As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and reflect on the year that has passed, those of us who had the fortune to spend time at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch will inevitably recall highlights we experienced at 8000 feet.  We will remember the songs we sang, the trails we biked and the mountains we climbed.  And almost all the chalutzim (campers) will remember the hours they worked on our new mural depicting the seven days of creation.This mural represents so much about the values we emphasize each summer.

Getting ready to dedicate the mural

In June, we moved our eating area outside into a new 2500 square foot dining tent sitting upon a new concrete deck built into the hillside.  When we opened camp this summer, the foundation wall of the deck was calling out for color: and thus a mural was born.

The mural represents our communal commitment to building our camp together.  While we could have hired a professional artist to create this rendering, we chose instead to ask our chalutzim to provide the inspiration, sketches and people power needed to paint the entire mural.  Also, in a community like ours that is constantly welcoming new chalutzim and saying farewell to those who have completed their time with us, this mural served as a project that bound each group of chalutzim.  Our first session chalutzim left a white wall with rough sketches and a little color, our second session chalutzim were able to continue the painting process, and provide their own artistic interpretations.

Our creation mural is also a perfect example of how we integrate Jewish texts, themes and values into all areas of our camp program.  Rather than simply draw random pictures on the mural, our omanut (art) teachers taught the chalutzim about the creation narrative and then used this core text as the backdrop for the artistic canvas.   There were times when the omanut staff would be painting or sketching with the chalutzim with a chumash in hand.

Close up of mountains and streams

Perhaps most importantly, this mural represents an intentional effort to improve the arts program at camp this summer.  While Ramah Outdoor Adventure will always be known for our intense outdoor experiences, we know that not everyone who comes to our camp is a “hard core” athlete.  We have many chalutzim who enjoy less physically intense activities such as art, orienteering and mining.  It is for this reason that we increased the number of omanut instructors, offered mining on a more regular basis, and hired an Israeli specialist to help improve the orienteering program.

Close up of Shabbat

While the chalutzim provided the lion’s share of the work in producing the mural, they were able to succeed because of the amazing leadership of the entire omanut staff.  In particular, this idea was originally conceived well before anyone even arrived at our ranch, when the head of omanut, Mya Kass, attended a multi day training program called Kivun.  Mya spent five days working alongside other artists from throughout the Ramah and URJ camping movements as well as with professional artists planning appropriate projects for camp that would infuse their specialty with further Jewish content.

Like so much this summer, the calendar moved forward before we were ready, and the mural, while dedicated, remains unfinished.  Mya’s original design includes a mosaic inlay throughout the mural.  This feature remains incomplete, and will have to wait for our 2013 chalutzim to finish the work begun in 2012!