Dear Ramah in the Rockies Kehillah,
While much of our work has pivoted to comfort and support our community during this heartbreaking time, we recognize the importance of continuing to prepare for our 2024 season. Summers at Ramah instill in our campers a strong Jewish identity and a deep, lifelong connection to Israel. We hold our family and friends in Israel in our hearts, and we continue to dedicate ourselves toward providing a summer experience that prioritizes physical and emotional safety and nurtures a love of Israel and the Jewish people.
Since returning to the office in September, our year-round team has heard from 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 2023, along with some areas for growth, as we begin planning for 2024.
KOL HAKAVOD: OUR SUCCESSES
Tzmicha Ishit (Personal Growth)
One of our core values at camp is tzmicha ishit, personal growth. We strongly believe in challenge by choice and giving our chalutzim (and staff) the opportunity to challenge themselves physically, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. As a result, our chalutzim step out of their comfort zones in a nurturing environment, explore their personal Jewish identities, develop essential lifelong skills, and become more confident in themselves. Families repeatedly shared stories of how their children tried new activities from leyning Torah and wearing tallit and tefillin to hiking or mountain biking on masa. We heard how chalutzim challenged themselves in different ways and enjoyed doing things they had never done before. One camper said to their parents that “this new skill was hard and a little scary but after a while I could do it with ease.” Chalutzim and tzevet reflect on these experiences with so much joy, immense gratitude, and a great sense of accomplishment, and for that we are incredibly proud.
Masa (Backcountry Excursions)
Preparedness & Safety
Masa is the heart of our program and sets us apart from all other Jewish sleepaway camps. This summer we hired a Sgan Rosh Masa (assistant head of masa), who focused specifically on the pack-out/pack-in process, and we had three dedicated masa staff at any given time. Staff shared that this team excelled at ensuring our masa systems remained effective and efficient throughout our camp season, enabling us to streamline processes and run safe masa’ot. Our masa staff created and maintained gear bins throughout the summer for trip leaders, which allowed trip leaders to focus on group bonding, planning as a team, and preparing chalutzim for masa’ot. Our masa team cultivated an environment of trust and positivity, resulting in an incredible, safe masa experience from start to finish.
Variety of Excursions
Last year we committed to expanding the routes available for our masa’ot and creating a masa aspirational arc for our community to understand which routes and trips are available each year of camp. This summer we heard over and over again how diverse and transformative our masa’ot were. Our program team mapped out new and improved routes in the off-season, differentiating excursions for each edah (age group), and during the summer our masa team worked hand in hand with our tzevet to create new trips that catered to the interests of our community. As a result, we successfully expanded our wildcraft masa to offer it in both first and second session and ran FOUR new trips this summer for our older edot: tipanayim (climbing and biking), mindfulness, a fully revamped art masa, and a brand new, intense backpacking trip. The connections, memories, and growth campers and staff experience from masa are truly unforgettable. We look forward to continuing these trips in the future, incorporating them into our aspirational arc, and remaining flexible to meet the interests of our chalutzim and tzevet.
A top priority of ours going into this summer was strengthening our communication with both families and staff, and we received rave reviews about our pre-camp and camp communication. Families shared that the pre-camp Zoom orientation sessions, workshops, and materials were accessible, comprehensive, and overall fantastic. Our camp wellness team conducted more than 80 pre-camp calls with families to identify individualized support strategies and create personalized success plans for campers’ unique needs. During the summer, our wellness team continued to provide updates to families on their children, relaying any successes or challenges their children were experiencing. When specific issues occurred at camp, our families expressed gratitude for timely communication on those situations, which included the how and why of our response.
From tzevet feedback: with masa briefings, debriefings, pack-out/pack-in, days off, and Shabbat, no day is the same at Ramah in the Rockies. We worked hard to simplify staff days off and the schedule and determine masa pairings in advance. As a result, we were able to complete and communicate multiple days’ schedules in advance, giving our staff more time to plan for peulot (programs), chuggim (activities), and time off accordingly. We printed a handful of hard copies of the schedule, which was greatly appreciated by our chalutzim as well, and we posted announcements, reminders, schedules, days off, trip pairings, resources, and more in the tzevet WhatsApp group, ensuring tzevet had information they needed at any given time. All of this enabled us to run a smooth camp season this past summer.
MIXED REVIEWS: ROOM FOR GROWTH
Unfortunately, the changes we made to our mail system this past summer were not successful, as we continue to struggle with an effective system for both incoming and outgoing mail. Families shared how they did not receive letters from their children for two weeks at a time and then multiple letters would arrive on the same day, even though those letters were written several days apart. Incoming mail and packages sat in our mailroom for several days before being distributed to campers. This is unacceptable and we are playing around with several ideas to improve this process for next summer.
Younger Edot Masa’ot
While we are excelling at creating incredible masa’ot experiences for our older edot, there is much room for us to improve the masa program for our younger ones. We received feedback that our Ilanot (incoming 3rd and 4th grade) and Metaylim (incoming 5th and 6th grade) need to incorporate more depth, challenge, and outdoor skills into their experiences. Even though Ilanot’s day trip to the aquatic center and Metaylim’s whitewater rafting trip are both highlights for chalutzim and tzevet alike, some younger campers come to camp ready for a more challenging backcountry experience. In 2022, we experimented for the last Ilanot masa: our Ilanot chalutzim who wanted a challenge did a three day, two night excursion along the Wigwam trail, and our Ilanot chalutzim beginning their camping journey with us went camping for one night and then hiked Prospector Mountain the next day. Both groups loved their respective masa and returned to camp with a sense of accomplishment. We will return to this model and use it as a guide in planning for 2024.
We love hearing that our community members leave camp with a greater appreciation and connection to each other and their natural surroundings–what a testament to us living by our values! Yet, we have the opportunity to strengthen outdoor education in our day-to-day activities. Chalutzim and families expressed a desire for the instruction of more outdoor skills (e.g. navigation, primitive skills, camping, and safety) during chuggim, particularly in Sadaut (wilderness craft). Additionally, we recognize that currently, not all of our campers are entering JOLI with the outdoor skills we intend for them to have if they grew up in our program. Last off-season we developed aspirational arcs with educational objectives for the three components of Sadaut: outdoor cooking, teva (nature), and hachshara (masa preparedness). We will refine this curriculum, communicate it with our community, and work with our incoming Sadaut team during staff week to ensure that masa and nature skills, backpacking competency, Jewish environmental values, and LNT (leave no trace) are incorporated in an experiential, intentional manner.
Note: Outdoor cooking surpassed our expectations this summer, quickly becoming a crowd favorite. Our chalutzim learned how to use and clean masa equipment and prepare delicious food in the backcountry.
TODAH RABBAH: THANK YOU!
We feel incredibly privileged that so many families entrust their children to our care each summer. We know the awesome responsibility this work entails and are aware that a child’s experience at camp can have a profound impact throughout their life. We constantly seek to improve and to more 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 2024.
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, and our dates and rates are here. We can’t wait to see everyone at camp for kayitz 2024!
The Ramah in the Rockies Team