Orot’s Week at Camp Ramah

People cried, laughed, sang, danced, painted, talked, and plenty more healing still needs to occur.
April 11, 2024
Screenshot from video

This weekend my family had the pleasure of going to my nephew Adin’s Bar Mitzvah. If you think this can’t possibly tie into my usual topic of Israel or antisemitism, wait until you hear about his incredible mother and aunt.

My sister-in-law Karin was planning her son’s Bar Mitzvah, while reeling from the recent events of October 7th. She felt strange planning a party, while so many friends and relatives were living in bomb shelters, or were called up to fight. She wanted her son Adin to feel ready for his Bar Mitzvah, while so much was happening in the world that he and most others were thinking about. He is a highly mature (now) 13-year-old, and is affected by this as the rest of us are.

She made some calls, and got on a Zoom chat with people in Israel, trying to see how they could do something meaningful, and helpful. She was told that the people who REALLY needed healing, were the survivors of the Nova music festival. Those people went to this multicultural, peaceful festival to rest their minds and souls, and instead they were at the epicenter of the biggest Jewish tragedy since the Holocaust. To say that those “lucky” enough to survive had PTSD, would be an understatement.

To most people in the world, that would be the end of the line. It’s too big of a mountain to climb, and perhaps you give a donation to a helpful cause. Karin has met uphill battles before. Years ago, she wanted a religious Jewish school for her children in Irvine, and was told she was crazy for trying to start her own. Almost a decade later, Irvine Hebrew Day School is thriving, Karin is co-founder, and her kids received exactly the sort of education she was hoping for.

She immediately called my OTHER sister-in law, Rikki, “We need to help the Nova survivors” Karin exclaimed. Rikki, one of the most wonderful do-gooders you’ll ever meet, a devoted mother of three, and a natural caregiver – if my parents need help, she might book a flight from NY to LA within minutes – immediately began to collaborate with Karin. They started to make calls and send emails to see what could be done, and who could help make it a reality.

They wanted to create a retreat, something safe and healing for those very survivors. Funding would be necessary, and also an unusual challenge. These survivors would need to be treated with kid gloves. The idea of them receiving publicity, which would sadly turn into people protesting and screaming at them in this upside-down world, would be awful for their psyche. So, Karin and Rikki realized they needed to find help, fundraise, get a location, and figure all of this out, while keeping it a secret from the general public.

At a certain point people would know that Nova survivors were having an event, but the names, location and dates would have to be kept under wraps – at least until the event was over, and the coast was clear. If you’ve ever been involved with fundraising, you’ll realize what a huge uphill battle this was. To this day, they are about $40,000 short of what they need to raise, to complete the crucial therapy they are providing after the event.

They needed a way for donations to come through, while being tax deductible, for an event coming up quickly (it happened in February). Craig Dershowitz from Artists 4 Israel (the organization that created the pro-Israel version of the “In This House” sign that sits on our lawn), offered himself as Orot’s “fiscal sponsor”, where donations could be sent. So, you’ll notice when you click the link, that you are (correctly) redirected to Artists 4 Israel, but the earmarked donation goes to the right place. I strongly encourage anyone reading this, to give a tax deductible donation to this incredible cause, before continuing my story:

Camp Ramah in Ojai stepped up, and became the wonderful location for the retreat. They had space for 120 survivors, and when the application process went live, Karin and Rikki had to close the website three hours later, because 500 had already applied. These wonder women got some incredible people to volunteer, most notably:

-Limor Ness, who was very involved in supporting Nova survivors since October 7th, and who has a wonderful place you can visit in LA called Kfar Saba Urban Farm.

-Adi Davis, an Israeli attorney who has done a lot of humanitarian work overseas, and since October 7th has been highly vocal after her best friend was taken hostage.

-Miriam Wolf is an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) who specializes in the treatment of trauma victims of sexual assault.

-Nachum Peterseil, who was in charge of the wonderful music at the retreat. He brought the equipment, and the other musicians such as Shep Rosenman, and really took over that crucial role (music was so important for the event).

-Rabbi Yonah Bookstein who was the spiritual leader at Orot, and wrote this about it:

-Sepideh Makabi, a documentarian who volunteered her time to support filming at the retreat.

-Michael Mike Canon spent every day at Orot filming the event, and putting it together into a beautiful short film that we gathered to watch together with Karin and Rikki on Purim night. We couldn’t be prouder:

From right to left – Karin, Rikki, Limor Ness and Adi Davis, being serenaded on the last day of the retreat.

Orot’s week at Ramah happened beautifully. People cried, laughed, sang, danced, painted, talked, and plenty more healing still needs to occur. Most came as strangers, and many left as friends. While I did not have the pleasure of being there, I was and continue to be in awe of Karin and Rikki, who moved mountains to make this happen for 120 wonderful people. And I am extremely grateful to Kylie Ora Lobell for writing this huge story, and David Suissa for putting it on their cover:

On Shabbat, just before Purim started, my nephew Adin did a fantastic job with his Bar Mitzvah. The entrance of their shul continued its recent tradition of displaying place cards for the hostages, and he read the story of Amalek – one of many times in Jewish history where they attempted to eradicate us. Another instance of attempted genocide was Haman in the Purim story, which we listened to that night. Adin reminded us during his speech, that we have gone through hell and survived, and even thrived. We will do it again. It doesn’t hurt that his mother and aunt used his life event as a catalyst to move mountains, and help heal some shattered lives.

To donate – https://www.orot-healing.org/
Video of the experience – https://vimeo.com/926304003
JJ cover story – https://jewishjournal.com/cover_story/369434/the-nova-survivors-dance-again/

Boaz Hepner works as a Registered Nurse in Saint John’s Health Center. He moonlights as a columnist, where his focuses are on health, and Israel, including his Chosen Links section of the Journal. 

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