Rock Climbing and Judaism: Climbing to New Heights!


This is the second installment in a series of blogs from our camp staff. Each of the staff were asked how their area of camp (rock climbing, archery, horseback riding, etc) and Judaism was linked for them, and how they have brought the two together in their lives.

Matt Levitt

matt atop mtn w sunGazing out of my college dorm window towards the yellow and orange leaves blanketing the beautiful Indiana University campus each fall, a few ideas swirling around in my head, I decided this would be my last “available” summer.  A double major in Political Science and Arabic, soon I would need a summer internship with the state department, if my dream to work in Middle Eastern policy was to be realized post-graduation.  

After some online digging, I found a new camp, a Ramah specialty camp, was scheduled to open in the heart of the Rocky Mountain during the summer of 2010. Intrigued by this idea, I contacted Rabbi Eliav to see if any positions remained. Luckily, he had several available positions and I found myself on the inaugural Tzevet [staff] in the summer of 2010 as a rock climbing instructor and madrich [counselor].

While much of the ground work for the educational program was put in place by Rabbi Eliav, Sarah Shulman (Former Ramah in the Rockies Assistant Director and now the Director of the new Camp Ramah in Northern California), and several others before our arrival, it was clear that my entrepreneurial spirit would thrive here. During our first summer I developed a rock climbing curriculum asking the essential question, how can the ancient texts of the Jews relate to the modern day rock climber?

Part of the program at Ramah Outdoor Adventure includes a five day backcountry excursion for our oldest chaluztim [campers]. One such trip culminated with a 5 a.m. climb up one of the most beautiful rock faces in the Lost Creek Wilderness.  We woke up to the campers’ groans of an early morning, but soon after a little oatmeal and some hot tea, our group was ready to depart for our last day of climbing before heading back to camp for Shabbat. Several hours later, our group reached the top of our climb and sat atop a beautiful vista overlooking the entire Lost Creek Wilderness.

Atop that beautiful vista, we decided to engage our chalutzim [campers] in a discussion about Moses’ journey as a biblical climber. By the end of our discussion, our chalutzim [campers] had come to the conclusion that Moses acted as the “belayer” or safety, Joshua played the role of the “climber”, the explorer of new land, and God secured us as the “rope” and “gear”, linking the two through rope and safety.

It was in that moment, sitting atop that breathtaking cliff, I realized the true beauty of experiential Jewish education and the mission of Ramah Outdoor Adventure. Seeing the campers engage in Judaism that way, relating our past traditions to today, changed my life.

When I returned back to Indiana University, I changed my major to Jewish Studies and Education. Now I work for Ramah Outdoor Adventure at Ramah in the Rockies year round, continuing to follow my passion of experiential Jewish education, a passion developed here in the heart of the Rocky Mountains during our very first summer.

 

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