Honoring Dr. Audra Kaplan

Wally Levitt5.21.21
In 2015, Fred Levick and Geoff Menkowitz recruited Dr. Audra Kaplan to help create a new Tikvah program at Ramah Darom. While other Ramah Camps had been running successful Tikvah programs for several years, Audra had a unique vision: to make Tikvah part of the fabric of the overall Camp community. Rather than a separate program, Audra imagined a wholly inclusive approach where campers of all abilities were just…well…campers.

Seven summers later, the Tikvah Support program at Ramah Darom has become a model of inclusion for so many other camps. Our program has supported hundreds of campers with disabilities and has transformed our Camp community to become a place where inclusion is a way of life. Audra is regularly invited to speak about her experience founding Ramah Darom’s unique approach to inclusion. The program, and Audra, have received accolades nationally and in 2019 were recognized at the Jewish Abilities Alliance “Power of a Program” ceremony.

A few years ago, Audra extended her responsibilities to include Camper Care. Under her leadership, Ramah Darom has again been a pioneer, finding new ways to support all our campers, families and staff. Then last year, during a time of transition Audra became our Associate Camp Director, successfully leading us in a challenging year of virtual programming, COVID planning and preparing for our return to Camp this summer. And all these years, she has done it virtually from Chicago; you could say Audra has pioneered the “work from anywhere” culture we’ve all come to know during COVID times.

Today we want to share the news that in September Audra will be stepping back from her full-time role at Ramah Darom and into a new advisory role as our Tikvah Founding Director. Audra has accepted a new position in Chicago with Keshet, an organization that provides programming for individuals with disabilities throughout their lifespan – and has the same commitment to inclusion that Audra has brought to our organization.

As Ramah Darom’s Tikvah Founding Director, Audra will provide strategic guidance to Tikvah, Vocational Education and inclusion efforts at Ramah Darom, and will also assist us in establishing a framework for extending inclusion programs to Retreats. We are also hoping she will be able to spend some time with us at Camp in 2022.

Ramah Darom has been incredibly fortunate to benefit from Audra’s expertise, commitment and vision. Said simply, Ramah Darom is a better place because of Audra. We are incredibly thankful for all she has done for our community, and excited that she has agreed to stay with Ramah Darom in an ongoing advisory role.

We are also delighted and proud to share that Elana Yeffet, a longtime Ramah Darom summer staffer, former Rosh Tikvah and our current Camper Care Coordinator, will be carrying on Audra’s legacy. This fall, Elana will step into a full-time role as Ramah Darom’s new Camper Care and Inclusion Manager. Thankfully, she will have both Audra and our Camp Director Anna Servianksy to support her and Ramah Darom as we look to grow our Tikvah and Vocational Education programs in the years ahead.

Our commitment to inclusion at Ramah Darom remains steadfast, and we are so fortunate to have talented people like Audra, Elana and Anna guiding our efforts. Please read the letter from Audra below.

Wally Levitt
CEO, Ramah Darom

As I write this letter, my heart is filled with gratitude.

I am looking forward to being part of our 25th summer at Ramah Darom and as I have said all year long, welcoming our community back to camp this summer will bring me immense joy!

Ramah Darom has been part of my life since 2005, when my daughter and niece spent the summer at Camp, beginning our family’s Darom journey. I knew it was a special place from the joy my daughter brought home and the incredible connections she formed. My husband, Alan, and I have been so fortunate that all four of our children have had the opportunity to be campers and staff.

In 2015 when Geoff and Fred asked me to join the professional team in developing the Tikvah program, I jumped to be a part of Ramah Darom’s story. Knowing the profound work that Susan Tecktiel had begun with Camp Yofi, I knew that Camp was ready for the next step in this journey. However, I could never have imagined all that we would accomplish together in just seven years. Ramah Darom’s Tikvah Support program, which supported seven campers in the first summer, will support over 60 campers and eight vocational staff adults in Summer 2021. Our perceptions around disabilities in our Camp community have also changed, and we are developing teens who become disability allies.  Bringing this same way of thinking, we have been able to broaden our understanding and care of all campers and staff, especially around areas of emotional and mental health.

My goal has always been to help raise children who will become camp counselors and counselors who will become leaders. I thank all our Camp parents who have placed their trust in me and partnered with Ramah Darom to reach these goals. I am grateful to be a part of guiding and mentoring our campers and staff, and it has been a joy to watch them grow and develop from year to year.

I have been fortunate to work with so many amazing professionals; from our counselors, roshim (unit heads and specialists), medical staff, facilities, dining hall, maintenance, and administrative staff and, of course, Tikvah and inclusion staff and yoetzim (parent liaisons and camper and staff mental health support). Together, we have built a kind, inclusive community in which we find values in our differences.

Our year-round staff has worked hard to prepare for a fantastic and safe Camp experience. This summer’s success will be a credit to the efforts of our current leadership team and Board of Directors as well as those who came before us to lay the foundation, like Rabbi Loren Sykes, Geoffrey Menkowitz and Rachel Dobbs Schwartz. While it is bittersweet for me to step away from my role as Associate Camp Director and Head of Community Care and Tikvah Support, I am confident that the work we have begun will continue in the capable hands of our Camp leadership, led by Wally and Anna.

I will write again at the end of the summer when I reflect, in gratitude, on the days spent under the bright Georgia sun atop the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest with my Ramah Darom family.

With much love,