Lorraine Mackler has climbed new heights, as well as a few rocks and some uneven terrain. The Squirrel Hill resident recently returned from Israel where she was among nearly 40 hikers and 70 cyclists to journey through the Negev in support of Camp Ramah Tikvah programs.
Mackler, a former Ramah camper and counselor, who considers herself “more a croissant and cafe sort of person” than a serious adventurist, received 48 contributions totaling $3,366 for her weeklong hiking endeavors. Mackler’s fundraising efforts, along with those of other participants, helped raise more than $520,000 for the Ramah Tikvah programs.
Now back in Pittsburgh, Mackler said that despite the taxing nature of the trip, she is happy to have participated, given the cause.
“These programs and others like it are worthy of our support,” she said.
Started in 1970, the Tikvah programs have provided Ramah’s Jewish camping experience to young adults with various intellectual, developmental and learning abilities. The programs in the National Ramah Tikvah Network are intended to meet the same goals as Ramah camps overall: build and strengthen connection to Judaism. Both kids with disabilities and those without have plenty of opportunity to interact at Ramah camps.
When the Tikvah initiative began nearly five decades ago, the idea of inclusion was revolutionary, Mackler explained.
“Growing up, you didn’t see special needs children being integrated,” she said. Now, because of this program and others like it, “you can’t tell a person, ‘We can’t include your child.’”
Mackler’s husband and their four children all have deep ties to Ramah, and from personal experience, she said, she sees why integration is so vital.
“I’ve seen for myself how important the Tikvah program is. It’s not only crucial for families in the Tikvah program, but the integration of kids in camp allows typical kids to learn about all kinds of diversity,” she said. “Including everyone with different abilities and interests helps us understand everyone is made b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God).”
Mackler’s latest trip to Israel brought back more Ramah memories. “I was in Israel with Ramah in 1979 for the summer. It was very ritual-oriented,” she said.
Returning 40 years later offered a similar vibe.
“I expected and got a classic Ramah experience: There was amazing organization, everything was well-run and on message. There was an opening ceremony, tefilot relating to the places we were and explanations of the locations based on Tanakh.”
Mackler praised the addition of history, geography, archeology, poetry and geology lessons, “and even a touch of Chassidut,” that were included along the way.
Apart from the intellectual stimulation, “they took care of us as individuals and fostered relationships between people,” she said. “It was just like going to camp but with more autonomy.”
On the first day of their expedition, Tuesday, April 2, following Shacharit and breakfast, Mackler and her fellow hoofers began in the Hatira Canyon, just outside the Yerucham Crater.
The group then proceeded south and encountered wildflowers, canyons filled with water due to earlier rains and other beautiful sights, she recalled.
Four days later, after having scaled ladders pressed against limestone and traversing large boulders, Mackler and the other travelers enjoyed a restful Shabbat in Mitzpe Ramon. After dinner Friday evening, they listened to a panel discussion from camp leaders and parents involved with the Tikvah program.
Mackler said she heard “how crucial Tikvah is to their families.”
“For many of these kids, this is the only Jewish program where they are participating like typical kids, but with the supports they require. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” she said.
On Sunday, the group continued south and eventually ended in Eilat. Mackler was not present for the final get-together — she left early to attend a family bris in Beit Shemesh — but said she is proud of the overall accomplishment, even if it proved “more challenging than anticipated.”
“I am a novice and haven’t hiked like this before,” she said. “But I want my kids and everyone to see that everyone should be included. All of our children are precious.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.