Shabbat Shalom Ramah Family and Friends!

Greetings from a cool and cloudy day at Ramah in the Rockies! For the first time in probably several weeks, our temperatures have dipped, the clouds rolled in, and much needed rain fell.  This has been another transition week for us here on the chava (ranch) as we said lehitra’ot (goodbye) to our 2A campers, and bruchim haba’im (welcome) to our 2B chalutzim (campers).  We bid farewell to our incredible delegation from Congregation Bet El in Mexico City, which was recently featured in this news article. (Please note: We are sorry for any misspelled names or incorrect facts in the article. Our kids were interviewed over the phone by an outside reporter.)

This is our smallest session of the summer, to the point that we have been able to consolidate from eating in two seperate dining halls to eating in one. As is the case on the Friday of every other week here at camp, our older chalutzim are “packing out” – preparing their food and gear for their five-day backcountry excursions. They are measuring out their ingredients; checking and rechecking their tents, packs, stoves, and other gear; and making sure all is ready for the trip.

This past Sunday, our Tzevet Chetz V’keshet (Archery Staff) hosted a medieval-themed archery tournament on the range. Our chalutzim and tzevet all came out to cheer and support the competitors, many of whom came in costume and carrying banners representing their teams. I even managed to join for a round or two of shooting. (Though admittedly, I probably missed the target more than hitting it!) Check out the pictures, by clicking this link.

For our Ilanot and Metaylim chalutzim, we had our end of session carnival, always a crowd favorite, complete with balloon animals, face painting, snow cones, a photo booth, and more!  These two groups welcomed new friends this week, and, last night, Metaylim had an “ecstatic dance party” as Rosh Edah Julia described it.  At the party, they heard a mix of English and Hebrew upbeat dance music and had judgment-free dancing, letting their bodies move to the music. The kids loved it!

Sollelim said goodbye to a bunch of chalutzim earlier this week and welcomed a new cohort as well, our last transition week of the summer. Led by Rami, an incredibly talented and musical Rosh Edah (unit head), the t’fillot (morning prayers) have become a real highlight experience for all. While this might be unusual to say, this edah has really been hitting it out of park when it comes to t’fillah.  They have had musical and spirited traditional services as well as deeply meaningful alternative t’fillot, exploring meaning through a variety of options. Another highlight of the week from Sollelim was their glow-in-the-dark gaga game!

While other edot were welcoming new friends, we made a decision this year NOT to offer 2-week Bogrim registration at the end of the summer. The Bogrim group has continued their excellent programming for 4-week chalutzim. We welcome a number of “guest stars” (visiting rabbis) throughout the summer and they have led Bogrim in a variety of activities and limudim (text-based discussions). For example: Rabbi Scott Bolton and Dr. Hartley Lachter did an activity around Jewish leadership styles as they contrast with more top-down religious leadership approaches. Dr. Jessica Cooperman spoke about Jews & Race. Rabbi Elyse Winick led a session on Tikkun Olam. Evenings for our Bogrim chalutzim were filled with silly and fun peulot erev like Pillowcase Charades, where we did impersonations and created costumes using random items placed in a pillowcase. Last night we held a sing-off where the MC picked one word like “sun”, “road”, or “shake” and then thought of different songs with that word.  You could hear the singing all the way across camp!

Yesterday evening I watched JOLI participate in a pretty awesome peulat erev (evening activity) – Iron Chef. The JOLI contestants were given a set list of ingredients that had to be included in their two dishes, and everything was cooked and prepared using typical masa gear – camping stoves, cutting boards, and knives.   Each of the teams than ate their creations for dinner and presented an extra plate to a panel of judges, including our Head Chef Avram who ran the evening and he gave them some pointers to improve their dishes.

This week we also welcomed another group of chalutzim — our Adult Campers! This summer we have 11 campers joining us who will participate in our base camp activities, spend a spirited Shabbat with our entire kehilla kedosha, and go out on their own masa (backcountry excursion). Leading this esteemed group is the Director of Camp Ramah in Northern California (and a founding Rockies staff member!), Rabbi Sarah Schulman and her husband, Nate Bankirer.

We are looking forward to a wonderful Shabbat with our friends from Adult Camp and our entire kehilla.  This Sunday (SHHH, it’s a surprise!), we will be celebrating a camp favorite: Yom Sport! Yom Sport is our color-war competition that we do twice a summer and is always a highlight for our chalutzim and tzevet. It will surely be an exciting day of cheering, singing, dancing, sports, and friendly competition!

We wish you all a peaceful Shabbat!

Rabbi Eliav Bock, Douglas, Julia, Ari, Lisa, Rafi, Elyssa, Jake
and the entire Summer 2016 Tzevet!

Shabbat Shalom Ramah Family and Friends!

I am sitting in the chadar ochel an hour before lunch, Israeli music is blaring from the loudspeakers, and the sounds of chalutzim (campers) returning from masaot (excursions) fill the air outside.  Over the next three hours all our chalutzim will return from their masa’ot.  After the initial shrieks of delight and quickly paced stories, all will unpack, shower, change, and be ready for another Shabbat at camp.

Our youngest two edot spent most of their week on our chava (ranch) where they had a chance to ride horses, shoot archery, ride bikes, and also go mining.  Masa weeks tend to be much quieter at camp since half our kehillah kedosha (holy community) is away which allows us a chance to do programs that might not be possible when everyone is in camp.  For example, this week our staff from the Mexican delegation treated us to real Mexican food for dinner and we had two shira (singing) sessions that were incredible because all the chalutzim and tzevet (staff) were able to fit into the small chadar ochel (dining hall) where the acoustics are so much better than our larger dining tent.

Yesterday and today, Ilanot has been on a masa of their own.  On Thursday morning, they hiked out to Ramah Valley where they set up a base camp.  Half the group then spent the afternoon hiking up Prospector Mountain and the other half of the group hiked to our neighboring buffalo ranch. On Prospector, the wild raspberries are in season, so hikers had a chance to eat their way up the mountain. At the Buffalo Ranch, chalutzim had a picnic overlooking a gorgeous pond before heading into the pasture on a UTV to feed the buffalo and cattle (the cows, by hand).  In the evening, everyone met back in Ramah Valley for dinner and a campfire.  Today the groups switched.

Due to transportation issues, we combined our entire Metaylim edah and sent them to the Arkansas River for their rafting masa.  The group camped out together by the river on Tuesday night, and then spent Wednesday on the water.  All reported that it was an incredible experience and the weather was perfect throughout. Our rafting company, Noah’s Ark, are some of the best trained and most responsible guides on the river, and so even when one boat flipped, the guides pulled all the campers into accompanying rafts just as they are trained to do.  Campers in the flipped boat all called home, but most, whether in the water or on other rafts, just thought it would be an awesome story to tell. Sadly, this will be our last rafting trip of the summer since the water level will drop considerably by IIB.

Sollelim chalutzim had a chance this week to choose a masa that would challenge them on bikes, by foot (on one of three hiking masa’ot), at a 3-D archery range, and on the cliffs of the surrounding mountains.  When I asked some of the Sollelim chalutzim what the highlight of their trip had been, I heard combinations of: the meals and camaraderie in the evenings at the camp sites, summiting some beautiful mountains and of course setting personal goals and achieving them.  I heard from a few madrichim (counselors) who told me that they were so impressed by how well the chalutzim worked together to accomplish a number of challenges and encourage each other, especially when walking/riding up steep hills.

Our Bogrim chalutzim spent time on Earth Mountain Farm, climbed in two areas near our camp, biked on miles of road and single track, and hiked throughout Pike National Forest and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  One group also spent the week kayaking near Salida, Colorado.  For many of our Bogrim chalutzim this was their 5th or 6th masa at Ramah in the Rockies, and each year we seek to add additional challenges, especially for those chalutzim who have been “growing up” with us.  One of the biking madrichim mentioned to me that this was the strongest group of bikers he had seen and they completed their initial route by Wednesday at lunch before tacking on two extra days of biking yesterday and today.  On one of the backpacking masa’ot, their leader reported how self sufficient the chalutzim were a few days in and that they had taken charge of setting up camp and cooking each day. That is truly one of our goals for our chalutzim- that they learn all the skills necessary to backpack on their own and lead trips one day!

As has become the tradition with JOLI in the first set of their masa’ot, they returned to the Indian Peaks Wilderness where they had five magnificent days of hiking and camping.  The group split into two and made a figure eight hiking loop so that they barely overlapped with each other.   All had a chance to spend a night and day on their solo where they sit in one area and appreciate how far they have come (literally and figuratively) and have a chance to journal, meditate, and relax in the magnificent Colorado backcountry.  Each JOLI participant also had a chance to be “a leader of the day”, where they had a chance to guide the entire group – deciding on the pace, when to eat, and the best route given the camp site they had to reach each night.

We will wait to hit “send” on this email until all our chalutzim are back on our ranch.  Tonight is going to be the final Friday night at camp for almost 75 of our chalutzim and 12 of our tzevet members.  When we gather tonight in our circle and sing our niggunim, we will be feeling an enormous amount of gratitude for having had another terrific week at camp and a sudden realization that the final 18 days of the summer are likely to fly by, so we need to savor each and every one them.

As always please be in touch with any questions or comments.  We have posted pictures on Facebook and Smugmug and plan to add more on Sunday evening.

A quick slideshow of some of the photos we have received back from our Masa’ot can be found here!

Rabbi Eliav Bock, Douglas, Julia, Ari, Lisa, Rafi, Elyssa, Jake
and the entire Summer 2016 Tzevet!

Shabbat Shalom Ramah Family and Friends!

After a refreshing intersession with our staff and refocusing our energies on our goals at camp, the chava (ranch) is teeming with activity again.  The past two days have been full programing with chalutzim biking, climbing, creating arts and crafts, zumba dancing, mining, and so much more.  Each day during the past week has started with brilliant sunshine before clouds have rolled in for a late afternoon shower.  We have had to adapt some of our programing, but are thankful for any moisture as the west is not a good place to be when it becomes too hot and dry.

As we prepare for our first Shabbat of the session, we are also here with our largest group of chalutzim ever assembled on the ranch (205!), including a large contingent from Mexico City’s Bet El congregation.  Alongside their rabbi, Rabbi Leonel Levy, are here for the first two weeks of second session.  We look forward to a continued partnership with the community in Mexico City and to seeing their numbers grow in future summers, even if we never plan to have more than 205 chalutzim on the ranch at any one time!

The first few days of a session are always a combination of excitement and trepidation; excitement at returning to camp, a second home for so many of our chalutzim (campers), and trepidation by both new and returning chalutzim about how the summer will be, what activities one will do, and whether one will make close friends.  On Wednesday, our oldest chalutzim picked their activity areas that they will do throughout Session IIA and some into IIB.  Our younger chalutzim were assigned activities that included archery, horseback riding, and animal care.  While it is impossible to describe everything that transpires during the first few days of the session, we saw groups who dug up amazing rocks in mining, groups who rode horses out to Ramah Valley and around the perimeter of our ranch, and groups of mountain bikes who attempted our beginner and intermediate single tracks.  (Next week they will ride the advanced track!)  In all of these activities, our guiding ethos of “challenge by choice” has been front and center.  Each chalutz has only been in competition with him/her self.

Each morning our chalutzim have awakened to the sound of “bo-bo-boker tov” yelled by a group who stand on the picnic table in the Kfar assisted by G-baby who usually is coming back from his hour long ride by 7:00am.  After the chalutzim wash and dress, they all head to their m’komot t’fillah (prayer spaces) for shmirat haguf (morning exercise) and t’fillot (prayers).  The t’fillot over the past two days have been incredible and inspiring.  We had some groups singing along with guitars, others engaged in more movement-focused t’fillot, others doing art, and others engaged in a more traditional, full matbeah, t’fillot .  Our second oldest edah, Bogrim, spent part of their first t’fillah learning about t’fillin, and actually having a chance to open a pair and to peek inside. Starting on the first day, and continuing over the course of the session, our hope is that chalutzim can experience an array of prayer options.  This session we are blessed to have a number of rabbinic “guest stars” who are here to help with all educational aspects of the program.

Sadly, due to the rain on opening day, for the second time in our camp’s history, we did not have a camp-wide opening campfire on the first night of a session.  On a personal level, I was sad about this, since this campfire is when we usually teach the camp song and it is the first time I have a chance to address our entire kehillah kedosha (holy community).  Instead, we had a chance to do some opening remarks during dinner in the chadar ochel (dining hall).  Last night our younger chalutzim had a campfire where they sang songs and heard some stories.  Our older chalutzim had a chance to play capture the flag in Ramah valley, another programmatic staple of our camp.

As I finish writing this email, our entire Kehillah Kedosha is engaged in doing service projects for the camp.  We believe that everyone in our community can contribute in some way to the betterment of camp as a way to prepare for Shabbat.  At the moment our chalutzim are  beautifying the chadar ochel for Shabbat dinner, creating a new trail in camp, giving the camp dogs a bath (they need it!), and more.  As soon as each have finished their projects we will begin the rotations in the shower house, when everyone is “required” to clean themselves and ready themselves physically for Shabbat, which includes putting on clean clothes.  In a few short hours, all will be dressed in white and gathering as an entire camp to dance and sing.

Next week is our masa week, when our older chalutzim leave for most of the week.  Our younger chalutzim will have a chance to do a shorter excursion and will also have most of the ranch to themselves  to further engage in our base camp activities.

On behalf of the entire Ramah team, I hope that you too have a relaxing and joyful Shabbat!

Reflecting on Session 1: 

Monday, July 7, 2016

I am sitting on the porch of the dining hall in the late afternoon watching a late afternoon rain. dancingTo my left is a very wet Givat Ilanot. The shadow of Sheeprock (a local climbing mountain), the slick basketball court, and the cool breeze seem like the perfect way to wrap up, the final day of Session I.  This morning our entire camp was buzzing at 6:15 am with last minute packing after most chalutzim (campers) had slept out under the stars with their edot (age group) in various places throughout camp.  Now, our staff is off: hiking, relaxing, and savoring the many amazing moments from Session I.  Most of our chalutzim have already arrived home or are en route and the airport staff are getting the final campers on their flights.   All is quiet on the ranch.

How does one sum up four weeks in the mountains? Four weeks of friendships, four weeks of laughs, four weeks of scrapes and boo boos, four weeks of intense Jewish living, four weeks of camp.  Well, while no email can capture a whole month of highs and lows, I hope these three vignettes will offer a glimpse into our community for those who were not fortunate enough to physically be here
for the duration

We Reached Capacity!

Back in 2008, when a group of us drew up the plans to create a rusticoutdoor adventure camp we set a goal to grow our cHAVDALLAHommunity to 200 campers and 110+ staff at any one time.  From a communal standpoint we thought this was the perfect number to allow for a critical mass in all our age groups.  From a business standpoint, the conventional wisdom is that a camp needs to have this capacity to be economically sustainable.  Thanks to the generosity of our amazing donors, at the close of last summer, we were able to finish our wastewater system ($440,000), build a second bathhouse ($420,000), and complete our three final tents ($75,000) which allowed us to reach our targeted capacity.  And with this growth, we expanded beyond our single dining tent and, for the first time ever, we split our community between our newer dining tent and our older chadar ochel (dining hall).  While we began meals together with our food tours andcommunal brachot (blessings) eating in two chadrei ochel allowed the younger campers and older campers to eat and sing at their own paces and also to tailor cheers and announcements to each group.  Up in the kfar/kibbutz areas (where the tents are located), we have had a few summers of overcrowding in our single bathhouse.  But with our new second bathhouse this summer, we finally had appropriate sanitation for all our chalutzim.  Also this summer, our Kehillah Kedosha (holy community) began to feel more like a small village a-buzz with various activities rather than just a large family with multiple services happening each morning.  Every programming space was occupied during Peulot Shabbat, and enough gaga, basketball, and ultimate frisbee happened during free time to keep everyone busy.

Advanced Biking and Mountaineering

This session, we had our largest group of Bogrim (9/10th) grade campers.  Because so many of our Bogrimmountaineering2 chalutzim were returning for their 4th or 5th years, we knew that we had to improve our older camper program and make it more challenging.  And so, this year we unveiled two new advanced programs: biking and mountaineering.  Working with a local trail building company and the Oreg Foundation, we built a mile long advanced bike trail complete with table-top jumps, banked turns, and a small technical climb.  Our goal was was to create a place on our ranch where chalutzim can practice some technical biking skills before heading out to the world class terrain at Buffalo Peak.  Indeed, last week the Bogrim bikers actually left camp on Monday, biked to Buffalo Creek (up a huge vertical climb) where they spent time riding the single tracks before biking back along the backroads to camp on Friday. Given its terrific reputation, the advanced biking trail was in use throughout the past two weeks by those going on the biking masa as well as those who just wanted to do some more difficult terrain.mountaineering1

In addition to advanced biking, this session we ran our first ever mountaineering group. In this activity, chalutzim spent four mornings climbing at local crags improving their technical skills. Then, last week, on their masa they headed to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Sangre de Cristos mountains where they had a chance to tackle some pretty technical and difficult peaks.  All who completed the masa said it was one of the best they had ever experienced here at Ramah in the Rockies and certainly one of the hardest.

Ilanot Rocked!

While we were working to improve our older camper experiences, we also spent considerable time in the offseason revamping and hiring appropriately trained counselors for our youngest campers, those in Ilanot (rising 3/4th graders).  We hired staff who specifically wanted to work with this age group. mountaineering3 We brought back the Ilanot Masawhere they slept out under the stars and spent a day hiking on Prospector Mountain. And we had a myriad of age-appropriate camp activities for them like our Rocktion (Rock-Auction), carnival, and some horse trail rides.  This session, our Ilanot program was sold out, and indeed on Wednesday, for the first time, we have two male tents for this age group.  A personal highlight for me is watching the Ilanot campers become more comfortable with the birkat hamazon (grace after meals), camp wide Israeli dancing, and Friday night services.  The first few times we do these each session, many of our Ilanot chalutzim have a look of puzzlement on their faces.  By the end of the session, most were participating fully at whatever level they could.  Whereas at the beginning of the session, our Ilanot chalutzim are literally just trying to figure out their way around our ranch, by the end, they are full members of our community, leading cheers, prayers, and giggling at their own inside jokes.  This session, our Ilanot program was terrific, and we certainly hope that this is just the beginning of a long camp career for most of the participants.

boys

Soon after sending this email, I will be going off line for 16 hours, hopefully to sleep, hang out with my family, and mentally prepare for the next session.  Camp is a rollercoaster, and while we certainly had some down moments this session (like the suspected Norovirus outbreak), so much of the past few weeks were spent in states of total jubilation.  We had untold moments of higher highs where we were truly living out our mission statement which demands that we be a place that nurtures the character development of Jewish youth by providing them a space to challenge themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

While we are delighted to have had such a terrific first session we know that half of the 480 chalutzim who will pass through our gates this summer have not yet arrived.  We are basking in the success that was our first session and gearing up for an equally, if not more, impactful second session.

We sent out a feedback survey to all of our camper families via email. If you would like to share feedback, please email us at eliavb@ramahoutdoors.org!

The sun is shining, groups are returning– it’s a beautiful late afternoon on the chava (ranch)! We had stunning weather this past week and it’s truly an incredible feeling to see this chava full of 300+ chalutzim (campers), tzevet (staff), and orchim (guests). Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the National Ramah Commission Director, who is visiting this weekend, commented to me, “How cool is it that 7 years later, it’s just routine to be able to visit Ramah in the Rockies!?”

mountaineering2

A few photos from our new Mountaineering Masa

Last Sunday, we celebrated a meaningful “Yom Yisrael” (Israel Day). JOLI helped plan the day and run the different peulot (activities). Each edah focused on a different aspects of Israeli culture and history. The Ilanot chalutzim had activities relating to raising kids in Israeli society via life milestones such as birthday parties, bnai mitzvah, entering the army, and more. Metaylim and Sollelim together learned about pioneer spirit of the early chalutzim (pioneers) and the establishment of the State of Israel. The Bogrim chalutzim focused on issues about Israeli innovation and contributions to the world.

Ilanot had a week full of base camp activities, as well as a camp-out out under the stars. One of the highlights of their week was Rocktion. At the Rocktion (Rock-Auction), the campers collected rocks around camp that they would try to “sell” to staff and fellow campers, in exchange for popcorn kernel currency. The chalutzim created their own pricing system based on what value they found each rock to be worth. Dani, the Rosh Edah, excitedly shared with me about a moment where four campers pooled their rock resources and created a “store” together at the Rocktion. Other activities included a carnival complete with face painting, balloon animals, a photo booth, snow cones as well as a hike up one of our neighboring mountains.

mountaineering1Metaylim spent some time in base camp this week along with time out on a 2-day backpacking masa (backcountry excursion). One of the highlights of their week was a limmud (learning activity) where Nadav (a staff member) led them in a discussion about changes that campers would want to see in the world. These campers maturely and articulately discussed in small groups their personal passions: gender equality, religious ethics, gun control, and many other worldly topics. Campers had a lot of curiosity to learn and understand more. They shared their own opinions on the topics, how they think it affects their day-to-day, and how they can support each other’s beliefs.

For the final three days of the week, the group backpacked in Pike National Forest. One masa group shared that they encountered unexpected items on the trail including a cave in one spot, some animal bones in another, and more! The kids came back covered in charcoal “war paint” excited about their accomplishments and ready to celebrate Shabbat!

Sollelim spent the majority of this past week out on masa. Groups were spread across Western Central Colorado including groups who rock climbed near Canyon City, shot archery at Cheyenne Mountain State Park and biked in Pike National Forest. The biking trip left camp and returned four days later after biking numerous mountain passes and having ridden 37 miles just yesterday! The art masa, one of our newer additions, had a chance to hike and paint in the beautiful Colorado wilderness.

This past Shabbat, Bogrim did a Peulat Shabbat (Shabbat Activity) on Jewish Identity. The edah made bar graphs by voting with post-its on various important aspects of our Jewish identities. Categories included Israel, Hebrew, Jewish Education, having Jewish friends, pursuing social justice, Shabbat, Jewish observance/halakhah, eating Jewish foods, and remembering the Holocaust. The campers made new bar graphs of what our grandparents would have chosen within these categories. It was interesting to see trends of what chalutzim chose and similarities and differences to their grandparents. The discussion then moved into smaller groups based on the category and everyone shared stories of why they chose it. One chalutzah told the story of her grandma, a Holocaust survivor in Toronto, and how that has impacted her Jewish identity.

mountaineering3Bogrim left camp on Monday morning for their various masa’ot. This summer we pioneered the advanced climbing/mountaineering chug in basecamp, which pairs up with a mountaineering masa. We created this program to give campers who had been here for a number of years a new opportunity to grow and challenge themselves. In the same day on masa, that trip managed to go sledding down a patch of ice, cross over the Continental Divide, and spend the day swimming at an alpine lake (at 10,000 feet) in Rocky Mountain National Park! The participants on this new masa had a great time. They even said it could be harder so as to be able to push themselves more next time.

JOLI has been gone since early Monday morning, and experienced some incredible moments and achievements on “adventure masa”. While the majority of the edah was out on the masa, several chalutzim chose instead to be counselors-in-training (CITs) in different areas around camp, and learn more about what it means to be on staff. On the adventure masa, the chalutzim got to mountain bike, rock climb, hike, and even practice their WFA skills! Their madrichim (counselors) ran them through several medical scenarios to test their training on the trip. Yesterday, the group reached the summit of a high peak nearby, and were exceptionally proud of their accomplishments on the trip. Ari, our Communications Manager, joined them for two nights, and shared that he had many incredible conversations with this thoughtful and mature group of campers about their JOLI experience, school, hobbies, life, and how they got to Ramah. He appreciated watching the intentionality of every component of the trip and how much responsibility the chalutzim had to lead themselves throughout.

As we get ready to send this email, everyone is showering and changing into their clean white clothes. We are going to be gathering in a few minutes in the Pardes T’fillah for dancing and Kabbalat Shabbat. It is hard to believe that this is the final Shabbat of first session. Our time together has been flown by. Tonight, in my D’Var Torah, I will be emphasizing the importance of cultivating friendships that last a lifetime. Indeed, we have seen that many of our chalutzim who have been with us for multiple years are forming and nurturing these friendships and our hope is that, over time, as our younger chalutzim return to camp each year, they too will have these cherished friendships on which they can rely.

Some photos are already online at Smugmug and on Facebook. We will be adding more after Shabbat. You can check out a video of a few of the masa’ot photos here: 2016 Masa Week Session 1B

Can you believe it? After months of planning, filling out forms, going over packing lists, and getting ready for the summer, camp is FINALLY here! Our chalutzim arrived at the ranch over the course of the day on Wednesday.  In a true Colorado fashion, we experienced both sunny skies and drizzling throughout the day as chalutzim (campers) met their madrichim (counselors), their fellow chalutzim, and acclimated to life at 8,000 feet elevation.

IMG_0331

Our Rashei Edot (Unit Heads)

That night, our Sollelim campers (7th and 8th grade) and Bogrim campers (9th and 10th grade) heard all about our different offerings and leveled into their chugim (specialty areas). Our Ilanot (3rd and 4th grade) and Metaylim (5th and 6th grade) campers spent time around our medurah (campfire) singing songs and being introduced to camp traditions.

Ilanot had an awesome activity last night where they played some get-to-know-you games. Dani, IMG_0421Rosh Ilanot, described it as featuring “an epic game of sharks and minnows, and a massive human knot activity”. She also reported that all the Ilanot campers are “super-pumped” about horseback riding.  At t’fillot this morning, Ilanot was joined by Metaylim, and were led by one of our guests, Rabbi Elana Kanter (also known as G-Baby’s mom). She used storytelling to talk about all the different brachot. During birkot hashachar (a morning prayer), the group acted out all the different things they were thankful for upon waking.  

Metaylim started off the summer with the fun activities of horseback riding, outdoor cooking, biking, and hanging out with our baby goats. Vanessa, Rosh Metaylim, shared a great story about how some of our returning campers taught the new campers our favorite game of Gaga. They had a blast learning the game and joining in the friendly competition. Last night, Metaylim had a fun icebreaker activity asking each other questions and getting to know their fellow chalutzim.


0497Thursday morning,
Sollelim trekked up Givat Ilanot (a hill overlooking our property) and held their morning services looking onto camp.  The entire hike up, the edah sang and shouted their Sollelim cheers. Last night, they had a special peulat erev (evening activity) – a fashion show where campers dressed up their counselors, painted faces, and did their hair. Each counselor was supposed to represent a variety of themes (Frozen, wizards, America, fireworks, etc) . The campers had to introduce the counselors and the theme to a panel of judges. Our panel of judges (including Rosh Omanut- Head of Art) gave feedback and the chalutzim loved the activity. Rami, Rosh Sollelim, shared about a camper who did a freestyle rap to present their counselor.


Last night,
Bogrim had a rousing game of capture the flag on the Kikar (an open field in camp). Earlier in the day, they had a limmud (text study) on social issues and brainstormed what actions they could take to address some of them (such as treatement of animals or unity of the Jewish people). This morning our Bogrim chalutzim held an unusual type of t’fillah, which Rosh Bogrim Dave described as a “spiritual chevruta”. In pairs, they discussed what parts of prayer are difficult for them, what parts they enjoy, and what they were looking to get out of their prayer experiences this summer.

Since JOLI’s (11th and 12th grade) arrival on Monday, they have been certified in Wilderness First Aid and learned basic backcountry skills. These are the first steps in the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute’s process of transforming campers into outdoor leaders.  Putting all their skills to the test, JOLI cooked their dinner and slept out in Ramah Valley last night. They practiced setting up tarps, tents, bear bags, and more!

IMG_0423For all our campers, this week we introduced a new perek (activity block) into the schedule: Mifgash (Meet Up). This activity takes place right before dinner with the goal of creating a daily time in our busy days to recognize the awesome things that happen here. We share some highlights of the day and sing and dance a bit. After Mifgash, the entire camp washes hands and heads into dinner.

As our camper population has continued to expand over the years, so too have some of our facilities. In order to accommodate this growth, we built three new tents this summer, as well as a brand new bathroom and shower house. We are excited for our campers to “break it in” as they get ready for Shabbat– cleaning up and changing into their Shabbat whites. We look forward to our first Shabbat with campers this summer, full of ruach (spirit) and joy!

 

Shabbat Shalom!

As always please be in touch with any questions or comments.  We have posted pictures on Facebook and Smugmug and plan to add more on Sunday evening.

 

This was originally published on E Jewish Philanthropy

Eliav headshotSome say leaders are made. Others believe that leaders are born. I believe that leaders are nurtured and developed from a young age in spaces where failure, honesty, fun, and creativity can thrive.

When I look back on my childhood, my most formative experiences were during my years in the Boy Scouts and attending Boy Scout camp from age 12-14. During this time I learned how to make emergency shelters using only wood and bark, swam a mile for the first time, and spent a night sleeping under the stars as part of the Order of the Arrow ordeal ceremony. While I was never going to become the next Michael Phelps or the next mountain man, these experiences taught me the importance of taking initiative, setting goals, and overcoming fears.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to start a summer camp for Jewish children (while still completing my MA at The Davidson School), one that would inspire young people to become the next generation of leaders. I turned to the lessons I learned as a Boy Scout to craft the vision for what is now Camp Ramah in the Rockies. I hoped to create a place young people could come and experience many of the values present in the Boy Scouts combined with so many of the Jewish core values I had learned over the years at Camp Ramah and JTS.

But there was a key element that might not have been present as much in the Boy Scouts or even in more formal academic settings that I wanted to make central to a new community inspiring leaders for the 21st century. And that element was failure. Yes, I wanted to make sure that everyone from campers to counselors to the highest level of staff members knew how to fail and that failure was usually the first step to succeeding.

Joli2And this is why we decided to focus our efforts on creating an outdoor adventure camp. Campers and staff who come to Ramah in the Rockies know that it is impossible to get it right 100 percent of the time, or even 95 percent. If we are getting straight As then we are not pushing ourselves hard enough. We strive for excellence, but know that “good enough” is sometimes best.

When our campers return from a climbing trip, they are scarred with bruises from their slips on the rock slab (only to be caught by the safety ropes/harnesses). Bikers return from attempting ever more challenging trails, knowing that at some point they will fall, scrape themselves, and get back on to try again. Bandages, cuts, and bruises are worn with pride. Even in our non-physical programming, be it our meals or evening activities, we push our staff to try new ideas, knowing that some will work wonderfully and others will fall flat.

So what does it take to create such an environment, assuming that not everyone has access to magnificent mountains and inspiring natural surroundings?

Here are four recommendations that I suggest are replicable in almost any environment:

1. Create a relatively flat organizational structure where every person is mission aligned. Yes, you need a director, and yes, you need someone to wash dishes or to take out the trash, but make sure that every person has the opportunity to create change and feel that they have a voice in the organization. If an employee who has been there for two weeks wants to try something new, then let her. What is the worst that can happen: someone tries something new that advances the mission in a way you did not expect? Or perhaps someone has even more dedication to the organization because she was given the chance to take initiative.

2. Create a place where complaining is not allowed. At Ramah in the Rockies, any senior staff member will listen to a complaint once, but the next time the same person/people come with a similar complaint the answer is always: “What do you want to do to fix it?” Assuming the answer is mission aligned, then the next line is, “Please go make it happen.”

3. Create a place where failure is celebrated and be open about failures. No one likes to mess up, but we all need to make mistakes. I have said some regrettable things to staff and parents over the years. I have created some abysmal programs (as well as some pretty awesome ones). And I am open with my staff about these. When a staff member makes a mistake, I often ask them what they learned from it and what they might do differently next time. End of story. No need to harp on it; usually we are our own worst critics.

4. Have fun. Many camp people of my generation grew up singing songs by the Indigo Girls around the campfire. A quote by Indigo Girls member Emily Saliers that still rings true is: “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.” A community that creates impactful leaders should be imbued with a sense of fun and purpose where we laugh with each other and only we alone laugh at ourselves.

Camp is often seen as a microcosm for the real world. We all want our children, our teachers, and our leaders to aspire to be even more effective and to create an even better community. To constantly create the environment that allows children, teens, and young adults become effective leaders requires these places where we can fail, be honest, be creative, and have fun.

Rabbi Eliav Bock is the director of Camp Ramah in the Rockies. Eliav received his rabbinical ordination from The Rabbinical School and his MA in Jewish Education from William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary.

Matt Levitt, our Assistant Director, will be leaving Ramah in the Rockies in June. In his next adventure he will be pursuing graduate school as he and his wife, Sara, move to Tulsa. Thank you, Matt, for all you have done for Ramah in the Rockies!

Eliav headshotI still remember in the Fall of 2009 receiving an email from one Matthew Levitt, then a junior at Indiana University, asking me how he could apply to work as a counselor at our yet-to-open Ramah Camp in Colorado.  As a counselor during our inaugural summer, Matt showed innate leadership qualities that I knew could help us grow our camp.  We offered for him to help us with logistics during the off season following camp and were eventually able to bring him on board full time in 2012 as Program Director.

It is hard to understate Matt’s impact on nearly every aspect of our organization.  From recruiting to hiring and from program design to organizational infrastructure, he has accepted every challenge that has come his way and has constantly sought to improve our camp program.  He has an incredible organizational mind and always finds creative solutions to complex problems.  When we found ourselves in 2014 without a head chef and campers due to arrive in 24 hours, Matt stepped in and took over running the kitchen, often working 18 hour days since he still had his assistant director job to do, too.  Although not a world-renown chef, he did organize, empower, and motivate others to help us through a tough summer in the kitchen.

Matt informed us last summer that he would be transitioning out with the intent of pursuing an MBA. He has spent the better part of this year working closely with our incoming Program Director, Julia Snyder. Over the years, Matt has become a good friend and mentor.  I have relied on him for a listening ear, honest conversations, and good laughs.  While I wish him and Sara only success in the next chapter of their lives together, I will miss working with him daily and know that his impact on Ramah in the Rockies will be felt for years to come.

Below is a note that Matt wrote about his impending transition.
-Rabbi Eliav Bock

MLSLDear Ramah Community,
With gratitude my journey at Ramah in the Rockies will come to end on June 30th of this year as my wife Sara, Watford, and I begin the next chapter of our lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Sara has accepted a new position as the Director of Jewish Life and Learning at Congregation B’nai Emunah, a long time Ramah-supporting synagogue. Given the upcoming move and opportunity, I plan to return to graduate school for a degree in business in Tulsa. My passion and interest for business and operations was developed right here at Ramah in the Rockies and it is something I would like to pursue further.

Words cannot describe how appreciative we are for the tremendous opportunity Rabbi Eliav Bock, Douglas Wolf, Don Skupsky, and the entire Ramah community have given me over the last 5+ years. I could not be prouder of our growth over the past six summers. From my first days in 2010 as a rock climbing instructor for 120 campers to this season where we will welcome close to 500 campers, the power of this kehillah kedosha (holy community) truly shows.

It has been an incredible journey for Sara and me. The generous support, both personally and professionally, has left a special place for Ramah in our hearts. We feel confident in saying that Ramah will be in our future but for now this chapter will come to a close in June.
Please feel free to email me at matthew.levitt@gmail.com if you find yourself in Tulsa or would like to keep in touch.
Thank you again!

-Matt Levitt

Happy Passover – חג כשר ושמח

As we prepare for the Seder where we will gather and drink four cups of wine, ask four questions and sing אחד מי יודע “Who Knows One,” we wanted to stop and consider some of the numbers that will be guiding us this summer at Ramah in the Rockies.

-Rabbi Eliav

10,000 Milestone of nights slept out under the Colorado stars on camping trips, which we will pass this summer
6,250 Gallons of sewage that can be treated daily in our new sewage treatment plant, and then is put back into the stream, as clean water, to be drunk by Denver Water customers from Cheesman Reservoir
460 Number of campers registered for this summer
162
Campers having their FIRST summer on the
chava [ranch]
100 Tzevet members excited to share the magic of summer in the Rockies with our campers
58 Days of camp-The LONGEST SUMMER SEASON of Any Jewish Camp in North America!
26 Horses coming to “work” at camp this summer
20 Additional campers we hope to enroll before opening day
12 Campers from the State of Texas
10 Showers in the new bath-house that is set to open on June 1, 2016
3 New tents we are building this summer to accommodate our growing community
2 Milking goats expected to come to camp this summer
1 Registered Camper coming from each of these places: Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Virginia, Saskatoon, Idaho and from the Philippines, China, and England

 

Purim Update

Rabbi Eliav Bock
Rendering of Basketball courtGreetings from the Ramah Ranch where we are enjoying another beautiful late winter day. The snow is melting and the ground is turning soggy; spring is in the air. This winter has been a very productive one at the chava. In addition to the bathhouse we are completing for this summer, we are moving along nicely with our new indoor basketball court and sports complex. Covering 7,000 square feet on the area above the mitbachon (what some call Woodswoman), this new gymnasium will finally put Ramah in the Rockies on the map for families looking for a top level sports program. In addition to the parquet floors and fiberglass backboards, this gym will have an indoor running track so that no one ever has to trip over a rock again running on dirt roads. We have hired an incredible construction crew who have worked through the mild winter at a break neck speed. Hopefully, this building will be open by July 1.

Hang Gliding around SheeprockAs if this would not be enough to secure Ramah in the Rockies bragging rights, we believe that we will finally be able to introduce a long time Ramah dream – our new hang-gliding program. First proposed a few years ago, but needing to be shelved for regulatory reasons, this chug will be the first of its kind at any Jewish camp. Our chalutzim will hike up Prospector carrying the
ultra-lite gliders, then take a running jump off the cliffs. We expect the thermals coming off the mountains to carry our campers westward towards the Buffalo Ranch before they will need to do a hard easterly bank to land seamlessly in the valley. We are in final negotiations with two former staff members who have been reading diligently in the off season and watching YouTube videos on how to become certified instructors.   We will likely limit this program to Bogrim and JOLI, since the younger chalutzim will be too small for the harnesses.

Each year, the single biggest piece of feedback is “we want more meat.” Even long time staff members like Dor, Robyn, and Melannie, once ardent vegetarians, have demanded we change (enough tofu! they have told me). Many of us have accepted that global climate change is the new normal and we, as Jews, really should have nothing to say about it, so we are going all in. This summer, we have decided to switch our kitchen to mainly serve “fleischig” (meat).

The elusive vegetable

The elusive vegetable

While we are still lacking the funds to build two kosher kitchens, we have decided that the new standard will be meat meals for lunch and dinner; breakfast will be a vegetarian meal where the only animal protein will be eggs, something we can still make on our meat grills or in our meat pans. We have had to invest in new meat dishes and have put our milk dishes in storage to be taken out if/when we build our new $5million dining hall which might open by 2029. We know that some of our staff might be upset at the plethora of meat options that are now available, but thanks to a compromise worked out with our Ranch Manager, Jake, he will assist the kitchen staff to ensure that we continue offering healthy vegetarian options, including a full salad bar at each meal. We thank our friends at Hazon, and especially Rabbi Marc for helping us think through this important issue; we hope to become a model for other Jewish summer camps looking for ways to increase their carbon footprint through additional meat consumption. And finally, what is a meat meal without sweet, carbonated drinks? We hope to radically increase our consumption of Coca-Cola products and believe that our new policy of offering everyone smaller cups so that they have to refill more often will achieve this goal. As their marketing campaign suggests, “all calories matter,” and we want our beverage choices to really matter.

Our new staff cohort

Our new staff cohort

On the staffing side we continue to evolve our program and hiring practices. While we used to pride ourselves on having one of the oldest and most mature staff in the Jewish camping industry, we realized how unfair this was to younger, potential applicants. As a result, we have lowered the age needed to become a staff member to 16. Not only can we pay these teenagers much less money than our older staff (which adds to our bottom-line), we also do not have to worry about our leaders making “grownup” decisions since many are now officially still children. We also are trying to reduce the number of foreign workers we have at camp (including the Israelis who come as shlichim) because we are not sure of what will happen politically to the J1 visa program we currently use. We hope this puts us ahead of any upcoming changes. Because we continue to be a Zionist camp, we will have a few Israelis ready on standby in Israel who will join us for virtual meals via Skype a few times a week. This way our chalutzim still have the experience of meeting and interacting with Israelis, but we will have a sustainable way to continue this experience if/when the US government changes the visa restrictions.

istock_000018141330smallAnd finally, I am happy to report, that the Ramah in the Rockies experience will no longer be the technology-free haven that it has been all these years. At long last Verizon has constructed a cell tower on the upper piece of our property. We have been working with them for years, and knew that if we could assure them 250+ additional customers each day, they would pay the exorbitant leasing fees we are charging them for use of our electricity and land on which the tower was constructed. We hope our chalutzim, as young as age 8, bring their smartphones with them to camp so that they can spend more time interacting with the virtual world and less time with the actual humans around them. With the promulgation of technology in their mainstream lives, we do not want our campers to fall behind their peers who are spending their time at more traditional camps where technology is more widely used. Most importantly, we would never want their texting or Whatsapp skills to diminish due to a lack of practice while at Ramah. Furthermore, we hope that with greater cell access, parents will communicate directly with their kids, which should reduce the number of emails/calls that our camper-care team receive daily.

Paramount to all we, at Ramah in the Rockies, strive for is that when the day is done our campers return home realizing that it does not matter what they do in the world, it is simply impossible for them to make any changes. So we might as well just live life and let others worry about the big issues. In short, the same hopes our parents have.

Wishing everyone a happy Purim!

-Eliav

(and yes 99.9% of the above is made up!)

Ari Polsky and Matt Levitt

Matt and Ari at the Kotel

Matt and Ari at the Kotel

In January, professionals from each of the Ramah camps traveled to Israel.  We gathered together for several purposes: a week of professional development for the Kerem Cohort (year round/program professionals that are “twenty something”), the annual Ramah Shabbaton in Israel, and interviews with Israeli staff for camp this summer. This trip had an additional purpose though—in a time in which organized groups are avoiding traveling for security reasons, we wanted to show that we are not afraid, that we stand with Israel, and it is a safe place to be.

The trip began for Ramah in the Rockies assistant director, Matt Levitt, at Kiryat Moriah in the Jewish Agency for Israel offices. A whirlwind experience of back-to-back-to-back interviews throughout an intense day of question-asking, vetting, and interviewing. The Jewish Agency works tirelessly to find suitable candidates for our Ramah camps each summer which collectively bring over 250 shlichim (Israeli emissaries) to North America to work in our camps. The candidates submit resumes, conduct phone interviews, and complete full-day in person interviews before even sitting in front of the Ramah directorate. Its an intense process culminating in face-to-face interviews with representatives from each Ramah camp.

Ramah in the Rockies annually brings 10-12 shlichim to work in various roles at camp. While not all of our Israeli staff come through the Jewish Agency, all come with a desire to teach Israeli culture, history, and Hebrew language within our camp community. These staff members are great additions to our camp community and essential in helping us further our camper’s connection to Israel, something so evident from seeing the interview process first hand. Shortly after the interviews Matt was joined by Ari Polsky and the rest of the Kerem Cohort.

Among the core values of Ramah is a commitment to Jewish learning, community, and observance. It’s often easy to see how our core values apply to our chalutzim, though this commitment extends to all who visit the ranch over the summer.  As year-round staff, this was a tremendous opportunity for us to exercise our commitment to Jewish learning- in formal, informal, and personal ways.  Yes, we spent time doing some group text study in the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, but it was more than that! Collectively, our Kerem Cohort spent 5 hours together in a formal setting talking about some of the joys and challenges of our jobs, and how we all continue to grow in our roles.

2015 Staff in Israel

Maya, Ari, Matt, Nathan, Dejah, and Ya’acov at the Ramah Israel Shabbaton

At the end of our time together in Israel, we gathered our small cohort into the greater Ramah movement- the annual Ramah Shabbaton in Israel. At the shabbaton, Israeli staff from last summer and this coming summer, as well as the North American staff who are spending time in Israel gathered to celebrate our Ramah community. Any time Ramahniks gather, ruach in singing and davening is at its peak, and that was a true highlight of this experience.  Not to mention hearing a room of 100+ Ramahniks singing the tune of “When You Believe” during davening on Shabbat Shirah (Thanks Ya’acov!) was incredible.

Being able to spend time with our summer staff, and hearing about their experiences in Israel, traveling with our colleagues from across the Ramah movement, and visiting Israel once again was a true gift and a great experience.

Eliav headshotAt Ramah in the Rockies, we have successfully created an oasis where Judaism is lived, taught, and celebrated for eight weeks each summer.  But when we close in August, our ranch sits dormant waiting for the following nine months to pass and the arrival of our community members once again.

Why should this be? We have some winterized buildings and nature is there 24/7/365!

Over the past few years, we have been asking ourselves this question.  We have openly wondered what we could create for Jewish youth in our off-season that would have an impact not only on the Denver Jewish community, but on the American Jewish community.  We dreamt about developing a program that would become the leader in its field and build upon the entrepreneurism, experience, and expertise we are growing with our meaningful Jewish outdoor materials.

Each summer, we hire the best trained and motivated staff within the Jewish camping industry. And each summer, a few staff are living lives as recovering addicts.  A few others might have gone down the path to becoming addicts, but received critical help as emerging adults and are now leading meaningful lives as productive members of their families and communities.  What caused these individuals to head in these harmful directions?  The reasons and theories vary from genetic predispositions to trauma to mental illness to perhaps something else entirely.  The manifestation of the symptoms, however, are similar:  addiction, depression, and an inability to live to their full potential.  When speaking with those who have overcome these challenges, it is clear that wilderness and outdoor rehabilitation played a huge part in setting them on a new path.  Sadly, most had to seek help from for-profit or Christian-based organizations because no Jewish options exist.

This must change!  Mental illness, trauma-related issues, and addiction are as common in the American Jewish community as in the rest of society, yet the response has been to ignore, deny, and exclude these people who need our help.

Ramah in the Rockies wants to change this and become the leader in the field of Jewish wilderness therapy. Over the past year, we have been engaged in developing a new program, called Nesiya, for young Jewish adults in the growing failure to launch demographic. Failure to launch includes young men and women who need additional support and therapeutic intervention to navigate into adulthood.  Treatment uncovers issues preventing the young adult from moving forward, identifies needed skills, and determines a course of action to gain the necessary tools to live productive lives connected to friends and family.

There are successful wilderness therapy programs in the United States, but there are no faith-based programs to meet the needs of Jewish at-risk youth. At Nesiya, we will adapt existing, effective Christian and for-profit approaches and imbue them with Jewish texts, values, and traditions to empower the neshamaof our youth in their healing process.

Three weeks ago, over thirty stakeholders from the greater Denver area met to discuss the need for Nesiya.  We also shared challenges facing a Jewish wilderness therapy program, including removing the shame associated with addiction and educating our community about addiction and other mental illnesses.

With their support, we are going public.  We have a solid program proposal and a working business plan to enable us to be financially sustainable within 3-5 years.  We have hired a program director to move Nesiya to the next stage, which includes an eighteen-month timeline for development.

We need angels and chaverim to move this project forward. Our chaverim are the life-force of this project, constantly imbuing it with the dedication of their hearts and souls.  Fortunately, we have many such individuals already committed and are happy to welcome more.  But we also need 2-4 angels who will ensure that we have the requisite funding to implement this important program.  And for this, we are turning to people who want to make a hugely impactful monetary investment.  We will only move forward once we ensure that we have the angel investors in place to help us with the $160,000 we need this year for research and development.  Our angels also understand that we will ultimately need to raise close to $500,000 by 2019 to have a viable and effective program on the Ramah ranch.  Over the next months we will be forming an advisory board, hiring consultants, and exploring best practices further.

We must push the conversation into our communities that this IS a growing concern for which a Jewish response is needed NOW.

We plan to begin with a 50-day pilot program in the fall of 2017 and then run full sessions in the spring of 2018 and 2019.  We will not solve all the problems in the Jewish community relating to this complicated issue, but we need to begin.  When we are successful, we hope to be an inspiration and an example for other agencies wanting to target other Jewish populations needing to be brought out of the shadows and into the warm embrace of the American Jewish community.

We are excited to be at the forefront of this initiative. It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to turn that child into a mensch.

 

For more information about Nesiya, or to become one of our angels, please contact Hindy Finman, Project Coordinator at hindyf@ramahoutdoors.org  or Rabbi Eliav Bock, Executive Director at eliavb@ramahoutdoors.org.  You may also visitwww.ramahout.s466.sureserver.com/nesiya.  And, of course, please share this with anyone who might be interested in helping us take our ideas from concept to reality!

Thank you for being a part of our community.

Rabbi Eliav Bock

To make a donation please click here:
Please note: we are not affiliated with the Nesiya Institute (www.nesiya.org). Upon fully launching, we will be choosing a new name.

You Spoke, We Listened

Rabbi Eliav Bock

Eliav headshot

The better part of the past eight weeks or so since leaving the chava (ranch) have been spent reaching out to you, our camper families, to gather your thoughts about us and our camp program this last summer.  We did this by personally calling or emailing each of our over 350 camper families.  We also sought your input via an anonymous survey, which was administered by a third party foundation.  But we didn’t stop there.  We also asked all 90+ staff members for their perspectives as part of their exit interviews at the end of the summer.  And then we requested them to complete a similar survey as well.  

We heard from many of you and cannot thank you enough for your time and responses to our questions.  Now that we have had time to review and evaluate it all, here is what we have learned and our plans for the future.

(I apologize for the length, but firmly believe in sharing as openly with you as you have with us.)

 

TWO THUMBS UP:

Our Community

The geographic and religious diversity of our camp population enhances the warm and nonjudgmental community that we create each summer.  Many of our chalutzim (campers) have “never felt so welcomed”, never felt so accepted for who they are, and “never [felt] so able to pursue [their] own passions without fear of being judged by others.”  There is an overall feeling among those who responded that most people at camp share the same values as they or their children do.

Our Outdoor Programming

While there were a few masaot (excursions) that did not go as planned, this part of the program continues to be the most memorable and impactful aspect of camp.  Our chalutzim who participated in multi-day experiences felt challenged and returned to camp with a great sense of accomplishment. Equally as important as the venues was the peer-to-peer bonding that took place.

Although the weather at the start of summer put a damper on some base camp activities, we received many compliments on the excellent balance between program quality and content, skills instruction, and fun factor.  There were no complaints that our chalutzim had biked, climbed, or rode too much.  (In fact, many would have liked more opportunities to do these.) And while there was high praise for the equipment used at camp, there were also times when there were more chalutzim wanting to participate than the equipment could accommodate at a single time.

Our Quality Staff

Many parents commented, and many of our older chalutzim noticed, that not only was our staff older than they had expected but also how eager and motivated they were to be working at camp and with the campers. While there were some critiques of missed follow-ups, a few poor choices made by staff, and some less-than-ideal counselor pairings, the overall consensus was one of a stellar team running a safe, educational, and inspiring summer for their children.

From the staff side, 100% stated that they were working there to advance the camp’s mission. Nationally, only 80% of Jewish summer camp staff members answer this affirmatively.

MIXED REVIEWS (& WHERE WE CAN IMPROVE)

Our Food

Overall, we received the most comments about the food at camp.  Some loved it, others wanted more meat, some wanted nuts, and others wished for more menu variety.  Our food program is an integral part of our camp’s mission.  At the same time, we know that little else matters if our chalutzim are hungry or wondering about the menu for the next meal.  During the off season we continue to refine our menus, replacing less popular choices with new options, integrating more mainstream plant-based proteins, and improving our between-meal snack variety.  This past summer we learned that while some campers were aware of readily available snacks, many of our younger campers did not know that they could grab something from the Ohel Ochel (dining tent) whenever they were hungry.

Improving our communication to campers about snacks is an easily accomplished goal.  Other menu challenges, particularly meat availability, have multiple variables involved.  Each year, a farm family in upstate New York raises free-range (organic) chickens for our summer needs.  We made the switch to free-range chickens in 2012  after receiving negative feedback about serving factory farmed meat that did not fit in with the values we are living by as a community. In 2015, however,  due to the unusually colder winter and spring in the northeast, the chickens were not of eating size and not schechted (ritually slaughtered) until late June, delaying meat on the camp menu until early July.

Acquiring additional organic chicken and meat from other sources and making it more often would answer that need, but would ignore the reality of our available facilities.  Quite simply, we do not have a suitable meat kitchen at camp.  Until we are able to build a new, $3+ million dining hall/commercial kitchen, we do what we are able which means that our only method to cook meat is on an open grill.  And while we use the main kitchen to keep things warm (double wrapped in the dairy warmers) and to prepare parve side dishes, meat meals require us to shut down most of the regular kitchen and cover it in plastic for much of the day resulting in simplified dishes served for breakfast and lunch on those days.

While the shortage of meat/chicken is not readily fixed, we continue to offer eggs at most breakfasts and include protein options during the week as part of the salad bar.  Meanwhile we continue to review our menus with a nutritionist to ensure that our community’s nutritional needs are met.  We realize that this situation is not ideal, but hope our clarity helps explain why our meat situation is the way it is.

Our Younger Camper Experiences

Each year we continue to grow our camp programs for all our edot (groups), however, this summer it was clear that our younger campers needed us to rework their schedule to accommodate more of the popular base camp activities and incorporate additional outdoor adventure experiences particularly for our Ilanot chalutzim.  The wet start to the summer did not help their adventure opportunities!

To address these issues, starting kayitz (summer) 2016, we are:

  •  Forgoing most day trips, which will enable our younger campers to participate in more base camp activities including horseback riding, mountain biking, and rock climbing.
  •  Conducting more outdoor-based overnight experiences that are age-appropriate to take advantage of our ranch and surrounding national forest, leading to an increased appreciation for all nature has to offer.
  •  Ensuring that any additional equipment needed for our youngest campers are available BEFORE any campers arrive.
  •  Aspiring higher in each of our program areas, ensuring that our younger campers are learning the basic skills needed as foundations for their progress in the current summer and future seasons.

Our Interpersonal Connections

Jewish summer camp works as an educational medium in large part because campers develop close, personal connections with their counselors and friends.  This summer we noticed that, especially among our two-week participants, these connections did not take root as we hoped they would.  For many of these chalutzim they had fun activities but not emotionally memorable experiences.  Although we have had four-week campers in tents with mixed 2-week and 4-week campers, the transition of saying goodbye to one set of friends and welcoming another proved more difficult than in years past.

Moving forward, we will improve our staff training to ensure that social connections are being made within the ohelim (tents) and require counselors to complete regular socio-grams to aid them in identifying and encouraging healthy group dynamics.  We will also encourage more  activities that foster positive early connections and adapt our scheduling to include more bunk-specific bonding activities are all being worked into the programming vision for summer.  Our goal is for each ohel, when they are in base camp, to have a minimum of one peulat erev (evening activity) just to themselves and then other activities with the broader edah (age group) or entire camp.  Plus we will be adding more ohel time on Shabbat before havdallah.

Two-week programming will continue to be available to our edot through their Bogrim summer for 2016.  However, we are evaluating the feasibility of requiring our Bogrim chalutzim to register for four weeks starting with the 2017 season.  While we continue to believe that it is possible to create memorable and impactful experiences for our younger campers within two weeks, independent research has proved that longer sessions result in greater impact, deeper relationships, and additional personal growth.  For our older chalutzim we may need to make this change to fully realize the outcomes we strive to achieve in our program.

With the exception of our first-time Ilanot-Sollelim campers, we will continue to encourage families to consider the four week options over two-week sessions.  No matter how incredible we make our two week program, it simply cannot live up to the magic experienced over four weeks.

We feel incredibly privileged that so many families have entrusted us to care for their children each summer.  We know the awesome responsibility that this entails and are aware that a child’s experience at camp can influence decisions throughout life.  We are constantly seeking to improve our camp and to fully realize the values that guide us throughout our summer.  We also know that there will be times when we fall short of expectations, and cannot thank our parents, chalutzim and tzevet enough for continuing to push us make our camp better and stronger!

We made a new promotional video that we want to share with all of you!

Reflections on a long awaited return trip to Ramah Canada.

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Rabbi Eliav driving a boat on Skeleton Lake at Ramah Canada during his recent return trip.

After my first summer as Director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, I had a chance in November 2009 to return to the place where I started my Ramah career as a 17 year old lifeguard. Driving past the Palmer exit on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I decided to go visit Ramah in New England (aka Palmer). I wrote a blog post reflecting on the feelings I experienced roaming through an empty camp, as distant memories flooded back into my mind.

Last week I had another returning of sorts. This time it was to Ramah in Canada, where I spent five incredible summers (although one was only for a small portion of the summer), mainly working in their tripping program. This time, I was there with all of the Camp Ramah directors for our post‑summer meetings.

While most of the days were spent in meetings– reviewing the summer and planning for next year, the time I had to walk around the camp and swim/boat in the agam [lake] again unleashed a flood of emotions and memories. These memories were equally profound to the memories I experienced on my return trip to Palmer. If Ramah in New England taught me lessons about life and relationships that I could take with me through college, Ramah in Canada taught me lessons about being a Jewish educator that set me on the path to becoming a Rabbi, and ultimately to founding Ramah in the Rockies.

In 1999, as I was preparing for my final summer in college. I had convinced myself that I needed to get a “real” job that I could put on my resume to be an attractive candidate for an investment bank or a management consulting firm. But in my head, I knew that I needed to be in camp. I could not return to the camp of “my youth”, because all my other friends had outgrown Ramah Palmer.

My college friend (Rabbi) Ilana Garber convinced me to apply to work at Ramah in Canada where she was headed for the summer, as they were known for the best outdoors program in the Ramah movement and I could put my camping skills to use. A few months later, I found myself in Utterson, Ontario working for an incredible camp director, Rabbi Mitch Cohen, leading campers on multi-day back country canoe trips.

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Rabbi Eliav leading a group of campers on a canoe trip in Canada.

Throughout my time last week at camp, I had so many moments where I could stop and appreciate how much my life continues to be influenced by my experiences at Ramah in Canada.

As we took the barge out for a spin on the massive lake, I spotted Ramah Island for the first time in nine years. I can still picture myself back in 2000, standing on the cliffs at the back of the island 20 feet above the clear lake with a group of 12 year old boys. I translated Abraham Joshua Heschel’s idea of Radical Amazement to this group of young men. This notion that we can experience God in those moments of time when we are left speechless has become an integral part of my own theology, and it i s something we discuss regularly at Ramah in the Rockies. That moment of teaching theology high above the water was one of the first times I could see myself as a Jewish educator, even if I also had to convince myself that what I really wanted was a career on Wall Street (where I did eventually work for the next five years).

Walking around the camp I recalled one of the most important leadership lessons I continue to follow to this day. As a rookie tripper, I made numerous mistakes on the first trip I was asked to lead. What started as a series of small mishaps (or, “lemons” as we called them) resulting mainly from my poor planning, careened into a situation.  Starting around 1:00 a.m. I felt I had lost control and eventually had to flag down a passing boat around 6:00 a.m. to call the camp for help, and ask for a rescue. On our ride back to camp, the head of tripping, Daniel “Dice” Brandes, did not utter a word; his disappointment in me was palpable. I was wondering whether I would be fired or whether I would ever be allowed to lead trips in the future. Either way, I was certain I would no longer be seen as one of the best trippers of the summer.

It took some time once we arrived on shore, but eventually he asked me a simple question: “So what did you learn?” We processed the entire episode together and where I could have made any number of different decisions that would have led to a better outcome. Two days later, rather than benching me, Dice awarded me with leading the best trip the following week. I went on to lead numerous other trips, and never made those same mistakes again (I made plenty of others instead).  Dice’s lessons in leadership, and recognizing but not dwelling on mistakes, are something I continue to use to this day as I manage a staff of over 100 people. When people make mistakes, I use the same sort of imposed self-reflection to allow them to uncover where they erred. They will be their own harshest critic and their own best teachers. Had Dice lost confidence in me at that moment, I doubt I would have continued to lead trips and eventually go into this line of work year-round.

Walking into their newly remodeled tripping shed, seeing the names on all the plaques, brought back one of the most powerful images I have from my years on tripping staff. It came at the end of a 5 day canoe trip in Kilarney Provincial Park. Each morning after breakfast, we would take 20-25 minutes to go off on our own to pray. I told the fifteen year olds, whom I was leading, that they could pray using the words in the siddur or the feelings in their heart. The teens took this time very seriously and often I would hear their voices echoing from a distance off the water. On the last morning of the trip, one of the campers came up to me and asked: “can I keep this siddur?” I asked her why she wanted the old stained siddur we used on trips. She answered: “because this week I learned how to pray and I want to take this as a reminder of my prayers.” I was floored. After years as a camper at Ramah and even more years in Jewish education at home, it took her being on this intensive trip, given the freedom to express the words in her heart, to learn about real prayer. I knew at that moment that there was incredible power about teaching Judaism to people using the outdoors.

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Rabbi Eliav with his co-trip leader, Pam Wiznitzer, on top of Silver Peak in Kilarney Park.

Finally, there I was back during my early morning swim in the agam [lake] on Wednesday morning looking at the red roofed buildings on the shore, nine years since last setting foot in the camp. I looked towards camp from the center of the lake and felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the camp and the time spent there. I also know the 1200+ young people who have been part of our Ramah in the Rockies community continue to have their lives changed for the better because of my time in the Canadian Wilderness. Ramah in the Rockies emerged as a dream from a few of us who had experienced the Ramah in Canada tripping program. We knew that there was no better way to teach about Jewish values, traditions and texts than by being in the outdoors, connected with nature. Judaism was a religion started for an agrarian people and evolved into a religion for more urbanites. One of our goals at Ramah in the Rockies is to reconnect our modern youth to these agrarian roots.

It is funny how life works! I often wonder where I would be today had I taken that “fancy internship” back in 1999. I often wonder where my life would be had I really given up the dream of camp when I became an equity trader in September 2000, after camp ended. And I wonder where my life would be had the campers at Canada not transformed so magically on every trip I lead. I doubt I will ever know the answers to these questions, but do know that last week while spending time at camp, I had the opportunity to feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude for a place and a program that continues to affect my life today.

 


This past summer our camp grew in a number of ways not just the size of our staff and the number of chalutzim [campers].  We also improv
ed and expanded several of our basecamp activities, particularly our farm program.

One of the first things our chalutzim both noticed was that our dilapidated “Red Shed” in the middle of camp had been given new life as our goat barn. We have spent a lot of time and effort making the farm program a central part of camp, both in activities and location.
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Our goal is simple and significant: for our chalutzim to experience the garden and animals every day in their walks between their activities and the chadar ochel. Two years ago, we created a new garden in the center of camp. This summer, we moved our goats into a newly refurbished loafing shed. Our ducks and chickens also relocated to their new homes alongside the garden and migrash. We hope to continue this expansion in the years ahead.


Two of our goats this summer were newborn, so in their honor we held a naming ceremony.
Chalutzim in Metaylim (5th/6th grade) named the kids “Chalav” [Milk] and “Dvash” [Honey]. If you missed the video from the naming, here it is:

Campers participating in our farm program do more than caring for our many animals; they also plant and harvest our garden and greenhouse produce. This year we began harvesting items from our garden nearly four weeks earlier than last year, giving our chalutzim a chance to experience “farm to table” in the most literal sense of the expression.

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One of the ways our campers gained firsthand knowledge of this connection was  Ilanot’s (3rd/4th grade) farm masa. In a single day they learned how to milk the goats, make goat cheese, and cook their lunches all with produce from the farm.  That night, our chalutzim camped under the stars, surrounded by the comforting sounds from our farm.

We are proud of our tzevet chava [farm staff] who worked tirelessly to bring our food values to the forefront this summer. Our chalutzim and tzevet all benefitted from the integration of our friendly goats, ducks, alpacas, and chickens to the heart of our camp!

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Shabbat Shalom Ramah Family and Friends!

It seems like just yesterday, our chalutzim were arriving at the ranch and now we are about to start the last Shabbat of the 2015 camp season.  Our chalutzim are back from their masa’ot [backcountry excursions], and changing into their Shabbat whites. After the frenzied morning and afternoon of the trips returning followed by crazy lightning storms, we are looking forward to  a calm Shabbat.

We want to share a few highlights from this past week’s happenings at camp, and get you ready to welcome your chalutzim [campers] home.

Sunday we had an awesome Yom Sport competition, where kids spent the day competing in hockey, gaga, ultimate soccer (a game of our own invention), basketball, cheering/cheer writing, and plaque making. The day was full of ruach [spirit] from all, and we want to especially acknowledge the hard work of the JOLI captains and judges who ran the day, and made everything happen. One of the most exciting events of the day is the JOLI fire burn competition, where they have to build a fire tall enough to burn a rope strung between two chairs. This session, JOLI, completed it in the fastest time in ROA history!  As soon as one team succeeded, they joined the other teams’ chalutzim in cheering on their fellow JOLI captains. This is the one day each summer that we engage in friendly competition, and it was amazing to see each team act with sportsmanship and menschlichkeit.

Ilanot spent a day with Metaylim at Wellington Lake, and had a day of fun in the sun until the weather turned and the thunder rolled in.  They returned to camp, happy and dry. Ilanot also went on a horse masa around our ranch before heading out the back gate to our neighbors’ buffalo ranch where they spent the evening in the barn’s hayloft.

Metaylim was divided into three different groups for their masa’ot:  Payne Creek, Rolling Creek, and Wigwam. They spent two nights in the backcountry learning basic masa skills.  For many of our Metaylim campers, this was their first extended backpacking trip.  It is always a pleasure to see their smiling faces return with an added sense of accomplishment, knowing that they had just spent three days in the back-country.

Sollelim spent the week backpacking, biking, climbing and performing service projects.  Al, a Sollelim madrich, held a discussion on trail crew masa about theology and how people connect via traditional sources or nature.  Some kids spoke about their connection via nature when spending time alone, others feel connected when they are in a community praying all together. One chalutz shared a story about how they do not connect to traditional views of God, though when they are scared, they find themselves saying the Shma prayer.

Bogrim headed out on horseback riding, rock climbing and biking masa’ot.  A highlight from the biking masa was a pizza-making and Jewish identity activity. The talk was about how each person defines Jewish identity and how they find their connections to community, tradition, history, and God. Bogrim backpacking masa summitted a 14’er (mountain peak over 14,000ft) during their trek through the Sangre de Christo Wilderness.

JOLI participants had a choice of either heading out for a five day adventure masa, where they did some mountain biking, rock climbing and also climbed a 14’er, OR remain back at camp as CIT for Metaylim and help lead a masa for the younger campers.   Both groups had incredible weeks.

As I complete this weekly email, our last masa group just rolled in from State Forest State Park.  Sadly, it also has begun to rain very heavily, which means that our weekly rikud [dancing] will likely be cancelled, and we will daven under our Ohel Moed [tent], instead of our open-air Pardes T’fillah.  Nonetheless we are sure that Shabbat will be as spirited as usual, especially given that this is the very last one of the 2015 camping season for everyone in our Kehillah Kedosha [holy community].

In summary, it has been an incredible week thus far, and we are looking forward to a pleasant and relaxing Shabbat here with our adult campers who have joined us. We will be sad to say goodbye to everyone on Tuesday, and can’t wait for them to return next kayitz. A reminder that registration for next summer has already opened, and you can register here.

Shabbat Shalom,

-Eliav

Rabbi Eliav Bock and the Ramah in the Rockies Team

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Photos –  Youtube –  Facebook
Shabbat Shalom Ramah Family and Friends!
For the last time this kayitz [summer], a group of our tzevet [staff] made the trek to Denver International Airport, and picked up 41 chalutzim [campers] that were coming in from all corners of North America (and Israel too!) for our final two weeks at camp. This summer has been an incredible one thus far, and the next two weeks will be no different.

This past week started out on an amazingly strong note- we celebrated Yom Yisrael [Israel Day]. The day’s events were put on by our Israeli staff members to educate and engage various aspects of their homeland. At Yom Yisrael, there were stations that taught about kibbutz life, the Bedouins, religious issues in Israel, and Tel Aviv beach culture.

One of the activities was a discussion on the religious and secular divide in Israel, led by our Rosh Chinuch [Head of Education] and Rosh Omanut [Head of Art].  Mushon and Rachel were married this past winter in Israel, religiously, though they chose not to get married under the ultra-orthodox monopoly on weddings in Israel.  As a result, their wedding is not recognized by Israeli law. They had planned to have a civil, courthouse wedding here in the States this summer that would then be recognized by Israeli law.  However, a camp wedding and educational opportunity proved to be more appealing. The end of the day we celebrated a civil wedding, conducted by one of our tzevet. We celebrated into the night, with yummy wedding cake and cookies made by our awesome kitchen staff. Mushon was particularly excited to teach some of his favorite ‘80’s songs and dances!

This week the chalutzim have been busy participating in our fun base camp activities: rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, mining, archery, hockey, art, and much, much more!  In addition to regular camp activities, each edah has also had some special programs.

As I am writing this, I am watching groups get ready with “packout”- a process of packing personal and group gear for their masa’ot [backcountry excursions].  Everyone from Ilanot [3rd and 4th graders] to JOLI [11th and 12th graders] will spend at least one night this week under the stars camping out.

Ilanot this week in their limmud [learning activity] made “Shmonsters”- creative monster stuffed animals made of felt. They learned about the Shma prayer (hence, Shmonsters) and included a text of it inside the stuffed animals for them to have with them.

Metaylim had an awesome art/nature t’fillah [prayer service] led by one of our tzevet chava [farm staff].  They made artwork reflecting their experiences with nature, and later featured a nature walk through camp with meditations.

Sollelim began their limmud [Jewish learning] activity just as the two week buses were arriving up to camp. Rather than continue their activity, they got up and actively greeted the new arrivals, and practiced the value of Hachnasat Orchim [welcoming guests]. Rather than just learning about values, they were living them!

Bogrim enjoyed a rousing and spirited “sing-off” followed by a talent show.  Their energy and voices could be heard throughout the office building and this side of camp.

JOLI had an exciting night learning how to make sushi from some of our particularly talented staff. They came up with creative rolls and learned all about the ins and outs of the art of sushi making.

One of the aspects of our camp in which we take pride is the way we lift the veil on the food choices we make at camp.  We start most meals with a food tour about what we are eating, or how the food came to our plates.  This week, we had two interesting experiences with our food program that we shared with our chalutzim.  We began the summer with over 400 gallons of organic milk, donated by a local, private labeler.  On  Thursday morning, we finished using all our organic milk, and for budgetary reasons will finish the summer serving regular 2% milk.  We explained to the chalutzim the shift in the product that they will be served in our final two weeks.

Also, last night we had a camp-wide barbecue with an enormous amount of organic chicken.  Due to the cold weather in the northeastern U.S. this winter, the chicks that were supposed to hatch in late winter and then graze for a few months were delayed in hatching and growing to a size where they could be schechted [ritually slaughtered].  Instead of taking delivery of all 500 chickens in early June, we were only able to get a few in the early spring, and the rest were schechted and sent here in early July.  With the 9 days when we do not serve meat remaining, we are now left with more meat than expected. This means that our chalutzim who came in the first part of the summer ate less meat than usual, and the ones now at camp are eating more meat than usual.  We expect to have another 2-3 barbeques before the end of the summer!

To let you in on a little surprise, Sunday will be our infamous Yom Sport competition. (But shhh, don’t tell your children, it’s a surprise!) We are excited for this energetic day of friendly competition and camaraderie.

We are looking forward to this Shabbat, and the stunning weather we have been having.

A reminder to all that campers cannot receive or send mail while they are on their masa’ot next week. Also, we will only post photos of campers when they are in camp.

Registration is officially open for 2016, and you can sign up on our website (ramahout.s466.sureserver.com) by clicking “Register Now” at the top.

As always we do our best to post regular photo updates both on Facebook and Smugmug, and we will post Shabbat photos on Sunday.

Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbat!

Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team

Shabbat Shalom Ramah Families,

This has been an unseasonably warm and dry week here at the Chava, leading to a similarly pleasant masa [backcountry excursion] week for all of our chalutzim [campers].  Ironically, last Friday night was the first one where we gathered under our Ohel Mo’ed for dancing and t’ffilot because of the rain.

Last Saturday night  was a more somber occasion than usual, as we marked Tisha Ba’av, the Ninth of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Typically, Saturday night is a joyous occasion, filled with dancing, but not this past week. We read the Book of Eicha, a narrative of the destruction, by candlelight in the Ohel Ochel [dining hall] that evening and framed the next day for the chalutzim. Sunday was full of reflective programming, including one peulah  [activity] where chalutzim discussed their motivation in life and what values they live by.  The peulah asked them to think about why activism is important to their lives or what they stand for.

Ilanot’s highlight of the week was their “Farm Masa”, where they spent an entire day in farming activities:  milking goats, making goat cheese, and creating their own lunch with a harvest from the farm – a real “Farm to Table” experience!  They then slept out in tents, next to the farm.  Today, they visited the local farmer’s market and had a chance to speak with local farmers and sample some Colorado produce.

Metaylim had a blast this week rafting down the Arkansas River and taking a day trip to both Cave of the Winds and Mueller State Park. Be sure to check out some awesome GoPro footage from the rafting on our Facebook page! At Cave of the Winds, they explored the many “rooms” of Colorado’s famous 500 million-year-old cave system, learning about bats and cave formation along the way. They even got to zipline across a scenic canyon!

Sollelim campers headed out for a 4-day masa.  The masa’ot included climbing, biking, hiking,  art, and service projects.   This morning, those of us at camp were awoken by the Payne Creek masa who opted to do a night hike under the full moon back to camp.  They left their campsite,

a few miles from camp, at 3 am under a brilliant clear moon, arriving back at the Chava around 6 am and setting up a makeshift campsite on the on the migrash [sports field], where they camped out and made breakfast.

Bogrim campers went kayaking, hiking, climbing, farming, and archery masa’ot.  The kayaking group had a chance to be on the water more than usual because of the amazing weather, while the rock climbing masa at Sheeprock accomplished quite an impressive feat – a multi-pitch climb to the top of Helen’s Dome.  They were treated to a stunning view at the top and reported beautiful weather.

JOLI went to Indian Peak and, as has become tradition on the JOLI masa, they had a prolonged solo experience. Many reported the highlighs of their week being the solo experience and swimming in a freezing cold lake that was fed by snow melt only a few hundred feet away!  They were also inspired and awestruck during this morning’s sunrise t’fillot [prayers] atop the Continental Divide.

Questions to ask your chalutzim this week:

— Ilanot: What was your favorite part of farm masa? What did you do at the Woodland Park Farmers’ Market?

— Metaylim: How was Cave of the Winds? What did you or your friends perform at the lip sync battle?

— Sollelim: Did you get to know anyone new on masa this week? What did you talk about?

— Bogrim: What was something about this masa experience that was new for you? What was the hardest part?

— JOLI: What were you thinking about during your solo experience? What was your biggest challenge on the masa?

We are looking forward to wonderful Shabbat together, and hope that this beautiful weather holds out for the weekend.  Sunday is going to be “Yom Yisrael” (Israel Day), where our 12+ Israeli mishlachat  [emissaries] plan a day to teach about their homeland.  We hope you all have a pleasant and relaxing weekend.

As always, photos from the excursions will be uploaded after Shabbat; you can find them on our Facebook page and Smugmug. A video of some photos from the excursions can be viewed by clicking here.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team

Shabbat Shalom Ramah Friends!

First session flew by, and here we are already a few days into second session!  After a rejuvenating inter-session, we are all back at the chava [ranch], our chalutzim [campers] are here, and we are ready to have another awesome four weeks! On Wednesday, we welcomed chalutzim from all over the world: Oklahoma, Washington, New York, California, Israel, Mexico, Florida, and more.

Something unique happened this year on arrival day, easily one of our smoothest in 6 summers! The airport buses arrived within minutes of the buses from HEA in Denver, leading to a sudden wave of purple filling up camp with smiles, hugs, cheers, and ruach [spirit]!  And perhaps best of all, it was perfect Colorado mountain weather (hi 70s) with NO rain.  Camp magic is happening non stop, and I want to share a few magical moments.

Ilanot and Metaylim have been starting off each morning at 7:30 with an awesome Shmirat HaGuf [exercise] routine on the basketball court, as a part of the revamp of this program we mentioned in our last email.  Ilanot has already had biking, climbing, mining and archery.  In addition to the above activities, Metaylim chalutzim have also had art and farming.  This morning, when I went to visit our campers on the farm, I saw them cleaning up the goat pen and feeding and grooming our resident goats: Grace, Buttercup, Chalav and Dvash.  

Sollelim (7th and 8th grade) have been showing their presence, as one of the largest edot [age groups] we have ever had. Yesterday and today they have been having their elective prakim, where each chalutz has chosen three activities on which to focus during his/her time at camp.  As I write this, Sollelim chalutzim are out with the rest of the camp doing service projects as part of our Tikkun Ramah [camp improvement] program; projects range from painting fences to giving baths to some of our camp dogs.    

Yesterday was a full programing day for Bogrim (9th and 10th grade), but this morning they moved into masa (excursion) mode and began the process of bonding with their group. Each group tested their equipment and packed their dry food for next week.  The groups have put their gear in piles for Shabbat and will come back into their masa groups on Sunday afternoon.  

JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute- our 11th and 12th graders) this week completed a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course, administered by our friends at SOLO Wilderness Medical School. Last night they had a mini masa to Ramah Valley where they practiced setting up tarps and tents.  They were “back” in camp for t’filot at 8:00am.

In a few moments, camp-wide service projects will come to a close and our entire camp will begin to clean up and shower for Shabbat.  Although we have a single shower house (with individual stalls) for all our campers, everyone should be able to take hot showers using our custom made solar hot-water heater system.  If the weather holds, we will be doing Kabbalat Shabbat outdoors in the Pardes T’filah.  Tomorrow will be a terrific Shabbat, followed by Eicha [The Book of Lamentations] reading on Motzei Shabbat [after Shabbat].  Sunday is a special day due to the Tisha B’av fast.  Although the older chalutzim are encouraged to fast at least half the day, we will be serving meals throughout for anyone who wants to eat.  Monday morning, we move into full masa mode with groups headed all over Colorado for one to four nights of camping and fun in nature.

As always please be in touch with any questions or comments.  We have posted pictures on Facebook and Smugmug and plan to add more on Sunday evening.
Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team

–Written earlier today, but sent once ALL chalutzim have returned from Masa–

Each Friday morning, when I sit down to write these letters, I wonder where the week went. They say that each day of camp is like three in the “real world” which makes these weekly updates more like 21-day summaries. This past week was no exception.

We began the week with a touching Havdallah on the basketball court followed by an awesome Yom Sport breakout consisting of flaming torches and blazing logs. Sunday was perfect weather for our monthly Yom Sport event. Ultimately, when all the points were tallied from the games, songs, and banners, Kachol [Blue] emerged victorious. Of course, point values did not matter much because everyone had a fun and exciting day.

Sunday morning also brought a joyous occasion: we were FINALLY able to name our goats. Despite our best efforts, the goats were not able to join us for Friday night tfillot. (Our goat farmers had to rush their “aunt” to the vet just before Shabbat due to a spreading infection, which is now under control.)  The baby goats will forever be known at Camp Ramah as Chalav and D’vash (Milk and Honey).

This week was our final masa week of the session. On Monday, the JOLI (11/12th graders) and Bogrim (9/10th graders) campers set out on separate 5-day masa’ot. While JOLI spent some time biking and climbing, they also took the opportunity yesterday to rise before dawn (at 3:00 AM!) to summit of one of Colorado’s beautiful—and challenging—14’ers (peaks higher than 14,000 feet above sea level).  Bogrim campers went on masa’ot including horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, and farming.  All had their own adventures and special stories that they told about getting wet in the backcountry, seeing incredible vistas, and having deep dinner discussions.

Sollelim (7/8th graders) split into groups between rock climbing, biking, archery shooting, hiking, and service projects at the Pueblo Mountain State Park. Now in its second year, our Archery Masa has become one of the more popular choices for this age group; chalutzim [campers] are able to spend four days doing intense shooting at the Staunton State Park Archery range, which features numerous 3-dimensional targets set up in the beautiful Colorado terrain. On the biking masa, chalutzim hone their skills over miles of forest service road and trail on our front-suspension mountain bikes. While some sections of this ride are relatively smooth, most of the journey is spent climbing impossibly high peaks or descending at rapid speeds into beautiful valleys. While pausing at the tops of difficult hills, many riders wondered whether the Forest Service could (or would) ever build paved bridges across these mountains.

All Metaylim (5/6th grade) chalutzim spent Monday at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where most were able to feed the giraffes by hand. They then left for a three-day backpacking trip into the Lost Creek Wilderness. Watching Metaylim chalutzim pack-out on Wednesday morning is always a pleasure because I see the looks of apprehension and excitement on their faces. As a younger edah, many embark on their first or second trip into the backcountry with the knowledge that, for three days/two nights, they will not be able to return to the comfort of their own beds. Madrichim [counselors] double and triple check that everyone’s packs fit and that each chalutz/a has all the gear they will need (especially rain jackets and water bottles). Every chalutz/a also carries a portion of the group gear, adding a level of importance and responsibility to each camper and each pack. Around 9:00 AM, groups hiked out into the wilderness or boarded busses to reach the trailheads, which led them home over the course of three days. The only thing that might compare to watching Metaylim pack-out was watching them return to us dirty, tired, and incredibly proud of the miles they hiked and the skills they learned along the way.

Ilanot (3rd/4th grade) chalutzim spent Monday at the zoo with their older friends and then had an overnight with the horses on our ranch (despite their campsite being on property, we didn’t see them until they officially “returned” to us before lunch the following day). On Wednesday night, in a not-so-masa-like activity, the Ilanot girls enjoyed a private “spa-night.”  It was a great bonding activity, even if they appeared at Thursday morning breakfast as the cleanest chalutzot in the history of masa week! Today, the entire edah went to the local farmers market, where they interviewed the farmers and learned more about local agriculture.

Finally, our Amitzim chalutzim had their own three-day masa consisting of hiking, biking and a day at Wellington Lake. They slept out under the stars, cooked dinner over our camping stoves and enjoyed being in the outdoors. While every child in this edah has different abilities and sometimes they split into smaller groups for daytime activities, the incredible madrichim were able to ensure that they all came together in the evening for dinner, bonding, and resting.

As I am concluding this letter, the first of our trips are returning from masa. Over the next 4 hours 180 campers and 70 staff members will roll, walk and run into camp filthy, smelly and exceedingly happy. The washbasins are ready for everyone to clean and bleach their dishes and the solar water bags are filled (with over 1000 gallons of hot water) for everyone to shower. We will soon gather in the Pardes Tefillah for our final Kabbalat Shabbat of the session. It has been a magical beginning to this summer season, and we will be savoring our remaining few days together even as we look forward to next year.

As always, please be in touch with any questions, comments or concerns. Photos will be uploaded Sunday from the weekend and from masa’ot. In the mean time, please check out our video from the Masa’ot returning today.

Shabbat shalom!

Eliav