I just came in to Denver for a few hours to restock our food, but wanted to write a quick blog post to update everyone on our training week.

In short, it is going amazingly well! As of Sunday night, we had 17 participants and staff on site. We hail from 10 states including Arizona, Texas, Oregon, New York, South Carolina and Massachusetts. At the airport almost no two participants knew each other. When they set out on their 3 day excursion in the national forest yesterday, there were long hugs and lots of “we will miss you” and “can’t wait to see you Friday!” It was as though we had known each other for years.

We are spending our time at the Ramah in the Rockies Ranch as though we are on an extended camping trip. Aside from our Shabbat meals, we are cooking all our own food on gas camping stoves, sleeping in tents and under tarps, and engaging in a variety of activities that we will be able to do with our campers next summer. Participants are very aware of the mission of our organization (to provide outstanding outdoor adventure activities that teach Jewish values and leadership skills that influence the character development of teenagers. We do this through intense community building at base camp and on adventure trips). We refer back to this mission statement often, and I have asked everyone to give honest feedback both to me and to each other about how well we are doing in living this mission. For me, as the director, the opportunity to get this feedback from people who are spending time engaged in Ramah Outdoors programming is one of the most valuable part of the week.

At our first of two formal “check-ins” on Tuesday night, participants and staff were extremely positive about the beginning of the training. The biggest frustration was that people wanted to know more specifics about the camp program for next year and what exactly their role would be. I responded that while some of these details have already been decided, part of the reason I wanted to bring all of them out to the Rockies, was to give them an opportunity to engage in the discussion and help us figure out some of the programmatic details. From our first meeting, we emphasized that we are all chalutzim (pioneers) in this journey and that for the first few years of camp, aspects of the program will change according to the thoughts and experiences of the chalutzim. This is one of the most exciting parts about helping to found a new Jewish institution—being able to really influence and shape its educational program

If there is one aspect that we can all agree on, it is that the food has been AMAZING. We are not eating traditional “camp food” but rather lots of fresh food and whole grains. Except for the cereal and pretzels (and smores at night) we have almost no processed food! Because we all take turns setting up the meals and cooking them, there is little complaint when things are not right. For example, the other night when we had tofu, stir fried vegetables and brown rice, the people cooking did not make enough. While none were hungry, we all could have eaten more. But rather than complain, we all used it as a learning experience and now know that 4 cups of rice for 17 hungry people is not enough. We all knew that any of us could have made this mistake, and therefore were very forgiving. Much of our food is organic and the catered meals are not only organic, but also mainly from local farms in the Boulder area. Food is a key part of how we relate to the broader world, and so it is an area in which we will continue to invest resources. When campers arrive next summer we plan to eat two meals a day in the dining hall with the food cooked by a professional staff, and one meal a day in edot (age groups) with food being cooked by the campers.

We spent much of the first three days in a Wilderness First Aid course offered by the SOLO mountaineering school. We then had a wonderful treat on Tuesday afternoon, as our neighbors at the Lost Valley Ranch invited to come horseback riding on their ranch. For many, it was their first time on a horse. While I can not say that many of us are ready to be wranglers, all had a great time! Yesterday, everyone (but me) set off on a three day hike in the Lost Valley Wilderness area. This is the hike that we will be doing with the 8th graders next year. For the participants, the hike is a chance to learn new trail skills as well as to learn how to teach the ones people already have. We will meet back at the ranch on Friday afternoon where we will be for the duration. I expect that we will have a wonderful and relaxing Shabbat followed by an extremely intense final 36 hours that will include, Search and Rescue training, rock climbing, mountain biking, a sweat lodge experience and of course a final camp fire.

All the participants asked me to say hi to their parents (to whom I am sending this post as an email). Facebook is having issues uploading pictures, so you can view ours on Picasa.



I will post the rest of the pictures late next week when I return to the wired world once again.