Founders and Camp directors Geri and Herb Bieber, Reuven and Natalie Stern, at the 25th Anniversary Rikkudiah Celebration at Ramah 2007
(Photo courtesy of Rene Smith)
Geri and Herb Bieber and Natalie and Reuven Stern have nurtured and developed their labor of love, Ramah Rikkudiah.
Nestled in the wooded landscape of California’s Ojai valley, Camp Ramah is the setting for Ramah Rikkudiah Israeli folk dance camp.
Founded and led by the Biebers, and currently led by the Sterns, Ramah Rikkudiah has consistently offered the joy of Israeli folk dancing and culture to adults and children for 25-years
Ramah Rikkudiah, at Camp Ramah, in Ojai, CA.
Daughter Of The Arts talked with the Biebers and the Sterns about their roles in the founding and development of Ramah Rikkudiah.
Geri and Herb Bieber:
Ramah Rikkudiah Founding Leaders from 1983-1995
DOTA: Geri and Herb, what is your music or dance background before Israeli folk dancing?
GB: When I was a little girl I took piano lessons, ballet lessons, tap dancing and ice skating lessons.
HB: My dancing started when I was about 17. My sister wanted to go for dancing lessons. She didn’t want her dancing teacher to know that she was with her brother. So she called herself Maxine Green and I was Herbert Jones!. I remember I stepped all over this poor guys feet. That was my introduction to ballroom dancing.
DOTA: How did you both meet?
GB: We were in *BBG and **AZA. We used to go to socials. I met Herb when I was 15 (Herb was about 19). We met at a social. We both jitterbug danced. And we still do.
DOTA: What was your first folk dancing experience?
HB: We did a smattering of Israeli folk dancing later on. Then we joined Brandeis Institute in Simi Valley. We danced with Dani Dassa. He looked at me and he was really impressed. He said, “You have two left feet, would you like to dance?”
GB: We started dancing at this little temple in Gardena, called South West Temple Beth Torah. Shlomo Bachar came to teach; that was before Brandeis. That was around 1961.
Then we joined Brandeis. In 1967, I was taking classes at Sinai Temple, and Dani was teaching there as well. Our class was asked to perform for an organization, so we formed a group called Shomrei Tarbut. It means Guardians of the Culture. When Dani left, Israel Yakovee came in to teach.
DOTA: When and why did you start Ramah Rikkudiah?
GB: The first one was in 1983. Teachers were Dani Dassa, Danny Uziel, and Ruth Goodman. I designed the logo for Ramah Rikkudiah.. I made the programs, I designed the shirts for the weekend, and we also made matching buttons. We started it because of Alvin Mars, who was the director of Ramah at the time. People were pushing him to start a dance camp. He agreed and he asked if Herb and I would be the hosts. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I learned! The second year we had Ruth Goodman, Danny Uziel and Israel Yakovee. The third year we had David Paletz and Haim Livne with Ruth and Danny
Choreographer Yossi Abuhav at Rikkudiah
Our idea for the dance camp was to run it the same way as the adult weekends that Ramah had: very high class. We set a standard. We used to pick the menu and we had interesting cuisine. On Saturday nights, we had a talent show. There was a graciousness to it. The first weekend there were about 40 people. Every year the attendance grew. When we quit there were around 130. We did it from 1983-1995.
DOTA: Describe the ambiance of the camp?
GB: It had a wonderful reputation. This was the class act, people said. Every year we tried to improve things. Each building would have their own coffee, and fruit and cookies all the time. We had buildings A, B, C and the lowest price were the bunks.
Israeli folk dance Choreographer Yankele Levy at Rikkudiah 1989 & 1992
left to right: Mrs. Yankele Levy, Israel Yakovee, Yoni Eisnor (Carr),
Yankele Levy, Geri Bieber, Herb Bieber (1989)
DOTA: Why did you decide to stop leading Ramah Rikkudiah?
GB: It was our Bar Mitzvah year, we decided it was time to turn it over to someone else.
Left to right: Israel Yakovee, Natalie Stern, Moshiko Halevy, Geri Bieber, Herb Bieber, Edy Greenblatt, Yossi Abuhav ( 1995)
Natalie and Reuven Stern:
Leading Ramah Rikkudiah 1996-current
DOTA: Natalie and Reuven, what is your background in music or dance?
NS: I started tap dancing at age l2-l3 years. Then I fell in love with classical ballet and studied seriously for 3 l/2 year’s, from age l6-l9. While attending high school 4/4 plans (work 4 hours, school 4 hours.) I worked at the studio to pay for my dance lessons.
DOTA: When did you first start dancing Israeli folk dancing? What were the circumstances?
RS: My first exposure to Israeli dances was in school at the age of 11. Later in the “Hanoar Haoved” youth movement we had unorganized dancing. The first organized dance classes we had in the youth movement was in 1954 with Yoav Ashriel. In 1956 I participated in the second Dalia Dance festival with the Yoav Ashriel group.
During my military service I danced with The “Hpoel Tel Aviv” dance group that was led by Dani Uziel, Later I danced with “Israeli Dance Ensemble”, “The Histadrut main Dance ensemble” and the “Karmon Dance Ensemble” (with Tuvia Tishler, Giora Kadmon and Yoni Carr).
NS: I started Israeli folk dancing in l968. I was introduced to folk dancing by a friend. At that time I lived in Montebello and attended Temple Bnai Emet where Shlomo Bachar was teaching.
DOTA: When did you first start teaching Israeli folk dancing?
NS: The Rabbi’s wife liked the way I danced and encouraged me to start teaching the children. I started by studying a teaching manual from my sister, a P.E. teacher, on how to teach. From there I started teaching adult ed. dance and the rest is history
I’ve taught dancing at Stephen Wise Temple since l970. I teach all ages. The last couple of years, I’ve been teaching adults only. I have worked at the UJ for about 25 years. (The UJ in Los Angeles is now known as The American Jewish University. The University of Judaism recently merged with the Brandeis-Bardin Institute.)
I was coordinator of the dance dept at the UJ. for l0 years. Presently, I am there three times a week and, at Congregation Shaarei Tefila for about 20 years, I teach women only. I also teach Simcha dancing with Reuven
DOTA: Did you meet Reuven through Israeli folk dancing?
NS: I met Reuven at Café Danssa. We got married in l978. We taught dancing together at Café Danssa for one year
Dancing at Ramah Rikkudiah
DOTA: When did you begin running Ramah Rikkudiah? Why?
RS: We were involved with Ramah Rikkudiah from the beginning. When Geri and Herb Bieber decided they had enough after 13 years of voluntary work, Natalie and I took over running Ramah Rikkudiah 12 years ago
NS: I became involved in Camp Ramah teaching dance and helped advise Geri and Herb whenever called upon regarding staff etc. We have been directors for l2 years.
DOTA: What were some of your goals for the camp at the time you took it over?
RS: Ramah Rikkudiah is and was a weekend of mixing of Israeli dances with Jewish tradition and culture.When we took over the camp, our first goal was to attract younger dancers, students, and families with their children.
NS: One of the first things I had in mind when taking over was to get a wooden dance floor in the main dance room. I was tired of getting shin splints! The camp was small and mainly older adults; we needed to attract younger people.
I got the idea of instituting a children’s program with the children having their own dance teacher and counselors. This brought the parents and they were free to dance while the kids had a ball. Riki Baken was the first children’s teacher. At present we have Shirley Burr-Smith who works with the children, and camp D.J.
DOTA: How has the programming evolved over the years?
RS: Even though you think about size and number of participants, for us it was more important to have a friendly and warm atmosphere and for dancers to have the conditions in which to enjoy themselves. It worked and we achieved both goals. The number of participants grew to maximum capacity of 180-200 participants.The last 6 years the camp was sold out.
NS: Each year we have gotten more and more people for partner dances, and for the last few years the camp has sold out. We also are offering a class only for circle dancers, who don’t do partner dances.
DOTA: What are your plans for the future of Ramah Rikkudiah?
RS: The program gets better and better but we keep looking for new ways to improve.
We hope that the camp will have more new housing so more people will have the opportunity to enjoy it with us.
NS: Camp Ramah is a labor of love for Reuven and for me.
Natalie and Reuven live in the San Fernando Valley. Geri and Herb live in Westwood, both in California
* ** (editor’s note:Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) is the fraternity component of BBYO (B’nai Brith Youth Organization) component for ninth through twelfth grade boys. BBG (B’nai B’rith Girls,) is the sorority component
You can read Interviews with some of choreographers who have participated in Ramah Rikkudiah over the years in the following Daughter Of The Arts Archives issues:.