Tucsonan Lisa Goldberg’s connections to Camp Ramah in Ojai, Calif., run deep. She’s been a Ramahnik since she first attended camp when she was 8 years old, having “inherited” Ramah from her mother, Mimi Dinin Sisk, who was one of the first campers at the California location, and her grandfather, Samuel Dinin, a noted Jewish educator who helped the camp get its start back in 1956. Goldberg’s three children, Elana, Lily and Samson, have all spent summers there.
But it’s more than just family history that ties her to the camp, where she’ll be returning this year for her fourth summer as an adult staff member.
“It’s just an incredible place, a wonderful place for Jewish learning and Jewish immersion,” she says. “The friends I have from Camp Ramah have been the some of the most stable throughout all of my different travels in life. They all just got invited to my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah,” which will be celebrated later this month.
The camp is “a great place for growth and learning in a very fun, happy, positive environment,” says Goldberg, who works as school psychologist in the Tucson Unified School District. At Camp Ramah, she serves as the yoetzet, which she describes as “parent liaison, crisis/mental health representative.”
In Tucson, Goldberg also teaches Israeli dance at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Growing up in Southern California, she took part in Israeli dance in synagogue as well as at camp.
Music in many forms was a part of her camp experience. “I was always in the camp musical. They put on entire musicals in Hebrew. I could sing you a number of songs from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in Hebrew; a couple of songs from ‘Annie,’” she says, laughing at the memories evoked. “That was always a highlight for me.”
She’s thankful for the camp’s liberal use of Hebrew. “I learned a lot of vocabulary from camp. I learned all of the prayers, many of the melodies I still sing, and the various zemirot (songs).
“Havdallah is an incredible time at camp that stands out particularly, under the stars and out in the open with a hundred of your closest friends — that was pretty cool.”
Goldberg’s camp experience included five years as a camper, a summer Israel trip and two summers as a teenage staff member, followed by a 20-year hiatus until she returned as an adult staff member.
“One of my favorite times now,” she says, “is at the closing of Shabbat, right before Havdallah, each tent gets together on the big hill and sits and learns. All over this big hill there are circles of learning. They have guest teachers that come in every week. It’s just a lovely sunset time, a peaceful time, just a great community feeling.”
For her oldest daughter, Elana, 12, who will be returning for her sixth summer as a camper this year, the magic starts the moment the bus pulls into camp.
“One of the greatest things is the atmosphere of camp,” she says. “The first day you get there, even if it’s your first year or you’ve gone for many years, it’s really awesome. All the counselors and teachers and staff come out and are going crazy, it’s like complete chaos, to welcome you. They’re jumping, they’re singing, they’re doing their chants. Your counselors are there to meet you, so you don’t get lost in the craziness.
“Then you go with your counselors and you meet people who are going to be in your bunk or tent. You sit down on a hill and do little ice breakers. You do a lot of different, fun games to get to know everyone. It’s really cool, because it’s such a welcoming atmosphere and it shows you that it’s going to be a great summer.”
Like her mother, Elana also likes taking part in the plays with her friends, whether they are onstage or helping create the sets. Among her favorite camp electives are jewelry-making, cooking, hiking and Krav Maga, a martial-arts based self-defense and fitness program developed by the Israel Defense Forces.
Lily, who is 10, will be returning to camp for her fourth summer, and Samson, 8, who’s been at camp with his mother as a staff child, will have his first experience as a full-fledged camper living in a bunk this summer.
Samson particularly likes the camp’s rope course. “I made it up to the top first,” he says.