were Micahel still present — or even had the camp acted to find a new director sufficiently in advance of this summer’s sessions. I’m prepared to give Ron the benefit of the doubt, but under NO circumstances should it ever be an acceptable result to send home a fifth year camper who has done absolutely everything right.

      Where is the executive level accountability here? And what is the board going to do to fix it?
      One rather obvious first suggestion: You need a new Executive President. One whose FIRST priority is on the children.

  32. The director’s email is ron@campramah.com. Here is the email just sent him:
    Dear Ron,

    As you are no doubt aware, Rabbi David Krishef has posted a blog entry about your treatment of is son Solomon that casts you and the camp in a very poor light indeed. The post, via facebook, is now in pretty wide circulation among the communities served by Ramah in Canada.

    My initial reaction is one of disgust. Indeed, if Rabbi Krishe’f version of events is accurate, I beleive that it shows you lack the sound judgment and chesed to hold the position of Director of Camp Ramah (or of any institution entrusted with imparting values to children). As a committed Conservative Jew and father of a seven year old girl whom I had planned, God willing, on sending to Ramah next summer and for many years to come. My daughter, k’eyn ahora, does not have special needs, but I would hesitate to send her to an environment where special needs children are treated as Solomon Krishef appears to have been treated.

    My inner lawyer counsels me that you have your own version of the events and that I should hear that before jumping to such conclusions. I would be grateful to hear back from you directly, but given the circulation of Rabbi Krishef’s piece, you might think about a more public forum for responding as well.

  33. As the parent of a visually impaired former Ramah Poconos camper & and a former yoetzet I am appalled. It would seem to me that there could have been a live in in the bunk and at meals for the moments when Sol needs extra time. I am mostly outraged by the lack of communication with you until everything was decided. Had a yoetzet been talking with you and working with the staff this could have had a different outcome. There are a lot of demands on our worktime at camp, but this is the job. Many folks dropped the ball and took the easy way out at the expense of your son and your family. I am sure his bunkmates and friends were left unhappy as well. Everytime we sent a camper home, there was a lot of clean up, fall out, aftermath to deal with. The ripple effect extends beyond Sol and his family. The new director made a very bad call. I don’t know what can happen now that would be satisfactory. I shared this with my son who has dealt with discrimination his whole life and he says he feels Sol’s pain.

  34. Solomon clearly is someone who understands what was going on and is terribly impacted, but I am also heartbroken for the campers. These campers have received a lesson that non-typical community members are a burden and an inconvenience and the way to deal with them is to make them go away. Thank you for sharing your story! The direct impact will probably be on the camp director etc. but the larger, long term impact will be wide-spread conversations within summer camps about equitable treatment of all campers.

  35. Have you considered setting up an online petition about this? At a minimum, it would let other people know about what happened and perhaps it would also put pressure on the camp.

  36. I am so very sad to read of such a thing happening to Sol. The mature way in which he handled himself in the face of such a painful experience was no doubt due to the wonderful positive parenting he has had from both you, and Marisa. Commiserations to Sol, Marisa, and you for the pain you are experiencing, and congratulations to all of you for handling this in the way you have. I truly hope this ‘situation’ at Ramah in Canada can be rectified in order that something as wounding as this will never happen again.

  37. This is a very sad and unfortunate story, and I applaud your telling it in such a measured way. I think the director missed an opportunity to demonstrate the values that this camp – and life – should be about.

  38. Rabbi..

    I too am so sorry. As a graduate of the Ramah Mador program- under Rabbi David Mogilner’s Z”L, as a counselor and a rosh edah for 4 summers, I am ashamed and so disappointed with the rosh machaneh’s decision in Sol’s situation. We were trained and we taught to approach campers as individuals, to celebrate their strengths and contributions to the edah, and to support their weaknesses.

    Clearly Sol is not the blind one. So many chesed and chinuchi opportunities lost by a Rosh Machaneh and tzevet . By your account Sol is strong and will certainly overcome this injustice, with your support and guidance.

    May Sol continue to be an inspiring doogmah for his classmates, friends and teachers, and may Ramah return to its dereck- the traditions and teachings of its founders-chesed, tzedek, ahavat yisrael and g’milut chasidim in an informal,nuturing educational environment

    kol tuv
    Aaron Zuckerberg

  39. This is heartbreaking!! Hopefully this bad press will impact those responsible as deeply as it impacted your son. Obviously his feelings and pride were not taken into consideration. I would have no pity on the director and staff when they hopefully terminate them. I can think of many solutions and options that could have been addressed that would have accommodated your son. Janet Flam

  40. Shame on Camp Ramah and good for you and Solomon for asserting that half-way inclusion is not enough.

  41. Although I have fond memories of Ramah Canada, only in Ramah N. England did I meet a competent fellow staff member, who happens to be blind, and who demonstrated that physical limitations can be overcome in a supportive environment such as Ramah. One of my daughters is currently a counselor for special needs campers at Chavaya Israel, which is a wonderful way to improve one’s Hebrew as well. Shame on the director and the board.

  42. As a parent that has a disabled child at Camp Ramah in Canada I disagree with the comments above. My son is handicaped and is intergrated in a cabin with other children. He is not part of the Tikvah program, He has found the staff and the campers to be accomodating and not judgmental. Yes there are certain times he may not be able to participate in a certain activity because of his disablility but that is due to his disability not due to an exclusion policy of the Camp. Our interaction with the camp has been positive thorughout his years of attendance and I suspect we are not getting the full story behind this Article. Obviously the parents are hurt and disappointed but to call the camp “unwilling” to accomodate a campers special needs is incorrect. I am sorry it did not work out for this family but to disparage a Camp that does a lot to try and accomodate children of special needs is wrong.

    • Larry, are you saying that your child’s positive experience invalidates Solomon’s negative experience? Are you implying that the camp director’s “selective unwillingness” to accommodate Solomon is acceptable in any scenario?

      • No I am saying that the failure to fully disclose the facts surronding the situation, is dishonest and scandolous. I only hear “selective unwilligngness” from one party. However, due to privacy issues the Camp has its hands tied to be able to tell its side of the story. Maybe if the learned Rabbi and his family would waive its right to privacy the Camp could respond and the community could hear both sides of the story instead of a one sided conversation, where the other party is prohibited from responding. It is frightful that so many people with so little facts are prepared to codemn a Camp and a the new Director. Why is everybody not looking at the histroy of the camp where it is known for includion and the fact that Sol has been there for many years before. What was different this year as compared to the other years. Could it be that this is the first year Sol was sent to camp without having an extra aide worker. I do not know as the party that is being attacked does not have the right to respond.

  43. Wow, I gotta play devil’s advocate here a little bit. Unless I’m reading it wrong it sounds like this family did nothing prior to sending their special needs child off to camp with regard to contacting the camp and its management about those special needs and trying to arrange things in advance. Perhaps this unfortunate outcome could have been avoided with some pre-planning. Given the nature of the child’s needs vs. the activities at the camp, perhaps the management was just doing what they thought best not only for the safety of Solomon but for the rest of the campers as well. Why would any family just assume that an outdoor camping trip for a nearly blind child would go smoothly? I’m sorry, I have to place a significant amount of blame on the family here for not showing enough respect for the camp and its management to make efforts to ensure their son’s inclusion before sending him there. Worse, I think it can even be said it shows some lack of concern for their son’s safety that they wouldn’t be more proactive in addressing his needs prior to sending him off.

      • I assure you I did read the entire article. Here’s the key word from it found in the first line of the third paragraph: assumed

      • To WLH: I think not understanding the entire situation, you should not try to play devil’s advocate. A new director started, did not travel to other cities to introduce himself, did not talk to Solomon’s parents and did nothing to see how Solomon was accommodated in the past. Having seen Solomon over the years and seen how campers interact with him, it is clear that he has given more to the camp than he or his family (and clearly Ron Polster) will ever know.

    • This is a patently ridiculous comment. This kid has been going to camp there for five previous summers. A new camp director doesn’t change the Ramah system, values or ethics, nor should it have any bearing whatsoever on previously existing agreements and arrangements made between this family and this camp system, in exactly the same way the arrival of a new school principal doesn’t negate an existing IEP (if you don’t know what that is, you’re /really/ in the wrong conversation).

      Also, this kid is a bright sixteen-year-old who is blind. Part of raising teenagers well is entrusting portions of responsibility to them – which means that Solomon was trusted to negotiate/advocate for himself, which he did to whatever degree available to him, and which is totally developmentally appropriate. This pity/blame model of dis/ability and accommodation you’ve got going on makes it sound like Solomon is a much younger kid (chronologically or mentally). Blind people camp, canoe, waterski, &c., &c all the time with a little visual guidance, as do people with all sorts of physical/mobility issues. And I guaran-damn-tee you that you don’t know better than Solomon does what he can and cannot do.

      So, your understanding of the camp system lacks significantly and your politics around dis/ability and empowerment lack even more. Your “devil’s advocate” comments are shameful, and you didn’t even bother signing them with your full name – probably because you know you’re talking like you have no ahavat Yisroel whatsoever. You should apologize, and then you should learn better.

    • As a retired lawyer I would say that sending your child to the same camp for the same experience for a fourth year in a row you are entitled to ‘assume’ that they can continue to accommodate his needs as they had done in the previous years. This is appallingly bad behaviour and I am also sure that a human rights’ complaint against this particular camp would not only be warranted but probably successful.

  44. As an alum from another Ramah Camp – this is not what the name Camp Ramah stands for. We need to make this right.

  45. David, I am crying for you, Marisa and Solomon, and everyone at Ramah Canada who will not benefit from Solomon’s presence in that community. I wish y’all lived in Ramah Darom’s region, because nothing would give me greater joy than teaching your son at the pottery wheel in our Omanut building, studying Torah with him on Shabbat and dancing with him at Havdalah.

  46. I can understand why Sol wants to return to that particular Ramah – and the cadre of friends he’s undoubtedly made there – next summer, regardless of the shabby treatment he received this year. I attended Ramah Palmer (Mass.) for a few summers and, 45 years later, have reconnected with the the friends I made there via social media. We have even had a few extraordinary mini-reunions. It is almost inconceivable to me that the camp director would have acted in the manner you describe. As Beth Steinberg observes, the National Ramah Commission should investigate and rectify this situation immediately – there’s still time to salvage the remainder of the summer for Sol and return him to camp if that’s what he wants – and to educate the camp director in the process. I’m sure you can find this info yourself, but for your convenience, you can access the NRC’s list of offices via this link: http://campramah.org/content/nrc.php . Hope you prevail!

  47. I too would urge you to contact Howard Blas at CRNE. As a staff member from 1994To 2007, I saw the amazing things that the tikvah program has done. My daughter served as an additional madricha for a 13 year old who needed some additional assistance to be main streamed in a tzrif.

  48. I don’t believe it is as simple as “unwilling camp breaks the heart of devoted camper”. From my understanding of the camp this summer, it is purely a numbers game. Camp is indeed understaffed this year, which is where the true tragedy of the issue lies as it contributed to the shortened season for your son. However, it is what it is. I would think that camp determined that after one month of trying, the staff were exhausted and simply couldn’t sustain the level they were at, without compromising the summers of 11 equally deserving other campers in his cabin. The reasons for camp being relatively short-staffed would take a blog post much longer than yours. It is not simply a matter of “reallocating staff” as there aren’t an excess, just sitting around with nothing to do. Ramah is a non-for-profit organization, and is carefully budgeted for, hiring out for more counsellors for a single camper isn’t a reality. Was there ever the opportunity for you to provide more than just “speeding up tricks”? Tricks certainly can’t compensate for another counsellor, which I am certain camp would have provided if able. The true victim of this whole thing is your son, who unquestionably didn’t ask for this. This is a camp that has been fantastic for your son for a number of years, it seems a shame both sides would throw it away like this.

    • I believe the following questions need to be answered:
      1) staffing was an issue, at any point in time did you offer to help in looking/funding for a special counselor to personally be with Sol 24/7?
      2) camp ramah wasn’t designed to have campers like Sol, but they accommodate. is it fair to draw comparisons to the schooling system he was in that was specifically made for children with disabilities?

  49. David, Sam forwarded me this link and I am heartbroken. Can you imagine if during our time at Ramah Wisconsin they told the tikvah kids that “we just can’t accommodate you”? But even then, kids with differences or even social issues didn’t always make it there. Our leaders and role models should always be striving for examples of inclusion and Ahavat Yisrael–all Yisrael. This is shameful and likely a result of an ego that wanted to “make a stand” but forgot the derech of our Jewish values.
    Thank you for taking the time to share–I will be emailing Ramah national to express my outrage.
    Joanne Kamens

  50. One flip side to why this is so sad is because I’m sure Solomon was actually giving back to the camp in a major way – showing his peers how no matter how different you may be, you have something to offer, you can be an amazing person, and it’s a very special thing to have a diverse friendship base. Have any of the other kids stood up for him? Expressed sadness? I would hope so. Otherwise I think the camp has missed a really important life lesson and opportunity for its campers.

  51. As someone who worked in an inclusion program at Ramah in the Berkshires, I’m really sorry to hear this. We have always prided ourselves in providing programming for kids with all sorts of needs (and not all kids with no disabilities are the same, either!). Thank God he has such an advocate for him with you. Good luck!

  52. My first interaction with Solomon literally began with a splash. For the past 4 summers, I have had the pleasure of sharing an hour a day with both of your sons in the Agam at camp. As I read your article now, I can hear Sol’s infectious laugh. Sol loved the Agam at camp, and would even beg me to go in the water when it was pouring rain outside. And though I’ll admit I never wanted to go in on those cold, rainy days–you can’t deny that kind of enthusiasm. It’s my first summer not returning to Camp, and I’m devastated to hear about this situation. I have watched Sol do incredible things over the last four summers: Complete numerous “point swims” across the lake, learn CPR, lead t’filot, and guide his peers across camp leading a pe’ulah (activity) about being blind. I have watched Sol grow from an enthusiastic young boy to an engaging, bright young man.In the many deep and meaningful conversations I shared with Sol in the vastness of the Agam, the one that I want to share here is that Sol told me on many occasions about how he wanted to BE a Tikvah counselor. In all the time we spent together, I never heard one word of negativity or expression of a disability. You have raised an incredible son; an inspiration to myself, and to the entire community at Camp Ramah in Canada despite these unfortunate circumstances. My heart goes out to your family, and I hope that in the least Sol will get to find a way to spend the rest of his summer making waves.

  53. How is it that when Michael Wolfe was the camps director, the camp was “able” to provide for Sols needs? But in the first month of the new directors position, the camp is “unable” to accomidate for this great kids needs.

  54. Little mention of the other camper involvement says they did not do their part in influencing the Director’s decision. Also the Director’s response was not heard. All the evidence says the Director and the BOD should revisit their decision. A regrettable but correctable decision should be made. This incident is a powerful learning experience. Alvin Samuels Metaitie LA

  55. A Shanda: The Conservative Movement should take a quick stand here and invite your son back for the remainder of camp – travel at their expense – and find a new camp director now. Maybe the USCJ director of Kiruv can do some work on Ramah’s Kiruv!

  56. Rabbi: So sorry to hear this….we know how much Sol loved his USY convention experiences and how important Ramah is to him…Shame on the new director…

  57. I am so saddened to learn about this incident. It clearly violates all the protocols of working through what is seen as a difficult issue from the camps’ perspective. To not discuss this with Solomon, the bunk and his parents would be wrong in any situation, not only when the camper is blind! I would urge this new director to talk with Howard Blas who runs Ramah NE’s Tikvah with inclusion programs. I am surprised that you say Solomon is not in the Tikvah program as all campers with special needs, whether included in typical bunks or in the Tikvah bunks, should have the support offered through Tikvah staff. I’d seriously recommend coursework for the director – check out Hebrew College’s Certificate in Jewish Special Education where I am a professor!

    • The Tikvah programs at the Ramah camps are wonderful. They special in a subset of special needs. There is no Tikvah program for blind kids, nor should their necessarily be. A teen who can function in a regular HS program (with some additional support) can also function in a regular camp program (with some additional support). The Tikvah programs are focused on the inclusion of kids who cannot function in regular camp settings. That said, there are some Ramah camps and Tikvah programs that use Tikvah staff when appropriate to give extra support to regular campers who need it.

  58. There are no words to describe how shameful Camp Ramah in Canada is behaving. As a child psychologist and a parent of LD children, I am horrified by the way Ramah treated your son and your family. Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like your son is more mature than the adult camp director, but I’m sure he is still feeling hurt and angry nevertheless. I think this story needs to be heard and I hope that camp Ramah in Canada rights this situation with a public apology and an invitation to Solomon to return to camp next summer, whether he wants to or not.

  59. I also found this blog posted on Facebook. What a sad and disheartening story that reflects so poorly on Ramah Canada, in particular, and Conservative Judaism, in general. During the late 70’s and early 80’s, when I worked at the Reform movement’s Eisner Camp, we had a blind staff member! I don’t remember what his job was, but I do remember what an inspiration he was. I learned so much from him – as a young college and then rabbinic student. What a shame that this camp director felt he could no longer accommodate your son. A loss for the entire camp community, I’m sure. I wish your son and your family all the best.

  60. Rabbi,

    I was a camper at Ramah Wisconsin from 67-73, Israel Seminar in 1974 and regular program staff from 75-76, and for five years on the Tikvah staff with the last two as director of the Tikvah program in Wisconsin. I cannot tell you how sad I am to hear your story and Sol’s experience at Canada. Wisconsin had a blind camper there when I was a camper in the late 60’s. This was many years before the Tikvah program started. Howie got around on his own and the camp did what needed to be done to accommodate his needs. He was at camp for the full 8 weeks and this was well before any laws addressing accessibility for persons with a disability. Rabbi Burton Cohen was wonderful in this regard. This issue needs to be brought to the National Ramah Commission to be addressed.

    I have worked in Jewish education to meet the needs of students with exceptional needs and in my view there is no reason that access to any Jewish education program be denied to any child regardless of their disability. Ramah Canada did not work this out so Sol could stay and what the director there did is wrong.

    The Ramah experience was the major formative Jewish experience of my life and to have it denied to ANY Jewish child who desires it is a shondah.

  61. I went to Camp Ramah in New England growing up and am shocked, saddened and furious to read this. My son is completely deaf in one ear so I can relate while on a different level. It sounds like Sol is a great person and won’t let this get him down. I applaud you both for standing up and addressing the issue which will hopefully cause some much need change at the camp.

    • I did not attend Ramah as a child, I did however, attend a camp in N.H. where we had in our bunk a blind kid, a kid who had no use of his legs and a kid with just one arm and guess what, everyone did everything. Oh and did I mention this was in the 60’s? We sent our 4 children to Ramah and my wife was on staff for several summers. I find this behavior and outrage. I agree that this email address info@campramah.org should be bombarded! I am so happy my daughter re posted this on her facebook page.

  62. I am so sorry that your son had this experience. This was not a lesson he should have learned from his Ramah camp. Intolerance is all around, but that should not be the case at any Jewish camp. I hope that this blog being widely shared will lead to a new and much more competent director, perhaps this week rather than just for next year. Will share this in hopes of helping that to come about. My support goes to your son and your family. I am not so sure my 16 year old would have used such pleasant words in response.

  63. Accommodations should be made to meet your son’s needs especially since he has been at the camp all these years. This is a terrible lesson for all of the other campers and an awful treatment of your son. A true lesson in inclusion could have been to sit with the other campers in the group and ask for their suggestions on how to meet Sol’s needs and keep him in camp.

    I am certain that even if the director’s decision was misguided the campers would have come up with ways to assist Sol such as taking turns to help him complete necessary tasks in order to participate fully. This would have been a true “teachable moment” in Tzedukah and caring for all of our friends. Even my kindergarten students were anxious to find ways to help other children with special needs when the situations were explained to them. They learned about true “menchlechkite” by participate in deeds of kindness and compassion.

    The director is more concerned with insurance issues than with human ones. He should be employed by a large corporation and not by an organization that should be known for nurturing children and fostering Jewish beliefs.

    I wish you and your son well. May he go from strength to strength and this become just an unfortunate memory on a more pleasant and successful life journey.

    Rivanna Day Hyman
    Massapeaqua, New York

  64. How about a letter-writing campaign by former Ramah campers and parents? What a terrible example the camp is showing to the other campers–someone who needs extra help should be sent away.

  65. I went to Camp Ramah in New England as a youngster in the late sixties. For most of my four summers as a camper there was a wonderful young blind person, Howie, in our “tzrif”. His presence provided both challenges and opportunities for all around. But the lessons learned through them enriched us all and have stayed with me for a lifetime. Ramah’s committment to his presence will always be appreciated by me, and I’m sure, all who learned so much from each detail of our summers with Howie.
    It was part of the essence of our Torah learning through living.
    Rabbi David Steinhardt

  66. So sorry to hear that this happened to your son. I would suggest looking into Camp Kutz in Warwick NY. It’s affiliated with the Reform movement, but they have a long history of making camp accessible. Over 25% of the camp has a disability (usually on the Autism spectrum). But when I was a camper, we also had campers with other disabilities that were accommodated. Another thing to note is that almost all the campers at Kutz are new every year, so each year is fresh.

  67. Do not just complain here. Express your outrage to:

    National Ramah Commission, Inc.
    3080 Broadway
    New York, NY 10027
    Phone: 212.678.8881
    Fax: 212.749.8251
    Email: info@campramah.org

    They are the director’s bosses and let’s hope that they knew nothing of this decision which goes against everything Ramah stands for. I have already written them.

  68. I would hope that the parents of the other campers would speak up on your sons behalf. Otherwise they are just as guilty as the administration.

  69. The concern I see here is more about camp safety than inclusion. Educational institutions need to be able to identify and articulate what types of participants they are able to handle and which they cannot. The fact that the camp did not reach out to you to discuss Solomon’s challenges is particularly disconcerting to me. As a former camp administrator, I remember often, my frustration when parents sent a child to camp with an incomplete medical form (not to mention the always fun unannounced medication holiday!). When a camp does not have a full picture about a camper, it cannot help that camper reach his/her potential at camp. The same goes the other way. If the camp is not in conversation with a parent about a camper’s challenges, then it will not see the camper’s range of abilities.

    The offense here should not be about Solomon’s challenge. It should not be difficult to imagine the possible difficulties of having a blind camper at camp. The issue is that the camp did not engage in a conversation with the parents and child. This is not simply an issue of tact (who should be included in a conversation) but an issue of safety. This behavior suggests that the administration is unable to gather accurate data about their campers, and this is an issue of safety for other campers too. The administration is relying on only what it knows to be true and is not actively striving to understand a variety of situations. If the camp is unable to pick up the phone to talk to parents about a camper with an obvious challenge (eyesight) how equipped is this administration to fulfill the needs of campers who have more hidden challenges (eating disorder, depression…)?

    While it is easy to respond in shock that a camp would feel unwilling to exert the effort for a blind camper, the larger issue of protocol and parental involvement seems to me to be far more powerful.

    • Josh – Remember that this is Solomon’s fifth year at Ramah in Canada. It is not a simple matter of the camp not knowing Solomon or how to accommodate him, or that his parents didn’t give the camp enough information.
      The only thing that has changed this year is that the magshimim Aidah requires a greater degree of independence, Sol was registered for both sessions rather than just one month, and a new director was hired (who did not know Sol) and begin working just weeks prior to the start of the camp season.
      A lack of communication about the difficulties was a part of the problem – the camp never told us that there were problems because Sol was taking too long to eat meals. The other problem, that staff support time was being stretched too thin to make sure Sol was doing what he needed to do, could have been solved, had the camp chosen this route, by hiring additional staff. The director chose not to consider this solution, and instead is choosing to send Sol home at the session break.

      • Camp is short on staff this summer because staff retention has dropped over the last few years. To insinuate they can simply “hire” another staff member for one month is a little far fetched.

      • Staff dont simply appear out of midair. This was a unique summer where retention numbers were low. What caused that is a different discussion. However it is not correct that camp simply could have hired more staff. Sol’s cabin already had additional staff that other cabins his age did not, solely for his accomodation.

      • As both a camper and staff member at another Ramah, this is completely disheartening to hear. It deeply saddens me that the director of a camp would rather lose a child who is so passionate about Ramah rather than make an effort to accommodate him. It was clearly known that Solomon was signed up to be a camper far before this summer started. If it was foreseen that there would need to be additional staff members hired for his eidah, this should have happened way in advance. I understand that the camp is short on staff as staff retention has dropped over the last few years, but this is a poor excuse. A poor excuse that could have been easily solved and dealt with had there been communication with the parents. Regardless of how many staff members were in his bunk, there is absolutely no reason that a child should be sent home for the remainder of the summer, and furthermore told that he can’t come back in the future? As a staff member who has had a camper in the past that may not have been as fast-paced as the others, I did everything in my power to treat her just as I treated the rest and always made sure she was fully included in every activity.This is a huge embarrassment for me to even say that I am a part of the umbrella organization that runs this camp. I would hope that the other Ramah camps can learn from this lesson and make sure that no other camper is treated this way in the future.

  70. I hope this gets the attention it deserves, as it is heartrending. I know its getting around my community – Nashville TN – and getting a lot of attention.

    If you wish to write someone, if I may suggest, I merely cc’ed the director (ron@campramah.com): my main message was to Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Director (mcohen@jtsa.edu) and Amy Skopp Cooper, National Assistant Director
    (amy@campramah.org) … I think the National Ramah Commission should be involved primarily.

  71. We are so very sorry to read about this Rabbi……..your family has been treated very wrong!!!! what qualified this man to be the new director anyway???? they sure did not screen him very good he lacks a heart!!!!!!!!!!

  72. I was heartbroken to read this story. At the end of this summer the Ramah in Canada board named a new president. One of the first changes he was instrumental in making was removing the previous camp director who was beloved by everyone – campers, parents and alumni. Many, including myself, were deeply troubled by this abrupt change. I am wondering if the new president of the board was involved in this decision or if you discussed this with him. Either way, it is a terrible thing to have happened and I hope that enough pressure is exerted by the Ramah family so that this wrong can be righted.

  73. There is a a camp in NY State that just opened called Camp kaylie: 50% typical campers and 50% campers with special needs. Not sure which category your son falls into, but it sounds like an environment that embraces diversity instead of exclusion.

  74. I do not know you, or your beautiful son, but this story just makes my heart drop to the bottom of my stomach. At the end of the day, while there are so many things that I want to say, the only thing I keep coming back to is that Solomon sounds stronger and wiser than most adults I know.

  75. David;
    Just go to my facebook page and see the responses to what you wrote. People are furious and for a very real reason. I believe that it was very courageous of you to share this with all of us THANKS! This should not be covered up! It should be fixed ASAP! It is bad enough when it happens to our children (horrible and unacceptable). Imagine if this happens to a child whose father does not happen to be a Rabbi in our movement… This should not be covered up we need this story to be shared left and right and for Solomon if he so wishes to go back to camp ASAP.
    Felipe Goodman

  76. Thank you for sharing your story- I pray that the staff that made this decision will do teshuvah and no other child will be hurt by their ignorance and lack of full commitment to ahavat yisrael regardless of ability or special need.

  77. I attended camp Ramah in the Berkshires and this story makes me ashamed to be associated with the Ramah organization at all. I would like to thank you for your respectful account of Solomon’s camp experiences while camp was not very respectful of him. I hope other Ramah camps can learn from this mistake and can help ease the pain of terrible last memory. Inclusion is such an important part of the conservative movement that this story is shocking to me. Wishing you the best, and a happy end to your summer.

  78. I have had the total opposite experiences at camp Ramah in Palmer ma. My son is 27 and is still going because the director saw the need to extend the age limit!
    I was so sad to read this. None of this would ever have happened at camp Ramah of new England. Please don’t give up on Tikvah. It’s the best thing out there for kids like ours!!

    Marcy Yellin

  79. Sounds like there are several people that are saddened by the shabby treatment Sol has received from the Director. What are you going to do about it? Clearly, this Director needs to find other employment as he/she cannot be bothered. It’s time to write to those who hired the new Director and give them an assessment of how well (or not) he/she is performing the job.

  80. I would like to believe that should a loved one ever become impaired in any way, that the movement, camps ect that I have chosen to call home would do everything possible to enable us to participate equally.
    May they realize their error up in Canada and correct the pain it has caused your son.

  81. I was very very saddened to read this article and learn about the injustice done to your son. This is the latest disillusionment for me about Ramah Canada, going back to last December when the board determined it needed a new director, and for what reasons (officially, the prior director “resigned”). I can only hope that the new director, his staff, and the board learn get the feedback they deserve, and learn from it, and take the appropriate measures so that no other camper ever has to experience what your son just went through.

    My daughter is going up to Utterson next Monday for her second summer. I am confident she’ll have a wonderful summer, but I deeply regret that she will not have the opportunity to meet your son.

  82. As a parent of 3 children with special needs looking for a Jewish camping experience, I am so very sorry to hear what happened to your son. It sounds like he Is an amazing self advocate

    • Amie, I think the Rabbi would agree that this incident doesn’t reflect the Ramah culture as a whole! Ramah is a beautiful and formative experience, which raises the way Ramah Canada has failed its mission the more tragic.

  83. i went to camp with sol last year and was even in his cabin…sol and i became best friends and i would walk with him almost everywhere no matter the schedule. our entire cabin loved sol and did anything for him any time. this breaks my heart to hear that because sol is blind they dont want him but i can almost gurantee that his cabin had been helping the first session.
    tell zach and sol that Ben Yaffe says hi!!!

  84. Having been a staff member for over 6 years at Ramah in Canada. I am so sorry that this has happened to Solomon and your family. This is also not the Camp that I loved and respected.

  85. I found this blog over Facebook, and this makes me unbelievably angry. I was a madrich at Ramah for two summers (2009 and 2010), and a camper for four before that. I can’t say I knew your son very well, but I met him once or twice, and he is a fantastic kid whose presence at Ramah made the camp richer. The way he was treated this summer is absolutely shameful. As a madrich (and I’m pretty sure I speak for all madrichim here), I would have done absolutely everything in my power to accomodate Solomon. You want your campers to have the same fantastic experience that you did. Clearly some people along the line had a series of moral failings. What a pity. The new director is really starting out on the right foot, eh?

  86. As a Jewish educator and life long camper and former staff member at a fellow Jewish residential camp, the camp director’s actions sadden me. Your son however inspires me!

  87. I was Solomon’s counselor during his Kfirim summer. I am disgusted to hear this news. Solomon was an absolute joy to have in the cabin. I would just like to offer my support for Solomon and your family. I hope Ramah sees the error of their ways and immediately rectifies the situation and apologize profusely.- Ethan Eisen

  88. You and your family are such gentle, loving souls. In the end, I am confident that some good will emerge from this huge slap in the face. But this really stinks. Fight the good fight well. Sol is terrific.

  89. I am very sad to read this, I am an alum of Ramah Canada and I can tell you we had a blind camper in my edah back in the 70’s. My kids are also Ramanicks and have worked with inclusion and Tikkva campers at there location. If there is a will there is a way. I suggest that the Ramah movement look hard at this incident of indecency and make some changes at the Head of Ramah Canada. This is not how I remember Ramah , nor how I want to think of it now!

  90. As the parent of a beautiful little girl with autism, I know too well the sting of exclusion- even more devastating is the sting at the hands of a Jewish institution. I applaud your effort to spreading the story and getting the truth out there. There’s a lot of talking the talk of inclusion, but there needs to be more action. Inclusion benefits those individuals with special needs as well as those without, fostering compassion, understanding, and true friendship.
    Your family is not alone in being turned away. Such a shame. Thank you for sharing your story.

  91. I was very moved by your blog about Solomon’s experience at Camp Ramah. I am reminded of something I heard Jesse Jackson say in regard to the St. Louis, the ship that brought 937 Jews to America in 1939. It was obvious they need to disembark and the United States refused to allow an exception to its strict immigration rules. Jackson said, “it was not that we didn’t have enough space in our country, we didn’t have enough space in our hearts.” — Binyamin Mehler

  92. As a parent, pediatrician, former camper and tikvah staff at another Ramah, I was just appalled reading this story. These events go against all that the Ramah I know stands for. I suggest Camp Ramah Canada get its act together before next summer, and in the meantime, work on an apology to Sol and his family.

  93. What a cruel thing to do to a kid. What a poor choice for a camp director – someone who fails to understand the meaning of compassion.

  94. This story needs to be shared widely. The horrible decision of this Camp Director should not be ignored. The wider Jewish community should be aware of what happened to Solomon. This should become an example of what NOT to do.

  95. Very sad. An embarrassment to the movement and the Ramah system. I’ll be happy to get in touch when i get back from Israel to see how we make this change.
    steve Kerbel, Chair, Mitzvah Heroes fund, Rockville, MD

  96. Clearly, a camp director who cannot lead campers, counselors, and staff by example should leave the second half of the program.

    One would think that Ramah is “not able to fully accommodate” either this director’s, or any other director’s decision to treat any camper with special needs as though they don’t belong at camp.

  97. Dear Rabbi, It breaks my heart to hear that this happened to your son. Unfortunately, we had a similar incident that happened to my child. My child has ASD. We have run into many road blocks within the Jewish community to the point that I thought of converting to Christianity as they treated my child better than our own people. If it weren’t for my Rabbi LISTENING to me, I think that I would have. We (JEWS) NEED to take more action! We as Jews are TAUGHT to leave this world a better place than when we come into it. We are taught to be giving and care for one another. Yet, these are just words to people. People give only if they feel they will benefit somehow by giving (i.e. put on a show for their friends to see [giving a donation as long as their name is plastered on a wall for all to see, charity to have their name mentioned or because their friends are doing it "its the 'In' thing]). Some how, we need to teach that giving is from the HEART not the wallet size. I know I am rambling, but this really ANGERS me that this still is happening. G-d we have a lot to learn! Again, my Heart goes out to your family! It is the worst pain to see your child hurting. I am Extremely sorry this has happened to your son! Blessings to you and your family!

  98. This whole story just saddens me. I went to Camp Ramah in Massachusetts when I was a child. Ramah was a place for all children to fit in and experience the joys of summer camp as a Jew. Shame on this Director! You are teaching children that it is ok to treat people with special needs differently and make them feel less worthy. Shame on you!

  99. I found this link through my friend Elana’s facebook page, and I found this story absolutely heartbreaking. In my heart, I hope that only a few people were in the wrong here, and that there were, in fact, plenty of people who would have been willing to help your son, had they known what was going on. My heart goes out to him.

  100. This is heartbreaking to me on two fronts. The first obviously being that Solomon’s amazing summer experiences at Ramah have now been tainted. But more than that, it hurts me because my experiences at Camp Ramah in Canada helped shape me into the person that I am today, with a strong Jewish identity. Seeing a place that I know and love act so callously toward a camper who is so beloved by the entire camp is truly appalling. I can try and give the benefit of the doubt-I know that Ramah was understaffed this summer and that with a new director at the helm, the transition may be a little rocky. Regardless, this is just so wrong. I’m so happy that Solomon was so stoic while learning about his summer plans being cut short. Solomon, I’m sorry that the place that you used to consider a summer oasis of fun has now turned into a place that no longer would meet your needs and help you grow. Rabbi and Marisa, I’m sorry that this amazing place has now left such a sour taste in your mouths. I wish there was something I could do. Solomon is truly great kid who will continue to be a wellspring of “yiddishe nachas” for the entire Krishef family. It is my fervent wish that somehow, someway Solomon would be able to experience his Alonim summer. This is all just so sad :(

  101. I was a CIT for Sol’s edah a few years back, and I can honestly say that he was one of my favorite campers. He was so positive about everything, and given the obvious challenges that comes with not being able to see, I was impressed with him every day. I think it’s a crying shame that the camp did this to Sol. It makes me sick.
    Best wishes to you and your family. Thanks for sharing your story.

  102. Thanks for sharing. If he chooses to go to UGA, I look forward to welcoming Solomon at Hillel. We will be more then willing to accommodate him and your family with anything you need. Wishing you all the best.

    • My experience with Tamarack and a special needs child was, shall we say, less than sterling. I do not recommend Tamarack.

  103. I am sorry to hear this, Rabbi. Does Canada have the equivalent of ADA? Perhaps by notifying them, Camp Ramah’s shameful and discriminating actions won’t happen to another camper.

  104. Beautifully said and incredibly heartbreaking. Your son sounds like he handled himself with far more menschlikeit than the director. Ramah in Canada and its director are in need of some serious heshbon nefesh. Your son and his fellow campers deserve better.

  105. I am saddened and disgusted to hear this!!! So Sad. My daughter goes to a Jewish Day school where they have a “sister” school on the campus for the very disabled jewish kids, and they integrate them as much as possible, and she has learned to treat them all the same, and that is why I love the school and believe in this faith so much. I am so saddened to ehar this. Not to mention she goes to the Hadassah camps, Camp Young Judaea Midwest in WI. Not sure if they would accomodate such a camper but I would hope so. I really hope people speak their mind and show they are not happy with such a decision.

    • Thank you Sari! Your daughter is blessed by having the “K” kids in her life (heck, before then since she’s known M since she’s born). I’m saddened to hear this, though not surprised. M attended Camp Simcha Special several years ago (part of Chai Lifeline). This is a camp that intended for SPECIAL NEEDS children who otherwise don’t get a true camp experience. When we signed her up for year 2, we were told that she wasn’t a “good fit” & could only go for 5-7 out of the 12 day session. Really? We accepted because she knew she’d have fun & loved her counselor who came back for her (& is still very much in our lives). Surprise, no invitation came for year 3. Camp Simcha Special didn’t even have the decency to tell us personally, they made Chai Lifeline’s local social worker call us. She has no involvement in camp whatsoever. We were appalled & still have a very sour taste toward Chai Lifeline as an organization. All the other girls with her same disability (a JEWISH genetic disorder) go every summer. But she’s not good enough.

      Thankfully we found a better organization, Kids of Courage. They bend over backwards to do the right thing and accept our kids.

      I’ve heard nothing but great things about Ramah Wisconsin. M’s best friends have been there forever. In fact, they’re in Israel this summer with Ramah. I can only hope that Rabbi Krishef can work something out for Solomon & his other kids for next summer. Solomon sounds like a great kid!

  106. Thanks Rabbi Charni Flame Selch for posting this on Facebook. While not affiliated with the Conservative movement, I am glad to say that Habonim Dror Camp Tavor in Three Rivers Michigan met and exceeded our expectations for our childrens’ Jewish camp experience. I do not have direct information regarding their experience with blind campers, we found the attitude of the staff & counselors outstanding. If you are looking for another option for Solomon, please check Camp Tavor (on Facebook and at http://www.camptavor.com/.

    • I am familiar with Tavor and Young Judea. At this point, we are not looking for another camp for Solomon. I still love the Ramah experience … just not this particular Ramah. We are exploring Ramah Wisconsin for one of our other sons for next year.

  107. What a sad course of events for all.
    Sol davens, leads the Congregation and participates fully every event I’ve seen him at.
    I think the difference is love.
    Camp Ramah needs to find a Director and staff who truly love their fellow Jews as our Congregation loves Sol.
    Love…can I say blind love?

    • That might be too much to ask for or expect, as a requirement. It needs to happen spontaneously. The Director is obviously taking heat from both sides. He is caught in the middle and not to be blamed. Ultimately the full accommodation of this boy is based on the Staff, not the Director. The Staff at Ramah at this time clearly did not provide the support needed. But they are quite likely not well trained to work with the blind, perhaps some people are uncomfortable mainly from lack of experience with a blind person, the Staff have more than enough responsibilities on their hands already, and this is too much to handle. Yet they did very admirably do so, up until now anyways, and deserve high commendation. I think the glass is at least half full.

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