Below is a speech given at the graduation ceremony for this year’s participants in Camp Ramah California’s Ezra voc-ed program.
Hello and bruchim habaim (welcome), everyone. My name is Shaina Barnett and I’m graduating this summer. I started in the summer of 2008 and entered the Ezra Staff Program in 2010, making a total of six summers here at Camp Ramah. Since joining Ezra, the jobs I’ve had were from helping sorting out mail, to working outside of camp at the Humane Society of Ventura County. The opportunities I have experienced while holding these jobs gave me a sense of confidence as well as feeling more responsible as an adult. Some other things I’ve learned about being in Ezra are how to interact with my peers, which is not always easy, and I’ve learned to be well aware to listen to others and be clear what my supervisors tell me.
To me, camp is one of many things: my second home, my own perfect world, a place where I can feel safe and where such magical things happen, cliche as it sounds. I feel that in this sacred and condensed environment, we are a community of more than just Jewish people. We are a community as a whole. Which is why I thank God that the Tikvah Program exists.
Growing up with autism all my life, the struggles and obstacles life threw at me were a constant battle. I never really knew or understand human relationships and had trouble trying to blend in or even structure a simple conversation. Relationships such as with friends or my siblings were strained because I never felt like myself; I always had to be someone else, desperate for acceptance. But Camp Ramah changed all that. With an environment structured with people from all walks of life, the feeling of being welcome among my peers and others of all ages is an overwhelmingly amazing feeling. I feel safe from harsh judgments and over time spending my summers here, I grew to accept the person I am. I am no longer ashamed of my autism. Even my social skills have improved greatly as my perspective of life and my spirituality.
As a young Jewish woman, my pride in my heritage grew at camp. Although the pride was always there, being at camp with Jews from all backgrounds and with Tikvah’s help making connections with other campers and staff helped me apply the teachings of Torah to my everyday life. This year, I achieved my desires of making my own tallit and speaking about my autism to the Machones on behalf of the Tikvah Program. These accomplishments will always be a reminder to me of what I can achieve.
We have all heard the expression “when one door closes, another one opens”. After moving out of my parents’ house the previous year and virtually living independently in my apartment, I knew I am ready for bigger challenges and better things life has to offer. The Tikvah Program helps and understands that. As adults, we have the obligation to move forward in life for life is not stationary. Of all the hardest decisions and transitions I have made in my life thus far, leaving camp and graduating Ezra is without doubt the hardest transition for me, because this to me is my home. Though many tears will be shed, we must remember that we the Jewish people have a saying for such transitions in life: we must remember that goodbyes are not forever, but a l’hitraot, until we meet again. Because we stuck together as if we were family and we shall forever more stick together in our hearts. With that being said, I wish you all good luck and success in your endeavors and a long, happy life.
I would like to take this time to thank all those who gave me not only six memorable summers here at Camp Ramah, but who have influenced me in my life. I would first like to thank my family and friends for their tough love and support to making me the person I am today and for giving me motivation to go forward. I give my thanks to my many awesome coordinators, to Deborah for her wisdom and teachings of Torah and Rabbi Joe for successfully running this wonderful place and making it better year after year.
Thank you Elana Naftalin-Kelman for her love for us and her endless hard work which enabled us to come together and build friendships and memories that would last a lifetime. Thank you David Abraham, our best friend, our big brother. His guidance and unlimited patience as he gave us tools to survive adulthood in the workforce are what truly benefit the Ezra Staff.
When I think of David, Elana, and those who I give thanks to, I think of the song, Darkeinu, Our Path. For we bless God for keeping us on the path we want to follow and we bless our staff and coordinators for helping us pursue our path. I am aware that following my part is no easy task, but I will prevail. I am no longer afraid of what is waiting ahead of me because I have already conquered challenges that lie behind me. I always mention the words “when the time comes…”, and now this is my time. This is my year. And I will own it and succeed. My heart goes out to you all and you will always be in my heart. A huge and ultimate Todah Rabah (thank you) to all of you for six memorable summers here at Camp Ramah. Todah Rabah.
My name is Shaina Roxanne Barnett. I am 22 years old from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, CA. I’ve been going to Camp Ramah in California for 6 summers and 7 sessions. I’m a student at Los Angeles Pierce College and a secretary at the Pierce College Gay Straight Alliance as well as a lead singer in Temple Aliyah’s OurSpace program called Kolot Tikvah. I love music, art, animals, and teaching the world about Autism and advocating for human equality.