I have seen news articles and received inquiries from a number of congregants about a meeting between Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the national director of Ramah and 15 alumni of Ramah affiliated with a small fringe organization IfNotNow, a group whose agenda is extremely critical of Israel.
After learning about the meeting I wrote to Rabbi Cohen the following:
“I am very concerned, as are a number of my members about the articles I have read about the ability of a small group of 15 individuals who belong to a radical organization with an anti-Zionist agenda to subvert the decades long mission of Ramah. It is hard to tell from the articles what will actually happen, and if things will change… (but) one of the hallmarks of the conservative movement is that since its inception it has been a pro-Zionist movement, and its educational programs reflect this approach. I hope this is not about to change because of the coordinated efforts of a very small group of people in a fringe group. One thing I do agree with of the members of “IfNotNow” is that we do need to teach our children about the occupation. We need to teach them so that they are prepared to refute smearing of Israel; so that they are armed with facts and will not succumb to anti-Israel propaganda.”
Less than ten minutes later I heard back from Rabbi Cohen. He wrote, “Our camps have no connection to IfNotNow and will not support any anti-Zionist education. While our older teens and staff members represent a wide range of opinions, some more liberal than others, we do not allow anti-Zionist educational messages. One of Ramah’s highest goals is instilling in our campers and staff a deep and enduring love for Israel, and that will not change.” The articles do not accurately portray the situation.
In a public statement issued to clarify the position of the Ramah movement, Rabbi Cohen unequivocally asserted that Ramah camps have not and will not engage in any way with IfNotNow. The statement made it clear that they will not allow their (or any) anti-Israel, anti-Zionist education at Ramah. Contrary to some reports, they are not partnering with them or with any organization that is not unequivocally pro-Israel. He affirmed that Zionism is and always will be one of the core principles of Ramah.
I am satisfied with Rabbi Cohen’s public and private assurances that Ramah is not changing course. I know him, and know that he is a gifted educator who loves Israel and who sees his mission as Director of Ramah Camps to instill that same love in the students who attend Ramah camps.
Should there be any doubt as to the extent of the repudiation and affirmations, one need only look at how terribly disappointed IfNotNow is by the total rejection of their effort to infiltrate Camp Ramah.
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
Congregation B’nai Tzedek,
June 13, 2018