It had to happen!

Another successful summer at Ramah Outdoor Adventure has come to an end.  All is quiet on the ranch.  Eight of our twenty horses have left.  The Alpacas, goats, chickens and ducks have gone home.  A few hours ago, we said goodbye to the last of our chalutzim (campers).  Our tzevet (staff) are packing away equipment, sweeping the ohalim (tents) and readying the camp for the long nine months of hibernation.  Today is one of the hardest days of the summer.  There is no cheering in the ohel ochel, there are no yelps of joy coming from the chalutzim biking down the single track and there is no one hanging around the table in the middle of the kfar (tent area) playing cards during free time.

If I had to describe the summer in two words, they would be MAGICAL and TRANSFORMATIVE!  There were magical & transformative moments of personal challenge on the rock wall.  There were magical & transformative moments of personal discovery during teffilot (prayers).  And of course there were magical & transformative moments of relation happening almost every waking minute of the summer, as chalutzim and tzevet went about their daily activities, eating meals together and singing around the camp fire together.

To fully understand the impact of camp, one must spend extended time here at the chava (ranch).  Because most people who are reading this letter/blog post will not ever come to camp for more than a few hours, I will share three vignettes that capture part of the energy of Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

Vignette #1: The Chicken Shechita

A key aspect of our camp program is to “lift the veil” on food preparation in our community.  We begin each meal with a tafrit hayom (food tour) we have signs about where our food comes from throughout our ohel ochel (dining tent) and we make an effort to integrate our kitchen staff into the rest of the camp community so that the food has a more personal flavor.  This year, we lifted the veil further by hiring a shochet (ritual slaughterer) to come to camp to demonstrate a kosher slaughter.  We had planned for four or five chalutzim to attend, as we figured that most would find this too graphic a demonstration.  In fact almost all of the chalutzim and tzevet who were invited to attend, decided to come and learn.  During the hour and a half demonstration, everyone sat with rapt attention.  The tone was one of mutual respect: respect for each person watching, respect for the shochet who was doing the cutting and respect for the animal whose life was being taken for us to eat.  The depth of questions by the chalutzim clearly demonstrated that the children who come to our camp are a mature and inquisitive group who really want to learn.  Added meaning came because we held the shechita in the back yard of the original homestead house on our ranch.  We pointed out to those watching that our slaughter was happening outside the kitchen door of this 1880s house, the very spot where probably 100s of animal had been previously killed for food over the years; this was nearly certainly the first Jewish shechita that had ever taken place in the yard.  Rather than being a onetime occurrence, we hope to make a shechita an annual event before our meat cook outs.

Shochet holding the chicken

Vignette #2: Final Havdallah

Each Havdallah is an emotional experience.  We gather as a kehillah (community) outside the old chadar ochel (dining hall) to sing, dance and reminisce about the week that has past. A few nights ago, the final Saturday night of the summer, representatives from each edah (age group) spoke magnificently about their time here.  Two analogies stand out.  One person spoke about her time in camp over the past three years.  When she first arrived for our opening summer, she saw camp as an “Island in time”, a break from her regular life in school.  Now, three years later, she still sees camp as a break, but no longer as an island.  Spending time in camp is a core part of who she is, an important outlet where she can reconnect with her more adventurous side and reinvigorate her Jewish identity.  Another spoke movingly about seeing herself as a puzzle made up of varied components.  At camp she is able to take pieces of her puzzle and give them to others, while at the same time she takes pieces from others and incorporates them into her own being.  It was clear to every person standing arm in arm during havdallah just how powerful an experience a few weeks at Ramah can be.

Final Havdallah

Vignette #3 Returning from Masa

One of the most exciting moments of the summer happens every other week, when our chalutzim return from their massaot (excursions).  Whether they were gone for one night or five, they return to camp with a contagious energy.  Those of us who remain at camp on masa week look forward to their arrival around noon on Fridays.  As each group comes back to camp there are loud shrieks of delight as friends reconnect.  Whenever anyone asks the group how their trip was, there tends to be about 30 seconds of words, mostly inside jokes that are spoken so quickly that it is impossible to understand what they are saying.   Many trip groups prepare a short song or skit to perform for whomever is gathered around the office as they come back to camp.  Aside from the energy present when groups return, one of the reasons this is such a special time is to see how bonds are created when a group leaves camp and must survive together in the backcountry.  Campers who left as mere acquaintances come back as close friends.   Perhaps most importantly, our motto of “challenge by choice” is so clearly visible on these days, as each person feels that they achieved their own personal goals during their time away from camp.  Some might have climbed a hill faster or scaled a more difficult route or carried more weight, but at the end of the day, everyone returned to camp and each person feels a sense of personal triumph.

We spend a whole year planning for camp.  And just like that it is over!  Luckily, the full impact of time at Ramah Outdoor Adventure will be felt for weeks, months and hopefully years to come.  Some say, that the true lessons of camp only fully emerge when one returns to one’s “normal life,” and realizes that attitudes and habits developed in camp have become the new “normal”.Metayalot

The 2012 summer season will be one to remember.  We had the heat & drought of first session, followed by the rainy afternoons in the second.  We had our largest group ever of chalutzim at one time (280 in total, 130 at one time) and we inaugurated our Tikvah (special needs) program.  Those of us who work in camp year round  will be taking a week or two to relax and enjoy the final days of summer in our year round homes.  Planning for summer 2013 is well underway and registration is already open! As a reminder, anyone who registers before Nov 1, 2012 will receive a beautiful Ramah fleece vest.  Many have already signed up, and I hope that more will do so in the coming weeks.

Although it has only been a few hours, we miss our 2012 chalutzim terribly!  We cannot wait to welcome everyone back to camp in 43 more weeks!