I came to the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England in 1997 and was a camper in the Amitzim (the brave ones) division of the Tikvah program for campers with disabilities for about five years. Coming to Ramah was mostly my parents’ idea. We were looking for a Jewish camp mostly, and that was basically it.
My camper experience depended on the summer. Some summers were good. Every summer has challenges and risks involved. It depends on the director, staff or campers. Things were never perfect.
After a few summers in Amitzim, my parents said I was ready for Ramah’s vocational education program. The Tikvah director agreed. Each year in Voc Ed was different. My first jobs were in woodworking. We made mezuzahs and other projects and did some teaching. My friend, Jeremy, and I worked with Ron, the woodworking head and built a Torah ark, which we presented as a gift to the Tikvah program.
When I was a camper, I often had to take charge of nikayon (clean up) in the bunk — because someone had to! I think my advisors and the guesthouse head recognized that I was good at nikayon. In 2006, when the six-room Greenberg Tikvah Guest House (named after Tikvah program founders Herb and Barbara Greenberg, who were its directors for 29 years) opened, I started working there. I cleaned rooms, made beds and helped with the laundry. I can work and be happy alone.
After I while, I started training and supervising others. I have to make sure the guesthouse stays clean and maintained. For example, I tried to teach Leah how to sweep. And I teach such things as how to clean a toilet. This year, I have had to teach Bryce, a guy who wears hearing aids, how to do his job. I have no training working with people who have disabilities. I figured out that I needed to point to show him what to do.
Supervising means taking command of the situation. I have figured out that it is better to use persuasion than force. The workers look at me in different ways. Some people look at me pretty highly, some lowly and some in the middle. As far as my own supervisors go, I get along with some of them.
The Tikvah director and others have asked if I’d ever consider a career in the hotel industry. We even had a person come out to camp last year from the Marriott Corporation. The problem is that each worker at a hotel has to make up a certain number of rooms and that might be hard!
I don’t really know where I will be in five or ten years or even in the next six months.
Hopes and dreams are unknown. Who knows? For now, I basically have an Associate degree in liberal arts from a community college. I enjoy playing on the computer and magic cards. I enjoy Jewish and secular learning, like science, history, and areas of science fiction. I am good at getting information. And I love Israel’s history and culture. I have been to Israel three or four times.
At Ramah, I have shown that I am reliable and can get the job done. But, at the end of the day, my socializing skills are even below those of the 10-year-old campers. Consequently, people at Camp Ramah in New England see me complexly. Many see me as disabled; they see me in multiple shades of light.
Jason Belkin is 29-years-old and lives in a Monsey, New York supportive apartment with a friend. Jason reports that his disability is in the areas of hand/eye coordination and socialization skills.
Ramah, the camping arm of Conservative Judaism, operates eight overnight camps and three day camps in North America, offering programs for campers with disabilities at nine of them. This summer more than 50 older teens and young adults with disabilities participated in vocational education programs offered at four of the camps, including Camp Ramah in New England. The Ruderman Family Foundation recently awarded Ramah a $50,000 grant to support its vocational education programs.