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.

Masa
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.

Rabbi Eliav

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!

Masa

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.

-Rabbi Eliav

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

Shabbat Shalom

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.

Shabbat Shalom

-Eliav

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!

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 year that has passed since we last gathered around the  seder table. We remember the hundreds of thousands who have died, the millions of students who have had to adjust to limited or remote  schooling and the untold numbers of people who were ill with COVID. Thankfully, we can now think about the millions more who have been vaccinated and the tens of thousands of children preparing to return to their Jewish summer camps. Here is a look at some of our own numbers at Ramah in the Rockies: 


Solar panels on our new Mirpa’ah

15,674 Pounds of CO2 saved due to the highly efficient solar arrays on our new Mirpa’ah (Health Center). We hope to raise funds to build two more arrays in the coming years.

14,000 Gallons of waste water we can process and return to the Denver water drinking supply each day in our expanded wastewater treatment plant

The front entrance of our new Chadar Ochel

4,953  Square footage of the  new dining hall we are ready to open this summer 

1,071  Square footage of our new covered dining patio

200  Maximum number of campers on site at any one time during the summer 

84  Days until we welcome our first chalutzim back to the chava (ranch)

60  Number of new Kelty  backpacks we plan to purchase for 2021

One of the chicks at DJDS

26 Chicks incubated and raised by The Denver Jewish Day School until they move to camp in June to lay eggs for our community all summer (Only the hens are invited to camp, the roosters will likely end up on someone’s dinner plate; how many of each is TBD)

20 Number of picnic tables we are purchasing for 2021 to allow for more outdoor meetings and activities.

16 horses coming to Ramah in the Rockies 

4 Additional camper tents we will construct to enable us to accommodate our community this summer

3 Raised beds we will build to begin our new kitchen garden (ultimately growing to 10+ over the next few years)

2 Additional space for campers in kayitz 2021

1 New garden and nature center opening this summer

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!)

By Rabbi Eliav Bock

This blog post was originally featured as part of the Rabbinical Assembly’s #HeshbonHodesh: Nisan monthly newsletter. 

This past Shabbat morning, I suited up my baby daughter in her winter gear, put on my own jacket and gloves, put her in the hiking backpack and headed out the door for my Shabbat teffilot. It is a ritual we have practiced almost every shabbat over the past year, so long as the temperature is above 20 degrees, and it is not raining. Walking around my suburban neighborhood I sing, out loud, often clapping and dancing to the words of the morning prayers. It is a practice started last March when I thought I would be gone from shul for only a few weeks. I watched the early spring turn to the hot summer, to the vibrant fall, to this past snowy winter. I watched the brook, where I often stop to recite the Amidah, go from a thawing stream, to a small trickle in the late summer, to a frozen slide the past few months. 

I connect most deeply with the Divine when I am outdoors. I experience radical amazement when looking at flowers and trees. I understand what it means to become I and Thou when I am staring at a hillside about to burst with green leaves and turning brilliant hues in the fall. The sun, the breeze and even the bitter cold allow me to feel the Divine energy in my daily life. 

Pre-pandemic, the only place I consistently prayed outside is at Ramah in the Rockies. My ten weeks at camp, davening in the high mountains, are usually the highlight of my spiritual year. I am often able to coast on that spiritual nourishment when I return to my indoor suburban synagogue for a few months, only to crave a healthy dose of outdoor teffilot by late winter. A gift of this pandemic has been to give me a reason to pray outside, almost every shabbat for an entire year.

I miss seeing other people on Shabbat morning. I miss my elementary age boys coming to shul and having friends to play with while I sit in the service; but I do not miss sitting in a sanctuary. I hope that we can once again gather for in-person communal prayer, but I also know that walking and davening, even in a cookie cutter suburban neighborhood, can provide an enriching and sustaining teffilah experience.

With each passing week, we are becoming more excited about the reopening of our ranch. You have likely read so much from us about our reopening COVID protocols that you have wondered whether we are also thinking about how to improve the actual camp experience. Rest assured that we have been hard at work planning the daily schedule for this summer, and in the following Purim blog, we highlight some of our upcoming programmatic changes.


Lions and Tigers and Bears

As the world was moving into lockdown last spring, we heard from so many about Netflix’s Tiger King. You called and emailed to express dismay that we had not used our wide open space to cage exotic animals. If there was one positive side to closing camp last summer, it was that we were able to realize  a long-held dream and finally had the time to erect the twelve-foot fencing needed to house big cats at Ramah in the Rockies. Over the past few years, we have been continually improving our farm and animal program; we have become adept at milking goats, collecting eggs from chickens, and caring for horses. African Cats were clearly the next step. Shortly after we finished our ten-acre enclosure around the “Shabbat Pasture,” we learned that Joe Exotic’s zoo was being shut down by the State of Oklahoma.  Given our longtime connection with the Jewish communities in the Sooner State, we were quickly able to make the necessary arrangements to offer refuge to five of their cats. 

The past few months of running our cat sanctuary have not gone exactly as planned (but then again, what has?) . Nonetheless, we have learned how to source cheap meat, both from a local hunting lodge and the Jefferson County roadkill department. From a programmatic standpoint, we see the addition of these cats as the ultimate “Challenge by Choice” activity. We know that some chalutzim will find even viewing the animals from afar challenging. Others might feel comfortable petting their wet noses through the chain-link fence. Others might be confident enough to walk into the enclosure and play with the animals. The Colorado Department of Human Services, which grants us our annual child care operating license, has given us a one-year reprieve to demonstrate that we can safely house big cats and small campers at the same time. In the months ahead, we hope to trap a few of the local black bears and add them to the enclosure too!

G.O.A.T

Big cats will not be the only new addition to our community. Ramah is also delighted to welcome the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time), Tom Brady, to camp this summer. After leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a crushing win in this year’s Super Bowl, one might think that Brady has nothing more to prove to solidify his title. As it turns out, however, he has never won a Super Bowl playing above sea-level. Next year’s Super Bowl will be played at the Denver Broncos’ Mile High Stadium where there is way less oxygen than New England or Tampa Bay. Brady is eager to be in shape for the big game, and has been looking for a summer retreat even higher than Denver where he can run, climb and throw at elevation. Last week, we received a call from Brady’s agent asking whether we would be willing to offer him a quiet place  to workout most of the day in exchange for a few hours training each week with our chalutzim. While he could easily rent a house in Denver to begin acclimating, he is looking for a more secluded place to set up shop, free from the paparazzi who follow him so much of the time in urban areas. The fact that we serve a mainly vegetarian diet, and always have a vegan option at meals, is an added bonus to one of the world most famous, and unlikely, vegans. 

While the exact schedule remains in preparation, we expect Brady to spend his mornings in Ramah Valley running and throwing. He will also spend two hours per day training his core muscles on our bouldering wall. We imagine him setting up some more challenging practice courses  using the protruding rocks of Prospector Mountain. We have guaranteed him a spectator-free day until 2:00pm, sha’at menucha, at which time he will lead optional clinics for a few chalutzim each day. (Chalutzim who disrespect the Buccaneers, Patriots, or any of the Boston Sports teams for that matter, need not register). While Ramah in the Rockies has never had a team sports program, we also know that we should never pass up an opportunity to stray far from our mission. If this summer is a success, we can imagine one day laying an astro-turf field throughout Ramah Valley, erecting two goals posts, and creating the country’s first Jewish football camp!

A New Masa

It is not just Brady who is looking for new heights. After a year of being cooped up inside, so many in our kehillah kedosha (holy community) are eager for new adventures. After a chance online meeting with Sir Richard Branson, our newest masa (excursion) was born. As it turns out, his space company, Virgin Intergalactic (NYSE: SPCE), was looking for a PR opportunity that showcased its desire to become an “every person’s” space company. In the hopes of justifying their wild valuation in the public markets, the corporation wanted to launch a group of teenagers into suborbital flight to prove the efficacy of their SpaceShipTwo aircraft. With their hangars just a few hours south of our ranch on the Colorado/ New Mexico border, we signed up! What better way to show off our own commitment to addressing the urgent demands of the climate crisis than burning untold quantities of fossil fuels and participating in a new space race!?  

Given the details involved in space flight, there is little room for error in our schedule: chalutzim will leave our ranch on the Tuesday, of the masa-week of each b-session, for the drive to New Mexico. They will spend a day camping on the desert plains alongside the runway. After another day of training in emergency procedures and fitting of flight suits, they will lift off on Thursday for the journey of a lifetime. Virgin Galactic has further agreed to help with our travel needs, ferrying campers from California and New York to Colorado in future summers. 


A year ago, around Purim, America was waking up to the reality of a burgeoning pandemic.  Unfortunately, the line between science and fiction was blurred for too long, leading to untold suffering and hardship, putting deep strains on the physical and mental health of so many in our community and costing over 500,000 lives. We had considered forgoing our Purim update this year since the past 12 months would have once seemed outlandish enough. Yet, here we are: able to reflect, to hope, and to plan. Know that while almost nothing in the above update is true, our commitment to running a safe program, guided by passion, values and science, remains as real as ever. 

Snow and ice cover the ground outside my house; the windchill makes it feel well below 20 degrees. My mind, however, is in my spiritual homeland, where the first buds of the almond tree are beginning to bloom. It is where, in most years, I would be this week interviewing our Israeli Mishlachat members who come to camp to inspire our campers and staff with their love of Israel and passion for educating young Jews.

Tu BiShvat, a one-time minor kabbalistic holiday to mark the birthday of the trees, has rightfully become a significant date in our Jewish calendar. Jews the world over celebrate this day by hosting Tu BiShvat sedarim, planting trees, and taking time to assess our own impact on the environment. 

As we prepare to reopen our camp in six months, we too are taking stock of our own environmental habits. This summer, we will focus on three main aspects of our own environmental impact.

Energy Use

Solar Panels on the top of our new Health Center

In 2020, we installed our first solar panels and geothermal wells. At present, these systems power our new wellness center (or Mirpa’ah as it is called in the summer). Because of these systems, this building is carbon neutral to operate. To date, we have saved the 13,017 lb of CO2 emissions compared to using fossil based energy, which in turn is equivalent to planting 98 trees! During most of the winter, the panels return power to the electrical grid since our electrical needs are minimal. The building is well insulated with R39 foam insulation in the walls; it is heated in the winter by a geothermal system. Our hope is to publish the data from the building on a weekly basis both during the summer and year round, so that campers can analyze the data and learn more about energy use.  In the coming years, we hope to install three more solar arrays on our site so that we can cut our carbon-based electrical use by over 75%.

STEM Program

In 2021 we are launching a new STEM program with a dual focus on ecology and sustainable design. In addition to opening a renovated farm education center, we will be hiring two staff members to lead this program.  One staff member will focus on ecological observation projects – monitoring stream flow, observing reforestation, and cataloging the species that are native to our ranch.  The second staff member will help campers evaluate our own environmental impact, and problem-solve to design new systems focused on our water usage & waste streams.  We will draw upon curriculum designed for youth, and hopefully begin a partnership with a local environmental science department at a Colorado university in the next year. 

Waste & Composting

Over the past few years, we have devoted considerable resources to reducing the waste we produce at camp and set a goal in 2016 of being at zero waste by 2020. While we have made some progress, we have fallen far from our goal of being waste-free. Unfortunately, the large scale bokashi system we implemented in 2016/17 has not been able to deal adequately with our organic waste in the way we had originally envisioned. Similarly, while we have significantly increased the amount of cardboard and metal we recycle, we would still like to capture more. Finally, while we have reduced the amount of paper towels we use for hand washing through increased use of hand dryers, in all likelihood COVID protocols this summer will require us to use even more paper towels and single-use cleaning cloths. Nonetheless, we know that we can be more conscious of the waste we produce and find better avenues for composting and recycling. In 2021 we hope to contract with a commercial composter to process most of our organic waste and paper towels. We also hope to be more transparent with our campers about where our waste goes and set aspirational goals of how we can do better to reduce the waste we put into landfills and incinerators.

Tu B’shvat happens once a year. As Jews, however, our focus on the environment needs to be a year-round endeavour.  Our goal as a camp is for our alumni to return to their home communities as advocates for change in both personal habits and collective policies that mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. 

-Rabbi Eliav

This reflection from Rabbi Eliav was also shared in eJewishPhilanthropy.

With a call going out on our emergency walkie-talkie channel, in early morning hours of August 7, 2017, I awoke to the horrifying news that our main lodge was on fire, billowing flames that could easily start a massive forest fire! With flames shooting three stories high, and heat that could be felt from hundreds of feet away, we faced what I thought was going to be the biggest leadership challenge of my career as a camp director of Ramah in the Rockies.

As a community, we had trained for this moment when we had held fire drills every other week. Much went according to plan including, summoning the fire and sheriff’s department, who arrived within an hour to save the surrounding trees and to shepherd us all to safety.

What we had not planned for, however, was the following hours, days and weeks when we needed to keep our community together and informed about how we would continue camp at an alternate site, cooperate with all investigations and eventually rebuild our ranch over the following years. The tone we set with our staff during our first 4:30am meeting, with the building still smoldering in the distance, was the same we followed throughout the evacuation, relocation and rebuilding process: be transparent with everyone regardless of where the facts lead, listen to peoples ideas and emphasize our collective responsibility in creating our destiny.

It is for this reason that two weeks ago we were one of the first Jewish Overnight camps to release the draft of our 2021 operations plan. No one knows where the pandemic will be in the late Spring when we usually open camp. No one knows what precautions we will be required to implement. Nor can we sit around and just hope for the best. Rather, we must begin to plan, knowing that by understanding scenarios we will be ready to adjust as facts become clear.

The COVID-19 crisis does not have the same level of urgency as a fire, but the lessons learned during that emergency have influenced how we have communicated throughout this pandemic. From our first communications in the Spring of 2020, which indicated the unlikelihood of us operating in the summer, to giving definitive dates for informing our community of our plans and defining the process by which we were making decisions, we were able to build further trust with our community.

For those of us running Jewish institutions it is imperative that we continue to be transparent with our community; we must continue to communicate what metrics we are following, to whom we are turning for advice and why we are deciding one thing and not the other. In a typical year, the early winter is the time of year that many families begin to think about camping plans for the next summer. Indeed, for overnight camps like Ramah in the Rockies, we usually end the year about 75% of our way towards our summer camper enrollment. We know that this winter will be different than most, and parents will be making decisions much later into the Spring. Our hope is that by being transparent and engaging with our families throughout, even more will entrust us with the awesome responsibility of accepting care of their children amidst an ongoing pandemic.

After each communication last spring, we held open town hall meetings, and received numerous emails and phone calls with questions and suggestions. When we did make the decision to close for the 2020 season, many families decided to donate part of their tuition to camp in large part because we had been forthcoming with our existential reality and how we hoped to find a path forward.

If there was an enduring lesson from that scary experience in 2017 it is that transparency keeps a community together in challenging times and builds trust between all parties who can work together to envision a better future. Now, with the COVID pandemic enveloping us into the 2021 camping season, we are moving forward with this same principle.

Along with releasing our draft plan, we included a form for our community to ask questions or to make comments/ suggestions. We held our first town hall meeting with parents, campers, staff and donors on November 30, 2020 and heard even more feedback. Over the coming weeks our year-round team and our COVID taskforce will review all comments and determine what needs to change in the plan. We intend to update the draft plan, monthly through the Spring based on changing data, scientific understanding and best practices.

As we set into the winter month, families are facing months of unknowns. Will their children stay in virtual school, or return to in person learning? When will they next see grandparents and cousins? What will the summer look like? No one has all the answers.

Stanford Economist, Paul Romer, stated in 2004, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” None of us would ever wish upon ourselves a fire or a pandemic. When emergencies arise, however, it is an opportunity for us, as leaders, to not only get past the immediate crisis, but to build a community that is stronger, more transparent, and more cohesive than it was before the emergency arose.

Chaverim, 

Ramah in the Rockies will open its doors during summer 2021 for in-person programming. 
With your partnership, we remain steadfast in our commitment to create a safe operating environment for both campers and staff, while continuing to deliver on our mission to create a laboratory for joyful Jewish living and learning. Since early July 2020, a dedicated and well-qualified group of lay leaders and staff have been following the science, evaluating camps that did operate during summer 2020, and researching best practices to ensure we can deliver on this commitment. 

Before a typical summer we prepare for a variety of scenarios. Scenario planning is key to running a safe community. We are taking a similar approach to preparing for kayitz 2021; we are considering a multitude of scenarios and coming up with plans for each. Our Roadmap to Summer 2021 is the first step in this scenario planning, and we are excited to share it with our community. 

This document is dynamic, posted on our website, for all to see our latest thinking and plans. You will see a 6 word version (Keep COVID out. Contain COVID spread), a two minute overview, and the full ten minute read version. This document is NOT our final operations manual for 2021. Rather is a snapshot of our thinking if we were to open camp next month, based on what we know now. In it, we outline our core assumptions and various operating procedures, including sections about community structure, health & safety, travel, program, food service, facility, and communication strategies. 

Please visit ramahoutdoors.org/covid-19 to read our Roadmap. On the same page, you will see a form inviting you to share feedback and questions. We will be holding a town hall meeting on Monday, November 30th at 7pm MST to answer your questions and hear additional feedback. You will also see the link to register for the Zoom call on that page.


Finally, we appreciate your trust and your patience. Ten months ago we could not have imagined the possibility of a ‘canceled summer’ let alone the notion that this pandemic will impact this coming camp season too. As we turn towards the Winter months, we sit here imagining the feeling of opening day in summer 2021. We imagine giving our chalutzim a joyfully Jewish experience next summer, and we all know that what our kids need and deserve most of all right now is camp! Please do not hesitate to reach out, connect with us if you have any questions or just to say hi too. 


With gratitude, 
Rabbi Eliav, Julia, and the Ramah in the Rockies team 

Dear Families,
With the last of the leaves having fallen from the trees, and snow already on the ground at our ranch, we have fully turned our attention to reopening camp in 2021. We just completed one of our best super-early bird registration periods and have more chalutzim (campers) registered today than any other early November in recent years. If your child registered before Yom Kippur, you should have received your sweatshirt. Everyone else who is registered should receive it in 3-4 weeks. Thank you to all who continue to spread the word about Ramah in the Rockies! We hope to register an additional 100 campers before the summer begins and know that most will come through word-of-mouth.Before Thanksgiving, we will release our first operations manual that will describe how we plan to open amidst a likely continued COVID pandemic. We plan to hold regular town hall meetings with our broader camp community about our COVID plans beginning in the first week in December.


We would also like to update you on a few edah grouping changes that are necessary both due to the missed 2020 season as well as the need for social distancing and podding at camp. These changes only affect the 2021 season.

  • Solelim will include all rising 7th and 8th graders. When possible, we will have a rising 7th grade ohel (tent) and also a rising 8th grade ohel. Two-week chalutzim (campers) are welcome to join the first two weeks of each session, though no two-week chalutzim will be joining this edah for the final two weeks (B sessions) of each four week session.
  • Bogrim and Sayarim (rising 9th and rising 10th graders) will be combined into a single edah. We will take programming aspects of each edah to give chalutzim the best summer possible.
  • We will not be welcoming any new IIB chalutzim this summer. Chalutzim who want to join us for two weeks in the second one month session are invited to do so for IIA (July 22-August 4).
  • We still plan to run our Taam Ramah (Taste of Ramah program) for four days each session, but will be switching the dates to June 28-July 1 and July 26-29.

As a reminder, all our dates and rates are found here
We appreciate the trust you put in us to care for your children. As we head into the winter months, we are staying focused on reopening our camp and giving your children a joyful Jewish experience next summer. Please plan to join us on November 22nd to celebrate our community, and encourage your children to sign up to participate in the singing and dancing below. We know that what our kids need most of all right now is camp! Thank you for being on this journey with us.

-Rabbi Eliav

Dear Ramah in the Rockies Kehillah,

We are excited to share “Kavanot Ramah l’Yamim Noraim,” a collection of resources to help enhance the meaning of the upcoming High Holidays. Ramah leaders from throughout our camps and Israel programs have created short videos—songs, prayers, and reflections. We hope that these resources will help inspire greater kavanah—meaning and introspection during these upcoming ten days of repentance. 

Check out all the wonderful videos, including these from our Rockies Tzevet.

Rabbi Eliav on Listening
Michael Harlow sings Or Zarua

May we all have a sweet new year!

Rabbi Eliav and the whole Ramah in the Rockies team

August 25, 2020

Dear Families:

As most of our Colorado families return to school this week, it is hard to believe that Summer 2020 has come to a close. We are so grateful to everyone who has joined us virtually to bring our Kehillah Kedosha together – from the nearly 100 Chalutzim who joined us for virtual camp, to the faces we saw at Kabbalat Shabbat, and the families that shared how much simcha our Ramah music or challah recipe brought to their homes.

Today, we turn the page and focus our attention towards the “next normal,”– reopening our camp for the 2021 season and ensuring that we have the resources to make this happen!

We plan to operate our camp in person in kayitz 2021 with the same unique blend of outdoor education, open-air environmental living, and joyful Jewish expression that has been the hallmark of our community.

Registration for 2021 will open on September 1st. All campers who enroll before October 31 will receive a limited edition Ramah in the Rockies hoodie sweatshirt. If you rolled over your child’s tuition from 2020 to 2021, then of course they will receive a hoodie too!
You can see our 2021 Dates & Rates on our website. We are freezing tuition at our 2020 Rates!

None of us know what our world will look like in 2021. We have convened a planning group of experts in public health, medicine, education, and risk assessment to examine trends and data and to advise our board and staff on the safest way to reopen camp in-person next summer. This group will base its recommendations on the latest science, government regulations and best practices implemented across the Ramah movement, the broader summer camp community, and schools that are reopening for in-person activities.

As we plan for the summer over the next ten months, we make the following promises to you:

Full transparency and regular communications. While we plan for a full reopening next summer, we are also realistic and know that this pandemic is rapidly evolving. We know we will have to adapt aspects of our program based on new information. We will keep you informed of any decisions that will materially affect the camp experience. We are also happy to speak via phone, video or email. Just be in touch.

Full Refunds. All deposits and tuition will be 100% refundable for ANY REASON until March 1, 2021. Entrusting your child to us is an awesome responsibility that we do not take for granted. We are in relationship with each family who registers for camp, and want to ensure that money is not a driving factor.

Additional Assistance. In the eleven years our camp has been in operation, we have never turned away a child who applies before March 1 for financial reasons. We know that many of our families are struggling financially due to the economic instability of the past few months. We are committed to raising additional scholarship dollars to ensure that we can help support any Jewish child who would like to come to our camp.

The health and safety of our community is always our #1 concern. We will not make any decisions that would imperil the health of our campers, staff, or families.

A THANK YOU. . .
We have been blown away by the love we felt from our community this summer. Over 100 campers participated in our virtual programs, and were joined by over 25 tzevet members who took the leap with them. Over 175 families (or 57%) donated portions of their 2020 tuition to camp and 115 families (or 42%) rolled over their tuition to next summer. Many donors have already invested in our “Next Normal” campaign too. Thank you to all who have already come along on our journey.

Two Requests
Over the coming months, we hope that you will help us pivot to the Next Normal. Here’s how you can help:

For those who know families that would benefit from sending their children to Ramah in the Rockies, please tell them about our community and encourage them to be in touch. If you would like to host a virtual information session, we will help arrange logistics. We are continuing with our refer-a-friend program this year too. Word of mouth is our best recruitment strategy.

For those in the position to help us financially, we welcome any and all support. We have a long journey ahead. We continue to take on financial risk as we prepare our camp for next summer but are confident that with the help of our dedicated community, we will emerge stronger at the end of the trail.

covid19, 2021, enrollment, registration, summer camp

Thank you for believing in our mission and we look forward to continuing this journey together.

The Ramah in the Rockies Team

Rabbi Eliav Bock, Executive Director
Julia Chatinover, Assistant Director
Gil Rosenthal, Board Chair

To our Ramah in the Rockies kehillah kedosha,

This year, as we prepare for our seders, we are thinking about numbers. We are thinking of the traditional Passover numbers – the eight days of Passover, four cups of wine, three matzot, and one Elijah’s cup. We are also thinking about the tragic numbers linked to the pandemic we are all living through – the number of people who have fallen ill with COVID-19, those who have recovered, and those who have tragically succumbed to the disease. We are thinking about the millions who are now unemployed and the devastating economic toll this virus is taking on families, businesses, and non-profits alike. With this in mind, we offer the following look inside our organization as we prepare for our 11th kayitz and the possibility that we will need to alter our summer plans based on the trajectory of the virus.

Ramah in the Rockies by the Numbers:

$890,000

Cost of opening our expanded Waster Water Treatment
plant in 2020 – bringing our total to $1.6 million spent
on our existing waste-water infrastructure for the chava.

$105,000

Need-based financial assistance awarded – thank you to our generous donors.

9,000

Gallons of drinking water available in our year-round water storage tank at any one time.

500+

Number of chalutzim and tzevet who call our kehillah kedosha home each summer.

70

Days until Kayitz 2020 is scheduled to begin!

43

JOLI chalutzim registered for 2020 – our most ever!

30+

Number of chalutzim who will receive their 5th-year shirts this kayitz.

28

Number of different states from which chalutzim are coming in 2020.

25

New masa tents purchased.

24

Days until we will make an announcement about our summer schedule

23

Ta’am Ramah (Taste of Ramah) chalutzim currently registered for 2020.

21

Horses under contract to come to camp – from two different herds!

16

Beds in our new Mirpa’ah (Health & Wellness Center).

12

New bikes purchased for Ilanot & Metaylim chalutzim.

5

Stalls in the new bathrooms across from the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall).

3

The number of raised beds to be built in our kitchen’s new garden.

1

New Mercaz Gan-Teva (Garden and Nature Center opening this kayitz).

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!

To our Ramah in the Rockies kehillah kedosha,

I write this email having just returned from a week of winter camping on the chava (ranch) where the Ramah year-round team met to work on some preparations for Kayitz 2020. We are having a fantastically snowy winter (30 feet and counting), which we hope will make for a very wet and green spring. With camp right around the corner, we are pleased to finally be able to announce a few major changes to our camp program.

Exciting Changes to our Masa Program.

Let’s face it – for many kids, Ramah in the Rockies is too rustic! We hear from so many parents that they love the values of Ramah in the Rockies, but wish their children were more pampered. This summer we are pleased to announce our very first glamping masa (backcountry excursions). Inspired by the five days our senior staff recently spent in Tulum, Mexico in an overpriced yurt – where warm bathing water was brought to our doors each morning and our days were filled with yoga and fine vegetarian raw meals – we decided that we need to expose our chalutzim (campers) to this sort of luxury camping. After some research, we partnered with a private outdoors camping company called Less Rocky: Rockies Camping Inc. (LRRC). LRRC has designed an incredibly unique glamping experience for our campers: chalutzim will experience the magic of the Rocky Mountains during the day, and enjoy the comfort of high-count Egyptian cotton sheets by night! 

On our masa’ot this summer, chalutzim will be treated to long meals, featuring some of the best vegan food available West of the Mississippi. One of the most significant reasons for partnering with this specific backcountry company, beyond the array of LRRC’s dietary options, was their beverage service. Each masa group will have a company employee who will carry 45 liters of crisp Fiji water insulated by a top-of-the-line YETI cooler backpack. Breakfast will include a variety of cold brew coffee options, while at lunch and dinner chalutzim can choose from two types of kombucha and San Pellegrino. 

After Kayitz 2019, we heard that a particular source of contention for our campers was the uncomfortable camping mats they slept on during masa. Well, at the request of our camp kehillah kedosha (holy community), we have made sure that LRRC provides individual memory foam cots that sit at least 18 inches off the ground to everyone on masa

In addition to the food and sleeping arrangements, the company has assured us that every desire or need our campers may have during masa will be met. No requests will be declined. For Kayitz 2020, our hope is that chalutzim realize that to experience nature means to find a place that costs more than a five-star hotel where one has the views and smells of the great outdoors without having to deal with the annoying elements like dirt, rain, or bugs.

Unveiling Our New Chadar Ochel and New Food Options!

For ten summers, we focused our attention on serving sustainable and healthy food. This kayitz, however, we have decided that while the healthy diet was fun in theory, in reality, our chalutzim and tzevet (staff) just want pizza, hamburgers, and diet soda. And so, I am excited to share our new camp motto – “Frozen is the new fresh.” 

While we will continue to cook meals in our main kitchen, we have decided to outfit our new Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall) with a bank of microwaves and three glassdoor freezers. This new addition will house a wide selection of packaged and pre-cooked dinners imported from a Brooklyn kosher food distributor. Campers will be welcome to leave their seats at any point of a meal, take a pre-packaged meal and warm it up for themselves. We want our campers to realize that they can have whatever they want whenever they want it.

We are also excited to announce a new special day at camp, Yom Fleish (Meat Day). Yom Fleish will be once a session (i.e. once every two weeks), and we will serve meat, and only meat, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We are so excited to spend this day teaching our chalutzim that their actions will have absolutely no effect on the environment. Our educational goal is to provide them with the foundational understanding that no matter what they do in the world, it is not possible to make any change, so we might as well just live life and let someone else worry about the big issues (like climate change). 

Our Newest Chug Option!

Since the beginning of time, humans have wondered what it would feel like for a person to fly through the air. Well, thanks to innovative fabrics, it is now possible with commercial flight wingsuits! We have watched each year as the sport of BASEjumping has taken off around the globe. For the past two years, we have worked with our licensing agencies, in both Jefferson County and the State of Colorado, to become the first summer camp in the world to offer children the opportunity to fly.  

Before Kayitz 2020 we will receive our first-ever shipment of Ramah flight wingsuits. Our Ramah wingsuits weigh under 20 pounds apiece and can withstand speeds of over 200 MPH. BASEjumping, or as it will be called at camp “Alef Beis Jumping” or just “Beis,” will be offered to all of our chalutzim as a chug (elective) option. Campers who choose Beis, will hike up Prospector Mountain on the backside of our property – it is the perfect cliff for a long-running start. Chalutzim will perform deep-dives off the edge and land safely in Ramah valley. Campers who successfully complete jumping from Prospector will have the opportunity to do four more jumps from different mountain tops throughout Pike National Forest.  

We have arrived at the halfway point of the Hebrew month of Adar, and as such, Purim has undoubtedly brought out our sillier side. It is with this, that we hope we can share many more laughs with you throughout the year(s) to come! We cannot wait to welcome your children back to the chava in less than 100 days and we will have more updates coming soon.

Chag Purim same’ach! Happy Purim!

– Rabbi Eliav

(P.S. Yes, 99% of what is written above is a joke.)

Over the past six weeks we heard from hundreds of parents, chalutzim (campers), and tzevet (staff) about their experiences at Ramah in the Rockies during Kayitz 2019.  We asked for honest feedback and thank everyone for sharing so that we may learn about what went well and where we need to improve. Below are some of the highlights from Kayitz 2019, and some of the areas for growth going forward into our 11th summer. 

Two Thumbs Up: Successes of Kayitz 2019

New Schedule

Our new camp schedule was widely celebrated. We moved breakfast earlier, added a fifth program time, and switched Nikayon (cleaning time) to after lunch. Lunch and dinner times were shortened, which ensured that our younger campers ended their days close to 8:00  PM. The Kibbutz and Kfar tent areas were quieter on most nights than in years past, giving chalutzim better nights of sleep because campers were going to bed earlier. While there were some unintended consequences as part of this new schedule – for example, some chalutzim only had a 45-minute biking activity, which was way too short – overall it was a welcome change to Ramah in the Rockies. Additionally, our new Sunday Yom Meyuchad (special day) schedule was well received. Chalutzim liked the ability to choose their Sunday activities, and they took full advantage of the opportunities for larger edah (age group) and camp-wide programs as well. 

Connections

We know that Jewish summer camp works best as an educational enterprise when children are making deep and lasting connections not just between themselves, but also with their madrichim (counselors). This past summer, we placed a greater emphasis on facilitating these connections and provided more opportunities for group bonding. In general, we heard that chalutzim felt closer connections to others – both chalutzim and tzevet – in their ohelim (tents) than in years past.

Shabbat: 

As Jewish educators, it is awesome to hear the sheer number of people, tzevet and chalutzim, who said that Shabbat is their favorite time at camp. We pride ourselves on providing young people a space where they can both live in concert with nature and the world around them, and have joyful Jewish experiences. As we have heard following our previous summers, a highlight for many of our chalutzim has been the ruach (spirit) of shira (singing) and rikkud (dancing) during Shabbat. Although both happen during our regular weekly programming, during Shabbat these activities are especially meaningful. So much so, that often hear that these experiences continue to resonate with campers weeks and even months after leaving the chava (ranch). In addition to adjusting our Shabbat schedule, we added more Shabbat afternoon options, and changed a number of tunes in tefillah (prayers). All of these were welcome enhancements, and, as one nine year old told us, “I wish every day at camp could be Shabbat.”

Mixed Reviews: Where we Have the Opportunity to Grow

Communications: 

We continue to pursue a better balance between allowing chalutzim to be independent at camp and keeping our parents and families in the loop about their daily and weekly activities. We received overwhelmingly positive responses to our weekly Friday emails. Yet, there was also a desire to hear more, especially about our younger chalutzim and their activities during the week. You also appreciated the twice-weekly photo uploads, but asked that we instead have more group snapshots over individual portrait ones. For next year, we plan to implement a system that will allow madrichim of our younger edot to regularly update parents, at least once every session, via written communication with specific updates on their child(ren). That being said, we continue to encourage parents to email or call us directly with questions about their children. If you do not receive an answer within 24 hours, then we are not living up to our commitment, and ask that you escalate your request to Rabbi Eliav, Julia Chatinover, and/or Stacy Wasserman. We also know that letters continue to take too long to reach you at home. While we cannot solve USPS issues, we plan to add our own dated stamp to letters placed in our outgoing mailbox so parents can see when a letter leaves camp.

Masa:

The cornerstone of what makes Ramah in the Rockies unique is our masa (backcountry excursion) program. It is a time for chalutzim to challenge themselves, form deep connections with each other, and gain a new appreciation for nature and the environment around them. It is also a time to learn how to be safe in the backcountry, how to step up and lead, and how to encourage others in times of adversity. You told us that the masa experience is not uniform, and that we need to work on improving the areas that we do control, such as gear, programmatic expectations, and logistics and route planning.

Over the next few months, we will examine all of our masa systems and programs in an effort to further refine what has worked and implement solutions for what has not worked. We plan to invest in new gear to ensure that there is enough for every group and that our chalutzim all have the correct sized packs. We will evaluate the training for our trip leaders and make sure that they are prepared to implement the educational goals of our masa’ot. We are fortunate that we have a very strong safety record from which we can build, and while this is laudable, it is certainly not something we take for granted. Regardless of how we improve the masa experience, safety will always be our number one concern.   

Food: 

We received more positive feedback on our food – its quality, quantity, and variety than in any previous year. That being said, we continued to struggle to deliver a consistent product throughout the second session. For a variety of reasons, we changed our menu midway through the summer and while our first session chalutzim gave our food rave reviews, the same was not the case during the second session. As we look towards next summer, we will take a critical look at our menus and ensuring that we are offering balanced meals throughout the summer, including enough traditional and alternative protein options. Additionally, some families were voiced concerns about our kitchen running out of food at various meals and we want to reassure you of our commitment to not run out of the main course at any meal throughout the summer. We plan to continue providing robust salad bars at lunch and dinner and breakfast bars in the morning. We will also be continuing our efforts in moving towards a “less seasoning, more sauce” philosophy, where campers can choose the flavors they would like to add to their meals, rather than have food that is too spicy or seasoned. While we will continue to serve meat weekly (except for the first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av), we also hope to add additional non-soy plant-based protein meals such as Beyond Meat, which was recently certified kosher. We also hope to refocus on our camp values by utilizing locally sourced produce and products as much as possible. For our masa menu options, we will continue to tweak our new food system to ensure that all trips have enough food, regardless of the length of trip or the number of people on the trip.

Thank you for being a part of our kehillah kedoshah (holy community) and for taking the time to share your feedback with us so that we may continue to improve. As always, please be in touch with any specific questions, comments, or concerns. All of us on the year-round team are available to speak via phone, email, or in person.

During our ten summers on the chava (ranch), Ramah in the Rockies has been the site of hail and wind storms, a fire, and even a helicopter landing, but now, after Kayitz 2019, we can also say that we have hosted peace talks. 

As a camp and a community, we place a great deal of value on individual identity and self expression. Outside of camp, many chalutzim (campers) do not have the opportunity to physically build things and take calculated risks. At camp, they are not only allowed but encouraged, to explore and test their creative boundaries. These values can easily be seen in one of camp’s guiding principles, “challenge by choice.” As a result, many chalutzim have been naturally drawn to the construction of, and gameplay surrounding, what we at camp call “tree-forts.”         

While Ramah in the Rockies strongly encourages free play and independent pursuits, sometimes conflict arises that requires a helping hand. This kayitz, the tree-forts were extremely popular, and when conflict did arise within the gameplay our tzevet (staff) was prepared to help ease the tension.    

In one such situation, Jacob Chatinover from Camper Care cleverly helped chalutzim establish some basic ground rules within the realm of tree-fort building instead of merely policing a conflict between two fort “nations.” Jacob was able to successfully facilitate, “the Camp Jacob Accords,” allowing all of our tree-fort-building chalutzim to continue in the fun and creativity of tree-fort building. 

Jacob Chatinover with Chalutzim this summer

During the Camp Jacob Accords, topics discussed and voted on included the guidelines for inter-tree-fort trading, the establishment of a “neutral zone” and a “non-aggression pact,” and the continued use of the “Zetley Border” – a fallen nearby tree that had been introduced as a border with the help of tzevet member David Zetley earlier in the summer. Additionally, a new rule was instituted known as the “Tourism Rule,” which allowed for chalutzim and tzevet to visit tree-forts, providing they identified themselves as a “tourist.”  

Looking back on the Camp Jacob Accords, the Tourism Rule stands out for Jacob, not only because of its progressive and forward-thinking take on the situation, but also because of how it connects to the upcoming holiday of Sukkot.

An integral part of Sukkot is the experience of shared personal and communal spaces. As the Talmud explains, “All of Israel are fit to live in one sukkah,” Sukkot 27B. Many scholars take from this that it would be appropriate for every Jew in the world to dwell in one sukkah, and from this we learn that every individual sukkah is part of the “larger Jewish collective sukkah.” This idea, of a shared space, seems especially relevant considering the conflict Jacob helped settle.  

On an even deeper level, the value of “challenge by choice,” which every chalutz and chalutzah experiences at camp, can also be linked to the celebration of Sukkot. Just as Ramah allows campers the space to explore and create, so too does Sukkot provide children and adults the opportunity to take a risk-sharing in the vulnerability of constructing a temporary structure that is exposed to the elements.

Wishing you a Sukkot filled with joy, vulnerability, and healthy risks.

Chag same’ach!

We kicked off the final full week of the Kayitz (Summer) 2019 with Yom Sport. Everyone in camp was decked-out in kachol (blue), adom (red), or yarok (green), and the atmosphere on the chava (ranch) shifted to intense competition and fun which progressed throughout the day. The day was filled with a lot of sweat and a lot of smiles. Following a win by kevutzah (team) kachol, things at camp again shifted to anticipation as a majority of chalutzim (pioneers/campers) prepared for their masa’ot (backcountry excursions).

While masa weeks at basecamp are relatively quiet, this masa week we welcomed our Ta’am Ramah (2nd to 4th graders), “taste of Ramah” program, to the chava for four days, where they briefly experienced what being chalutzim at Ramah in the Rockies is like. They all had a wonderful time and we are looking forward to welcoming them back here at camp next summer for a full two or four weeks.   

Personally, my favorite part of masa week is Friday mornings. The excitement for this morning is more and more palpable as the week progresses, reaching its peak as the stream of white 12-passenger vans return to the chava. As each masa unloads their van, I have a first-row seat to one of the greatest spectacles Ramah in the Rockies has to offer – huge smiles, loud laughter, joyful reunions, and, of course, epic masa stories. This morning was no different, and this round of masa’ot featured some awesome experiences that I would like to share. 

In particular, what makes our second round of masa’ot so special is that our JOLI (11th and 12th graders) chalutzim begin their final transition from campers to CIT (Counselor In Training). After JOLI chalutzim had a chance to learn with current tzevet (staff) in the Moadon Tzevet (Staff Lounge), they were split up amongst the edot (age groups), and put everything they have worked on throughout this kayitz to the test with actual hands-on experience.

The JOLI chalutzim who worked with Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) were treated to one of Ramah in the Rockies best (and most awesome) kept secrets – the twice-a-kayitz “Rocktion” (rock auction). Tzevet members, JOLI, and Ta’am Ramah all dressed up in their finest attire and perused their options before the bidding began. Once rocks were purchased, Ilanot chalutzim had the opportunity to trade in their profits for prizes like an ice cream party with Rabbi Eliav or being Rosh Edah (age group Unit Head) for a day.

On masa, Metaylim (5th and 6th graders) left our ranch for three days, with gear on their backs. For many, this was the first time that they had experienced a multi-day hike. While all of our masa’ot were within 15 miles of our camp, most reached the peaks of local mountains which provided unforgettable vistas of Pike National Forest. Additionally, a highlight for many of the chalutzim, was learning about wild vegetation and actually getting to snack on some wild raspberries, strawberries, and onions. 

Solelim (7th and 8th graders) had incredible masa experiences to share from all their masa’ot, including omanut (Art), tipus (climbing), and backpacking. All three of the Solelim masa’ot went significantly challenging hikes, but ever group said it was worth it in the end as every day included at least one beautiful vista. Our Bogrim (9th graders) chalutzim chose between kayaking and a dual tipus (climbing) and ofanayim (biking) masa. Many of the Bogrim chalutzim on kayaking masa had never been kayaking before, and despite being a little hesitant at first, everyone had an amazing time.       

As the second oldest edah, Sayarim (10th graders) got to choose from four different masa’ot chava (farming), tipus (climbing), ofanayim (biking), and a challenging backpacking masa. Some highlights from these masa’ot included chava masa’s new best friends – goats, a “bottomless” cooler of food and snacks in the back of ofanayim masa’s bike-truck, and the special guest who accompanied backpacking masa – Ash, one of our tzevet’s dogs.   

As we pack away our gear, shower, and put on our finest white outfits, everyone is excited about our final Shabbat together. As a result of the gathering clouds, we will be moving our tefillot to the Ohel Mo’ed, where the sound is incredible, and where we will be safe from rain. We have so many more peulot (activities), games, and conversations to be had before we say goodbye to our chalutzim, and we will be in full “camp mode” until Tuesday afternoon. Tonight, as we gather in our pre-Shabbat circle, I will address our community urging them to take the values that permeate our kehillah kedosha (holy community) home with them and integrate them into their own families and communities. In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses gathering the Israelites for a final retelling of our national narrative. Similarly, on our final Shabbat together this summer, we will all be crafting our own masa and camp stories, and weaving them into a narrative that can be shared with our friends and family for weeks, months, and years to come.

We look forward to seeing our chalutzim back on the chava again in the Kayitz of 2020!

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

As we finish the second full week of Session 2, I have enjoyed watching the rhythm of camp life kick in as our chalutzim (campers/pioneers) have had days of exciting “regularly” scheduled activities. As they skip to chugim (activities), and enjoy a variety of tefillot (prayer) options each morning, I see them building kesharim (connections) jumping into new and challenging experiences. 

On Sunday, chalutzim chose from a variety of special sessions organized by our tzevet (staff). Choices included ofanayim (biking), mining for stones on Givat Ilanot, a hill overlooking camp, playing a camp-wide game of Embassy (ask your child about the complicated rules!), and a shechita (kosher preparation of meat) demonstration for our older chalutzim. JOLI (11th and 12th graders) spent the day in Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training with Cliff Stockton, who also trains our tzevet Wilderness First Responders (WFRs). Luckily, JOLI didn’t need to use their new medical training on their hike up the fourteener Mount Bierstadt! The group camped out the night before their ascent at the base of the mountain, and woke up at 5:30 AM to make it up and down the mountain before the afternoon rain swept through the mountainside. 

On Sunday evening JOLI and Sayarim (10th graders) participated in a “simulation of exile.” The peulah (activity) began when madrichim (counselors) escorted their chalutzim out from their ohelim (tents) and brought them to another area of camp. Once the chalutzim settled into the new space, the madrichim then changed chalutzim’s names to be “less Jewish,” put out the fire JOLI and Sayarim had built to cook on, and forced them to again move to another location. Throughout program they learned about different times in history when Jewish communities were forced to leave their homes.  In Ramah Valley, at the conclusion of the peulah, after some marshmallows, hugs, and a campfire, the group processed the experience, and both edot (age groups) then slept out under the stars.

Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) and Metaylim (5th and 6th graders) had special programming to mark the end of Session 2A, as we said goodbye to some of our chalutzim. Ilanot held a bingo night in the Chadar Ochel (dining room). Everyone walked with “aching” backs dressed up like the elderly – complete with white unibrows, walking sticks, and clothing stuffed undershirts. Midway through the rousing rounds of bingo, a “special” snack of mushy food was even served. 

For peulat erev (evening activity) one night, Metaylim held a mock bar mitzvah party in Ohel Shachar for their madrich Jarred, complete with backstories for all costumed characters involved – “Jarred,” the bar mitzvah boy, “Rachele,” the mother, “Giardina,” the grandmother, and “Moishe,” the best friend. The group danced the hora and played games like Coke & Pepsi. And finally, as the sun faded behind the mountains, the group had a “candle lighting ceremony” with paper printouts of candles. 

On Wednesday, we said farewell to our two-week chalutzim and were equally excited to meet our new friends who arrived for Session 2B, who quickly unpacked their bags and jumped right into our special programming for Yom Yisrael (Israel Day). Our Chadar Ochel was decked out in Israel flags, and Israeli tunes blared over the speakers.  In a departure from our usual scheduled camp meals, our Israeli tzevet served falafel, hummus, Israeli salad, and pita. Individual edot led Israel-focused activities throughout the day. Bogrim (9th graders) analyzed bumper stickers in Israel as a way of exploring different aspects of Israeli identity. The camp-wide peulat erev was a tour of our “Israel Museum,” which included exhibits about Israeli arts, politics, and a special display of photos of our Israeli tzevet from when they served in the military.  

While our chalutzim have been filling up their days in their chugim including tipus (climbing), susim (horses), chetz v’keshet (archery), and omanut (arts), our peulot erev have been the highlight for many campers. Solelim (7th and 8th graders) had an “Iron Chef” cake-pop making competition in the mitbach (kitchen).  On Thursday, after aruchat erev (dinner), our chava (farm) team constructed a “Farmer’s Market” for Solelim, Bogrim, Sayarim, and JOLI.  Booths were set up with food grown at camp, including crackers and goat cheese made from milk from our goats, kombucha, pickles from the farm, and banana bread. Other highlights from the peulah include Rosh omanut’s (Head of the arts program, Hooper) booth of herbs and spices, and Summer Assistant Director, Achinoam Aldouby, dressing like a witch and giving out apples to chalutzim – all while speaking Hebrew of course! The “Farmer’s Market” was a ton of fun, and provided our whole kehilah (community) with a lot of laughs and memories. What a celebration to end the week and lead us into Shabbat!

As we head into our last two weeks of Kayitz (Summer) 2019, there are still so many more memories to be made! Ahead of us still lies, the arrival of our Ta’am Ramah (2nd to 4th graders) “taste of Ramah” program, the JOLI counselor-in-training (CIT) week, our final masa’ot (backcountry excursions), and everyone is eagerly anticipating Yom Sport coming up this Sunday. 

While our schedule is always packed with programming that is both fun and educational, it is still the unplanned moments of smicha (joy) and kesharim (connections) that make me smile most. It is seeing people walking into the Chadar Ochel and break out into song and dance as they set the tables. It is watching the chalutzim hanging out and playing games in Ohel Koby (our game tent), and it is seeing madrichim and chalutzim walking to-and-from chugim and meals engaged in conversation. These less-structured moments are often the most transformative at camp, and the ones that, coupled with our formal programming, come together to create the magic that is Ramah in the Rockies. 

As I conclude this email, we are wrapping up our formal peulot for Friday, and everyone is getting into their best white Shabbat attire. We hope to be davening in the Pardes Tefillah tonight, but based on our almost daily late afternoon showers, we will wait until the last minute to make that decision. Either way, along with our giant post of photos from today, we will post pictures Monday evening, which will include photos from both Shabbat and Yom Sport!

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

As our session 2 kehillah (community) has settled into life on chava, it has been such a joy to get to know and learn from all of your children this past week. While it has been a quiet week at basecamp due to our masa’ot, today I was delighted to watch the stream of our white vans enter through the front gate, each filled with excited chalutzim returning to camp, eager to share their stories. 

But let me start at the beginning of the week. On Sunday, we took a break from our usual programming. While our chalutzim and tzevet (staff) that were participating in the Fast of Tammuz had limmudim (learning sessions) throughout the day, our other chalutzim had a choice of participating in a wide variety of activities, including fishing at nearby Cheesman Reservoir, learning about Israel from our Israeli tzevet (staff), making glass mosaics at Beit HaYitzeirah (the Art Pavilion), and playing capture the flag in Ramah Valley. 

Usually aruchat erev (dinner) lasts about an hour, but on Sunday camp experienced a major storm and as a safety precaution the whole camp stayed in the ohel ochel (dining room) for an extra two hours! Halfway through dinner, we felt a rumble through the canvas walls, and the sky opened up, demonstrating the truly spectacular power of nature and Hashem. Rain and hail fell like waterfalls, and white flashes of lightning filled the sky. I took this opportunity to lead our kehillah kedosha (holy community) in two brachot (blessings), as all of camp is rarely in the same location during a thunder and lightning. The first bracha on hearing thunder (a blessing that praises God’s power and might), and the second bracha on seeing lightning (a blessing that celebrates God as The creator).   

As we kept warm and dry inside the ohel (tent), we passed the time by cleaning up our plates and tables as usual, and then took part in an epic session of rikud (dancing). Then, with members of our kehillah linked arm in arm, Michael Harlow, our Racaz Shira (Camp Song Leader and Music Coordinator) brought out his guitar and led the camp in more shirim (songs). Our voices, contained only by the four walls of ohel, drowned out the thunder. The simcha (joy) I felt in that room was inspiring. I was impressed to see our chalutzim making the best of a less-than ideal situation. 

The next morning, camp was quiet as the older chalutzim left on their masa’ot, and all of our trails and streams became the domain of our youngest edot (age groups), Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) and Metaylim (5th and 6th graders). Both edot went horseback riding with our susim (horse staff) tzevet, spent time on the archery range with our chetz v’keshet (archery) tzevet, and in the afternoon Ilanot went on a masa to the aquatics center while Metaylim went whitewater rafting. 

Solelim (7th and 8th graders) spent their week on a variety of masa’ot including omanut (art), chetz v’keshet (archery), rafting/ofanayim (biking), chava (farming), and backpacking. Some highlights from the masa’ot include playing with goats, making homemade pizza with fresh-picked herbs, gorgeous sunrise hikes, and intense (and in tents) card games during some lengthy storms.   

Bogrim (9th graders) set out on two different trips – a backpacking masa to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the other a kayaking masa. For Bogrim masa’ot, many chalutzim had opportunities to face their fears. Whether it was fear of heights or fear of flipping over in their kayak, everyone embraced the Ramah in the Rockies mantra of “Challenge by Choice,” and they all had an incredible time!

Not to be outdone by the adventures had by our younger edot, all of Sayarim (10th graders) went on challenging backpacking masa’ot. Some of these chalutzim not only had to deal with minor hailstorms, but also hat-stealing marmots (think large squirrel, but cuter). Unfortunately, the marmots bested our chalutzim, as some of them did have their hats taken for good.  

Finally, JOLI (11th and 12th graders), our oldest edah, split into two groups, both spending their week in Carson National Forest in New Mexico, marking only the second time that Ramah in the Rockies has had a masa cross state lines! The highlight of this masa was, without a doubt, the incredible 360-degree views encountered at the top of several peaks. 

Last Shabbat, Assistant Director Julia Chatinover gave a d’var torah on the power of kesharim (connections), and encouraged our chalutzim to go into their individual masa’ot with the active intention of creating kesharim. Our chalutzim did not disappoint! The kesharim that they formed between each other, nature, and within themselves flooded out (no pun intended) as they returned to the chava. It could be seen and heard through their smiles and laughter as they rejoined camp. They shed their mud-encrusted hiking boots, washed their sweat-soaked hair, and prepared their minds and bodies to join the rest of the kehilah kedosha in the Pardes Tefillah for the beginning of Shabbat. 

After a “stormy” start, our kehillah spent this week embarking on individual and group masa’ot to return home to a peaceful Shabbat where we can reflect and come together. I am continuously reminded of the power of nature, both at basecamp and bamidbar (in the wilderness), to make memories and friendships that last a lifetime. I am excited for the week to come at Machaneh Ramah as we continue to build our kehillah.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock