Deret’s Reflections on Tikvah Birthright | Camp Ramah Northern California

Deret’s Reflections on Tikvah Birthright

Deret Musselman, Director of Community Care and Inclusion at Ramah Galim, traveled to Israel last month as a staff member on the National Ramah Tikvah Birthright trip to Israel.

My journey with Ramah started 6 years ago with our Tikvah program. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined myself traveling to Israel with a group of adults with special needs. Reflecting on the last 10 days, there is no other way that I would have liked to experience Israel for the first time. 

It is no easy feat to help 23 adults with varying levels of need navigate the ins and outs of international travel, but every second was worth it. Watching our participants experience Israel, most for the first time, there are no words to adequately express just how impactful this trip was.

On the trip, we had participants representing Ramah Camps across North America: Galim, Darom, California, Canada, New England, Wisconsin, and Poconos. The staff on our trip included myself and one of Ramah Galim’s Tikvah counselors, Luke Crumpler, along with staff from Ramah Poconos, New England, and the indomitable NRC Tikvah Director, Howard Blas. It’s also important to note that two staff members from Ramah Berkshires attended, as this will be their first summer with a Tikvah program. Even with the busyness of this adventure, amongst the staff we still found time to share ideas about the summer and compared details of each of our individual programs to learn, collaborate, and brainstorm together as we continue building inclusive communities across Ramah. 

We spent our first few days at a Kibbutz-style hotel on the Sea of Galilee. From there, we traveled to various nature preserves and learned about the ecology of Israel, explored the Golan Heights, and danced in a synagogue built before 500 BCE. We also visited Tzfat where our participants met and spoke with locals. Our Ramah Galim participants helped me pick out a Havdallah candle at the Tzfat candle factory that they will use this summer on our beach and share their experiences with the rest of our community. 

On Friday morning, we packed up all our luggage and began the journey to Tel Aviv. On the way, we stopped at a horse rescue and our participants wore cowboy hats, played with puppies, and got to interact with the horses. That evening, we held Kabbalat Shabbat at our hotel in Tel Aviv and it was filled with joy as our participants shared different camp songs and traditions at our Tikvah Oneg. Our amazing guide even showered them with delicious Israeli treats! 

Shabbat Shacharit was held on the beach in Tel Aviv and our Ramah Galim participants were so excited to share with the rest of the group that we get to have Havdallah on the beach every Saturday! Shabbat afternoon, friends from many of the camps came and spent time with our participants in the hotel lobby. After Havdallah, we all went out to ice cream in Tel Aviv, where Ramah Galim’s Waterfront Director, Shirley Kashi, surprised all our participants by visiting us with her dog while we enjoyed our ice cream. 

The remainder of our trip was spent in Jerusalem. On the way, we stopped at two incredible museums: The Anu Museum and the Children’s Museum. At the Anu Museum, our group learned about Jewish life all over the world and learned about important Jewish celebrities and historical figures. At the Children’s Museum, we participated in an amazing experiment led by guides who were deaf, that showed our group how to communicate when there is no sound. We played games and interacted with each other all without saying a single word for almost two hours! 

In Jerusalem, even more friends from the staff of Ramah Galim visited our group. Celebrity visitors included Jazzie (Rosh Tikvah), Yael Grunfeld (Rosh Mishlachat), Yossi Moff (Bogrim Counselor), Becca Sykes (Rosh Al Habama), and Yuval Abohasira (Drama Specialist). The smiles on our participant’s faces as they shared stories and saw their 2022 camp staff are indescribable!

Monday morning, we woke up in Jerusalem to what our tour guide coined as “Masada-day!” We traveled south for the requisite trip to the Dead Sea and Masada where we took the cable car up Masada and spent the morning learning the story of Masada. We then had lunch at the Dead Sea, followed by floating, laughing, and covering ourselves in mud! (It was a very smelly bus ride home!) 

In the final days of the trip, our group visited Yad Vashem and Har Herzel. We split up into two groups and were led through the museum by a fantastic guide named Marci. Our participants asked lots of questions and while the day was heavy, all of us left feeling moved and inspired by the museum. At Har Herzel, after a pizza lunch, our guide Moshe led us on a tour of the memorial and cemetery where we visited Michael Levin’s (a Ramah Poconos Alum) burial site. Orlee Krass, the Poconos Tikvah Director read a letter from Michael’s sister about his time at Ramah and his heroic sacrifice and our participants left gifts on his memorial.

We also toured the biblical preserve, Neot Kedumim, featuring Biblical flowers, plants, spices, and trees and an interactive olive oil making and a spice workshop. That afternoon, we hiked all over Tel Lachish National Park and our guide shared the animated stories of David and Goliath and Samson and Deliliah and stories about the Philistines and Assyrians. We also had a great night together on Ben Yeudah street where our participants ate Schwarma, Falafel, and, of course, Kosher McDonalds! 

On our last day, we visited Machane Yehudah for lunch and souvenir shopping. The mountains of candy and Judaica made this final day a highlight for many of our participants. Paired with this shopping outing was our visit to the Kotel (Western Wall). We left notes of prayer and sang as a group. It was such a joy to see our participants take time to themselves at the Wall to pray. Throughout the entire trip, we marveled watching these special Ramaniks connect with each other and connect with their Judaism. I am inspired daily and overwhelmingly grateful for Ramah’s commitment to the value of Inclusion.