I am looking at a picture taken at last Tuesday’s staff banquet – the closing moment of another camp season at Ramah Darom – and I’m feeling nostalgic. The banquet, my 19th and my last, was full of emotion; not the usual emotion at saying goodbye to close friends until the promise of another summer together, but the very real and mixed feelings of being at the end of a special chapter in the life of Ramah Darom and certainly mine as well.
There are six of us in that picture, arms linked, standing together in the Chadar Ohel(dining room) in the Levine Center for perhaps a final time, our Gesher moment. There’s lots of history, countless stories and memories, and many midrashim evoked in that snapshot. Together, with Marcia and me, are four people who have collectively devoted nearly 70 years of service to Ramah Darom. These special friends and colleagues – Cathy and Fred Berkowitz, and Sandie and Larry Ivers – have left an indelible mark on our community. They represent the essence of what Ramah Darom is all about.
It was the summer of 2000 when I first met Cathy and Fred and their family. I was brand new to Ramah, walking the campus on my first day in summer camp, literally and figuratively trying to get my feet on the ground. Cathy was one of the first people I encountered. As I was walking up the hill to the Mountainside campus I looked up and saw a young woman coming down the hill with a baby stroller. It was Cathy. In the stroller was her just recently one-year-old daughter Mikayla. She met me with a warm smile and embrace and made me feel welcome and special in a way that anyone who has met Cathy will instantly understand (as an aside, Mikayla and I formed an instant bond. Our connection has spanned almost the whole of her 19 years as I have watched her grow from a one-year-old, to a camper, and this year to a member of our photography staff). A few days later I met Fred, who was visiting on weekends from Memphis where he was working in long-term care administration, and during the summer I got to know their other children, Adam, Leah, and Greg. This was the beginning of my long relationship with the Berkowitz family.
Cathy was Ramah Darom’s Rosh Chinuch(Education), an original Daromnik, on loan for the summers from her full-time job at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Memphis, where she served as the education director. That was a loan that has paid Ramah Darom immense dividends, and several years later, in 2004, when Cathy took her talents to B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, her congregation was extremely gracious in continuing to allow Cathy to spend her summers working with us at Ramah Darom.
In 2007, a few years after Cathy and Fred had relocated from Memphis to Boca Raton, we were looking for someone to serve as our Summer Business Manager. We needed someone with organizational, logistical and management capabilities, but also the maturity, compassion, concern, and character to share and handle the awesome responsibility of caring for the safety of our campers and staff. I immediately thought of Fred. Fred personifies what it means to be a mensch. He is as honest as the ocean is wide, has a huge and sensitive heart, and is as hard-working as anyone I have ever known. Because we share a first name, people often confuse the two of us. I have always taken that as an extraordinary compliment.
I met Larry and Sandie Ivers in Atlanta following my first summer at Ramah Darom. Larry and Sandie had recently sold their three Orlando-area Butterfield’s, Etc., gourmet kitchenware stores, and were in Atlanta to see their children, Brad and Stacie. Larry and Sandie were camp people to the core; they met and fell in love at Camp CEJWIN, the first Jewish cultural camp established in the United States, a summer camp that will forever be considered a paragon of Jewish camping. They were people who belonged in camp. If I remember correctly, they came to our office in Atlanta on the advice of a friend to see if there was an opportunity for them to get involved with Ramah Darom. Sandie’s background was in preschool education, she had spent years in the field before getting into business and was a natural to run our Gan program for young children of adult staff. Larry was a sports guy, a former college tennis player with an encyclopedic knowledge of sports trivia.
At the time we wanted to upgrade the leadership of our Sports program, so when Larry walked into my office it was bashert. We spoke for a few minutes and I remember thinking this was our guy, but I needed to make sure he was for real. I looked at him and said, “Larry answer one question for me and you’ve got the job. Who was the greatest Jewish basketball player in the history of the University of North Carolina?”
If you’re not a UNC alumnus, like me, it’s not an easy question to answer. In fact, it could be a trick question because most people would guess it was Larry Brown, from Long Beach, N.Y. who won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic Basketball team in 1964, and later went on to coach Kansas University and the Detroit Pistons to championships. But Larry Brown isn’t the greatest Jewish player in Carolina history; there is someone much more significant, who only a diehard Tarheel fan, or a sports cognoscenti, would know. Larry, a sports cognoscenti if there ever was one, didn’t hesitate. “Lenny Rosenbluth,” he said. It was the beginning of a long and deep relationship.
Sandie worked as our Rosh Gan for 9 years, while Larry was our Rosh Sport. They not only excelled at their responsibilities but also came to be our unofficial camp Mother and Father. Without fail, Sandie and Larry would know the names of nearly everyone within just a few days of arriving at camp. Each summer they would share the story of their days at Camp CEJWIN with wide-eyed young campers, regaling them what Jewish camp was like over 40 years ago, and how they met and fell in love at Jewish summer camp. Larry was so revered by campers that they bestowed honorary smicha upon him and the title “Rabbi Larry.” In their later years at camp, Sandie moved from the Gan to managing the Chadar Ohel, a perfect role for someone with her warm and motherly presence, and flair for organization and event planning.
My respect for these four individuals and my appreciation for the work they have done on behalf of our community is as deep as the love I have for them in my heart. Each in their own way has touched and shaped the lives of countless campers, parents, and staff as I know they have touched mine.
People like Cathy, who has been our Rosh Chinuch for 22 years, and Fred, who has been our Summer Business Manager for 12 years, and Larry and Sandy, who have spent 16 summers at Ramah Darom – all selfless servants and role models – are what makes our Ramah Darom community such an extraordinary one. They will be fondly remembered by all those who were blessed to pass through Ramah Darom during their tenure. And though they will be impossible to replace, I know they have planted seeds in others who will be inspired to follow their example in the future. Kol ha’kavod my friends.
 Bronx-born Lenny Rosenbluth led the Tarheels to their first and only undefeated season and their triple-overtime victory over Wilt Chamberlain and the Kansas University Jayhawks for the NCAA Championship in 1957.