Vision, Leadership, and Change: The Case of Ramah Summer Camps

From Section:
Informal Education
Jul. 09, 2010

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 76, Issue 3, pages 246 – 271 


In his retrospective essay, Seymour Fox (1997) identified “vision” as the essential element that shaped the Ramah camp system. The author takes a critical look at Fox's main claims: A particular model of vision was essential to the development of Camp Ramah, and that model of vision should guide contemporary Jewish educators in creating Jewish educational excellence. He draws upon historical accounts and theories of organizational leadership and change to question Fox's first claim about the history of Camp Ramah and to offer an alternative model of vision to guide future leaders of Jewish camps.


From the authors' Conclusion:


In looking back at the history of the Ramah camps, I agree with Seymour Fox that the vision that he helped to develop played a crucial role in shaping the golden period of growth during the late 1950s and 1960s. However, once we factor in the long period of decline that followed, legitimate questions arise about whether that model of developing and translating a vision proved best for the Ramah system.


Looking to the future, what can we recommend to Jewish camp leaders thinking about vision, growth, and change? We have put forward an alternative model of vision based on the research of Collins and Porras (1997) which has much to say about the rapidly changing world of camping in North America. While this alternative model echoes Fox's central message that vision must play a crucial role in educational leadership, it suggests that what stands at the heart of vision are not specific ideas but an evolving agreement among a governing group of leaders about what uniquely defines this camp or camp system in terms of its core purpose and values.


What perhaps most clearly defines the difference between these two models of vision is how they understand the relationship between vision and leadership. Fox gives primacy to vision and sees leadership as a means for realizing that vision. Leaders exercise their leadership by translating vision into practice and practice into vision. In the alternative model, leadership is given primacy. Vision is an evolving tool that leaders use to build more effective organizations. Vision is a long-term, constant, but still evolving guide for how that organization will navigate the churning waters of rapid change. Vision as a tool becomes uniquely valuable when successive generations of leaders learn how to wisely balance between fidelity to their cherished values and adapting to the demands and opportunities of an ever-changing external world.

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
Camps | Informal education | Research | Visions