In 1995, Far West Region United Synagogue Youth, working in concert with Camp Ramah in California, founded the Hevrah Program for Jewish teens with special needs. The Hevrah Program, which was built upon the foundation of the Tikvah “Buddy Program” at Camp Ramah, brings together program participants and active USYers for socialization, religious education programming, and their own social action programming. While the Tikvah Buddy Program takes place only during the summer at camp, the Hevrah Program is available year-round and draws participants from Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties.
Each year the Hevrah Program begins with a USYer orientation consisting of sensitivity-building workshops, led by special education professionals and containing simulation exercises about living with special needs. The following is an explanation of the commitment the USYers will be expected to maintain both to the program as well as their individual “buddy” when involved in Hevrah. During Hevrah’s pilot year, 13 USYers and 13 Jewish teens with special needs (from Camp Ramah’s Tikvah Program) were paired and participated in monthly Sunday events at Conservative synagogues in the Los Angeles area. The program has continued to grow and the number of USYers participating in the program increases as well as the numbers of our special needs teenagers. Our current roster includes over 100 teenagers with special needs including over 50 regular participants, and about 25 members not necessarily participating in Ramah’s Tikvah Program. In order to encourage the development of long-lasting friendships, each USYer is assigned a Hevrah buddy. At each event, the buddies have time to interact, participate in group activities, and work on the development of team building and trust skills. Jewish holiday celebrations, social action projects, and arts and crafts are also a part of the programming mix.
A few examples of our successful events included:
- Opening Swim Party and BBQ in celebration of the New Year
- A Sukkah Party
- “Erev Thanksgiving” fun night
- The Temple Aliyah Bowlathon
- A special Purim Carnival put on for Hevrah by the Si Hi students at Sinai Temple
- A Shabbat Dinner and Services at Shomrei Torah
- A tour of Hollywood and the Star’s Homes
- Lag B’omer Picnic
- Hevrah Prom
Here are two videos that capture what Hevrah is all about!