One week ago, forty five individuals showed up at the Ramah Chava (Ranch) to begin forming our 2012 community.  Some had been to the Chava previously, while most were new to Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  Staff members came from as far away as Israel and England and as nearby as Greenwood Village and Greely, Colorado.  All came because they want to spend their summer helping to create transformative experiences for our 280+ chalutzim (campers/pioneers) who will be joining us this summer.

The beginning of each camping season brings a sense of nervous excitement — will the staff coalesce as a group?  Are these staff members capable of transmitting our core values to our chalutzim?  Will our staff members run the safest possible program in their specialty areas and in their respective ohalim (tents)? And perhaps the question on the minds of all of us who have worked here previously, will this year’s staff be able to continue building the magical community we have enjoyed here at the Ramah Ranch for the past two summers?

As our staff week draws to a close, having the opportunity to speak in depth with most of our staff and watch them work as a group, I am pleased to report that our staff is once again a phenomenal group of individuals.   As before, we have a relatively mature staff (by camp standards), with over half being upperclassman in college or college graduates.  We have more 21+ year olds as counselors this year than in either of our previous two summers.  More importantly, our staff this year has a significantly higher number of Wilderness First Responders, EMTs and Wilderness First Aid certified counselors than before.

The positive energy at camp is palpable.  Our specialists are actively trying new ways to increase the quality of programming in each of their specialty areas and all of our staff is striving to incorporate new ways to infuse their respective program areas with our Jewish core values.  For example, the biking specialists have assigned our in-camp biking routes Hebrew names and produced a new color coded map.  Our orienteering specialists are creating skill building games using both local topographical maps and detailed topographical maps from Israeli.

The highlight of this past week was our Friday night service.  As we will do each week for the next eight weeks, we all gathered in the Kfar (tent area) for Israeli dancing, followed by a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat in the Pardes Teffilah.  While only one staff member was hired as a dance instructor, we have at least three who excel at Israeli dancing. More so than any other time during the week, Kabbalat Shabbat is the time during which one most feels the incredible sense of community and shared purpose.  When we began to dance during Kabbalat Shabbat, one could feel the communal sense of gratitude that we are blessed to spend the summer together in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by hundreds of happy children.

While most of our Chalutzim do not arrive until Tuesday, our JOLI participants arrived at 2:00pm today.  They have come from across the country to spend the month in our leadership training program.  After acclimating to the ranch today and tomorrow, they will begin a four day Wilderness First Aid course before setting out on two six day Massaot (excursions) with some time at the ranch to apprentice in different specialty areas.  This is the first time that we have had some chalutzim arrive before the main group, and it is too early to assess the success or shortcomings of this model.  We will be learning together over the course of the next few days but are eager to integrate these participants into our broader community.  We have about 40 more hours to prepare our camp for the next 269 chalutzim, and we are counting down the minutes for the next group to arrive on Tuesday.