Thursday July 15, 2021
6 Av 5781
The sun is shining and the air is cool. The ranch is silent, except for the sound of our backup generators at the sewage treatment plant and the kitchen which are humming amidst an area-wide power outage(!!). Staff are returning from their days off, during which they chose from several COVID-conscious activities such as camping, attending a Ramah-only private movie screening at a local theater, and visiting a local park.
The past four weeks have flown by. We sweated in the initial days of the session, when temperatures were above 90 degrees, and then threw on extra layers for much of the remainder of the session, when temperatures dropped far below what is typical for late June/early July. We played hours of Connect Four in Ohel Koby, hiked lush mountain peaks, and biked miles of single track. We danced outdoors, sang lecha-dodi outside in a rainstorm, and spent hours hanging out with friends during free-time and at campsites on masa’ot (excursions). Overall, perhaps what was most noticeable about session I, was how normal it all felt at camp, even as a pandemic continues just beyond our gates.
While it is impossible to sum up four action-packed weeks in a few paragraphs, I hope that the three vignettes below provide a glimpse of life at Ramah in the Rockies during the first session.
Havdalah at the Mirpaah
What started as an afterthought has now become tradition. For years, we have gathered on our basketball court to sing havdalah as a community and then dance to Israeli music. Because of COVID restrictions, we could not gather as one group for the first Shabbat of the session. Instead, we decided to set up a sound system on the porch of our new Mirpaah (Wellness Center), and asked each ohel cohort to come together in a circle, eight feet from the next group. Twenty-five administrative staff donned fluorescent vests to act as human cones between groups and ensure that groups remained adequately spaced. To our surprise, that first Saturday night, havdalah was magical! While our community spanned 400+ feet on the road, the new setup made it possible for chalutzim to dance with plenty of room. For most of us, that Shabbat was the first time we had celebrated Jewish ritual in a large in-person community in over 15 months. Although we were socially distanced, our voices and energy came together in ways we could not have imagined only a few weeks earlier. Each subsequent week, we gathered along the road, this time in edah-wide cohorts, singing and dancing together. Older campers hopped onto the porch to help lead the younger chalutzim in dancing to Israeli music.
Eating in the Chadar Ochel
For years, our camp meals have been shared in a large white dining tent where the decibel level frequently reached that of a jet-engine. While our dining tents served us well, we never saw them as a permanent solution. In addition to the noise, none were truly weatherproof, and we often had to spend significant amounts of time clearing tent floors of floods after rainfalls. Since the lodge fire of 2017, we have been planning to welcome our community to a newly rebuilt dining hall, one that would protect campers from the elements and enable us all to gather in one place. This summer, our dream was realized, albeit a little differently than we had planned. While our new dining hall is designed to seat 350 people at a time, with COVID social distancing requirements we had to expand onto our dining deck and an adjacent administrative center that also opened for the first time in 2021. Meals were a time for chalutzim and tzevet to eat and also bond. Because of our COVID restrictions, only one person per table was permitted to stand up at a time, which meant that meals were far more orderly than ever before. And the food, by most accounts, has been better than most years, including what has become a camp-wide favorite, Impossible Burger night!
Coming into this summer, we set a framework that would encourage campers to see their entire camp experience as a masa, or backcountry excursion. We identified five key elements of camp that apply both at the chava (ranch) and out on actual masaot. We trained our staff around these five key elements, and used them to evaluate our program. Each session, a highlight for me is being present as our masa’ot return from their days away. This year, because of COVID, we sent masa’ot by ohel for the first two weeks, and then by edah for the final masa of each session. Sitting on the porch of our new Mirpaah, I watched as groups hiked into camp singing the songs they had written while on the trail, or returned in white vans, dirty yet happy and excited about all they had accomplished on their trips. I watched campers who had left only a few days earlier as individuals returned as a cohesive and supportive group. Some completed their routes; others had to turn around because of unmaintained trails or high water crossings. Yet all had learned a crucial lesson, namely that the point of masa is not the route itself but their experiences and the resilience they develop on the trail. One memorable moment was welcoming our youngest campers back from their first ever two-day masa. These 8/9 year olds had only hiked a mile or so with packs but felt as though they had completed an epic journey because they had camped out for two nights, and spent a day hiking a nearby peak. In their smiles, I saw campers who hopefully will be with us for years to come as chalutzim and then trip-leaders themselves in ten years or so.
In an hour, we will gather to process our first session as a full staff. Just as we do with our chalutzim most nights, we will recount our highs and lows of the past month. We will reset our goals for this next month, imagining all that we hope to accomplish as leaders and role models for our second session campers. This summer would not be happening were it not for our dedicated tzevet, our camp families who entrust us with their children, and our hundreds of donors who enable us to do whatever it takes to make camp operate this summer. To all of you,THANK YOU for continuing to believe in our community and to support our mission.
For those whose children just returned from session IA or IA+IB, please help us improve our program by either sending us a note about your child’s experience and/or filling out this third- party survey about their experience. We grow each year based on honest feedback and appreciate you helping us continue to improve the Ramah in the Rockies experience for both second session chalutzim and those who will join us in 2022 and beyond!
If your child was with us for only session IA, please complete the survey here
If your child was with us for session IA+IB please complete the survey here
It is now Friday morning, having failed to hit send last night. Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Tisha B’Av on Sunday.
Ps. The power came back on yesterday around noon. The $125,000+ we have spent on three backup generators seems to have paid off since we could keep our vital systems running even without power..