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Ramah Reflections: a year of growth, change and momentum

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Wally Levitt20.09.19

 

I’ve always loved the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

Growing up in Montreal, the imminent arrival of the new Jewish year always had a very specific feel. Everyone was freshly back in school (classes only started after Labor Day), shorts and t-shirts were replaced by jeans and light sweaters, colorful leaves began to appear on the yard and during an evening walk you could start to see your breath in the crisp fall air. Even if you weren’t closely following the Jewish calendar, one step outside and you instantly knew Rosh Hashanah was just around the corner (unless, of course, the holidays were early that year…you know the old joke: Why is it that the chagim are always early or late, but they are never on time?!).

This year, the imminent arrival of Rosh Hashanah feels very different. It’s not just the lingering 90-degree summer heat and humidity in Georgia, or the fact that kids have already been back in school for well over a month (I will never get used to that!). It’s because the chagim have a new meaning for me; they are now associated with my Ramah Darom anniversary.

I arrived in Atlanta, multiple suitcases in tow, during Chol Hamoed Sukkot last fall. The first event I attended as a member of the Atlanta Jewish community was Simchat Torah at Congregation Shearith Israel accompanied by my son Ben, an Emory freshman at the time. I honestly can’t remember who we met that night, but everywhere we turned we were being introduced to someone connected with Ramah Darom. Campers, parents, Retreat attendees, Board members, summer staff, former campers, former staff … between every hakafah there was a new handshake and another warm welcome.

After that night, it was abundantly clear I would love being part of the welcoming Ramah Darom family.

The months since Simchat Torah 5779 have been very special and incredibly fulfilling. I’ve learned what a special kehilla (community) we have built these last 23 years. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to over a dozen communities across the Southeast and meet literally thousands of Ramah Darom supporters. I’ve attended all our Ramah Darom Retreats, meeting so many special people and sharing exceptional experiences in Jewish living and learning. I’ve also had the great fortune to spend most of the summer on our Clayton campus, joyfully witnessing Camp Ramah Darom in action.

It’s also been a year of big developments for our organization. Among the highlights:

  • In May, we made our campus whole with the purchase of the 45-acre property immediately across Persimmon road. We are incredibly appreciative of our anonymous donor who agreed to match contributions to cover the cost of this transformative acquisition. Thanks to this donor and so many generous supporters, I’m thrilled to announce that we have raised funds to cover the full purchase cost.
  • This summer, close to 800 campers and more than 300 staff had a transformative Camp Ramah Darom experience. After a very successful summer, 2020 is seeing some of the biggest early enrollment numbers ever (get those applications in quickly…some bunks are almost full already!). And if you’re still trying to convince your friends to send their kids, just send them the link to our new Camp Promotional Video – that should do the trick!
  • In the last year, almost 1,500 people attended a Ramah Darom Retreat – one of our most successful Retreat seasons ever. In addition, more than thirty Jewish organizations, corporate groups and other local community groups chose our gorgeous Clayton facility to host their own retreats and meetings.
  • We’ve now partnered with the Atlanta Kosher Commission for our Retreats and rentals (excluding Passover and Camp), to ensure Ramah Darom is available as a gathering place for Jews from across a broad spectrum of backgrounds.
  • Thanks to a generous grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation and the FJC, we are in the process of making our Clayton campus more accessible with new ramps, new paved roads and new automatic doors.
  • Our Board of Directors, led by our exceptionally committed President Ben Miller, has begun a strategic planning process to set the direction for Ramah Darom for the next 5-10 years, including plans for our Clayton property.

This is just the shortlist of some accomplishments over the last year. I am so thankful to our amazing Board and dedicated staff of professionals who ensure Ramah Darom delivers on its mission every single day.

As we all prepare to spend the upcoming chagim with our families, let me take this opportunity to thank you for welcoming me into the warm and very special Ramah Darom family. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to lead this incredible organization.

Wishing you and your family a Shana Tova – a year filled with health, happiness and endless joy.

Wally

Thank you to our Sollelim camper, Amalia for creating this year’s Rosh Hashanah artwork.