Over the past six weeks we heard from hundreds of parents, chalutzim (campers), and tzevet (staff) about their experiences at Ramah in the Rockies during Kayitz 2019. We asked for honest feedback and thank everyone for sharing so that we may learn about what went well and where we need to improve. Below are some of the highlights from Kayitz 2019, and some of the areas for growth going forward into our 11th summer.
Two Thumbs Up: Successes of Kayitz 2019
Our new camp schedule was widely celebrated. We moved breakfast earlier, added a fifth program time, and switched Nikayon (cleaning time) to after lunch. Lunch and dinner times were shortened, which ensured that our younger campers ended their days close to 8:00 PM. The Kibbutz and Kfar tent areas were quieter on most nights than in years past, giving chalutzim better nights of sleep because campers were going to bed earlier. While there were some unintended consequences as part of this new schedule – for example, some chalutzim only had a 45-minute biking activity, which was way too short – overall it was a welcome change to Ramah in the Rockies. Additionally, our new Sunday Yom Meyuchad (special day) schedule was well received. Chalutzim liked the ability to choose their Sunday activities, and they took full advantage of the opportunities for larger edah (age group) and camp-wide programs as well.
We know that Jewish summer camp works best as an educational enterprise when children are making deep and lasting connections not just between themselves, but also with their madrichim (counselors). This past summer, we placed a greater emphasis on facilitating these connections and provided more opportunities for group bonding. In general, we heard that chalutzim felt closer connections to others – both chalutzim and tzevet – in their ohelim (tents) than in years past.
As Jewish educators, it is awesome to hear the sheer number of people, tzevet and chalutzim, who said that Shabbat is their favorite time at camp. We pride ourselves on providing young people a space where they can both live in concert with nature and the world around them, and have joyful Jewish experiences. As we have heard following our previous summers, a highlight for many of our chalutzim has been the ruach (spirit) of shira (singing) and rikkud (dancing) during Shabbat. Although both happen during our regular weekly programming, during Shabbat these activities are especially meaningful. So much so, that often hear that these experiences continue to resonate with campers weeks and even months after leaving the chava (ranch). In addition to adjusting our Shabbat schedule, we added more Shabbat afternoon options, and changed a number of tunes in tefillah (prayers). All of these were welcome enhancements, and, as one nine year old told us, “I wish every day at camp could be Shabbat.”
Mixed Reviews: Where we Have the Opportunity to Grow
We continue to pursue a better balance between allowing chalutzim to be independent at camp and keeping our parents and families in the loop about their daily and weekly activities. We received overwhelmingly positive responses to our weekly Friday emails. Yet, there was also a desire to hear more, especially about our younger chalutzim and their activities during the week. You also appreciated the twice-weekly photo uploads, but asked that we instead have more group snapshots over individual portrait ones. For next year, we plan to implement a system that will allow madrichim of our younger edot to regularly update parents, at least once every session, via written communication with specific updates on their child(ren). That being said, we continue to encourage parents to email or call us directly with questions about their children. If you do not receive an answer within 24 hours, then we are not living up to our commitment, and ask that you escalate your request to Rabbi Eliav, Julia Chatinover, and/or Stacy Wasserman. We also know that letters continue to take too long to reach you at home. While we cannot solve USPS issues, we plan to add our own dated stamp to letters placed in our outgoing mailbox so parents can see when a letter leaves camp.
The cornerstone of what makes Ramah in the Rockies unique is our masa (backcountry excursion) program. It is a time for chalutzim to challenge themselves, form deep connections with each other, and gain a new appreciation for nature and the environment around them. It is also a time to learn how to be safe in the backcountry, how to step up and lead, and how to encourage others in times of adversity. You told us that the masa experience is not uniform, and that we need to work on improving the areas that we do control, such as gear, programmatic expectations, and logistics and route planning.
Over the next few months, we will examine all of our masa systems and programs in an effort to further refine what has worked and implement solutions for what has not worked. We plan to invest in new gear to ensure that there is enough for every group and that our chalutzim all have the correct sized packs. We will evaluate the training for our trip leaders and make sure that they are prepared to implement the educational goals of our masa’ot. We are fortunate that we have a very strong safety record from which we can build, and while this is laudable, it is certainly not something we take for granted. Regardless of how we improve the masa experience, safety will always be our number one concern.
We received more positive feedback on our food – its quality, quantity, and variety than in any previous year. That being said, we continued to struggle to deliver a consistent product throughout the second session. For a variety of reasons, we changed our menu midway through the summer and while our first session chalutzim gave our food rave reviews, the same was not the case during the second session. As we look towards next summer, we will take a critical look at our menus and ensuring that we are offering balanced meals throughout the summer, including enough traditional and alternative protein options. Additionally, some families were voiced concerns about our kitchen running out of food at various meals and we want to reassure you of our commitment to not run out of the main course at any meal throughout the summer. We plan to continue providing robust salad bars at lunch and dinner and breakfast bars in the morning. We will also be continuing our efforts in moving towards a “less seasoning, more sauce” philosophy, where campers can choose the flavors they would like to add to their meals, rather than have food that is too spicy or seasoned. While we will continue to serve meat weekly (except for the first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av), we also hope to add additional non-soy plant-based protein meals such as Beyond Meat, which was recently certified kosher. We also hope to refocus on our camp values by utilizing locally sourced produce and products as much as possible. For our masa menu options, we will continue to tweak our new food system to ensure that all trips have enough food, regardless of the length of trip or the number of people on the trip.
Thank you for being a part of our kehillah kedoshah (holy community) and for taking the time to share your feedback with us so that we may continue to improve. As always, please be in touch with any specific questions, comments, or concerns. All of us on the year-round team are available to speak via phone, email, or in person.