For the past few years, we have had a number of former chalutzim who have written about their time at Ramah Outdoor Adventure as part of their college admissions essays. Over the next few weeks we will feature a few of these from our former chalutzim (and hopefully future tzevet members). If you want your essay to be featured email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This weeks essay was written by Michael Harlow (JOLI 2012):
Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
The floor on the ohel ochel –the dining tent– sways and bounces on Friday night, as over 150 campers and counselors exuberantly sing and dance after the Sabbath meal. It’s a physical reminder of the incredible spirit that surrounds me. I am smack in the middle of so much positive energy, Eytan on one side, Janine on the other, our arms around each other as together we lead the Hebrew songs. I am completely at home here, part of a community of people who passionately share my interests and my values, at my home away from home, Camp Ramah in the Rockies.
I love nature and I love Judaism, so when making summer plans a few years ago, I thought it would be great to try a combination of the two. For me, nature and Judaism go together because I see religious practice as a means to self-discovery and spiritual growth, and I have found more meaning through meditation and experiences in a natural setting than I do through traditional synagogue prayer. “Ramockies” turned out to be the perfect place for me.
Through tikkun olam, “repairing the world,” Ramockies brings together Judaism and nature, pursuing eco-friendly practices like composting and “leave no trace” endeavors. We learn about ourselves as Jewish leaders, studying ancient texts and current environmental issues so that we can combine new outdoor leadership skills with understanding and commitment to Judaism and nature.
Base camp at Ramockies feels primitive and rustic, which really fits the scene. Shabby, old-looking tents and rocky walking paths are in the midst of fields and pastures. Not far away are short mountains, small enough for day hikes. But even more than the setting, what makes Ramockies special is the people. Camp caters to one specific crowd: young Jewish outdoor adventurers. Because of our shared ideals, I feel an instant connection to everyone there. The camp is small enough so that when we are all together, I can recognize every face.
Every other week, campers go on outings and come back in time for the beginning of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) on Friday evening. These 3 to 6 nights in the wilderness backpacking, kayaking, bicycling or horseback riding are physically strenuous, so Shabbat is a time for physical rest along with emotional respite. It’s very relaxing. Saturday morning brings a few different options for prayers. One I absolutely love is called hitboddedut, a chance to talk directly to G-d in nature. Back from our challenging trips, everyone reconnects and shares stories about adventures and excursions.
I love the peace and sense of community I feel at camp. At camp, even with long days of hiking and little sleep, I am completely content; I am able to be myself. For most of my life, I’ve struggled with anger management. The things that spark my temper include injustice, bullying and hypocrisy—but sometimes there is no obvious reason for my strong emotions. In part through my meditative and community experiences at camp, I’ve come to realize that while I feel things very deeply and have very high standards for myself and others, I am learning when to let things go, and how to channel my passion and emotion productively. At camp, I am filled with the joy of being part of something larger than myself, a community I respect and love. I have made life-long friends. I’ve become certified in Wilderness First Aid and experienced the gratification and fun of leading groups of younger campers on hikes and overnights. I have had the time and space to develop my relationship with God in a natural setting. I have learned a lot about who I am and who I can be and how to bring these qualities into my everyday life. After my experience at Ramah in the Rockies, I have the tools to access the inner peace I developed there.