Once upon a time, you had to wait until summer to re-connect with your camp buddies. Now e-mail, Facebook and Skype make year-round contact quick and easy. And soon, with Ramah 365, a new app being developed by the international network of Conservative movement summer camps, die-hard camp enthusiasts will be able to interact all year from their mobile devices.
The app — funded with a $59,000 grant from the Covenant Foundation — is the brainchild of two Ramah employees: Rabbi Amiel Hersh, 30, and Dana Levinson, 24.
On Monday, the two were honored at the third annual Jewish Futures Conference along with Amanda Gelb, the creator of project enabling groups to curate their own virtual Jewish museums. Rabbi Hersh spoke with The Jewish Week about the project.
Q: Why does Ramah need an app, and what exactly will Ramah 365 do?
A: We’ve known for a long time in the camp world that the effect it can have on campers during the summer is profound, but one of our struggles has been how to extend that experience throughout the year. We thought a social media app would be a way to access and engage people throughout the year … The app in one sense will be the digital home for all things Ramah, like sharing news about events and programs, but more importantly it’s going to be an educational game.
What kind of game?
Different activities will be put up as missions on the app, and if you participate, you’ll be able to get points. Each month there will be a leader board for showing who has the most points, and there will be prizes, like T-shirts and parties. Ramah-niks who are studying abroad around the world might get points by showing us in pictures, video or prose what being Jewish means to them when they’re abroad.
When will it launch and who is it for exactly?
We’re piloting it this summer with counselors at Ramah Nyack and Ramah in the Berkshires. By next summer it will be rolled out all over the country and all over the world … In the first iteration it’s going to be for staff and alumni, but our hope is in the second year to be able to develop a camper-specific version.
Will anyone be able to use it, or just people who have a Ramah connection?
We can’t stop anyone from downloading it, but to use it and participate in the activities you’ll need to register, and someone will be monitoring. If someone who is not a Ramah-nik wants to use it, we won’t stop them, but we will track to make sure they’re using it appropriately.
Do you know of similar apps being developed by other camps?
We don’t know of anyone doing what we’re trying to do: using games to extend the summer community throughout the year … Dana is going to be working with the Covenant Foundation next year looking at how this kind of app could be used across the Jewish camping world. We want to share the lessons we learn and the best practices.
You’ve been a counselor at Ramah-Nyack for 12 years and are now the assistant director of Ramah, and you were a camper at Ramah in New England for four years.
Camp was certainly a transformative experience for me in terms of deciding to become a rabbi and Jewish educator, and also in creating my social network — there’s nothing like the friendships you develop at camp. When I met my wife in college, after we’d been dating a few months I asked if she wanted to work with me at camp — I felt like if the summer worked and she liked camp, our relationship would work long term … We became engaged over another summer at camp together.
What are you going to emphasize in your presentation at the Jewish Futures Conference?
Sometimes people feel that in order to be innovative and creative you need to be part of a startup organization. We’re proud of the fact that Ramah is more than 60 years old and continues to be innovative and creative; there are ways to do that within an established organization.
This is an edited transcript.