Amazing Stories from Camp

This summer at Etgar B’Ramah (Ramah Outdoor Adventure at Ramah in the Rockies) we didn’t have campers, we had chalutzim(pioneers). This spirit of building a new community and taking on challenges together has infused everything we do, such as working with teens to muck out petrified horse manure from a 120-year-old barn (and then had them beg to do more the next day)! I also witnessed chalutzim doggedly biking up hills and then immediately drop their bikes to cheer on their friends behind them.

One experience in particular stands out in my memory. It was a Friday, the last day of a whitewater rafting/mountain biking masa (excursion) for rising 8th graders that I was co-leading. We were biking back to camp and had thirteen miles left. It had been a long week, and we’d already biked about thirty miles, through heat and rain. Many of the chalutzim said that this was the hardest thing they’d ever done. They were all at different fitness levels, and there was one girl—let’s call her Sarah— who was often in the back of the pack. The thing was though, she was the only one who never stopped biking—never got off her bike and pushed it up a hill. As we went up a particularly steep climb together, I thought that this would surely be the one Sarah would walk –her breathing was getting more and more rapid, and each aching push of the pedals only propelled her a couple more wobbling feet up the hill. Halfway up we paused so she could catch her breath and I asked if she wanted to walk the rest of the way. But she simply shook her head, took some deep breaths and got back on the bike. As we started up again, we began to hear the cheers from everyone already at the crest. They started singing “Ozi, V’zimrat Yah,” a camp favorite, and Sarah just kept pedaling, inch by stubborn inch up the hill. I was close to tears.

If this had simply been about someone pushing through pain, I don’t think I would have been so moved. I’m not a football coach—I don’t believe in the cleansing power of pain or anything like that. I think challenge just for the sake of difficulty is pointless. There has to be some end result—in this case, the friendship of Sarah’s friends that helped propel her up the hill, and something internal to Sarah; some sense of new capabilities and an inner strength she didn’t know she had. This, I feel, is the power of Etgar B’Ramah. We provide the usual (and wonderful) opportunities to form close friendships that all camps offer. But we supplement them with discussions that encourage kids to think a little more deeply, and difficult physical and emotional challenges that can lead to a greater sense of self-worth.

…I know that I can always look back on this summer as a time I helped start something new and exciting. I know that that I can come back years from now and see a garden whose soil I helped enrich, and talk to staff members I had as campers. I guess I too have felt the power of being a chalutz.”