On Monday night we sat around our camp fire on our closing night of first session.  Our chalutzim hamiyasdim (founding campers) and tzevet (staff) had an opportunity to stand up and place two rocks around the base of the fire pit.  One rock represented a hope that had come true during their time at Ramah Outdoor Adventure, and the other was something they were leaving behind.  I sat there smiling and crying at the same time.  Here we were almost two years since we first wrote the proposal to start this camp, and we were wrapping up our first session.  Our chalutzim stood one after the other and reflected about the new outdoor skills they had learned, the new friends they had made and the new Jewish values they had learned.  They talked about leaving behind physical markers at camp (like a new footbridge that some helped to build), new smiles on people’s faces (because of the friends they made) and new traditions that will remain part of the camp for a long time to come (like yom sport).  At the end of the summer, we will use the rocks from this first group along with all the rocks  all 120+ chalutzim from their final night at camp to create a permanent base at our fire pit.   For years to come, campfires will be lit and campers brought together around the hopes and dreams represented by the chalutzim of our inaugural summer.

Before camp opened, I feared that we would be beset by all sorts of programming issues, logistical issues and weather related issues.  I am pleased that few of these actually materialized.  Because of the extraordinary hard work of our devoted staff members, we had a smooth session from beginning to end (and some help with some favorable weather patterns.  For me, the highlight of each day was walking around to the different activity areas and watching our chalutzim in action.  The smiles on their faces in each activity demonstrated to me that they were not only learning new skills but also were having fun.  In just four weeks of operation, we have put together an adventure program that could rival some of the best camps out there.  For example, our rock climbing instructors not only teach kids how to climb, but also how to set up anchors and to check and maintain ropes.  Our wilderness program not only teaches chalutzim how to make fires and shelters but also how to identify edible plants.  And in our biking program, chalutzim not only participate in relay races at camp, but they also are able to head out on extended overnights and bike along mountain passes.

At its core, Ramah Outdoor Adventure is an educational institution dedicated to not only Jewish education and outdoor education, but also character education.  This month, we created a community built on Kavod (respect).  Kavod was apparent in the dining hall as we sat down each meal to a set table and waited to say the bracha before eating the delicious food.  Kavod was apparent in the tent area where the chalutzim would hang out with each other during down time playing cards or throwing a ball.  Kavod was apparent when a counselor needed a hand lifting something, building something or setting something up.  Inevitably there would be two or three chalutzim who would offer to help.  Finally, kavod was apparent in the cleanliness of the camp.  With only a very part time housekeeper (who mainly just empties the garbage) the chalutzim were in charge of maintaining a clean living environment.  By and large, our camp has been free of any litter and when someone does see something on the ground, they pick it up and throw it away.

We were able to achieve our educational objectives during the first session because we integrated all three parts of our mission.  Learning Jewish values, engaging in intensive outdoor adventure activities and working on ones character development are all part of what it means to be at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

But while we might be tempted to ride on our laurels from first session, all of us at camp know that we are only half way through our first summer.  In fact, the majority of our 123 chalutzim hamiyasidim (inaugural pioneers) have yet to walk onto the chava (the ranch).  We are currently back at the chava, working hard to prepare for our next group of chalutzim who arrive on July 18th.  We can only hope that this next session will be even better than our first.