Camp Ramah Darom is breaking the mold of traditional Jewish summer camps. It is one of three Jewish camps in the country to receive a $100,000 matching grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp for its new specialty sports track.
Ramah Darom’s new four-week Athletic Edge lacrosse and rowing camp promises to deliver the same competitive athletic preparation as other secular sports camps – in a Jewish setting, according to camp director Geoff Menkowitz.
“Over the years we’ve seen kids who have not chosen a Jewish camp or have not stayed in a Jewish camp in the critical teenage years because of their passion for competitive athletics,” he said.
The new Athletic Edge camp allows campers to combine the Jewish camp experience with the sports they love that weren’t previously offered at Ramah.
“Athletic Edge campers will participate very much in the whole Ramah Darom experience and benefit from coaching and pursue the sport they are passionate about. These kids get the best of both worlds: everything a Jewish camp offers and being able to pursue their passions in the overall framework of a specialty camp within a Jewish camp.”
Athletic Edge fits in with the FJC vision for camps to stay relevant and competitive without giving up the community aspects, developmental and socialization benefits that come from an overnight Jewish experience, Menkowitz said. The camp “eliminates the choice between Jewish camp experience and serious sports experience. The idea is to attract kids who would not otherwise choose a Jewish camp.”
The FJC Competitive Edge grant will be used to build a competition-size lacrosse field along with boat storage, launches, trailers and equipment for rowing such as oars and racing shells. Rowing will take place at nearby Lake Burton, where the camp has other aquatics activities.
Athletic Edge will be fully integrated into the Ramah community. During elective time, the athletes will specialize in their chosen sport of rowing or lacrosse. For three hours every day, they will participate in skill-building, conditioning and competitive play. “They are really able to develop in their sport with top-notch coaches.”
The camp will hire coaches who are collegiate-level professionals in their field and athletes with “impressive track records,” Menkowitz said.
As a result of the extra cost to recruit professional coaches, tuition for the specialty camp will be 10 percent more than the regular Ramah fee, he said. As with all camps, though, there are opportunities for financial assistance through Ramah Darom or the camper’s local Jewish Federation, he added.
Lacrosse and rowing are also among the fastest-growing sports in the Southeast, Menkowitz said. And while lacrosse has been offered at other Jewish camps, this is believed to be the first Jewish rowing program in the country.
Lacrosse and rowing also may be offered at day camps, but there’s a lot to be gained from an overnight camp, Menkowitz said.
Beyond the sports training, the campers benefit from a residential program: “Independence, socialization and being part of a group of 700 people excited about being Jewish. There are a lot of leadership opportunities in a living and learning community. The real power of overnight summer camp is creating a Jewish community.” Jewish camps are known to be compelling, exciting, thrilling, fun and to “bring tremendous value to your life.”
FJC CEO Jeremy Fingerman, in Atlanta Feb. 7 to meet with Jewish camps, called Ramah’s new venture “an interesting model for us.” If the pilot project works, it will be rolled out to other camps around North America, he said.
Other Jewish camps receiving the Competitive Edge grant are: B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon, which is offering a new aquatics program, and Berkshire Hills Eisenberg Camp in N.Y, testing a culinary institute.