Reimaging Arts and Crafts:  G-dcast Goes to Ramah

Short, animated films with biblical themes and interpretations debuted during the flurry of end-of-season activity here, garnering intense applause and admiration for a group of campers who aren’t often so center-stage.

Those would be the campers enrolled in Ramah New England’s Tikvah Program – designed for young people with special needs and disabilities – who took a star turn as master artists, animators, and video producers during a week of creative and digital immersion.

“There is something special about animation that speaks to those with special needs,” said Howard Blas, Director of the Tikvah Program and a Covenant Award Recipient.  “It has the power to capture and ignite their imaginations and to deepen their perspectives on Jewish knowledge and wisdom.”

Seeking to leverage that connection, Camp Ramah in New England partnered with G-dcast, the San Francisco-based maker of animated, Jewish educational videos, to bring a creative workshop to camp this summer. The Covenant Foundation supported the initiative for Tikvah campers and also for those with special needs enrolled in Tochnit Avodah, the camp’s vocational training program.

Camp Ramah in New England is well known for integrating those with special needs into the overall camp community. The Tikvah Program, an eight-week overnight camping program for 60 campers with special needs, is fully integrated within the camp which attracts 800 children and teens annually.

The week-long program resulted in two animated shorts, What Really Happened on Noah’s Ark, produced by 10th and 11th graders, and An Encyclopedia of Mythical Creatures in Judaism, produced by 8th and 9th grade campers.

“G-dcast not only allowed campers to achieve the broad goal of making a stop-motion film in small increments, but also enabled all of the campers to draw their favorite character and use their imaginations,” said first-year Tikvah counselor Harry Doernberg.

“All of the campers worked together to complete something that couldn’t be understood in the short term, but took patience, calmness, and an eye for the longer term to produce an amazing product.”

Tikvah campers and Tochnit Avodah participants said the experience in animated film production was an “imaginative and creative adventure.”

“It was fun and it was an art thing, which I really like,” said camper Jeff Suskin. “You can use your creative imagination and make anything your mind wishes.”

His fellow camper, Uriel Levitt agreed.  “I love to draw and paint, so everything about this was cool,” he said.

Jeanne Stern, a G-dcast animator, spent the week at Camp Ramah to teach, guide and inspire the campers.  On the first day, she got started with campers with autism, intellectual disabilities, and other special needs.

“I gave each participant a paper template of a character to decorate any way they wanted. I asked each member to make a character, a super hero.  Then, they had to make a background and animate their character interacting with another character. All of them were able to fit their interests into the project.”

The premiere of the animation videos illustrated that there are no boundaries among campers, staff and others said.

“I love getting to know all of the campers, including the individual capabilities of each,” said Veronica Leifer, a counselor-in-training. “To see them all come together for this project is amazing.”

Stern said she was so impressed with the talents and visions of the nearly 40 artists she encountered that she is already thinking of future projects.

“I would love to create a Tikvah Animation Project where these talented campers can use special animation software on a computer or iPad and work in real time.  Who knows?  Maybe they can even make an episode of G-dcast!”