New Beginnings, Warm Welcomes

Wally Levitt1.2.19

My family is a Ramah family, through and through. 

Between Jonah, Ben and Talia, over 30 summers have been spent at Ramah camps, and the equivalent of a full year in Israel on Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim. Our kids’ strong Jewish identities have been shaped by their transformative Ramah experiences. Beth and I are in constant awe of their love for, and deep knowledge of, Jewish traditions and text – a love cultivated during their time at Ramah.

So when I was looking for a Jewish text to frame this recap of my first 90 days as CEO at Ramah Darom, I naturally turned to them for ideas. I said I wanted to write about the incredibly warm welcome I’ve received from members of the Ramah Darom community.

The unanimous feedback: Mah Tovu, the prayer that kicks-off our tefilah each morning. One of our kids called Mah Tovu “a Ramah classic” – as if to suggest it’s so often been the focus of conversation, a jumping off point for a broader discussion of the Jewish value of hachansat orchim, welcoming guests.

מַה טּוֹבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל
How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!

According to the Talmud, this blessing from Balaam was actually referring to a future vision of Jewish communities filled with synagogues as the “tents of Jacob”, and study houses or schools as the future “dwellings of Israel.”

During my travels in the last three months – from Mobile to Miami, Chattanooga to Charlotte, Boca to Birmingham and many other communities in between – the Ramah Darom community has warmly welcomed me into your modern-day tents and dwellings: shuls, schools, homes and yes, your local Starbucks. The warm southern hospitality has been overwhelming for this Canadian. Mah Tovu has taken on an entirely new meaning.

In the dozens and dozens of conversations, I’ve loved hearing your many perspectives about Ramah Darom. Parents tell me that Ramah Darom is their kids’ happy place and that they’ve witnessed the impact of the transformative Ramah experience. Campers talk about how Havdallah is always the highlight of the week, and many have excitedly demonstrated their favorite dances. Families at our PJ Library Retreat weekend talk about how their young children are already counting down the years until they’re old enough to be in Garinim. Alumni gush about their Ramah Darom experiences as both campers and staff. Donors and supporters speak glowingly about the impact Ramahniks have on their college campuses and their local communities. One or two Rabbis even admitted they spend all year looking forward to their time at Ramah Darom’s retreats and summer camp (don’t worry, I’ll never tell!).

You’ve also openly shared ideas about some things we could do better. You’ve asked us to work closely with local communities to ensure scholarships are more easily available, to continually review our menus to ensure they are maximizing nutritional value and to continue offering even more activities and training for our summer staff. I’ve shared all of your ideas with the teams in Atlanta and Clayton, and your input will help shape our focus in the year ahead.

We are always open to your feedback. Please feel free to reach out to any member of our team or to me directly at wlevitt@RamahDarom.org.

As a long-time Ramah parent, it’s been a genuine thrill spending every day thinking about how Ramah Darom can continue to build on our mission: to offer exceptional experiences in Jewish living and learning for youth, adults, families and communities. I feel privileged and honored to have this opportunity as we build the future of our Jewish community together.

Thank you for welcoming me into your tent.

Wally Levitt
CEO, Ramah Darom 

Wally with his family in Jerusalem last Passover. This year, they will be at Ramah Darom!