Note: We were waiting to post this until our session slide show was ready with a hyperlink.  Due to copyright issues, we are not able to post the session slide show on Youtube at the moment.

Tuesday Morning:

Our session I chalutzim have left the chava(ranch).  Our Madrichim are preparing for our session II chalutzim who will be arriving in less than 24 hours.  Beds are being moved, bikes are being fixed and the dining tent is being scrubbed.  And just like that we have drawn the curtain on our largest first session ever at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

The past four weeks have been a terrific success.  We biked, climbed, visited wolves, witnessed fantastic rainbows, crossed snowy mountain passes and bathed in refreshing Colorado streams.  We laughed and we cried, we hugged and we played.   We shared scrumptious meals in the back country and set Shabbat tables in our new dining tent.  We learned and we taught.  And perhaps most importantly, we all grew spiritually, emotionally and physically through the weeks together at our alpine ranch.  While there is no way to adequately capture a month of excitement in a few words or pictures, given that most parents and supporters of camp never have a chance to experience the Ramah Outdoor Adventure excitement, I will offer a few vignettes on this session.

#1 Yom Sport

A highlight of every camp session is Yom Sport (color war).  It is on this day that we cease to be a community made up of edot (age groups) and ohalim (tents) and form two solid walls of color.  For 14 hours camp becomes a place where cheering and chanting are non-stop.  Chalutzim (campers) compete in a variety of activities, from horseback riding to archery to soccer and more.  This year’s yom sport will be most remembered because of the extreme heat in which we competed.  With temperatures in the shade hitting the low 90s (and well over 100 in the sun), it was amazing that we were able to adjust and finish all the activities planned for the day.  We took many more water breaks and rested for longer periods between activities.  The final relay race, which requires every member of the camp community to work together in over 30 stations throughout camp, took almost twice the amount of time that it did last year.  Because of the extreme heat and state-wide fire ban, we had to modify our tradition of ending the relay race replacing the popular rope burning contest with a competition to see who could create and cook a pancake on a camp stove more quickly, with the winning team eating their chocolate chip pancake first.  One of the best parts of Yom Sport is when the competition concludes in the Pardes Teffilah around 8:30pm — the game is over and both sides return to being friends in their ohalim and edot.  This coming together after intense competition is indicative of how we constantly emphasize the communal aspect of our camp over the individual.

Relay race

Relay race

#2 Our new Aron Kodesh & Ner Tamid

On the third Shabbat of the session, we dedicated our new aron kodesh (ark) & ner tamid (eternal light).  On so many levels, this aron represents the best of what we offer at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  To begin, the aron was constructed entirely by our chalutzim.  As part of the Jewish education program, the Bogrim Chalutzim (entering grades 9 & 10) spent most of the session learning about issues related to fire; although our education director, Sarah, planned this curriculum in the winter months, it was an especially relevant topic this season given the severity of the forest fires that ravaged the Colorado landscape this summer.  Chalutzim learned how fire is sometimes seen as a destructive force in Judaism but can also be used to sanctify and even to create.   They also explored how fire is used within our modern day religious rituals.

Aron Kodesh

The culmination of the formal curriculum required our Bogrim chalutzim to construct an aron kodesh and ner tamid using materials found around the camp.  Using an old wooden cabinet, they painted a gorgeous ark with the words from the camp song on one side, emblems of all the activities we do at camp on the other and a picture of two trees with the words Eitz Chayim He—“the [Torah] is a living tree” on the third.  For the ner tamid, chalutzim used old wire to form a sun and placed a solar powered path light in the middle.  The result is that we have a beautiful homemade aron kodesh that reflects the core values of our community.

#3 Celebrating personal achievements.

This month was a session of firsts.  While there were many chalutzim who shot an arrow for the first time,  collected eggs for the first time and went white water rafting for the first time, there were two individuals who reached a level of proficiency not before accomplished by a chalutz/a in our program.  In the climbing program, Eytan A, became the first chalutz to “lead climb”.  He has spent the last three summers at camp learning how to set anchors and climb using traditional (or trad. in climbing speak) techniques, and  last week, on the final day of the advanced climbing perek, under the careful eye of our head instructor, he set a route on the rock face and climbed the wall.  Similarly, last night Teddy R, was awarded the highest award in our equestrian program, a gold horse shoe.  While we have many excellent riders at camp, Teddy was the first to not only complete the riding requirements, but also complete the Jewish learning and Hebrew requirements and stable requirements to earn this award.  When we announced these accomplishments to  in our dining tent everyone cheered not only because of what these two boys accomplished, but because of the communal pride in someone achieving this level of proficiency in an activity we teach at camp.  Our hope is for people of all ages at camp to find role models for themselves from whom they may learn.  As our chalutzim return season after season, they are not only able to look up to the more advanced specialists who are running the program areas, but also become role models in their own right for their peers and younger chalutzim.

On top of Zinzendorf

On top of Zinzendorf

The end of the session is a bittersweet time.  No one wants a successful session to end.  There are always more trails to be explored, songs to be sung, and conversation to be had.  On the other hand, it is an amazing feeling to look back on the previous few weeks and know that you had an amazing time and challenged yourself as much as you could.  Yesterday morning, as people were saying goodbye, there were long hugs and many tears.  These were tears of joy—tears of children who understand that life is not summer camp, but have the wish that the magic of camp will follow them home into their regular lives.

Alas, camp does end.  Thank you to everyone who joined us in session I.  We hope that you have an amazing rest of the summer.  Those of us at the ranch are continuing to build our community by welcoming our largest group ever– 131 campers — who arrive tomorrow.  We will be that much stronger of a community because of the experiences we shared with our chalutzim in session I.  While kayitz 2013 seems like a long way off, please know that we are in the process of finalizing our dates, and expect to open registration for next summer on August 1, 2013.