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 While we originally made this change in 2021 due to Covid cohorting needs, we decided that we would continue this new format in 2022 as we witnessed a difference in intra-ohalim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