Shabbat camp for families

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Families who have children with special needs have a limited menu of choices for Jewish activities. The Conservative movement’s Ramah Tikvah program has long offered family camps at some of its locations, including Camp Ramah in the Poconos,
California and Georgia.

Next month, Camp Ramah in New England, in Palmer, Mass., will introduce a variation of the family camp: a Shabbaton. Ramah will accept up to 15 families for the event, slated for March 28-30, said Tali Cohen, director of Tikvah Vocational Services.
There are no age requirements and no previous Ramah affiliation is necessary.

“Getting the whole family together is such a unique experience,” she said. “The kids come to camp, create connections and have a good time.”

The Shabbaton program grew out of a desire to provide more year-round activities for families of children with special needs, according to Cohen.

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Ramah Tikvah serves campers with disabilities including, but not limited to, cognitive impairments, autism, cerebral palsy and seizure disorders.

“All programming is geared toward a wide range of abilities,” said Cohen, adding that the whole camp is accessible and the staff is experienced working with kids with special needs. Daytime and evening supervision of children will be provided.
Activities during the weekend will include challah baking and other Shabbat preparations and services adapted to the participants.

“There will be an opportunity for parents to pray separately from the kids,” she said.

There will be festive Shabbat meals and opportunities for Jewish learning, as well as camp activities. Saturday will feature both family activities and separate ones for parents and children.

“There will possibly be a masseuse for parents,” Cohen said. The Shabbaton will wrap up on Sunday with a talent show.

After a family registers, Cohen follows up to find out about the needs and preferences of the family members. “We’ll build it from there,” she said.

“We want to get a better idea of their interests,” added Howard Blas, director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England. The Shabbaton is a chance for families “to get a taste of camp.”

And for parents, it will be an opportunity to meet — or reunite with — other families with similar experiences to exchange ideas and resources.
“This is an attempt to get people together,” said Blas.

Registration for Ramah Tikvah Shabbaton closes March 10. For information or registration, go to campramahne.org, or contact Tali Cohen at [email protected] or 781-702-5290 x108. There were spaces open at press time.

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