Putting Screens, Sugar, and Adventure Back into Camp
A Purim Letter from Rabbi Eliav
I write this letter having just returned from our ranch where we enjoyed the opportunity to meet as a leadership team and go over some changes we are implementing for this summer. As we look forward to opening our tenth summer, we want to ensure that our program remains successful for the next ten decades to come. We know that change is always hard, but are very excited to introduce these improvements to our camp.
Being a screen-free environment simply does not make sense in today’s wired world! Our campers and parents rely on screens of all types to communicate with each other and too many of both our staff and camper populations have withdrawal-like symptoms when camp starts. Seeking a solution to this problem, we were delighted to learn of the new cable channel launching this summer called Camp TV. Executives from this channel were searching for five camps to pilot their reality TV program and, of course, we signed the contract!Over the past month, Camp TV has installed cameras and microphones throughout our chava (ranch) so that crews can televise our children at all times. All conversations (other than those in the bathroom or showers) will be recorded and beamed to parents (and producers) in real time. This way, our parents will know what is happening with their child(ren) at camp without ever having to ask our camper care team to check in on them or reading any of our weekly emails. Producers are bound to put together the events of the summer in an amazingly compelling narrative.But, we did not want to stop there. We also wanted our campers to get in on the
action, and this summer we are issuing smart phones to each so that they can communicate in real time with those at home. No longer will meals be marked by animated conversations across tabletops. Campers will keep a steady view of their screens and text/Whatsapp/Instagram (whatever) with those who are not present.
Clearly, the lack of high-speed internet is an issue in making all of this technological change come together. Here, too, we have found a solution by working with our friends at Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Their moonshot company, Loon, is putting balloons in the air to beam high-speed internet to the masses. While their focus is linking the African continent, we convinced them that campers at Colorado summer camps are in even greater need of high-speed internet. We have agreed to serve as their trial case in North America and expect to have their balloons floating above our camp beaming a high-speed signal to all.
We pride ourselves in running one of the most amazing rock climbing programs in the Jewish summer camp movement, teaching it on both an artificial bouldering wall and a real granite cliff. To ensure that safety always comes first, we purchase top-level gear and maintain impeccable logs. A few years ago we made this video to highlight our “hard core” program, anchored by our climbing program. But for our chalutzim (campers) and climbers, ropes always seem to get in the way.This summer, our climbing program moves to the next level. Alex Honnold introduced the world to Free Soloing in his Oscar-winning documentary, Free Solo. For those who missed it, Alex spent about four hours
climbing a 3,000 foot cliff with no ropes and, at one point, dangling 2,500 feet above the ground while holding a grip the size of a matchbox. Ever since seeing this, we have wondered whether our Challenge by Choice mantra means that we are inspiring the next Alex Honnold and what we can do to prepare them for this experience?! We know that we need to be more HARD CORE! This summer, therefore, we are proud to announce the country’s first free solo program! Working closely with two of our certifying agencies, the American Camp Association (ACA) and the Colorado Department of Human Services, we have devised a system whereby we will take campers with the most rudimentary climbing ability and put them directly on a granite slab. Brain researchers have told us that by changing a child’s amygdala (the part of the brain that creates the “fight or flight” response) at a young age, an entire generation of free soloists may be nurtured. Under the careful guidance of our lead rock climbers, campers will climb up a vertical surface of 1,000 feet or more with no ropes. By starting this process with our youngest campers, we believe we can train our kids to overcome their inherent fear of falling.The Free Soloing program will absolutely make our camp stand out, and is one step along the way to creating the next generation of Jewish
daredevils. Future growth of this initiative will include wing suit jumping (where campers jump off cliffs with wings attached), hang gliding, bungee jumping, and possibly even a winter expedition to K2. (Everest is too easy, and WAY too commercialized at this point and we know that K2 will provide our community with a real challenge.)Like all masa’ot (excursion) activities at Ramah, parents will be asked to sign a waiver.
Our chalutzim burn thousands of calories each day! In addition to the three meals and two snacks we currently serve, we are concerned that our campers are not getting the needed calories to see them through the day. We thought of adding more protein-based nutrients (meat, tofu, etc.), and perhaps even more fruits and vegetables, but then looked at our society out there in the “real world”. This made us realize that we were ignoring all those empty calories our campers rely upon in their regular lives. Seeking a solution to this problem, our culinary staff and nutritionist recently went on a group outing to some of the local grocery stores to view their products and the answer hit us like a ton of bricks! We need more candy, soda, and sugary drinks! We reached out to the American Beverage Association, and they were happy to help sponsor our latest project. At each meal (especially breakfast), we will now serve a curated line of products made by the Coca Cola Company,
including Coke, Sprite, and Fanta. For those who want a non-fizzy alternative, we expect to have Hi-C and Capri-Sun available also. Plus, we plan to install candy machines throughout camp. We are excited to work with a local Boulder company to make sure that the sugar provided in these products gives the illusion of being healthy by adding organic food coloring. We know that our efforts are successful if children are bouncing off the walls after meals and have so much built up energy that they yell while racing pell-mell from one peulah (activity) to another. We realize that bed time might become a challenge, but have heard that a cup of warm milk, with plenty of natural sugar to rot their teeth, helps calm things down. So starting this summer, in the evening outside the bathhouses, our rashei edah (unit heads) will give out hand-crafted cups of steamed milk to anyone needing it to unwind. Our success is the added trips to the dentist for our campers.
We know that change can be challenging and that some will wonder whether these improvements will affect our camp community and the values that we have nurtured since our founding. Only time will tell. But for now, know that it is Purim and we wish everyone a VERY HAPPY PURIM, ONE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER AND NONSENSE! (And a real camp update will be forthcoming next week.)
– Rabbi Eliav and the entire Ramah in the Rockies team