It has happened!

Another successful summer at Ramah Outdoor Adventure has come to an end.  All is quiet on the ranch.   The goats, chickens and duck have gone home; the alpacas and horses will be picked up shortly.  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 camp for the long nine months of hibernation.  Today is one of the hardest days of the summer.  There is no cheering in the Chadar Ochel (dining hall), 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 village) playing cards during free time.

If I had to describe the summer in two words, they would be MAGICAL and TRANSFORMATIVE!  There were magical and transformative moments of personal challenge on the rock wall.  There were magical and transformative moments of personal discovery during teffilot (prayers).  And of course there were magical and 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 experience the magic of camp, one has to actually visit our ranch.  Although this summer we had a record number of visitors, I know that most people reading this email/blog post have never come to the Ramah ranch in the summer.  While hopefully more people can visit next summer, until then, I wanted to give you a flavor of the camp by sharing a few highlights.

Highlight #1: The Farm Program

While there were many program areas that experienced significant growth this summer, none grew as much as our farm program.  Under the leadership of second year staff member, Nadav Slovin along with an awesome team of farmers including Elan Keshen and Chava Goldstein our farming program grew from a nice program with a few animals and a small area for vegetables to a major part of camp, with a second garden plot in the middle of camp, two milking goats, five egg-laying chickens, four egg-laying ducks (three of whom were unfortunately eaten by a fox one night), and of course two adorable kid goats.  The farm team created a program where most members of our camp community had a chance to participate in the process of growing and harvesting vegetables and caring for the animals. Examples of this included: creating a rotation of ohalim who would come to milk the goats; involving over 100 chalutzim during first session with sinking posts and wire for a new fence; the first session baby naming for our baby goats, Shaina and Panim; and Monday’s chagiga B’chava (garden festival), a mock bar mitzvah held in honor of Shaina and Panim where chalutzim had a chance to participate in a variety of farm games and activities.

Highlight #2: Shabbat

Despite all the outdoor activities we have at camp, despite the amazing peaks and valleys our chalutzim explore during their massaot (backcountry excursions), when we ask members of our community what their favorite time is, most will say Shabbat!  This summer we introduced some new tunes into our Kabbalat Shabbat repertoire.  We also revamped our Shabbat morning services for the entire camp and ensured that the older chalutzim had a chance for more singing of niggunim (wordless songs) and that the younger campers had different teffilah experiences tailored to their needs.  We also reworked the Shabbat afternoon schedule to allow for a healthy balance of free time and structured activities.  But most importantly, we did not tamper with the incredible energy that makes Shabbat such a special time at camp.  From everyone dressing in white on Friday evening, to the more relaxed meals throughout the day, and to the atmosphere that ensures that Shabbat is a day for people to hang out and chat with each other, the essence of Shabbat as a day of rest and relaxation remained strong.  Whereas we spend most of the week pushing ourselves to go further, to try harder and to attempt new things, Shabbat is spent just being at peace with oneself and engaging in social interactions with friends.

Highlight #3: Returning from Masa

One of the most exciting moments of the summer happens every other week, when our chalutzim return from their massaot.  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.  People who left as near strangers 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 s/he achieved his/ her 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 his/her own personal triumph.

When the book is written on this summer, those who have been here for a few years will agree that this was the best one yet.  Our staff, once again, went above and beyond to provide an incredible experience to the chalutzim.  Our educational program was the best it has been, our schedule had fewer issues than in years past, and the massaot were more varied than they have ever been.  The history books will also mention the extreme drought of the first few weeks (and a few days of intense smoke and haze on the property) and then the almost daily rain of the past five weeks;  our pasture is greener today than it was on June 1, 2013.  While this was great for reducing the fire danger, the rain affected untold numbers of programs; last week most of our chalutzim braved one of the coldest and wettest August nights in our camp’s history while out on masa, sleeping under tents and tarps.  And finally, the books will mention the quality of person who arrived at camp this year.  From the youngest chalutz to the oldest tzevet member, we had an incredibly high caliber of people at camp this summer.  So many chalutzim commented to me over the past eight weeks just how nice and genuine everyone was at camp.  This is perhaps one of the greatest hallmarks of our unique community: a place that respects differences and celebrates diversity within our Jewish community.

Over the next ten days, those of us that work year round for Ramah will be taking some time to sleep, relax, and reflect.  While the staff banquet starts in a few hours, and tomorrow we will say goodbye to the most incredible group of staff ever assembled at a Jewish summer camp, we know that the 2014 season is just around the corner.  If you have not already registered and would like to do so, please click here.  We have a number of chalutzim who have already re-registered for next year.  We expect to reach capacity once again in 2014 so please do not wait too long to register.  Deposits are 100% refundable until March 3, 2014 AND anyone who registers before October 31 receives a free Ramah fleece.

In addition, we have released a new recruitment video, mainly featuring our first session campers.  Take a look here if you have not seen it already.

As always, please be in touch with any questions or comments.  Parents, if you have not done so already, PLEASE fill out the survey about camp that is conducted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp.  Anyone who left camp before today received the email already.  Everybody will be receiving another reminder tomorrow.  This survey is anonymous but is crucial to helping us improve our program.