Written by two of our JOLI participants:

To begin, I want you to think through an average day in your life. And
now I would like to exemplify the following: in an average day, most
of your time is spent talking with or doing things with other people.
Most of the things we say are for the benefit of others, and would be
left unsaid if there were no one else to hear it. Our mannerisms, ways
of speech and courtesies are all based on the fact that this world is
build on the principle of cohesion between people. Please, thank you,
eye contact, reassuring phrases, they all arose because people spend
so much time together and realized that it was better than being

Just like me on this solo, humans will eventually find themselves
bored if they are not able to interact with others. While my mind
alone seems so complicated and interesting, full of thoughts and
ideas, two minds interacting with each other create a synergy
unmatched by anything that a single person could do alone. And just as
one mind plus another mind equals the power of three minds so to
speak, eleven JOLImers don’t make a team, they make JOLI, and JOLI is
worth more teams than you can count.

* * *

I was born and raised in Colorado to a full-time working mom and dad,
and an older sister whose 2.5 year difference hardly connoted
permanent shotgun rights, though is okay when talking about the 6.5
year difference my little sister and I have. Once, I heard that the
stereotypical Coloradan skis to work every day and eats bark with meat
every night. Though, considering that the typical Colorado yard may
only see a foot of snow the whole year and I — along with so many —
am vegetarian, I can’t see the plausability of that ever happening.

On the contrary, people do assume by that stereotype and the fact that
the mountains eat away our Denver and metro areas that we all are very
“outdoorsy.” People assume that if you are Coloradan you have climbed
a mountain before and enjoy intense activities. I can guarantee you
that not all do; in fact, some hate nature and would only like better
if a blizzard arose, forcing them to play video games all day. I, on
the other hand, love the big backyard I have easy access to. It’s a
true fortune and in many ways trumps a beach.

My mom used to hike and backpack. She had a huge, heavy external frame
pack that would get her wherever she wanted to go. She once expressed
that I too might have a pack of my own that I would travel with.
Though neither she nor I really knew the the extent of those words.
Only a few years ago did I first climb with my home on my back. Then I
had a destination and a purpose: to one day get to the top. Yet,
summit after summit I lost the excitement and true exhilaration of
hiking. I had become mindless with every step I took.

Then a little acronym, JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute),
came knocking on my door — an addition to Ramah Outdoor Adventure,
the camp I went to last summer. Three needs, loves and huge parts of
my life being combined in an experimental test of endurance, skill and
feasibility. Could Ramah take a group of 10th-12th graders, have them
walk, climb and hike through near impossible feats, throw in some
weather-related challenges, use Torah, Talmud and Jewish teachings to
create another dozen of Moseses ready to lead younger campers through
the wilderness? Well, you be the judge as I explain solitude.

On day 9 of our 12-day backpacking JOLI masa, we were asked to spend
12 hours alone in the wilderness. This was not just a time to collect
as teenagers and thrive for community, but to enlighten our souls,
“neshama.” We were asked to do as we pleased for half a day and
reflect on our experience. Although I slept for about a fourth of the
experience, I have also revived my meaning of the purpose of hiking.
It is not merely getting to the top, but exploring ways to get there.
It is not just about getting from point A to point B, but also about
rediscovering why we must, or even if we should assign points.

It’s not solely a more difficult walk, but one with more purpose, more
power, more joy. Climbing up and down steep terrain, crossing raging
rivers, getting rained and hailed on, living off of dehydrated food,
smelling terrible and realizing your trowel hole is right next to
moose scat: you realize the metaphorical hilarity of it all. And you
discover that, like Adam and Eve, humans are complex but are part of a
mountainside, ready to complete the world. Like Avraham, God isn’t a
statue. Like Moses, burning bushes don’t lie. Like Miriam, never leave
without a song. And, like we suggest ourselves as crazy JOLI, we might
be more sane than most, for we have clarity, universal leadership and
Judaism helping us along the way.