A camper profile on Josh Eakman

By Nathaniel Eisen


Etgar B’Ramah (Ramah Outdoor Adventure) leaves its mark on every chalutz (the word we use for campers that literally means “pioneer”), but it  has impacted few more than Josh Eakman. Josh, 16, has attended Etgar B’Ramah for three summers (2010, 2011 and 2013), and has travelled a long way during both his Jewish and outdoor adventures with camp.

    Never having climbed before coming to camp, Josh participated in rock climbing classes and excursions his first two summers, and has since become an avid climber back home in Las Vegas.

    Josh explained that having a taste of lead climbing (being the first to go up the wall and set anchors for the route) on the excursion in his second year is what really hooked him. “After that, I just wanted to keep climbing,” he said.

    At the end of the summer in 2011, the assistant head rock climber from that summer visited Josh in Las Vegas and they went climbing together. “It was really fun,” Josh said. “I got to know him on a more of a personal level…kind of as a friend, rather than camper.”

    Josh then joined a gym in Las Vegas with a climbing wall. There he met many other climbers, with whom he began to climb in Red Rock Canyon on weekends. The process of climbing has helped him bond with the other climbers, even though most of them are older than him. “Rock climbing is so based on trust between the climber and the belayer that you get to know each other well,” Josh said.

    Even with this social aspect, climbing also produces a great sense of autonomy according to Josh: “I really like the freeness of being on the side of a mountain with nothing under me, and just being able to take a minute to stand and look at the canyon around me.”

    Josh’s short-term goals for climbing include improving at lead-climbing, and conquering a notoriously difficult climb named “Epinephrine” in Red Rocks Canyon.

    During his third summer at Etgar B’Ramah, Josh participated in the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute (JOLI), through which he was honed  his wilderness survival and medicine skills, and learned more about Jewish environmental ethics. Josh also taught the basics of climbing to chalutzim, passing on the same skills he gained at camp to the younger campers. The staff, whom he is assisting, praise his responsible nature. “His quiet leadership [impresses me],” said climbing staff member Jessica Dworkin. “He makes sure all the campers are included, and that nobody gets left behind.”

    Josh’s Jewish journey at Etgar B’ramah has been just as powerful as his discovery of rock climbing. In 2010, he became the first camper to have his Bar Mitzvah here, celebrating with family along with his new friends. “I thought it would be more meaningful to have it [at camp],” Josh said. “I love the outdoors, and I thought it would be more fitting to me than a big fancy synagogue with a lot of people in it.”

    During this past year in JOLI, as part of their backpacking excursion, Josh and the other participants went off by themselves for 12 hours in the wilderness. During this time, Josh said he thought a lot about his religious life. “I certainly realized…how, when I get home, I want to do things differently, and how I can be religious in my own way,” he said.

    Josh has continued his Jewish involvement outside of camp—last year he was the Membership-Kadima chairperson in his local USY chapter, and this coming year he will be the Communications Chair. Josh hopes to go on Ramah Seminar in Israel next summer, become a base-camp intern at Etgar B’Ramah the following year, and join the climbing staff here in 2016. It seems as though his Jewish and climbing adventures will continue to intersect here at 8,000 feet for the foreseeable future.