Blind Camper's Case Spotlights Special Needs

Ramah Camp Backed Away From Ban Amid Criticism

All Special: The case of a blind camper’s struggle to attend summer camp has placed a spotlight on Jewish camps’ accommodation of those with special needs.
foundation for jewish camping
All Special: The case of a blind camper’s struggle to attend summer camp has placed a spotlight on Jewish camps’ accommodation of those with special needs.


Published July 26, 2012.
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Others in the industry say there is a growing recognition that many more camping services are needed for youngsters with disabilities, whatever the disabilities are.

“It’s a conversation that’s gotten much more active in the last year or so,” says Abby Knopp, the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s vice president of program and strategy.

As part of FJC’s internal planning process, it is joining with the Jewish Funders Network next week to take individuals from both organizations to see seven special needs camp programs in the Northeast.

The Krishefs’ experience notwithstanding, the Conservative movement’s Camp Ramah has been serving youngsters with special needs since 1970, according to Rabbi Mitch Cohen, Ramah’s national director.

“Camp Ramah in Canada has included blind campers, Ramah Poconos used to run a program for deaf children and Ramah New England has been able to include some campers in wheelchairs,” he says.

The JCCA, Reform and Orthodox movements also have various options for campers with special needs at day camps and sleepaway camps. Chabad offers Friendship Circle day camp programs, pairing high schoolers with special-needs campers.

But not all campers fit the labels, Rabbi Krishef tells JTA.

While many kids are well served by programs for special-needs kids, the problem is for campers such as his son, “who do not fit into the regular category” but don’t belong in the special-needs programs. As a result, he laments, the Jewish community is leaving out “this group of kids who are on the margins who really want to be involved in Jewish life and want to be involved in Jewish life.”

While camp officials admit that no one camp can possibly meet every child’s needs, they agree that communicating is key.

“It’s really partnering with families,” says Howard Blas, who directs the Tivkah program at Ramah New England in Palmer, Mass., and emphasizes how crucial it is for parents to speak with camp staff. “You have to communicate with families; you have to do a careful assessment. It’s not the kind of program where you drop off the kids and come back in four weeks.”

Marcy Yellin, whose 27-year-old son has been going to Palmer – where he’s now in a vocational program for older teens and young adults – also cites communication as vital.

“I think the more you inform people of your child’s needs, the better off you are,” she says.

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