New CEO Hopes to Inspire Laughter at Ramah Darom
From Comedy Central to Camp Ramah, new CEO Wally Levitt is following the laughter.
The rustic milieu at Camp Ramah Darom is a far cry from Walter “Wally” Levitt’s former life hanging out at the Emmys each year with Comedy Central celebrities such as Amy Schumer, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
But the laughter Levitt expects to engender as the camp’s new CEO will be much more meaningful, he said during a phone interview from his Toronto home. “It may not be the same kind of laughing. There’s nothing I will enjoy more than seeing kids laughing. It will be more meaningful laughter.”
Levitt takes over for Fred Levick, who is stepping down this fall after 18 years at the helm of Camp Ramah. It’s a big change for an organization that’s had the same CEO almost since its founding in 1997.
Camp leaders are hoping to capitalize on Levitt’s strong background as a senior marketing executive in the private sector and media world, said Howard Zandman, Ramah Darom president. “I think he will bring forth a great change and invigorate the institution. He has a great corporate background that will add and enhance and forward the mission of Ramah.”
Levitt is president and principal of a marketing consulting company in Toronto and previously was chief marketing officer for Comedy Central in New York for six years.
But he also has Jewish leadership experience that dates back to when he was a BBYO regional president, along with a 15-year history of family involvement with Ramah camps and programs.
His children were campers and counselors at Ramah in Canada and Denver and spent a high school semester in Israel with Ramah TRY. The Levitts participated in a Passover family camp in California, and he attended a week-long Ramah Poland Seminar last summer. Additionally he accompanied his wife, the camp doctor, to Ramah in Canada the last dozen years.
Levitt considers Camp Ramah programs “transformative Jewish experiences. What’s amazing about Ramah is that kids from different backgrounds, day school and public schools and different levels of observance feel at home” at camp. They make a connection “in their own unique way.”
His wife actually reached out to Ramah Darom first and suggested the leaders get in touch with her husband. “I jokingly say it’s her fault.” In all seriousness, though, Levitt said he was “ready to go to work every day and make a difference. I can’t imagine an organization I feel more passionate about than Ramah. It was not exactly what I planned; it was not part of my career plan, but I’m excited it worked out.”
He said he is very comfortable in leadership roles as a senior executive for large organizations.
“My background is not in Judaics or facilities, but business management, people management. I have an open mind and hopefully that will bring new opportunities.”
So what kinds of changes is he expecting to make at Ramah Darom?
“Obviously it’s too early to make broad statements about areas I want to change. I am a big believer in innovation and looking for new ways to do things.” With an organization that has been successful for more than 20 years, and the same CEO for most of those, Levitt sees his job as continuing the positive trend and figuring out what the next evolution is.