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 […]
Dear Ramah in the Rockies Community,
This morning I woke up to the light streaming through my window and to the sounds of chirping birds and rustling trees. I saw no campers playing along the road or in Ohel Koby, and no one was there to yell “Bo-bo-bo-boker Tov!” The blue sky and mountain air still greeted me when I opened my door, but I miss seeing the chalutzim (campers) bustling about, scurrying to the bathhouse or lounging at the picnic tables.
Dear Ramah in the Rockies community,
I woke up today to the sound of silence. Usually that would sound like heaven, but after ten weeks of awakening every day to the sounds of chalutzim (campers) and tzevet (staff) busily preparing for their day, it seemed unnatural not to hear children running to the bathhouse or playing ping-pong at Ohel Koby. This summer, over 550 youth joined us on our ranch, with as many as 340 members of our community here at one time. With our final tzevet departing in the coming hours, we will have to wait nearly ten months until our community is whole again. Though it is impossible to truly encapsulate what has happened this season, I hope to give you a taste of the energy present on our chava (ranch) this summer.
Dear Chalutzim (campers), Parents & Guardians:
Within the next three weeks, we will welcome our tzevet (staff) for Wilderness FIrst Responder training and our hanhallah (leadership) weekend. A few days after that, Shavuah Hachana (staff week) begins! I am excited to once again create our kehillah kedosha, holy community, where we live according to Jewish values, texts, and traditions. I want to take a moment to share about one of my favorite aspects of morning prayers, wearing tallit daily and tefillin during the week. (Embedded are links to My Jewish Learning; if you do not know this website, check it out!)
When I wrap my tefillin or don my tallit, I know that I am connecting to thousands of years of ancient ritual. In Judaism, we are constantly using objects to enhance our observance, be it a seder plate handed down from a loved one, a kiddush cup from one’s Bat Mitzvah, or candlesticks received before getting married. I have three tallitot: one that my parents purchased for me when I started rabbinical school (my oldest), another used as the chuppah at my wedding, and another wrapped around me when I was ordained as a rabbi. (I never received a tallit when I became a Bar Mitzvah because, growing up in an Ashkenazi Orthodox community, I was expected to wear tzitzit under my clothes and not a tallit when I prayed. At Camp Ramah I learned I could wear my tzitzit over my shirt in the morning for prayer because I was not wearing them under my shirt during the day despite a myriad of “tzitzit checks” at school). I mainly use my oldest tallit for daily prayer. On Shabbat I wear my ordination tallit, and on high holidays I wear the one from our chuppah. When I say the blessing over the tallit and then wrap myself in it, I am brought back not only to the tallit’s origin story, but also to memories formed during hundreds of other times I have used it in the same morning ritual.
Each summer there are ample opportunities to create memories through practicing Jewish rituals as our days are structured around these rituals. For some, these rituals are second nature, whereas for others practicing them, including the frequency, will be a new experience. While celebrating the religious diversity present within Ramah, we ask that each member of our community try to practice these rituals several times during the summer, seeing whether they become a regular practice outside of camp and adding to one’s personal religious journey. One aspect of religious observance in which we hope everyone over the age of B’nei Mitzvah will engage is the wearing of tallit and tefillin. Most of our chalutzim wore a tallit at their B’nei Mitzvah, and some practiced using tefillin as part of their B’nei Mitzvah practice and continue to use them at varying frequencies. Others have never tried or have yet to have the opportunity to try wearing them.
We want to encourage everyone to consider that wrapping oneself in tallit and tefillin at camp is literally AWESOME! Practicing these rituals, alongside peers and role models, can open up a beautiful opportunity for campers who might find the rituals strange or unfamiliar. We are excited to deepen and strengthen our camp norms and culture to support each other in spiritual exploration. Imagine the power of returning home with a tallit that has accompanied one on treks through the Colorado backcountry and fallen off one’s shoulder during spontaneous jumping and dancing that often happens during parts of our morning t’filot (prayers). Some families might not agree with our egalitarian assumptions and forgo participating in these rituals. We respect this decision, and we never seek to make a camper feel less-than because they are or are not wearing a tallit or tefillin.
Tallitot and Tefillin, especially when received upon becoming a B’nei Mitzvah or any life cycle event, have deep emotional and often expensive monetary value. We understand that some might be reluctant to send items of value to camp. If you have a beautiful tallit that you do not want to “get ruined” at camp, please consider purchasing a cheaper, camp/travel quality tallit to use in all your future travels. (They start at $25 on Amazon. Please know that some of the inexpensive ones are sold by “messianic Jews” and are not considered kosher–you’re more than welcome to email me a link to review before purchasing). Additionally, we hope that many of our B’nei Mitzvah age four-week chalutzim this summer will make their own personalized tallitot that they can take home with them. If you have not purchased tefillin for your child, we hope you will consider doing so; they are a gift that will last a lifetime.
On the ranch we have about 20 extra tallitot and 10 extra sets of tefillin that we can lend to our staff and campers this summer. If you are in a position to help us acquire additional tallitot or tefillin, either because you have extras at home or can make a financial contribution to enable us to buy more, we welcome the assistance. Our long term goal is to provide a loaner pair of tefillin and a tallit to any child over the age of 12/13 who arrives at camp without them to borrow while they are with us. Donations can be made online here, and please write “tallit/tefillin” in the memo line, OR you can send your extra kosher tallitot/tefillin sets with your child to camp.
Thank you for allowing your child to join our camp this summer. We strive to provide a vibrant and intensive approach to Jewish living, presenting Judaism as relevant, compelling, and possible. We hope that each day at camp our chalutzim and tzevet have moments where they feel inspired and challenged by Jewish texts and values and explore ways to integrate these into their own religious journeys. It is only because of the faith you put in us that we are able to open our camp to hundreds of Jewish youth year after year.
As always, please be in touch with any questions, comments, or concerns, and we look forward to seeing everyone very soon.
Rabbi Eliav Bock
We are excited that camp is around the corner! As we prepare to welcome our kehillah kedosha (holy community) back to the chava (ranch), we want to take a moment and remind our community that we are committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our campers and staff.
In the spring of 2022, we announced our participation in the Aleinu: Safeguarding Our Children campaign (see here) and shared our safety policies and procedures with the community. Aleinu is a program of Sacred Spaces that empowers Jewish youth-serving organizations to review their protocols, training, and reporting procedures regarding child protection, and ensure each organization has a comprehensive child safety plan in place. We receive the education and practical tools we need to help prevent child maltreatment and take responsible action should reports or suspicions of maltreatment emerge. Aleinu provides us access to groundbreaking resources for learning about child maltreatment, implementing abuse-prevention strategies, and meeting standards for child safety.
In our effort to lead with best practices, we formed a Child Safety Committee this past year consisting of Ramah Rockies professional staff and lay leadership, including parents, clergy, and mental health professionals, who meet monthly to review and strengthen our practices and policies. The committee has been working over the past few months and collaborating with our year-round team to:.
- Create a recommended pre-camp family conversation guide
- Clarify protocols and policies on reporting abuse that happens at camp vs outside of camp
- Evaluate and improve our staff training to better educate staff on updated protocols and policies and how to respond in a given situation
- Assess and implement communication on safety policies and protocols with guests who visit our property while camp is in session
- Create opportunities for community dialogue by sharing our policies as we prepare for camp
We also would like to share updated policies we are implementing starting this upcoming summer that are in alignment with our value of kavod (honor; respect) and best practices for child safety.
Over the Counter (OTC) Medications
Policy: ALL CAMPER MEDICATIONS MUST BE TURNED INTO THE MIRPA’AH (INFIRMARY) UPON ARRIVAL.
Reasoning: It has come to our attention that a number of our older campers have been hiding OTC medications in their bags and taking them throughout the summer instead of coming to sick call. This is a violation of Colorado childcare policies. Campers in need of OTC meds will have the option of asking one of the senior Camp Wellness professionals as well as the MDs/RNs for a Tylenol, Advil, or some other over the counter medications. Please do NOT send these medications with your child to keep in their bags.
Policy: Only one person is allowed to be in a hammock at a time.
Reasoning: Hanging out in a hammock is a great way to relax, but only one person is allowed to be in a hammock at a time. This rule is designed to protect everyone’s physical safety by decreasing risks for falling or the hammock breaking. This rule is also designed to decrease the risk of any inappropriate touching between two people while in a hammock, where visibility from the outside is obscured. We encourage chalutzim to set up hammocks next to each other so they can socialize while enjoying the hammock.
Laying in Beds
Policy: Only one person can lie on a bed at a time.
Reasoning: While wonderful bonding can happen among chalutzim in the bunk that involves sitting on each other’s beds to talking, playing card games, etc., only one camper should ever be laying down in a bed at a time. This rule is designed to cultivate physical and emotional safety among all chalutzim who understand that their physical boundaries in their own bed is vitally important. This policy also shows kavod, respect, to other bunkmates who may feel confused by or uncomfortable with peers laying down in a bed together.
Please review our community safety policies with your child here.
Last week we shared the Recommended Pre-Camp Family Conversations guide with our community (view it here). We believe that campers have the highest potential for a successful summer when families collaborate with us on camper goals and expectations. In an effort to reinforce the values of Ramah in the Rockies, this guide serves as a supplement to our Camper Readiness Guide to highlight camper expectations for the summer. We encourage you to consider the questions in the guide and talk through the themes with your child prior to the first day of camp, regardless of age and number of summers at camp.
We are also offering families a specific session on navigating these pre-camp conversations with their child, facilitated by Zach Usmani, Summer Assistant Director, and Talia Horowitz, Director of Camp Wellness, THIS Monday, May 8, 2023 at 6:00 PM MT. You can register for the event here and reach out to Talia at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
When chalutzim arrive at camp, we review a number of safety policies and procedures like where to gather in case of fire and how to react if they see a bear. In the same vein, our camp wellness team will also be meeting with each bunk to review many of the conversations and expectations we shared in the Recommended Pre-Camp Family Conversation guide, including behavioral expectations, consent, and our safety policies (while also explaining why). This is designed to ensure that our campers know who they can go to for support and that they understand our community safety policies.
We value the trust and faith our families place in us with caring for their children each summer, and we hope that each of you will collaborate with us in this project to safeguard our kehillah kedosha. We will keep the community updated on our work, and we hope sharing our safety policies and procedures now will continue to ensure that camp is a safe and sacred space for children, staff, and our entire community. Please contact Mirit Sands, Director of Camp Life, if you have questions, feedback, or are interested in joining or supporting the committee in the future.
In under 80 days, our first pre-camp staff will arrive at camp to begin setting up for the summer. In just over 110 days, we will welcome our first chalutzim (pioneers/campers) to kayitz 2023! We are excited to share that we are having our best return rate of campers from year to year EVER.
We have room for about 20 more campers in Kayitz 2023 with limited space in most edot (age groups). Thank you to everyone who has helped spread the word about Ramah in the Rockies to their friends and families. We are hard at work planning for the upcoming summer as we focus on program and coordinate logistics. Over the next few months, we will send out occasional program updates to keep you and your children informed about the 2023 season.
Expanded Animal Care Program
This summer we are excited to revamp our animal program. In late November, we learned that we could not rent the herd of horses from whom we have relied on for over eight years. While searching for a new herd, we used this time to reevaluate our entire farm and animal program. We reflected on the last few years and realized that only a few dozen chalutzim (about 30-40 campers each summer) leave camp saying that the equestrian program was an impactful part of their camp experience. Most of these chalutzim were in Sollelim and Bogrim who had either chosen horses as their double chug (elective activity) or participated on the horse masa (backcountry excursion). In fact, one of the top three complaints we received about our program in 2018, 2019, and 2022 was that there was not enough horseback riding. In 2021, we cut our riding program due to receiving emaciated animals from our other rental company, which resulted in us shifting our focus to animal care and groundwork. After that summer we received positive feedback about the groundwork and animal care campers did with the horses, as they felt more connected to them. We heard the same thing from campers this past summer, when we also ran a vetting chug on Shabbat to care for a few sick horses.
Based on these reflections, we are revamping and expanding our animal care program for the 2023 season to focus on three main outcomes:
- Chalutzim will interact regularly with animals as part of their camp program.
- Chalutzim will deepen their understanding of Jewish texts, values, and traditions as they relate to animal care, in particular the idea of tzar baalei chayim.
- Chalutzim will understand how being around animals and caring for them can infuse joy, purpose, and meaning in a person’s life.
To accomplish these goals, we plan to:
- Rent four horses. Chalutzim will care for these horses by tending to their basic needs, including grooming and vetting. We also will use the horses for groundwork, usually in one of our round pens. Chalutzim should not expect to ride any of them.
- Continue running our goat program by leasing nanny goats.
- Expand our chicken program by creating two chicken tractors that can be moved throughout camp and hopefully incubating eggs and raising chicks that will hatch 3-4 times during the summer.
- Begin caring for rabbits.
- Convert some of our horse space into seasonal homes for two other types of larger mammals, as well as the previously mentioned smaller animals. We are researching which types of mammals would be appropriate to bring to camp in order to help us achieve our goals. We also look forward to creating a walking path through our horse enclosure to the back of Beit Kesher.
We know that for some this is an exciting development on our animal care and farm program, and for others it is a disappointment; and yet, the challenge of finding a new herd presented us an opportunity to reevaluate our equestrian program, and we are confident that expanding our animal care program will bring more kesharim (connections) and simcha (joy) to our community.
A New Bouldering Wall
We know that our chalutzim, especially the younger ones, LOVE to use our bouldering cave. To provide more bouldering opportunities, we built a new bouldering wall to augment the ones that already exist. This new bouldering wall allows holds to be placed 10-12 feet high (about 4 feet higher than the current ones) and enables us to run two bouldering groups simultaneously, for which we are hiring additional rock climbing specialists. While we still plan to use the real rock slab for extended climbing prakim (activity blocks), chalutzim have told us over the years that they enjoy practicing their bouldering moves on walls where they spend significantly more time climbing and less time waiting to latch into a harness.
We plan to make two significant changes: (1) Sollelim and Bogrim chalutzim will attend biking (and also climbing) at the same time. This will enable us to have an advanced group and intermediate group running simultaneously, allowing us to group riders by their skill level and not just their age. (2) We are in talks to create a new pump track/terrain park north of our current biking pavilion. While we are still actively working on the details, our hope is that this park will allow riders to practice jumps and obstacles in a controlled setting with tzevet (staff) supervising the riders in a relatively confined environment. We are in the midst of designing this park and are unsure if we will have the time and funding needed to open it by the beginning of this summer. While time is something we cannot change, if you are interested in helping with a philanthropic gift to make this happen, please email Rabbi Eliav at email@example.com.
The National Ramah Medical committee has announced their guidance regarding COVID vaccines for all of our residential camps. Our medical committee has decided to follow NRC’s COVID guidelines. You can view our policy here.
- We assume that COVID will be present in our community.
- We plan to treat it like any other airborne disease, requiring anyone with a fever of 100.4 to remain isolated for 24 hours.
- We hope to mitigate the risk of serious disease by ensuring that we have a fully vaccinated and boosted community.
We will be requiring proof of COVID vaccination (2 primary series and at least 1 bivalent booster) on either the regular vaccination chart as part of your medical forms or with a copy of your child’s COVID vaccine card.
We will be holding a COVID Town Hall with our Medical Director, Dr. Ali Levine, on Monday, April 17 at 6:00pm MT. We will send a registration link in the spring.
We are excited that your child will be spending time with us this upcoming summer. We know that it is an awesome responsibility to care for children and appreciate the trust you place in us to hire appropriate staff and run a safe, fun, and educational program. We are always happy to discuss the summer with you and/or your child. Of course, if after reading this update and/or speaking with us by phone you feel that our camp program will not meet the needs of your child, especially with a significant program change as we have with our animal program, please let us know and we will issue a 100% refund if you would like to withdraw your child. We look forward to seeing our new and returning families at our pre-camp orientations, Spring Visiting Day, and Volunteer Day in the upcoming months.
Dear Ramah in the Rockies Community,
Yesterday, our tzevet (staff) returned from their two day break. Today, we spent our time reflecting on the session that had passed and time planning for the session to come. Twenty JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute) participants are camping elsewhere on our chava (ranch) and in a few short hours, we will gather as a full tzevet to celebrate Shabbat.
It is with mixed emotions that I reflect upon the session that has passed. I frequently say each day at camp is like three in the “real world.” Indeed, our days are long, interactions many, and growth continuous. The lessons learned at camp remain with tzevet and chalutzim (campers) for years to come. For those who were not present these past four weeks, I hope the following provides a bit of insight into life on our chava during the first session. I share four stories with you, each story based on one of our four core values: kesharim (connections), kavod (honor), simcha (joy), and tzmicha ishit (personal growth).
Relationships forged at camp are some of the most profound relationships that chalutzim and tzevet will make in their lives. Years after leaving camp, former chalutzim and tzevet tell me how they have maintained contact with their camp friends. To facilitate deeper connections in ohalim (tents), we changed our schedule to allow groups to rotate through chugim (activities) and to go on masa’ot (excursions) by ohel during the first two weeks of the session. While we originally made this change in 2021 due to Covid cohorting needs, we decided that we would continue this new format in 2022 as we witnessed a difference in intra-ohalim relationships. Compared to previous years, chalutzim and tzevet of the same ohalim were closer, and the relationships were stronger than we had ever witnessed prior. Upon the return of our chalutzim from their first masa, they shared inside jokes and stories, jokes and stories only the other tzevet and chalutzim of their ohel would understand. With each ohel’s newly forged foundation of trust and understanding, the edot (age groups) had the ability to integrate much more in the final two weeks of the session. It is with strong belief that I say, with few exceptions, the connections that chalutzim had with their peers and their madrichim were stronger this session than in past years; if this hypothesis proves true, we will see the benefits for years to come.
While the tzevet who interact most with our chalutzim are the madrichim and program specialists, our team also includes amazing staff working behind the scenes in the kitchen (and elsewhere). These individuals, most of whom are from Hungary and Mexico, work long hours to ensure that meals are plentiful, delicious, and served on time. While never required, many first-session campers requested to spend an hour or two helping the kitchen staff. At the end of meals, when we asked for volunteers to wash dishes in the dish pit, there would always be extra raised hands of campers who excitedly wanted to help our kitchen staff. On Sunday evenings, when we served a meat buffet and needed additional servers, we had campers as young as Metayalim (5/6th grade) plead with us to allow them to help serve the community.
The willingness of chalutzim to lend a hand to ensure the functioning of our kitchen is but one of the many manifestations of just how much they not only appreciate the food we serve but also of the honor and respect they have for the kitchen staff. Our kitchen staff are not just anonymous people toiling in the background but valued members of our community who provide a vital service without which camp could not function.
Rarely does a day go by on the chava where we do not dance and sing as a community. We enter and leave the chadar ochel (dining hall) to music. Most mornings, chalutzim jump up and start dancing when we sing the bracha of la’asok be-divrei Torah (the mitzvah of engaging in Torah study) as part of our morning Torah tidbit program.
To give a sense of the importance simcha holds in our community, I share a moment from the final day of the first session. A nagging problem we have at camp is returning lost clothing to chalutzim. Chalutzim constantly leave personal items in public areas! Our hospitality team picks up at least 15+ personal items daily and adds them to the lost and found, which is located on tables outside the chadar ochel. Looking at the lost and found, I sometimes wonder whether anyone still has a water bottle, a sweatshirt, or a hat. Despite our best efforts to return items to their owners, on the last day of camp we invariably have at least three tables filled with personal items.
We return anything with a name on it before the final day. However most items have no name, so we do a fashion show! After lunch, our JOLI campers donned various lost and found items, and two tzevet members, Yonah and Yaya, provide hilarious commentary as MCs. For twenty minutes, all eyes were glued to the chadar ochel runway as JOLI campers strutted in to music wearing ill-fitting garb. The announcers described in great detail the t-shirts, random shorts, and lovely water bottles the JOLI models were wearing. Amazingly, most items found their rightful owners when modeled publicly.
While camp is filled with moments of personal development, the moments when I know we have actually achieved it is watching groups return from masa. We sent out over thirty different masa’ot this session to places as far away as Rocky Mountain National Park and as close by as the Lost Creek Wilderness. Chalutzim cheered each other on as they pushed to the summit of mountains and experienced the unique and incredible sense of achievement that only comes from reaching a campsite after a long day’s hike. Chalutzim also huddled under tarps during rain storms, lost their trail while hiking above treeline, and fell numerous times. While I do not take part in these masa’ot, I experience them vicariously the moment chalutzim return on Fridays, seeing the dirt and smiles on their faces. I ask them to tell me about their trips and love hearing their stories. I hear about their elk sightings, the brownie slop they made for breakfast, and their conversations around the campfire. I hear about how they had a chance to be leader of the day on their masa, how they spent an hour in silence watching the trail or a vista, and how they learned new navigation skills. Undergirding all of these stories is the amazing realization among our chalutzim that they have grown due to the time they spent on masa.
This past session, we piloted a new survival masa for our Bogrim (rising 8/9th grade). We hired an outside survivalist guide, David Michael Scott, who in addition to being Jewish, was also a participant on Naked and Afraid Australia. David worked with chalutzim and tzevet on primitive skills, such as how to build no-match fires. We hope to expand this program in the years to come. While not all masa’ot were as intense as the Bogrim survival masa, most chalutzim will express that masa offered them enormous opportunities for growth and development.
In the Talmud, the rabbis refer to the final hour of the day – twilight – as bein ha-shmashot (“between the suns”). The previous day has not ended, yet the new one has not yet begun. In many ways, this Shabbat is our bein ha-shmashot, with the first session having reached its conclusion and the second session yet to begin. When our community gathers tonight in the Pardes Tefilah to bring in Shabbat, we shall be missing the 220+ chalutzim whom we welcomed into our community in the first session, while also eagerly awaiting the 220+ who will be with us in the weeks to come.
For those wanting to view our end-of-session slide show, check it out here.
If you sent your child to camp this season, then we would love to hear your feedback. We welcome your emails. Additionally, we have partnered with Summation Research and the Foundation for Jewish Camp to receive anonymous feedback that can help improve not only our camp, but the broader field of Jewish camping. Whether you choose to send us an email with feedback or not, please fill out this survey link in the next week. Families who sent their children to camp should also expect to receive bunk letters from the madrichim/madrichot and edah contact information by the middle of next week.
Thank you to each and every one of you who continues to believe in our mission, support our camp, and entrust us with your children each summer.
Rabbi Eliav Bock
April 14, 2022 | 13 Nissan 5782
This year, as we prepare for our seders, we are thinking about numbers: eight days of Passover, four cups of wine, three matzot, and one Elijah’s cup. We think about the two years that have passed since we began living with COVID–the fear, the illness, the losses, the adjustments, and the growth. We are thinking about our numbers for camp too: the numbers of campers, staff, and animals. We think about the lives we are going to impact, the vehicles needed to transport them, and the final funds we need to raise to make our budget:
$100,000 Cost to install a second solar array at camp and bring our year round waste-water system off the grid
$20,400 The increased cost of rental vehicles from summer 2021 to 2022 (a ~40% increase Y/Y)
1080 Rolls of toilet paper ordered so far for the summer
360 Seed starts growing under blue lights in Beit Kesher that we will eventually plant in our greenhouse and garden
300 New transliterated siddurim designed for our masa program
220 Maximum number of campers on site at any one time during the summer
100 New Friday night siddurim ordered to replace our moldy ones
62 Days until we welcome our first chalutzim back to the chava (ranch)
30 Number of states from which our campers come
20 International staff (excluding Israelis) coming to work at camp to support the maintenance, hospitality and kitchen teams.
14 Horses coming to Ramah in the Rockies
10 Additional space for campers in kayitz 2022
5 Old growth trees removed last month by the electric company to prevent them from falling on power lines as part of their fire mitigation efforts
4 Additional staff members we hope to hire for kayitz 2022
3 Raised beds we will build to begin our new kitchen garden (ultimately growing to 10+ over the next few years)
1 Camper coming from each of the following states: Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Wyoming
0 Dogs currently planning to be with us at camp for the whole summer (help us “adopt” a calm kid-friendly camp dog this summer!)
Chag Sameach! Happy Passover
March 6, 2023 | Adar 14 5783
At the end of each summer, we spend weeks calling and emailing our camper families, speaking with our staff, and listening to everyone’s feedback. This past fall, we heard one message loud and clear: tzevet (staff), chalutzim (campers) and parents (helicopters) want more technology, more screens and more connectivity in all areas of camp!
We asked, you spoke, and we listened. Here is the update on where we are at the moment as we plan for kayitz (summer) 2023:
For years we have hired Israeli staff members who have just completed their service in the Modiin (Israeli intelligence). The past two summers, these post-army officers shared top-secret Israeli intelligence with us: China had developed sophisticated balloon technology that could not only transform the way we do shmira (evening watch) at camp but also enable parents to monitor their children in real-time from high definition cameras mounted on these balloons. For years we have proudly proclaimed that we have the worst pictures in the American Jewish camping industry so our families should not expect much in terms of photo highlights. 2023 was going to change all of this. With the help of a Chinese company, Zhuzhou Rubber, which is known for their high altitude balloons, we could finally give our parents exactly what they’ve wanted all along: real time images of their kids 24/7, without them knowing they were being photographed.
While we were apprehensive about engaging a Chinese contractor with close ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), we realized that most of our campers already shared their every dance move with the Chinese surveillance state via TikTok, so why not real time video as well? In November, President Xi became directly involved in the negotiations with Ramah after he heard we are a utopian Jewish community that is able to bring together people from disparate backgrounds into a common mission with a shared Ramah language. He wanted to understand how it was that so many families willingly send their kids away from their comfortable suburban lives to create this rural community where they share meals, sleeping accommodations and lovingly volunteer for acts of service. Of course, as you likely have read in the media, our plans clearly went awry. Just last week the Defense Department sent us This video seen above was taken by the cameras on the balloon. Given the international condemnation of this balloon, we too have decided to suspend our contract with Zhuzhou Rubber, and parents will have to once again spend their evenings hitting “refresh” on their browsers to see our rather lackluster photo uploads in the 2023 season.
In this overheated labor market, where the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low, we constantly hear how 19/20 year olds need leadership training opportunities to prepare for entering the work force upon graduation. In droves, they are leaving the camping world and accepting “resume building internships”, focused on making copies, entering data into spreadsheets or injecting pipettes with sugar-water. How could being a leader in Ramah, where one is influencing the character development of Jewish youth and is literally in charge of the social-emotional wellbeing of others, possibly compare?!
When Open AI released Chat GPT to the public in December, we knew we had found an answer to our staffing challenges: this summer, we will run camp with NO in-person madrichim (counselors)! Instead, we will rely on a combination of Chat GPT and madrichim interacting with campers in real-time through an iPad connected to a hoverboard type device. Here is our vision:
Each chalutz/a (camper) will receive an Apple watch with the Chat GPT app already installed upon arriving at camp. These watches will automatically connect to a new mesh system installed throughout our ranch and link to our Starlink internet. Chalutzim will speak into their watch to ask their madrich GPT a question, and the madrich GPT will provide a response based on 75 years of Ramah history. We imagine it working like this:
Chalutz: Are we on lightning protocol?
Madrich GPT: This is a great teachable moment. Do you see lightning?
Chalutz: I did 10 seconds ago, but I’m hungry and want to grab a snack at the chadar.
Madrich GPT: Count how long it’s been until you hear thunder. If it’s 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is close enough to be dangerous.
Chalutz: So I have 10 second to get to chadar?
Madrich GPT: That’s not what I said.
Chalutz: Gavi, wait for me! I’m coming to get popcorn with you!
Madrich GPT: Lord Usmani just announced we’re on lightning protocol.
When there are issues that the madrich GPT cannot handle, the chalutz/a will press a button on their Apple watch, and a 19/20 year old, who got hoodwinked into doing a fancy internship instead of continuing on their own personal and spiritual journey, will magically appear on Facetime to offer guidance. (Let’s be honest, most interns have plenty of time on their hands and can easily handle a part-time virtual job concurrent with their internships; what better way to have the best of both worlds!) College age students can continue to positively impact the lives of Jewish youth while sitting in an LED lit office, hundreds of miles away, pining away for camp. Of course, we still plan to hire real-live humans to help with food service and maintenance, since current technology still does not allow for robots to do these important jobs.
Two New Masa’ot (Backcountry Excursions)
Not only will technology change our staffing structure, but we also hope it will positively impact our masa program. For too long chalutzim have returned from their masa’ot dirty and tired with bruises and bites. A few even say that they were cold at night or wet during a storm. This sort of discomfort must end! What bsort of personal growth could possibly happen in these situations? We are excited to announce two new masa’ot for this summer:
1. Virtual masa: For our Bogrim Edah, we are committed to diving head-first into the world of virtual reality. We will be running our first ever Himalayan masa with the creature comforts present in Beit Kesher. We’ve invested in virtual reality headsets, full-body haptic feedback suits, and ten omnidirectional treadmills. Each day chalutzim will put on their gear, strap into their treadmill, and spend a day climbing some of the most magnificent 20,000 foot peaks in the world. After a long day of living in their virtual world, they will turn off their technology, shower, eat and sleep comfortably in our hotel style accommodations. The United States Forest Service, with whom we partner to obtain permits for our regular masa’ot, has asked us to report back to them about this program, since there is simply no more room for commercial permits in Colorado, and if successful, this program could be expanded to allow even more people to experience the magic of the Colorado Rockies from the comfort of their own home. (See our 2022 Purim blog for more on the nonsensical USFS rules.)
2.Harley masa: Earlier this year while listening to Harley Davidson’s (HOG) earning call, we were sad to hear about the lackluster sales of their EV motorcycle. Despite heavy marketing, it seems that most Harley riders are not going to embrace the EV revolution when it comes to their bikes. For years, we have been dreaming about putting our JOLI participants, many of them of legal driving age, on motorcycles. We see this as a natural extension of our current biking program. There is such a strong riding culture in Colorado, and we want our chalutzim to experience the magic of the glorious open road, not just of a steep single track. While perhaps not appropriate for their current demographic, Harley Davidson’s pivot to EVs is completely on-brand with Ramah in the Rockies! We reached out to Harley Davidson and asked whether they would donate 12 EV bikes to us. This summer, 10 JOLI participants and 2 madrichim will embark on the first ever Ramah Rally. They will leave our ranch and drive 200 miles a day, staying each night at roadside La Quinta. They will stop at biker restaurants, like our own, Zokas, where they will eat whatever vegetarian food is available. On Thursday night we will be stopping in the first halakhically approved tattoo parlor in Colorado Springs, and each JOLI participant will be able to select one “tat” to be engraved onto their arm or thigh.
We are so excited for all the upcoming changes happening at Ramah this season. We hope that you have a wonderful Purim and that you have enjoyed reading our farcical ideas as much as we enjoyed writing them.
Chag Purim Sameach!
!– Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team
March 16, 2022 | Adar 14 5782
I write this email from the front porch of my log cabin, gazing out across the frozen kfar. Most of the tents have been removed for the winter. While I have not had any running water since September, due to frozen pipes, I do have electricity. I decided to spend this season, in solitude, up on the ranch living a more “simple” life. Each morning, I break apart ice in the frozen streams for my drinking water, I light a fire to stay warm and connect to my satellite internet. In the fall, as the rest of the world was moving on from the COVID pandemic, I decided the only way to remain truly safe was to head to the mountains and cease in-person contact with anyone. Instead of masking and remaining six feet away from other people, I unmasked and remained thirty miles away from the closest human! I have been capturing my time on the ranch on Instagram and developing a number of new dances that I have uploaded to Tik Tok. Henry David Thoreau waited years to publish his treatise, Walden; my up-to-the-minute blog has already enjoyed a wide audience. What better way to live a simple life than by posting every moment to social media?! Tomorrow, Purim, is the day on the calendar when I begin to transition psychologically to pre-summer mode; the quiet that permeates my days is going to be broken by the sounds of joyous children re-entering their home away from home and I, along with the rest of the Ramah leadership team, had better be prepared! While there are so many exciting developments to our program, in this Purim update I wanted to highlight just three:
Our masa (excursion) program is one of the key elements of our camp experience. We spend untold numbers of hours planning our trips. Most of them take place in the National Forest, which is controlled by the U.S. Department of the Interior. To minimize our impact on the land, we practice LNT (Leave No Trace) camping; this makes us one of the most highly-regulated industries in Colorado. We have been hindered year after year in our efforts to expand our routes because there are almost no more available hiking or camping permits in many parts of the state (all this is actually true). And so, we needed to find a creative solution.
We realized that while LNT groups are being banned from federal land, companies focused on LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) are being welcomed AND have the full support of the Federal Court System. With oil prices well above $100 a barrel, we are swapping out the T for a G, and will now gain unfettered access to millions of new acreage. We are updating our motto “challenge by choice” to “drill baby drill.” Afterall, our forests belong to the people! Although the Federal Government is spending time and resources protecting its 21-inch wide hiking trail system, it allows anyone who claims to help Americans achieve oil independence to explore federal lands unencumbered. We can now take our campers to hike anywhere we want on “exploratory” masa’ot. We can totally ignore how our actions will affect the broader environment, as long as we wrap ourselves in the American flag and use words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “patriots.”
Recent headlines have featured Hank the Tank– an over 500 pound black bear breaking into houses in Lake Tahoe. It seems clear that like so many in California, Hank is not able to find the room he needs to roam and is being priced out of an exploding real estate market. We read these stories and knew we had to help. Thousands of people have been moving from California to Colorado over the past few years. Why not also have them bring their bears to us?! Working closely with the Department of Wildlife in both states, we have offered our ranch as a premier location for black bears. Our campers specialize in leaving trash around the ranch and rarely utilizing the bear bins. Why walk the extra 50 feet to a bin when you can drop a half-eaten orange into a trash can meant for bathroom paper towels knowing that a wild animal will knock it over and eat it later that night!? Our older campers have been flouting the “no food in tents” rule for years, thinking that none of us know they smuggle in food on opening day. We have embraced our identity in the ursine community as THE PLACE to find a good meal.
Starting this summer, instead of teaching bears to fear humans, we will be welcoming our furry friends with open arms. During the off-season, our local bears have learned to open doors and walk freely in and out of our staff lounge. As seen in this video, one bear, upon exiting our staff lounge, realized that he forgot his keys to his truck, and simply jumped up, opened the door, and headed back in to get what he needed. This sort of independent, problem-based thinking is what we thrive to inculcate in our campers and staff! In preparation for this summer, we are training our bears to provide needed cuddles to campers who want a strong hug. We are also training them to work alongside our maintenance team to lift heavy objects, which will hopefully save us from some worker-comp claims for injured lower backs. We know Hank is going to find a welcoming place and cannot wait to welcome him to our kehillah kedosha.
On the one hand, we never want to make our campers feel unsafe by indoctrinating them with the left-wing socialist idea that human actions are causing a climate crisis. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the fact that snow is becoming harder and harder to come by these days and that the traditional ski season is getting shorter each year. We recently noticed an upsetting article that Vail Resorts had sold so many Epic Passes (unlimited seasonal ski-passes) that lines at winter ski areas were over 200 people deep on many days. Given all that is going on in the world these days, this is a travesty; we love corporations and are always looking to help out the big guy!
After reaching out to Vail Resorts to see how we could help, we learned that to appease their unhappy customers, they were looking to expand their season into the summer months. We knew just the place for them to do it: Givat Ilanot! Modeled on two two famous indoor ski areas, the Snow Dome in Newark, NJ and the indoor ski slopes of Dubai, we recently broke ground on an incredible 200-acre dome. The dome will cover the entirety of Givat Ilanot and the adjacent hilltops. We have covered the roof with solar panels which will power eight, 200,000 BTU units of air conditioning to ensure that our hill remains at a brisk 30 degrees all summer long. We were so inspired by the winter Olympics in China, which showed us that even arid places can provide world-class slopes and half-pipes, that we too decided to divert much needed water from farmers downstream to fulfill our own vanity project. We have tapped into our remaining historical water-rights and plan to blast our temperature-controlled hill with snow for 19 hours a day until we have eighteen inches of packed powder. We are going to focus on free-style skiing and half-pipe snowboarding, understanding that a dome will never provide the conditions needed for slalom skiing. We hope the snow guns will be installed and blow snow no later than May 15th, just about the time when the last of the mountain resorts in Colorado close for their normal season. Because we are committed to inclusivity, we negotiated with Vail Resorts to allow holders of both an Epic Pass and their rival, the Ikon Pass, to come enjoy the slopes on Sundays throughout the season and any day thereafter once campers leave in August.
We are so excited for all the upcoming changes happening at Ramah this season. We hope that you are having a wonderful Purim and that you have enjoyed reading our farcical ideas as much as we enjoyed writing them.
Chag Purim Sameach!
– Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team
PS. While 98% of the above is farcical, there are two elements of truth.
1. We really do spend 100s of hours applying for masa’ot permits, and most trails in Colorado are not accessible to us as commercial outfitters.
2. The video of the bear walking out of our staff lounge is real and was captured on camera in September 2021. The footage was filmed by a game camera set up by the Colorado Department of Parks & Wildlife next to one of their bear traps. Unfortunately, that bear is no longer in the land of the living, having broken into other buildings and caused thousands of dollars in damage. The bear had been captured and tagged in a previous year and likely relocated to our forest, meaning it had already been labeled “a nuisance” and could no longer be retrained. We are partly at fault that the bear became so comfortable around camp. We must do better with disposing of food only in bear bins. When we ask families not to send food to campers to keep in their cabins, and plead with staff and campers to dispose of their waste only in bear-proof garbage cans, this is why!
Sunday November 28, 2021/24 Kislev 5782
With Thanksgiving behind us and Hanukkah starting tonight, I’ve been reflecting on all the things we have to be grateful for!
1) The new chadar ochel with a permanent roof. We can gather our whole camp under one roof, and do not have to worry about floods each time it rains.
2) The views of the Prospector. Year after year, those mountains inspire me and remind me about how small we are compared with the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains.
3) The smell of the pine trees. Some of us experience them as vanilla, some as butterscotch. Stopping to smell the trees is not an every day thing during much of the year, yet is something I do daily at the ranch.
4) The clean, crisp and dry air of the rocky mountains. Living without air conditioning, and not feeling like one even needs it, is an amazing experience each summer.
5) The sounds of happy young voices emanating from the ohel (tent) area during free time. It’s the campers and staff who make Ramah the special place it is. Nothing is more rich than hearing happy banter among friends who are enjoying themselves in our community.
6) The way that campers and staff celebrate failure at camp.
8) The stars at night. Lying outside on a starry night, staring up at the stars, never gets old! Each time I look at the night sky at camp, I think of God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. We, at Ramah in the Rockies, are living that promise day in and day out.
Thank you for being a part of our Kehillah Kedosha! Happy Hanukkah.
About a month ago, several of our returning staff members attended the Ramah Weinstein Leadership Institute at Camp Ramah in Ojai. We reunited with each other, learned from various Ramah professionals, connected with staff from different Ramah camps, and participated in fun and engaging peulot (programs) that we will bring home to Ramah in the Rockies. Read our staff’s reflections on their Weinstein experience below. To our current & future staff, keep in mind that you too will have the opportunity to participate in this leadership conference:
Ramah Rockies Staff Reflections
Weinstein was a great opportunity to connect with leaders from other Ramahs. Between exchanging dances and t’filah rituals, it was so fun to see how the spirit of Ramah exists across the country. Weinstein made me especially grateful for the inclusive, driven, and wacky community we have at Ramah in the Rockies. The unique challenges that our chalutzim embark on together in the backcountry, with the mountains as our classroom, is truly incredible. I am so grateful to have grown up at Ramah in the Rockies and to now get to instill the spirit of Ramah in my chalutzim.
Weinstein was by account the perfect weekend. The rain was refreshing and brought in a wave of fresh air, Ramah Ojai was green and lush with vegetation. Our fellow Ramahniks were incredible and eager to share about their camp and traditions. Throughout the sessions we learned about how different camps operate, how staff at other camps embrace their camps’ heritage, and how to be better counselors ourselves. In a session led by Rabbi Joe Menashe of Ramah Ojai and Anna Serviansky of Ramah Darom we even learned about the business side of Ramah camps. This session was interesting because it not only helped introduce an alternative way of thinking about camp decisions, but it also showed the importance of fundraising and donations for camps to operate. Another session taught by Dr. Jeff Kress helped teach about the importance of communication between campers and staff and taught us how to create better guidelines for our tents throughout the summer. Overall, the sessions were valuable and will help me on my path to become a better counselor.
In true Rockies fashion, a group of us also went on a hike. We woke up at 5:30am on Shabbat and hiked a six and a half mile loop to an overlook above camp. The views were amazing, and we had the special privilege of watching the sunrise over camp. The best part of the morning wasn’t the amazing trip but getting back in time for breakfast and walking in still dressed in our dirty hiking clothes (we cleaned off and changed right after breakfast). Everyone there was so surprised that we had gone on the hike and even more so that we were able to get back on time. Someone even said that they finally understood Ramah in the Rockies and how “crazy” we are about the outdoors. In all, Weinstein was a delightful weekend that taught me so much, and I’m very glad I went.
Being at Weinstein is a little like going to a family reunion full of relatives who’ve never met before, but they all seem to have a little more in common with each other than they do with you. Some of these camps have been around for decades, they’ve carved out years-old traditions that we don’t have anything like at Rockies. They seem to have more camp culture, more history to look back at. Their parents sang the same songs and slept in the same bunks that they do now. It’s a little jarring to notice just how new our Ramah still is. Of course, what they don’t have more of than us is crazy stories. You turn more than a few heads in the dining hall when you tell some Nyack or Ojai counselors about “lightning protocol” or third graders climbing Prospector.
When we first got to the conference, the other camps thought our stories were strange, sure, but there seemed to be a sort of consensus that they all came to; “No camp can be that weird.” That was what they thought, until we Rockies folk decided that, at 5:30 one morning, we would go on a seven-mile hike. To us, this just seemed like a fun, relatively easy way to start the day, but to the other camps, when we walked into the dining hall only a few minutes after they had all just woken up, covered in dirt and sweat, talking about how we had just climbed a mountain, that was when they really began to pay attention to us.
We were inundated with questions, a lot of disbelief, and more than a little bit of awe. I guess, before then, I’d never really realized how different our camp was. Or how special. A few of the other counselors heard our stories and seemed to really resonate with them. Like they’d just learned about the most incredible place in the world, somewhere they’d maybe like to check out someday. And I even talked to people who wanted to bring some of our programs over to their camps. Of course, some of them were talking our ears off but would still never dream of spending their summers in a place with bears and infrequent showers, and that’s okay.
It’s humbling, really, to realize all over again something I take for granted too often. We go to an incredibly special camp, but that also comes with an entirely new realization: our camp is part of a huge network of other camps, places that would gladly host us for an off-season weekend, or even take us on for a summer, something we’d also gladly do for them. I came to see that we’re part of a giant family that spans across the country and even other parts of the world, and also see now just how special our little branch of the family really is.
Attending the Weinstein Leadership Institute was a great experience in a variety of ways. The first piece of understanding that I received was finding out the goals and objectives of Camp Ramah. I realized how the education parallels camper experiences as they grow up. As a camper and even as a first year staff this was not something made apparent to me until I attended Rabbi Joel Seltzer’s session at Weinstein. This is where he spoke about Rabbi David Mogilner’s influence on Ramah and how he now interpreted the same role of directing a Ramah summer camp.
Another great part about attending the conference was connecting with many other peers. When I arrived at the airport, I recognized multiple people that I went on Ramah Seminar with but had not been very close to while in Israel. This weekend was a chance for me to get to know those friends much better in a more professional setting. Separated from the routine of summer, being at Weinstein, allowed me to interact with staff that have held positions at camp for multiple summers all the way up to members of the NRC. Those conversations enabled me to process new ideas about how I can leave my impact on Ramah.
Weinstein was a very impactful conference and I learned so much from it! Before I share some takeaways from this experience, I would just like to mention how amazing it is to spend a Shabbat with friends in a beautiful place. It’s easy to get back into a routine and keep summertime activities in the summer, but spending Shabbat at Ramah Ojai reminded me that we can take time out of our schedules to be with a vibrant Jewish community yet again. My first takeaway had less to do with the actual material we were learning, and is more focused on the environment. Simply being in the same place as so many other people who care about their camps as much as I do was really powerful. It was clear that all of the staff on Weinstein wanted to be there to learn more about Ramah as a whole, and build new skills. A second thing that was awesome about Weinstein was learning about the other Ramah camps, especially the Ramah-adjacent camps in South America. It was really cool to be able to compare and contrast my own Ramah camp with others, and it helped me to further recognize how lucky we are that we get to go to a Ramah camp! Not only did this conference make me feel so grateful for our camp itself, but the entire Ramah community that comes with it. I am so happy I had the opportunity to go on Weinstein, and I would definitely recommend it to other Ramahniks!
Learn more about the Ramah Weinstein Leadership Institute here.
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
Since returning to the office after Rosh Hashanah, 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 2021, along with some areas for growth as we begin planning for 2022.
TWO THUMBS UP: OUR SUCCESSES
A core value of our camp is to create kesharim between young Jews. After almost sixteen months of social isolation, chalutzim and tzevet came to camp eager to be in community. Our camp program enabled them to form new friendships with campers from across the country and Israel. We heard time and again about the importance of informal conversations between tzevet and chalutzim and how they shaped the summer experience. We also heard from many of our older chalutzim how much they enjoyed living in the upper tent circle, hanging out together and staying up later than in years past. Having a higher percentage of four-week chalutzim than in previous years also deepened the connections within the edot (age groups). Upon returning home, a few of our youngest chalutzim informed their parents that they too would one day be staff members at Ramah in the Rockies. It is amazing that so many chalutzim see themselves continuing on the aspirational arc of the camp program, and we certainly hope that returning to camp as tzevet enables their growth for years to come.
A core part of camp is built around the masa program and the transformational aspect of going on a journey into the Colorado wilderness. This summer we better articulated the goals of the masa program to our tzevet, which allowed masa’ot to serve as profound leadership training experiences. We trained our staff to focus on key elements of a masa, such preparation, outdoors skills, and spiritual development, among others. Chalutzim bonded as a group on the trail and returned more aware of their own strength and character. Campers appreciated improved masa meals, increased quantities of food packed out, and newly purchased gear such as improved sleeping pads, youth-sized internal frame backpacks, and tents. We will continue to invest in quality gear next year. We will likely discontinue using tarps altogether until perhaps early August, as climate change has made mosquitos a reality even in the high Rocky Mountains. We will continue to refine our backcountry menus based on the feedback we’ve received.
Perhaps the most frequent comment across the feedback was the joy of Jewish living at camp. The camp educational experience is so powerful because we create a plausibility structure in which living in an observant community committed to prayer, ritual, and mitzvot is the norm. We play Hebrew music in the chadar ochel (dining hall), dance to Israeli songs after Havdalah, and engage in prayer experiences ranging from solitary conversations with The Divine to exuberant communal singing accompanied by musical instruments of all shapes and sizes. We celebrated B’nai Mitzvah as well as a staff member’s conversion to Judaism; we stood in solidarity with those in our community reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish. Parents shared how their children came home singing camp melodies and dancing to camp music. So many parents, chalutzim, and tzevet commented on the sheer joy of celebrating Shabbat together and wondered how to recreate that feeling back home. As Jewish educators, it is hard to overstate how uplifting it is to know that campers eagerly anticipate the magic of Shabbat each week. Along the same lines, a wonderful critique to hear was that some younger chalutzim did not appreciate having to go to bed earlier than those in older edot on Saturday night as they wished they could stay longer to dance after Havdalah.
MIXED REVIEWS: ROOM FOR GROWTH
Travel Days–Opening Day
We changed our opening-day procedures this year to allow for distancing and outdoor gathering at the airport. We encouraged more families to drive to camp but requested that parents stay in their cars. While most understood why we made these decisions, we should have better communicated before opening day what to expect at both camp and the airport. We heard feedback about our airport procedures and are committed to improving them so that wait times for camp buses are shortened, new campers receive extra care and attention, and that all snacks and lunches are abundant. We hope we can return to using vans to transport chalutzim to camp and plan to implement a better airport check-in system which will include the distribution of name tags and edah bracelets. We will coordinate with the Denver Airport authorities about setting a better meeting place and will also work with our programming staff to ensure that chalutzim meet and bond with each other while waiting to board vans. We expect to announce more details by March of 2022.
We are a nature-based camp, and chalutzim certainly leave our camp with a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the natural world around them. However, we have an opportunity to improve our environmental science education throughout camp. We need to better use our ranch to teach earth sciences, conservation, and nature stewardship. We did not compost this summer and were not able to emphasize waste reduction in the chadar ochel the way we usually do. While we had hoped to implement a new earth science program, including setting up a weather station, adding observation areas, and measuring water flows, ultimately we had to prioritize other programs. In the off-season, we will work to create a set of educational objectives for our nature-based programs, and will hire at least two tzevet members next summer to turn those objectives into concrete programs that will integrate environmental science into our curriculum.
Mental Health and Inclusion
We pride ourselves on being a radically inclusive Jewish community. This past summer we encountered increased mental health issues among our tzevet and chalutzim. For years, we have run a small inclusion program in which we provide extra resources for those chalutzim who need additional help, especially with social-emotional health. While many parents of inclusion campers reach out for help in developing individualized plans ahead of time, we learned that some parents of those campers requiring support do not ask for it. This might be because parents expect the camp environment to be less stressful than school, or because certain needs only emerge after campers arrive. While camp is a fun and informal environment, being away from home and living in community with peers can present its own challenges. While we keep some spaces open in our inclusion program for those campers for whose needs only become manifest at camp, we were not prepared to handle the volume or intensity of the needs that existed this summer.
We have already refined our camper application to better assess social-emotional health, understand school-year supports, and anticipate needs for all campers. We reworked our intake process to increase communication with families about individual needs, and plan to better define our inclusion program and better articulate whom we can and can not support. We plan to hire a new Director of Inclusion who will work as part of the Camp Wellness Team and oversee the individualized plans of each camper in the inclusion program. We also plan to provide more training sessions about mental health for our tzevet, clearer instructions on who to turn to for help and when to ask for assistance.
We feel incredibly privileged that so many families entrust their children to our care each summer. We know the awesome responsibility that 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 2022.
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 we look forward to welcoming everyone back to camp in June 2022!
The Ramah in the Rockies Team
August 17, 2021
Another summer at Ramah in the Rockies has come to an end.
Kayitz 2021 will go into the history books as the first ever held on this ranch amidst a global pandemic. Everyone who came made sacrifices to be here; families self-isolated and campers took PCR tests in the weeks before camp. Staff agreed to remain on the property and in the surrounding mountains for over nine consecutive weeks, only once venturing into town on an organized day off. We built a number of temporary dwellings and spent considerable funds on COVID-related upgrades. Campers adjusted to a new schedule and program changes, with social distancing between cohorts and masking the norm. COVID screening became a new Sunday morning ritual. And yet, despite all of these changes, the summer ran more smoothly than we could have ever imagined. After over a year of isolation and disruption, campers and staff were joyously living together in community. Like past summers, new peaks were climbed and new trails were blazed, but this year, it was perhaps the interpersonal connections,friendships, and time spent together that made this summer especially sweet for all.
Many of us have been on-site since May 30, and it is impossible to capture here all that has transpired over the past ten weeks. Instead, I share the following highlights to give you a taste of our amazing 2021 season.
Masa’ot (Backcountry Excursions)
A sound that never grows old is that of groups returning from their masa’ot cheering and singing. Every other Friday, groups roll into camp on bikes, in vans, and on foot, with each group having had their own unique experience. Many chalutzim huddled under tarps during powerful storms, scraped themselves on rocks and branches while attempting difficult trails, and had to be cajoled out of their tents in the early morning hours when temperatures were in the upper 40s at higher elevations. These same chalutzim experienced the joy of reaching the top of a peak, have a new understanding of what it means to work as a team, and have confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles. They enjoyed the deep sense of accomplishment that can only be achieved through intense experiences in the outdoors. In total, we sent out 70 masa’ot this summer, as far away as Rocky Mountain National Park and as close as the corners of our ranch. For those of us who remained back at camp, we vicariously experienced these masa’ot through the stories of our madrichim and chalutzim. It is masa that makes our camp unique.
Shabbat in Community
Most of us arrived at camp after having spent months living in a socially-distanced fashion. Few had attended in-person celebrations or services in over fifteen months. While Shabbat is a special time at camp every year, this summer, it was even more powerful to gather together in our Pardes Tefilah for Kabbalat Shabbat. The fact that we wore masks when singing and twice danced in a rainstorm did not dampen our collective spirit. Shabbat was a time for us to reflect on what had happened in the previous week and to set goals for the week ahead. Havdalah, which we moved to our main road, had a festive atmosphere as we set up a sound system on the steps of our new wellness center, with each edah (age group) standing in its own circle, followed by a raucous dance party with hundreds of people dancing to Israeli music. Most weeks, we had fire-spinning (poi) first by our own tzevet member, Akiva Jackson, and then by chalutzim who had learned the skill during the previous week in his circus chug (class). While all parties eventually come to and end, the dances from this year’s havdalah will hopefully stay with us for months to come.
When the book is written about this summer, it will go down as one of our strongest in years. Our tzevet simply went above and beyond to provide an incredible experience for our chalutzim. Because we needed to have strict cohorts in the initial days of each session, chalutzim spent more time than ever getting to know their madrichim and fellow ohel-mates. Chalutzim from Ilanot through Bogrim experienced all their chugim together with their ohel, which allowed additional opportunities for the groups to bond. A huge highlight was the ohel-based masa’ot during our ‘A’ sessions, in which every ohel went backpacking together as a group. This allowed ohalim to experience all the magic of masa together and to see each other grow in the backcountry.
From the youngest chalutz to the oldest tzevet member, we fostered a wonderfully supportive environment at camp this summer. So many chalutzim commented to me over the past eight weeks just how nice and genuine everyone was at camp. This is perhaps one of the greatest hallmarks of our unique community: we are a place that respects differences and celebrates diversity within our Jewish community. We are, and will always be, a place of radical inclusion for all Jewish youth.
The final day of camp is bittersweet. It is sweet because so much planning and work goes into making each day of the summer a success, and when it is over, there are immense feelings of satisfaction. It is sad, however, because it is hard to see a season end. I sit here overflowing with gratitude to all who enabled us to operate this summer – donors who believed in our mission and provided the resources for us to purchase whatever was needed to run camp; parents who entrusted their children to us even though there were so many unknowns; chalutzim who joined our community and challenged themselves each day, physically, spiritually and intellectually; and the staff who agreed to live in our bubble for over two months and worked for countless hours to ensure that camp was a fun, safe and nurturing place. In a few hours, I too return to the “real world,” uncertain of what this year will bring. What I do know is that the past ten weeks have run more smoothly and been more impactful than anything I could have imagined back in early May after our final pre-camp Zoom meeting. I leave our ranch feeling grateful for our time together, and hopeful about our future.
Thank you for helping us have an incredible summer!
Shana Tova-R’ Eliav
Friday July 30th, 2021
Dear 2021 Families and Staff,
What an incredible way to wrap up the month of July! Today all our campers are returning from Masa. Some ventured hours away, while others slept on the outskirts of our ranch, hiking in the hills surrounding camp. All had chances to bond with their ohel (tent) mates, delighted in eating trip food, and drank gallons of water to stay hydrated in the blistering Colorado sun that has been beating down on us all week. We installed two new thermometers in camp, one in the shade, and one in the sun. In the shade, the temperatures are consistently in the mid 80s. In the sun, the thermometer reads well above 120 degrees on most afternoons.
This week started with Yom Tzmicha Ishit (Challenge Day). Throughout this special day, chalutzim competed in a variety of game show-like activities, like The Great Bogrim Bake-off and The RAMAHzing Race. Some had Jewish educational objectives, others were meant to foster k’sharim (connections) between campers and staff, and all activities included lots of simcha (joy). The day culminated in Ramah’s Got Talent, where each ohel performed a dance, song, or other talent (including an impressive circus display by Ilanot!) for the camp. Perhaps the best part of the day was that we completed our second round of Session II camp-wide COVID testing (~320 each time) and every test has come back negative! This meant that as of Monday morning, we moved to edah-wide (age group) cohorts where no one needs to be masked when they are alone with members of their edah, indoors or outdoors.
This week was also the week of celebrating life cycle events. Last friday, two other Rabbis and I sat on a beit din and then witnessed the tevilah in a mikvah (our neighbor’s pond) of our longtime employee and former head chef, Jefferey Harris. This was a process that began six years ago when Jefferey answered an ad on Craigslist to work in a summer camp kitchen and took on a new phase last year he began a formal conversion program with our former Rosh Chinuch, Rabbi Deena Cowans. On Friday night, Jefferey and Avram Pachter, our Director of Operations, led a silent dining hall in motzie and kiddush. It was a moment few will forget and one that is unlikely to occur here again for a while. Then, on Monday morning, Kinneret R., a Solelot chalutza, celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in front of the Metaylim and Sollelim edot. She led the entire service and read Torah for both edot, who then enjoyed a special breakfast of French toast, cheesecake, fresh berries, and orange juice. There is something magical that happens within our community when we take the time to celebrate these sorts of lifecycle events. For all of us, it is important to remember that we are living Jewish lives here; for some, our camp is their primary Jewish community even though we are only here for a few weeks each year.
This week’s masa’ot (excursions) were some of the most successful of the summer. The lack of rain, the excellent planning, and the group cohesion that preceded the masa’ot made for a number of excellent trips.
On Monday and Tuesday, our JOLI (11th/12th grade) groups left for their adventure masa that included a hike up a 14,000-foot mountain, or 14er as they are called in Colorado, rock climbing, and a day-long solo where they hiked and rested separated from their peers over the course of a four mile trail. Most said that being alone in nature for over eight hours was one of the most powerful moments they could remember at camp.
Our Bogrim (9th/10th grade) chalutzim left camp on Tuesday to head to Rocky Mountain National Park and State Forest State Park. The wet weather of the early summer meant that many of the mountain meadows are still in full bloom. Groups hiked up numerous passes and spent time around the many lakes in the area.
Our Solelim (7th/8th grade) campers left camp on Wednesday to hike one of four routes in the surrounding forest. For many, it was their first extended backpacking trip. They passed through an area in Lost Creek Wilderness famous for the massive boulders that line parts of the trail, appearing to be precariously balanced on each other, but likely have been here for thousands, if not millions, of years. The mosquitoes, which were voracious earlier in the summer, were still present but not nearly as bad as during the Session I masa’ot.
Our Metaylim (5th/6th grade) campers spent the first part of the week in regular activities. They had a chance to bike, ride horses, and climb at the bouldering wall. They had arts and crafts, farming, and rikkud (dance). On Monday night, they played an edah wide 20 questions game to guess which celebrities their counselors were impersonating. They left for their Masa on Wednesday and camped in one of five campsites around the outskirts of our property. On Thursday groups hiked in the surrounding forests, with one who drove by van to Cheesman Reservoir where they hiked the trail surrounding this massive body of water.
This week, Ilanot (3rd/4th graders) laid in their sleeping bags on the basketball court for over an hour watching the endless expanse of the starry sky on a moonless night. Yesterday morning, Ilanot chalutzim had the opportunity to drink the goats’ milk they had collected the night before. Yesterday afternoon, they began their one-night masa by hiking in a big loop around camp, stopping to see nature and the homestead house, one of the original buildings on the property from the 1880s. They stayed up late making s’mores around the campfire in Ramah Valley and camped out. This morning, they had the opportunity to hike Prospector, one of the more challenging climbs just outside of our back gate. About half the chalutzim made it all the way to the top, a huge feat for such little kids, and the other half hiked halfway and then took a dip in the mikvah.
As I conclude this email, the tempo of camp is beginning to change. The final van pulled into camp about an hour ago. Most of our chalutzim have showered and are wearing their last clean white shirts (Monday is laundry day). From the porch of the mirpa’ah (wellness center), I am looking out at our packout area, which is filled with tents airing out and dishes drying. I can still hear the shrieks of joy from our chalutzim, who only a few hours ago were returning from their masa’ot, triumphant at having had such a memorable few days in the backcountry and excited to be back at camp.
For those keeping track, last week we ended up singing kabbalat shabbat in the Pardes Teffilah, socially distanced, but together as one community. As has happened so often on Friday afternoons, the storm clouds are gathering over the mountains, and it is likely to storm before too long, sending us into our rain locations for kabbalat shabbat, together as edot. Regardless of where we end up praying tonight, we are looking forward to a relaxing and fun final Shabbat of session IIA.
Thursday July 15, 2021
6 Av 5781
The sun is shining and the air is cool. The ranch is silent, except for the sound of our backup generators at the sewage treatment plant and the kitchen which are humming amidst an area-wide power outage(!!). Staff are returning from their days off, during which they chose from several COVID-conscious activities such as camping, attending a Ramah-only private movie screening at a local theater, and visiting a local park.
The past four weeks have flown by. We sweated in the initial days of the session, when temperatures were above 90 degrees, and then threw on extra layers for much of the remainder of the session, when temperatures dropped far below what is typical for late June/early July. We played hours of Connect Four in Ohel Koby, hiked lush mountain peaks, and biked miles of single track. We danced outdoors, sang lecha-dodi outside in a rainstorm, and spent hours hanging out with friends during free-time and at campsites on masa’ot (excursions). Overall, perhaps what was most noticeable about session I, was how normal it all felt at camp, even as a pandemic continues just beyond our gates.
While it is impossible to sum up four action-packed weeks in a few paragraphs, I hope that the three vignettes below provide a glimpse of life at Ramah in the Rockies during the first session.
Havdalah at the Mirpaah
What started as an afterthought has now become tradition. For years, we have gathered on our basketball court to sing havdalah as a community and then dance to Israeli music. Because of COVID restrictions, we could not gather as one group for the first Shabbat of the session. Instead, we decided to set up a sound system on the porch of our new Mirpaah (Wellness Center), and asked each ohel cohort to come together in a circle, eight feet from the next group. Twenty-five administrative staff donned fluorescent vests to act as human cones between groups and ensure that groups remained adequately spaced. To our surprise, that first Saturday night, havdalah was magical! While our community spanned 400+ feet on the road, the new setup made it possible for chalutzim to dance with plenty of room. For most of us, that Shabbat was the first time we had celebrated Jewish ritual in a large in-person community in over 15 months. Although we were socially distanced, our voices and energy came together in ways we could not have imagined only a few weeks earlier. Each subsequent week, we gathered along the road, this time in edah-wide cohorts, singing and dancing together. Older campers hopped onto the porch to help lead the younger chalutzim in dancing to Israeli music.
Eating in the Chadar Ochel
For years, our camp meals have been shared in a large white dining tent where the decibel level frequently reached that of a jet-engine. While our dining tents served us well, we never saw them as a permanent solution. In addition to the noise, none were truly weatherproof, and we often had to spend significant amounts of time clearing tent floors of floods after rainfalls. Since the lodge fire of 2017, we have been planning to welcome our community to a newly rebuilt dining hall, one that would protect campers from the elements and enable us all to gather in one place. This summer, our dream was realized, albeit a little differently than we had planned. While our new dining hall is designed to seat 350 people at a time, with COVID social distancing requirements we had to expand onto our dining deck and an adjacent administrative center that also opened for the first time in 2021. Meals were a time for chalutzim and tzevet to eat and also bond. Because of our COVID restrictions, only one person per table was permitted to stand up at a time, which meant that meals were far more orderly than ever before. And the food, by most accounts, has been better than most years, including what has become a camp-wide favorite, Impossible Burger night!
Coming into this summer, we set a framework that would encourage campers to see their entire camp experience as a masa, or backcountry excursion. We identified five key elements of camp that apply both at the chava (ranch) and out on actual masaot. We trained our staff around these five key elements, and used them to evaluate our program. Each session, a highlight for me is being present as our masa’ot return from their days away. This year, because of COVID, we sent masa’ot by ohel for the first two weeks, and then by edah for the final masa of each session. Sitting on the porch of our new Mirpaah, I watched as groups hiked into camp singing the songs they had written while on the trail, or returned in white vans, dirty yet happy and excited about all they had accomplished on their trips. I watched campers who had left only a few days earlier as individuals returned as a cohesive and supportive group. Some completed their routes; others had to turn around because of unmaintained trails or high water crossings. Yet all had learned a crucial lesson, namely that the point of masa is not the route itself but their experiences and the resilience they develop on the trail. One memorable moment was welcoming our youngest campers back from their first ever two-day masa. These 8/9 year olds had only hiked a mile or so with packs but felt as though they had completed an epic journey because they had camped out for two nights, and spent a day hiking a nearby peak. In their smiles, I saw campers who hopefully will be with us for years to come as chalutzim and then trip-leaders themselves in ten years or so.
In an hour, we will gather to process our first session as a full staff. Just as we do with our chalutzim most nights, we will recount our highs and lows of the past month. We will reset our goals for this next month, imagining all that we hope to accomplish as leaders and role models for our second session campers. This summer would not be happening were it not for our dedicated tzevet, our camp families who entrust us with their children, and our hundreds of donors who enable us to do whatever it takes to make camp operate this summer. To all of you,THANK YOU for continuing to believe in our community and to support our mission.
For those whose children just returned from session IA or IA+IB, please help us improve our program by either sending us a note about your child’s experience and/or filling out this third- party survey about their experience. We grow each year based on honest feedback and appreciate you helping us continue to improve the Ramah in the Rockies experience for both second session chalutzim and those who will join us in 2022 and beyond!
If your child was with us for only session IA, please complete the survey here
If your child was with us for session IA+IB please complete the survey here
It is now Friday morning, having failed to hit send last night. Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Tisha B’Av on Sunday.
Ps. The power came back on yesterday around noon. The $125,000+ we have spent on three backup generators seems to have paid off since we could keep our vital systems running even without power..
We just concluded our Friday lunch of tofu stir fry. It was the third meal this summer that we all ate together in one chadar ochel (dining hall) as we said goodbye to our IA campers on Thursday. The sun is shining after a very wet and cold week, and we are all looking forward to welcoming Shabbat together in a few hours. Last Friday afternoon, we started our communal teffilot (prayers) in the Pardes Teffilah. The energy was electric, as it was clear that we had only minutes before the heavens would open up. We put on our rain jackets, put our siddurim away, and continued signing. The drizzle began during lecha-dodi, and by the end, when we turned around to welcome the Shabbat queen with bo-ee ve-shalom, the rain was coming down at a steady clip. We finished singing together and then went to four different spaces to complete the ma’ariv service. It was an awesome experience.
Despite the unseasonably cold and wet week (temps dropped to 39 degrees one night), we were able to run almost all of our activities. Campers rode horses, biked our single track, and milked goats. Campers spent time learning masa (excursion) skills, sewed stuffed animals in omanut (arts and crafts), and searched for rocks in Crystal Crack. After another round of negative COVID tests, we were able to hold numerous camp-wide activities, such as shira (singing), rikkud (dancing), and our first Yom Yisrael (Israel Day). Some chalutzim dipped in our river, others explored our wastewater treatment plant, as part of our tour of camp secrets, while others had a late-night baking party in the kitchen. Overall, the joy around camp is palpable.
For Ilanot and Metaylim, this week was bittersweet when a number of chalutzim left, as scheduled, after two weeks. These edot had a chance to reflect on their first two weeks together with a slide show and dance performances. Metaylim also had a chance to work on their badge program, a new curricular element we added to this year’s program. Sollelim spent a morning hiking at Cheesman Reservoir experiencing Abraham Joshua Heschel’s idea of radical amazement and Martin Buber’s concept of I-Thou relationship. They also had a teffilin workshop where all children had a chance to learn about and try on teffilin. Bogrim and Sayarim spent this week in various chugim (activities) and began pack out for their masa’ot (excursions) today. Our oldest chalutzim, JOLI, spent a few hours each day as CITs with a younger edah and had a number of late-night activities including a sushi night and a rockin’ dance party.
As we continue to test all campers for COVID on a regular schedule, the ability for us to do more “normal” camp activities continues to expand. We have adjusted our schedule to allow for more free time, and can have more campwide programs outdoors. Vaccinated campers have also started to help with serving meals in the chadar ochel. While we still maintain many of our restrictions, these changes have made for a more relaxed feel. As we get ready to welcome our third Shabbat on the ranch, we look forward to having more activities for campers tomorrow afternoon, and are planning a lengthened havdalah service and dance party for tomorrow night.
Sunday is both July 4th and our Yom Democracy. We will be celebrating America’s birthday and having programs throughout the day that encourage our campers to appreciate and consider what it means to live in a democracy. Campers will vote on many issues both about camp as well as issues facing us in America and Israel.
As I finish writing this email, the pace of camp is shifting as campers shower, change into white and have a few hours of free time before Shabbat services. The chatter of young campers walking to and from the chadar ochel to enjoy snacks never grows old. We are hoping that the rain will hold off for this afternoon, but as we have come to accept in the Rocky Mountains, the weather can change on a dime. Fortunately, this week we have erected our ohel shachar (a large tent which served as our former dining hall), which can accommodate our whole camp in case of rain.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that we are having significant internet issues. Our T1 (3mb up/down) lines are down, and we are uploading this email via a backup satellite. Last night, none of our scheduled pictures uploaded; we are in touch with Centurylink about fixing our T1 lines, but until they do so, our communications will be limited to text emails and phone calls. In honor of Yom Democracy, PLEASE vote at the ballot box and contact your elected representatives to ensure that all Ameicans have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet! Ramah in the Rockies spends over $700/month on our internet and still have slow and highly unreliable access. Let’s hope that by next summer, this can change
June 18, 2021
It happened! Yesterday morning, under a blazing hot sun, we swung open our gates to welcome the first of 425+ chalutzim who will be coming through our camp this summer. Tzevet (staff) lined up on the migrash (field), some in costume, to unload bags and welcome chalutzim back to our transformed ranch. They checked in at our new mirpa’ah (wellness center), met their new ohel (tent) mates, and had a delicious pizza dinner in our new chadarie ochel (dining halls). Due to our Covid protocols, we did not have our traditional opening campfire, and instead opted for ohel bonding which allowed everyone to go to sleep having had at least a few conversations with their ohel-mates.
This morning, I was awoken by the sound of younger campers chatting with each other at 6:00 am. While the tzevet (staff) and I would have prefered for everyone to have slept in later, their voices signaled the excitement felt by so many to be (back) at camp (as well as their apparent jet lag). This morning we started our regular programming with chalutzim riding bikes, climbing on the bouldering wall, learning outdoor skills, and caring for our farm animals. As planned, each ohel is rotating through activities with their ohel-mates and madrichim (counselors). Overall, chalutzim and tzevet are in incredible spirits; they are excited to be back in community and hanging out with friends old and new. Before sitting down to write this, I walked through our lower tent circle where I saw one bunk of boys playing in our Ohel Koby game tent and another playing in the gaga pit. On Sunday and Monday, we will be retesting all chalutzim for Covid. If we have no cases, we hope to expand our cohorts to include an entire edah (age group). In the meantime, it is nice to see everyone’s smiling faces outside, something that many of us have not seen in over a year.
As I sit here on my front porch, I can hear the sounds of happy children playing on the migrash (field) and watching our operations crew setting up for Kabbalat Shabbat in the Pardes Tefillah. Chalutzim are beginning to shower by ohel, changing into white shirts, and preparing to spend our first Shabbat together. Tonight we will have a more subdued Shabbat dinner, with singing, birchat hamazon and dessert happening by edah in a more socially distanced fashion. Tomorrow we hope to have a relaxing Shabbat with a late wakeup, teffilot by edah and organized freetime. The heat wave that we have been experiencing over the past ten days has finally broken with more seasonal temperatures expected in the coming days. Sunday brings a full day of programming in both our regular program areas, and some special activities such as cardboard fort building, bug-catching and spike ball.
Since last August we have been preparing to reopen camp amidst this ongoing pandemic, and our planning has paid off. Our program is taking into account local health regulations, new scientific understandings about COVID, and most importantly, creating a warm and fun environment in which our campers and staff can flourish. Just over 24 hours into this unprecedented summer, I can say that we are on our way to having an amazing season where chalutzim and tzevet will grow spiritually, intellectually, and physically, all while being part of a joyous Jewish community.
By Rabbi Eliav
Late last month I returned to the Ramah in the Rockies Ranch for the first time since February 24, 2020. Driving through the gates, I was overcome with a sense of relief and excitement thinking about the reopening of our camp community in only six more weeks.
This time last year, as we were facing the possibility of a closed camp season, we also were in danger of losing our camp. Staring down the possibility of returning over $1.5 million in camper tuition, with major construction projects already underway, and monthly bills that needed to be paid with or without a camp season, we were not sure whether we would survive the pandemic with our camp intact. Due to the incredible work of our year round team, the enormous generosity of hundreds of donors and a lot of good luck, we are in a strong place to welcome back our community to an updated ranch.
During my visit I had a chance, for the first time, to tour our new: waste water system, infirmary, bathrooms, dining hall and administrative center. I walked the property with our year round team who will be erecting over $75,000 in new tents, picnic tables and other items that will enable us to run camp this summer while allowing for social distancing and reduced capacity in most areas.
One of my favorite sections from Tanach are the verses from the third chapter of Kohelet: that there is a time for everything: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to sow and a time to reap; a time to destroy and a time to build up. My return visit reminded me of this powerful message. Last year was the time to shut down our camp given all the unknowns. It is now time to reopen and do whatever we need to do to enable over 500+ Jewish youth to have a joyous and transformative Jewish summer camp experience.
Click below to watch a time-lapse video of the construction of our new Chadar Ochel (dining hall). I can just imagine the laughter, song, and friendship that will fill this space for years to come.
See you soon on the Chava!