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 Simon Lowen (JOLI 2012):
The morning peeks over the mountains, and the whole camp comes alive. We wake up, yawn, and smile with the knowledge that another phenomenal day charged with learning and adventure awaits us. We are at Ramah in the Rockies, a Jewish outdoor adventure camp, in which campers learn the value of nature, leadership, community, and more. This is my favorite place on earth, and I could live here forever; I love nature, adventure, and environmental sustainability, which are all huge parts of camp, and my personality meshes perfectly with this truly special environment.
To begin, I am an avid proponent of challenging myself, and this corresponds perfectly with a key objective of camp: “challenge by choice.” This means that all campers try their hardest to challenge themselves, but it is all voluntary; we get out what we put in. For example, when we went on a one-day, 40-mile bike ride up a giant mountain, every one of the campers on the trip rode every single foot of the journey. This was not because there were no other alternatives – we had a sag wagon – but because we all, individually, decided to challenge ourselves beyond our comfort zones. Of course, we cheered each other on, but the ultimate decision to keep riding through the pain was the individuals’. That day, I challenged myself to the point of tears, as did many others, but when I reached our campsite, I was amazed by my willpower, my endurance, and our cohesiveness as a group. I find life rather uninteresting without a challenge, but at Camp Ramah, we challenge ourselves in every aspect of our lives, through learning a new Torah portion, figuring out how to rescue an overweight adult with a broken spine from a dangerous environment without outside help, piecing together the answers to difficult moral questions, seeing just how far we can push our bodies, or just challenging our beliefs on a hot topic.
Other characteristics of camp have helped make it such a meaningful experience for me. First, our sense of community is extremely strong, due to the welcoming atmosphere and our shared experiences risking our lives while dangling from cliffs and running down mountains in thunderstorms, for example. Being naturally gregarious helps, but camp is the first place where I have felt part of such an amazing community; we help each other finish the last move on a rock face, we coax each other to take on as much responsibility as we can, and we sing, laugh, and sometimes even think together. Learning leadership skills in such a close, supportive community has helped make me the self-confident individual I am today.
The camp environment also feeds my ravenous appetite for learning. I find just about every new piece of information fascinating, and at camp, everyone else is in the same boat. I gain wide-ranging knowledge at camp, from how to fix a Whisperlite stove to how to diffuse a tense situation among a backpacking group. More subtle learning occurs constantly, such as on our six-day excursions into the wilderness, when I learn how the superficiality of civilization disappears in nature, and how unbelievably at peace one feels without it. We actively learn things like how to set up a bear-bag pulley, but to me, the most important learning we do is passive, such as experiencing firsthand nature’s majesty.
In sum, the place I am most content is Ramah in the Rockies, a secluded mountain home-away-from-home for hundreds of nature-lovers, adventure-seekers, self-challengers, driven learners, and caring friends. While we blacken targets with arrows, while we race across the mountains on bicycles, while we simply lie down and watch the stars for hours, we are knitting our community of movers and shakers more and more tightly together. At camp, with the sun rising over the rugged peaks of the Rockies, and another fantastic day ahead, I have good reason to smile.