Humans of Jewish Camp: Elana Naftalin-Kelman


Elana is the Tikvah Director at Camp Ramah in California.

Where did you go to camp as a kid?

I grew up going to Camp Ramah in Ojai and I still get the same special feeling in my stomach as I drive up the main road to camp. It’s that feeling of excitement, pure joy, adventure and complete acceptance.

Why did you want to work for Jewish camp?

My life was changed by Jewish camp. I became who I am because of Jewish camp. My experience as a camper in Ojai inspired me to go into the field of Special Education. I knew that I wanted to make sure that all types of Jews — of all abilities — could have the same meaningful experience that I had growing up. Watching our campers of all abilities experience the joy of Ramah and fall in love with Ramah each summer is what makes me return year after year.

Tell us about someone who impacted you while you were at camp.

The Tikvah Director (shout out to Tara Reisbaum!) who was the director when I first was a Tikvah counselor and Rosh Edah. She inspired me, coached me, mentored me, and encouraged me to go to graduate school and take on this job. I still credit her when anyone asks me how I got to do what I do and I am grateful to her every day!

What’s your favorite spot at camp?

I have so many favorite spots at camp — the bench at the top of the hill, my tzofim tent, kikar tzion on Friday nights. But my favorite spot by far is anywhere my friends are. This was true as a camper at camp and is still true to this day. The reason I return to camp year after year is because of the people. The moments I remember most are about connections with friends, mentors, campers, counselors, and colleagues.

In honor of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), we’re highlighting the people and stories focused on inclusion and accessibility at Jewish camp all month long. Follow our blog throughout February to discover Jewish camp JDAIM stories.