Over the past six weeks, our year-round team listened to hundreds of parents, chalutzim (campers), and tzevet (staff) about their experiences at Ramah in the Rockies. We appreciate the honest feedback offered by all. Below are a few highlights of lessons learned from kayitz 2022, along with some areas for growth, as we begin planning for 2023.
TWO THUMBS UP: OUR SUCCESSES
Our Approach to COVID
We approached this summer knowing that we were living in a new normal. COVID is a fact of life, and our goal was to keep our community as healthy as possible while also maintaining normal camp functions. Throughout the spring our COVID medical committee emphasized there were only two options: lock down camp, pod & mask, and screen weekly (our 2021 approach) or the route we chose. We heard from SO many parents how much they appreciated our vaccine requirements, pre-camp testing, and handling COVID like any other respiratory disease, treating symptoms as needed and only testing when there was a medical reason to do so. In total, approximately five campers spent more than two consecutive nights in the infirmary due to a respiratory disease (or COVID). Many campers felt cold-like symptoms for a few days, but the camp program continued as planned and few were ever isolated from their peers. We wished we had sent a communication at the end of Session I to families saying to test their children upon arriving home if they were concerned their child contracted COVID at camp. Based on feedback from Session I parents, we did this at the end of Session II. While we do not know what our COVID policies will be for 2023, and likely will not make a decision until January, we assume this new normal is here to stay.
At our core we are a radically inclusive Jewish community. We live this value from the very beginning with camper intakes, staff hiring, and modeling throughout staff training as we renorm our community each summer. We want people to come to camp and be their true selves, celebrate their differences, and explore their Jewish identities. Parents raising their children in large and small Jewish communities shared how camp helped their children explore their relationship to Judaism and made them proud to be Jewish. Parents shared stories about their children struggling in school, being judged for their reading, writing, or math skills, and how camp increased their confidence as they reached new heights on masa or learned to jump from boulder to boulder at base camp. Parents of teenagers shared how they loved and appreciated our emphasis on developing strong group kesharim (connections), both in the ohel (bunk) and edah (age group), without social and academic pressures often found in their schools. One camper returned home and told their parent (who happens to be a rabbi) that “camp was a Jewish community who finally got me”, and another camper said, “at Ramah for the first time ever, I felt like I BELONGED.”
Singing and Dancing
After a 2021 season with limited communal singing and dancing, it was incredible to reinfuse our kehillah (community) with these powerful modalities of community building, spiritual strengthening and pure simcha (joy)! It is hard to overstate the power of our shira (song) team when they led t’filot (prayers), our morning Torah Tidbit ritual, shira sessions in the chadar ochel (dining hall), chuggim (activities), and Havdalah. Campers (and staff) learned their voices were welcomed whether they could sing on key or off, loud or soft. Similarly, anytime there was a moment to dance, be it during chuggim, before/after a meal, at Havdalah or a silent disco, we jumped at the opportunity. The sounds, rhythms, and dance steps have remained with campers and staff almost two months after leaving our ranch. We also received MANY requests for links to our songs and dances. Click here for our music and here for our Spotify rikkud playlist.
MIXED REVIEWS: ROOM FOR GROWTH
Mail, Packing List, & Lost and Found
These three are grouped together because they are all relatively small items with a big impact on the camp program and need to be improved.
- While we cannot control the USPS delivery schedule, we need to do better with sending outgoing mail and distributing incoming mail to chalutzim daily. This is a right every child deserves. We also were lax with our flat package policy (only accepting flat packages), and the lack of uniform enforcement caused friction in the ohalim where most parents abided by this policy and others did not.
- We have three packing lists in different locations for people to access; however, none of these lists correspond to the other. All are too technical and overcomplicated. We will consolidate these versions into one, simplify language, and be more specific on what to bring and what camp will provide. We are happy to share that our experiment with weekly laundry worked to limit the amount of clothes needed, and we hope to continue this service next year.
Lost and Found:
- There are WAY too many items in lost and found. This contributes to a culture where campers go “shopping” for lost items instead of returning them to their rightful owner. Parents shared how their child lost a rain jacket or sweatshirt and then “borrowed” one from lost and found or their child came home without expensive gear or only a portion of their clothing. Untold numbers of water bottles were lost this summer, and too many were “borrowed” from the lost and found! While we will work on a better redistribution system, we also will continue to emphasize to families that every item must be labeled clearly, which will help us perform the mitzvah of hashavat aveida–returning a lost item.
More Choice Chuggim
To enable chalutzim to bond with their ohalim, we tried an experiment this summer where Ilanot-Bogrim rotated by ohel to different chuggim for the first week of camp. Only after their first masa did older chalutzim level into chuggim. Families voiced that, yes, while campers enjoyed being with their bunkmates, their child would prefer to choose their activities because they often felt either under or over challenged by their peers in a specific chug or they did not enjoy doing a particular chug. For next summer, Sollelim and Bogrim will rotate by ohel on the first full day of camp and then level into chuggim for all additional program days at base camp. Ilanot and Metaylim will continue to have a hybrid model of rotating by ohel and leveling individually.
On the one hand, chalutzim and tzevet continued to tell us that masa was the highlight of their camp experience. On the other hand, we heard so much feedback about different aspects of the masa program that can improve:
Routes & Trips:
- This off-season we will continue to expand the routes available for our trips, develop our wildcraft masa program for older chalutzim, and revamp art masa. We will apply for additional special use permits, with the goal of running additional trips in the National Forest. A select group of Bogrim chalutzim first session participated in a wildcraft masa, which got rave reviews, and we hope to expand our wilderness survival program based on that experience. By 2023 it is our hope for there to be a masa program aspirational arc, so our chalutzim and tzevet understand which routes are available each year of camp, what the goals are for each edah, and how trips differ from year to year. If anyone has ideas of private lands within a three hour drive of camp where we can run trips, we welcome those suggestions too!
- We pride ourselves on being a radically inclusive Jewish community and are able to provide extra resources for chalutzim who need additional support, especially with socioemotional needs. One area of masa we will work on is developing protocols for reasonable accommodations that we can make for campers who can not complete our full backpacking or hiking trips. Similarly, for campers with dietary restrictions, especially our gluten-free friends, we will create a new labeling and packing system so there is no confusion about which foods contain gluten and which do not and we ensure all special diet food goes on the right trip.
A ONE TIME SUCCESS
This was a tough one! In 2022, due to a variety of reasons, mostly related to a smaller than normal rising 11th grade class, we piloted our first ever six week JOLI program. It was a resounding success, and feedback from the participants and parents was incredible! So many participants shared that their JOLI summer was among the best weeks of their life, and they LOVED being part of this experiment. At the same time, for those of us running camp, having chalutzim at camp who were not on the four week session schedule caused significant challenges around logistics, staffing, and program planning. For the next few years, we foresee having too many rising 11th graders to have all eligible chalutzim return for the same six weeks. Therefore, we plan to return to our “normal” four week JOLI program that combines the best of our base camp and masa programs with specific leadership training opportunities. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing a day-by-day schedule of our anticipated 2023 JOLI program and expect to fill both sessions to our capacity of 18 chalutzim in each.
We feel incredibly privileged that so many families entrust their children to our care each summer. We know the awesome responsibility this entails and are aware that a child’s experience at camp can have a profound impact throughout life. We constantly seek to improve and fully realize the values that guide us throughout our summer. We also know that there will be times when we fall short of expectations and cannot thank our parents, chalutzim, and tzevet enough for continuing to push us to make our camp better and stronger! If you have not had a chance to share feedback or you have additional thoughts in the future, please be in touch with us. Our improvement is a continuous process, and we would love to hear from you as we plan for 2023.
We are two months into our 10 month masa away from camp, and we look forward to welcoming 550+ Jewish youth back to our ranch in eight more months. Early registration is open! Our dates and rates are here. Anyone who registers before the end of October receives a Ramah in the Rockies embroidered fleece. We hope to see everyone back at camp for kayitz 2023!
The Ramah in the Rockies Team
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