Our Session I chalutzim have been gone for only a few hours, and our incredible staff have begun their first well-deserved day off of the season.  Sitting here in Starbucks down in Woodland Park, I have only the warmest memories from the past two weeks.    Leading up to the beginning of Session I, many on our staff were anxious about our second season at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  Could we repeat the magic we created in 2010?  Would the new chalutzim (pioneers/ campers) bond with the returning campers?  Would the new programs we have added this year be as successful as the ones we began last year?  Would our new staff work well with our returning staff?  Would our attempt to differentiate between different edot (age groups) succeed?  Would a two week session, at the beginning of the summer, provide an emotionally moving experience for our chalutzim?  These were just some of the questions racing through our minds in the weeks leading up to the opening of the 2011 season.

While a full evaluation of our session is still a few weeks away, as we still have more debriefing, I am happy to report that none of our fears materialized!  Instead, our returning chalutzim and new chalutzim integrated seamlessly.  All of our new activities (frolf, archery, kayaking) have been big hits and we took initial steps to create real differences in program between the different age groups.  Best of all, from the smiles on the chalutzim’s faces, it appears that most had an amazing time.

Before transitioning into planning for our second session (which starts in 36 hours) I wanted to write a few vignettes that stand out from session I.

#1  Dvir’s Bar-Mitzvah:  Although it was only our second full day of camp, we had the privilege of celebrating the bar mitzvah of a new member to the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community.  Dvir, who came to camp from Boulder with two siblings, was called to the Torah as a bar-mitzvah in front of the entire community.  While a bar-mitzvah is always a happy occasion, Bnei mitzvoth at camp take on an added element of simcha (happiness) because one feels so close to everyone at camp.  Even early on in a session, one creates intense bonds with others in their ohel (tent), edah and the wider camp community.  It was terrific to watch Dvir’s new friends sing and dance with him.  An event like this really shows the power of Ramah camping.

#2 The return of the masaot:  One of my favorite parts of directing camp is watching the masaot (excursions) return from their adventures.  When the chalutzim leave the Ramah in the Rockies ranch, we do not have any contact with them except in emergencies.  This means that days go by without seeing or hearing our trip leaders and chalutzim.  Whether they are on an overnight in the back of our property or on a five day hike through the sand dunes, when they return, the chalutzim are smiling, yelping with joy and very dirty.  Their energy is palpable.  This past Friday, our biking masa rode into camp via the back road of the ranch.  They congregated near the sand pit and then road as a group “yelping” and “hooting” to the end point in front of the office.  Upon arriving, they dropped their bikes and put on a little show about the adventures they had just had.  It was clear from their energy that they had accomplished an amazing goal.  Despite the sweat, the pain and the rain, they had had an experience of a lifetime!  (We have this scene on video, and hope to upload it soon).

#3 Trail rides:  One of the areas in which we have placed considerable emphasis is our equestrian program.  Last summer, not enough campers were able to ride in camp and even fewer got out on the trails.  This summer we hired a head equestrian who has helped us vision a program where chalutzim can return year after year and continue to improve their riding skills.  Each day during Session I, different groups of chalutzim headed out for a trail ride.  By the end of the session, every chalutz and most staff had had an opportunity to go for a ride on our trails.  In addition to exposing more chalutzim to our horses, our equestrians have created a classroom in our barn (which was not usable last year) and created a tiered leveling system whereby chalutzim can not only earn Boy Scout and Girl Scouts awards/merit badges, but also earn their own Ramah horse shoes.  Last night at our closing banquet, two chalutzim, Nadav & Alexis, were presented with the first ever Ramah Outdoor Adventure horse shoes.  Seeing the look on their faces, I realized that we were well on our way to creating a top level equestrian program.

Mid season transitions are always bitter sweet.  On the one hand we are sad to see our chalutzim leave.  We already miss them and are counting down the days till they can return for the 2012 season.  On the other hand, we have a great sense of accomplishment and are looking forward to welcoming the new members of our community.  And this is the life of camp staff, celebrating what was while appreciate what is and looking forward to what will be.  Thank you for sharing your children with us.  We look forward to seeing them back at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch in 2012.  Registration for next summer opens in a few days!  Stay tuned for more information.