Update from camp #1

I am hoping to write a longer update from camp before Shabbat, but I wanted everyone to have a chance to also read the following update written by Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the National Ramah Director.  Rabbi Cohen was here for opening day and shared his thoughts in an email to members of the Ramah Community.  Below are some excerpts.

After all the hype and the worries, all the planning and dreaming – I can now report that Ramah Outdoor Adventure is up and running, open for business, and doing quite well!

I left camp this morning after a hectic 48 hours there.

A number of points and impressions:

Rabbi Eliav hired an incredible staff – these young adults are working 24/7 and loving it! They are perfect for the mission of Ramah and they are passionate about the environment, each in his or her own way.

After a long afternoon yesterday of arriving campers, unpacking and touring camp, there were Opening Ceremonies featuring a Torah dedication, introductions, song and dance, and some orientation including the history of this site and of this project. Everyone then sang and danced through the pine trees, across the rushing waters of the creek, past the fields with deer, birds and glorious butterflies, and down the path to our chadar ochel for dinner.

At the evening medura (campfire) everyone shared their hopes and concerns for the summer. One 14 year old girl expressed it beautifully: “I can’t believe I’m finally here. I’m so excited to be in an intensely Jewish environment that also cares all about the environment. My only concern is that this really lives up to my expectations, but so far it already has!”

There are twelve gorgeous horses, each with a Hebrew name. Our Israeli leader of horseback riding is a delightful woman just out of the army. She has been riding since age 9, has won multiple awards, and has taught horseback riding at Vered Hagalil for many years. Yesterday she asked me if I could “help out” a little. I didn’t realized that 20 minutes later I’d be shoveling manure! But then again I did this together with Eliav and visiting Rabbi Ita Paskind. Some rabbinical gathering! This morning after tefila she asked for 2 camper volunteers and they happily agreed, smiling all the way. It is amazing what we all, and especially our kids will do when motivated, when pushed beyond normal limits, and when placed in the right social context with peers and young, accessible role models.
Regular programming started today. When I left campers were preparing for mountain biking or horseback riding or rock climbing or forest navigation. Monday everyone departs on their first excursion, a 5 day wilderness trip using many of their newly developing skills.

The setting is simply magnificent. On each of my visits I am amazed by the breathtaking views, the clean mountain air, and the trees.

One particularly satisfying thought for me is how this camp in so many ways integrates our year-round work at the NRC: I met the staff members who were trained and inspired on our JNF service trip to Israel and our Weinstein Institute; the mishlachat (only 2 this year) who embody the values taught at our Shefayim training program; I see the kids who were able to attend because of funding from JWest (Jim Joseph Foundation) or RISHON or other incentive awards from the Foundation for Jewish Camp; and this morning, after breakfast, everyone was treated to a hilarious skit put on by staff posing as Rami and Chani, our two characters who are the catalysts for so much Hebrew language usage trained by our new “Daber” program to increase Hebrew usage (funded by Avi Chai).

A word about the site: a year ago we held a staff training program and a family camp, and yet I hardly recognized the Ramah area. So much has been done, on limited funding, to build tents, add facilities and improve conditions. So much credit goes to our board leader Don Skupsky who has made this project his mission in life. (“I was introduced to the inspiring joy of judaism as a child at ramah canada and I so wanted to make this a reality in Colorado.”) He has put his resources and himself fully into this task, living on site for weeks building and organizing and supervising. We are also fortunate to have Mikki Gooding as site manager. Her expertise, hard work and passion for excellence is one of our greatest assets.  We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tammy Dollin who not only has been managing this project for 2 years and recruiting new lay leaders, but she is up at camp now as a yoetzet (social worker), helping kids and staff with all their issues.

When the FJC, with generous Jim Joseph Foundation funding, announced their support for this project, I was overjoyed. This combines so many of the values inherent in specialty camping, jewish camping, and Ramah camping.

150 volunteers from many communities came here on Sunday to attend official ribbon cutting ceremonies. More and more families are excited about this outdoor adventure camp, and we will certainly need their support as we continue to grow and build this extraordinary camp.

Mostly, I’m just so happy that above all else, we now have “more Ramah.” As our 8th overnight camp, ROA is already meeting our lofty expectations for a Ramah experience, and more families and future leaders will benefit for years to come.

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