Posts

Thank you for joining us for our Hanukkah Highlights series – an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! 

Yaakov Dermer Posing
Name: 
Yaakov Dermer

Job at Camp: Rosh Chuggim (Head of Activities)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 1

Favorite Camp Activity: Singing around the medurah (campfire)

Occupation: Rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Student Rabbi at Temple Beth Tzedek in Amherst, NY

 

Meal time at Ramah in the Rockies was not for the faint of heart. Most afternoons, as lunch began to wind down and hundreds of plates were shuffled and stacked, the dining tent where we gathered as a community three times each day would erupt into a chorus of deafening cheers. As I had come to expect from my experience working at other Ramah camps, campers proved their creativity and pride by the decibel levels they could reach. Out in the Rockies, however, I was surprised to discover our campers’ cheers were often much more than an excuse to bang on the table and clang their silverware.

One such cheer truly captured the spirit of our community this summer. Picture this: hundreds of campers have just finished eating a meal that largely consisted of farm-fresh produce, most garbage has been composted rather than thrown away, and untouched leftovers have been diligently returned to the kitchen. Slowly, but with increasing strength, we begin to hear a familiar cadence echoing through the mountains: “Ain bizbuz b’machane Ramah! Ain bizbuz b’machane Ramah!” (There is no waste at Camp Ramah!)

What this cheer lacked in rhythmic catchiness, it made up for in moral conviction. Chalutzim (campers) were not reveling in their success on the basketball court or insisting their edah (age group) was the best. Rather, with this cheer, they were celebrating a far nobler accomplishment: their ability to finish the meal with as little wasted food as possible. As more campers learned this cheer and its meaning, the intentionality of our meals deepened. Even our youngest campers began to develop an awareness that this cheer was not just a cheer, but a protest against a world which, despite rampant hunger, wastes close to 1.4 billion tons of food each year.

Looking back, it seems obvious that a cheer about food waste would be among the most popular at Ramah in the Rockies this summer. The staff at camp worked tirelessly to create a culture of awareness around environmental sustainability which permeated every aspect of camp. We watched as a greenhouse was built from the ground up, and ate the first lettuce it produced. We learned with a dedicated farm staff about everything from the Torah of bread to the role of goats in ancient Israel. We sang Jewish songs by moonlight and davened close to the earth, our prayers reaching toward the mountain tops. Ain bizbuz b’machane ramah. Nothing is wasted; all of God’s creation has a purpose, and is deserving of our utmost care and respect.

In my work as Rosh Chuggim, head of base camp activities, I was concerned with another form of wastefulness – wasted time. A large part of my role was to ensure that the daily activities happening around camp were running smoothly and according to a tight schedule. I worked primarily behind the scenes, coordinating with activity supervisors, supporting staff, and managing an unending array of logistical minutia. From mountain biking to outdoor cooking, mural making, and mining, the campers had a non-stop program of wilderness challenges, and I felt responsible for helping them to get the most out of each and every day. While I could have gotten lost in the details, I remained motivated by the fact that each moment at camp is precious, an opportunity to influence the next generation of Jewish leaders, and not to be wasted.

As I reflect on the summer from my NYC apartment, I’m called to bring the energy of camp from the mountains to the city and into my final year of rabbinical school. Our campers’ unlikely favorite cheer is still ringing in my ears. Ain Bizbuz, there is no place for waste, no time for apathy or indifference. As a soon-to-be rabbi, I’m grateful to take this lesson to heart. I move toward the rabbinate remembering that each moment is an opportunity to bring honor and sanctity into the world. Each person I meet, each piece of food I enjoy, is a gift from God, to be appreciated and respected rather than carelessly discarded. Following the campers of Ramah in the Rockies, may we all learn to cheer with pride, ain bizbuz. May we create a world in which little is wasted, and much is gained.

 

 

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

Tamar Moss climbing rocks


Name: 
Tamar Moss

Job at Camp: Base Camp Intern

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 7

Favorite Camp Activity: Rock Climbing

Occupation: Student at Brandeis University studying Environmental Studies

 

This past summer, two other counselors and I had the opportunity to lead a group of Metayalim (5th and 6th graders) campers on a backpacking trip along the Goose Creek Trail. The route snakes through the beautiful Lost Creek Wilderness and involves summiting a few small mountains, but I was especially excited for this masa (backcountry excursion) for another reason – this was a route I had previously hiked as a camper just a few summers before.

I was back at Ramah in the Rockies as a base camp intern, my first summer on staff, and had the opportunity to experience one of my favorite trails as a madricha (counselor) instead of as a chalutza (camper). As we packed up our gear, I wondered what the next few days would bring. Would I be able to facilitate amazing masa memories for my campers the way my counselors had for me?

On our first afternoon out on the trail it immediately started to rain, and we were all a little bit cold and miserable. We decided it would be a good idea to stop for the night, even though there wasn’t a stream big enough to use as a water source right near our campsite. We helped the campers set up tarps and they changed into dry clothes as we cooked dinner.

After dinner, another counselor and I collected empty water bottles and hiked a down the mountain to get water from a bigger stream. As I trudged back up the mountain, my backpack heavy with full water bottles, I remember thinking that the first day of our masa had been more frustrating than fun. All I wanted was for our group to get some rest and start fresh in the morning. I hoped the kids were winding down and going to sleep.

As I got closer to the campsite, however, I was surprised to hear bursts of laughter and giggles. The kids, who I had presumed were cold, damp, and probably grumpy, were just the opposite! Huddled together in their sleeping bags under a dripping tarp, morale was high and they had been busy inventing a new game.

This game was sort of like a competition between two teams, where someone came up with a topic, and each team composed a satirical advertisement or skit about it. Then a panel of judges voted on which performance they liked best. The chalutzim continued to play this game throughout the rest of the masa. Every time we took a break and were ready to get back on the trail, they would beg for time to play just one more round.

I realized that while I had been busy worrying about making masa fun and memorable for the chalutzim, they had been busy creating their own fun! This experience taught me that sometimes being a great counselor isn’t about planning the best activities or being in control. Sometimes being a great counselor is about encouraging your campers to be creative and silly, and empowering their leadership by being an enthusiastic participant in the games they create themselves.

It was really special to watch these chalutzim come together over something that made them all laugh – to see every single one of them included and participating. I hope that someday those campers will be on staff themselves, having grown up at Ramah in the Rockies the way I did. And I hope that when they lead their first masa, they remember their hike along the Goose Creek Trail in 2017 and realize that as long as they give their campers space to be goofy and creative, the fun will find them!

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

 Yuval Sharabi riding a horse


Name: 
Yuval Sharabi

Job at Camp: Tzevet Susim (Horse Staff)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 4

Favorite Camp Activity: Horseback Riding, of course!

Occupation: Therapeutic Horseback Riding Guide

 

Many of my friends in Israel ask me why I keep coming back to Ramah in the Rockies each summer. They say, “Yuval, you’re 30 years old. What are you still looking for out in Colorado?”

My answer is always the same. I tell them, “If you’ve never been to camp, you cannot understand the powerful experience of being in a place free from judgement, a place where everyone is equal. I come back to Colorado every summer because at Ramah in the Rockies, I can be my true self and not have to hide behind any mask.”

I think that in today’s world – a world full of technology so advanced that it is possible to do almost anything by pressing a button – sometimes we forgot what it means to be human. We forget what it feels like to interact with someone without having a cell phone get in the way. We forget the excitement of getting to know someone new and discovering that you have something in common with them. I think that for both chalutzim (campers) and for tzevet (staff), the experience of disconnecting from technology to spend a few weeks together in the mountains is so important. We all need to remember how to connect meaningfully, face to face. There is no better place to do this than at camp.

Especially on Friday evenings, when our entire community comes together to welcome Shabbat, that is when the real magic happens. Israeli and American, we all join together, singing and dancing as one kehillah kedoshah, one holy community.

When my friends in Israel ask me why I keep coming back, I ask them to show me another place who I can impact the lives of hundreds of chalutzim throughout the course of the summer; a place where I can help them acquire the tools they need to grow and learn, all while growing and learning myself.

When I was asked to reflect on my favorite memories from last summer, two occasions came to mind. The first is slightly mixed with sorrow, but is still a precious memory to me. The night the fire broke out and everyone was evacuated to a field far away from the flames, I sat on the sidelines for a moment and watched the amazing scene that was happening. I saw the entire team of counselors put their campers’ needs above their own, looking after their chalutzim by them by wrapping them in blankets so they would not be cold and singing songs with them so they would not be afraid. In that moment, I felt so at home that I forgot what a scary situation we were in. I saw in this place what we would call in Israel “Israeli Fraternity.” On that night, our community became a family.

The second memory that came to mind was Yom Kehillah, a day where the campers could connect with Israel. Myself and the rest of the Israeli delegation worked night after night to prepare for this day, because it is so important to all of us that our chalutzim feel close to Israel in their hearts, no matter how far away it is. To see the campers laughing, singing Israeli songs, and participating in conversations about Israel with their peers and their counselors was amazing.

Camp is a place where everyone can be themselves, celebrate Shabbat together, comfort each other when times are hard, and form a meaningful connection with Israel. For these reasons and so many others, I will continue to return every summer to my favorite place in the world, Ramah in the Rockies!

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 


Name: 
Eliana Willis

Job at Camp: Bogrim Rosh Edah (Unit Head)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Care of Magical Creatures (Animal Care)

Occupation: Jewish Engagement Coordinator at BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy

 

 

What do recent Bogrim campers and residents of the UC Santa Cruz Trailer Park have in common? A knack for slackjaw dance-off!

What is slackjaw dance-off, you might wonder? Try letting your mouth hang open with your jaw completely slack. If you can hold the expression while watching a friend do the same without bursting into laughter, I’m impressed. If you can hold it longer than them while you’re both dancing, you’ve just won slackjaw dance-off.

Before I came to Ramah in the Rockies, I was a student at UC Santa Cruz, living in a community known as the UC Santa Cruz Trailer Park. This amazing place is unlike any other trailer park and student housing option I’ve ever seen. We lived in artfully decorated trailers, shared meals, and played music together. The highlight of the year was always the Olympics, where we dressed up in our wackiest outfits and competed in a series of ridiculous games. It was a celebration of our community and the freedom to be silly!

This year was my third summer at Ramah in the Rockies, and my first as a Rosh Edah (unit head). I was a couple years removed from college and missing the shenanigans of the trailer park days. As the Bogrim tzevet (staff) and I brainstormed program ideas, we knew we needed to plan an event that combined our favorite camp games and activities, such as “the Oreo challenge” and dancing to popular Israeli music, into one evening of silliness, laughter, and fun. Throw in some trailer park classics like the aforementioned slackjaw dance-off and finger jousting, and we managed to create an amazing new tradition… the Bogrim Balagan Olympics!

We ran the program as a Peulat Erev (evening program) once each session. During second session it happened to rain on the night we planned to hold the Olympics, so we ended up crowding all of Bogrim – the largest edah (age group) at camp – into a small, indoor program space. It was the last night of camp for our the two-week chalutzim (campers), so the energy in the room was full of excitement before the festivities even began.

Everyone showed up in their wackiest attire: tie-dye, onesies, and even an evening gown! Campers rotated through stations where they participated in hilarious slack-jaw dance-offs, challenged each other to competitive games of finger jousting, and attempted to disentangle themselves from a human knot, among other fun activities.

Counselors taught and refereed games, played high-energy Iraeli pop music, took pictures, and brought a ton of ruach (spirit) to the event. Though it was a cool night, we soon opened the big garage doors for some fresh air. The pine trees surrounding us sparkled with raindrops and our view of the huge, jagged rock face in the distance was stunning. Soon people were dancing and running around in the rain! It wasn’t long until the sky began to clear, and we spotted a rainbow emerging from the clouds above us. I recited a bracha on the rainbow, which was met with a resounding “Amen” by all.

Now that the rain had passed, we gathered in a circle outside and distributed prizes (in the form of tiny plastic reptiles) for winning games and for the most creative costumes. We sang and chanted all of our edah cheers (we had at least eight), affirming our self-proclaimed status as the best edah at Machane Ramah!

Throughout the summer, myself and my fellow Rashei Edah were challenged to bring our unique identities and our whole selves to our job. For me that meant a lot of things, from making up songs for the campers before bed, to teaching some of my most beloved Jewish texts, to sharing my favorite college tradition – the Olympics – with my chalutzim.

As an educator, I am continuously inspired by the communities I’ve been a part of, and strive to bring the best of what I learn from each of these experiences to my own work. Slackjaw dance-off may not seem like education, but we all experienced something powerful that night –  the vulnerability of looking ridiculous, a sense of unity and pride in our community, and just plain, pure simcha (joy).

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

Name: Ryan “Lunch Pail” Fleischer

Job at Camp: Ilanot Madrich

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 6

Favorite Camp Activity: Mountain Biking

Occupation: Student at University of Colorado Boulder studying Neuroscience and Human Geography

I could feel the excitement in the air from the moment my Ilanot chalutzim (campers) – the youngest at Ramah in the Rockies – woke up that morning. They were bouncing off the walls of our ohel (tent), unable to talk or think about anything other than the amazing Peulat Erev (evening program) we had planned for that night.

Tonight was the Annual Ilanot Rocktion.

For those of you wondering what a “Rocktion” is, it’s simply a “Rock Auction.” But as mundane as that may sound, I can assure you that the Rocktion is a highlight of the summer for both chalutzim and tzevet (staff).

Every summer we start preparing for the Rocktion in advance by telling our campers to save any beautiful or interesting rocks they unearth during their mining chuggim (activity period). They discover chunks of smokey and rose quartz, iridescent crystals, and even the occasional piece of topaz. Ilanot chalutzim absolutely love collecting these beautiful stones, and stockpile their favorites in preparation for the Rocktion each session. Over the last week and a half their collections had started to take over our ohel!

We always hold the Rocktion in the middle of masa (backcountry excursion) week, when all of the older campers are away from base camp having amazing adventures. We invite all the staff who are not off leading masa’ot to come and participate, and the Ilanot chalutzim love to be the center of attention for the night!

We began the Rocktion that night by giving the campers a few minutes to set up their “stores.” They made signs advertising their great rocks and competitive prices, and then arranged their rock collections on the table before them, organizing their stones by size, color, or type. Finally, it was time for the Rocktion to begin!

Staff from every corner of camp showed up to support Ilanot! They were handed a small cup full of dried beans, which served as our currency for the evening. For the next half hour, our dining hall was transformed into a noisy, bustling marketplace. Counselors and campers bargained with each other, haggling over the best deals and most beautiful rocks. And when to sale was over, the auction began!

Campers counted the beans they earned by selling their rocks and then had the opportunity to spend these beans on a number of amazing prizes! Prizes that were available for bidding ranged from a personalized meal courtesy of our kitchen tzevet to an ice cream party on Rabbi Eliav’s front porch! Needless to say, everyone headed back to their ohel that night with a huge smile plastered on their face.

The Rocktion is always my favorite memory of the summer because it is a time for both chalutzim and tzevet to act silly and have fun together! Everyone who participates has a blast, and year after year I look forward to my favorite night of the summer… the Rocktion!

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

Elana
Name: 
Elana Schrager

Job at Camp: Bogrim Yoetzet (Camper Care Staff)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Backpacking – anywhere, anytime!

Occupation: Communications and Research Intern at End Citizens United PAC, a grassroots funded group dedicated to fighting for campaign finance reform

 

I drove to camp last summer. Vermont to Maryland to Colorado in five days. Campus to camp, student to graduate before Shabbat had time to roll around again.

College, I thought as I drove—college is a game played for and by yourself. Camp, though—camp is a place of utter self-abnegation. Camp is where you go—where I went—to give in ways that you can’t during the school year. But I hadn’t been at camp for any length of time in over a year, and I felt young and unprepared and wasn’t sure if I remembered, anymore, how to give in the ways camp required of me.

As I drove west I thought – am I old enough to do this? This summer, rather than returning as a madricha (counselor), I would be a yoetzet, a member of the camper care team – a small group of individuals who serve as parent liaisons, provide extra support for counselors, and connect one-on-one with campers who are struggling. Throughout my summers on staff I had looked up to the camper care team – I had trusted them, respected them, and valued their advice. Now I was about to be one of them.

After days of driving I finally arrived at Ramah in the Rockies, where I quickly discovered that I possess tools I didn’t know I had – tools I’ve gathered from books and friends and choices (good and bad) and personal history. They are the tools I use to sort and organize the goings on of the world and my reactions to them. My chalutzim (campers) I learned, are still acquiring those tools. They are utterly fragile and utterly sound, with bodies and minds that break and mend all at once in the split second that you look away. They are testing, always testing … you, and themselves, and their friends, and their parents. They are bundles of raw sincerity, a sincerity made even more obvious by their half-hearted cynicism.

And I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the worlds of these amazing kids. I got to talk with them and listen to them and work with them as they shattered and mended and shattered again over the course of minutes, hours, days. And, for the first time in my life, I got to hear from their parents—to hear from Real Adults, grownups whose very voices made my knees go trembly when I got on the phone. I realized that I am not yet a Real Adult and no longer a kid. As a member of the camper care team, I learned that the role I play as a kind of intergenerational translator is an essential one – one that I am uniquely qualified for in my confusing, post-collegiate liminality.

It is December now, and dark outside. I am not a kid, or an adult, or a student. I, like my teenage campers this summer, am at home, working and testing and probing to figure out what identity, what thing will define me as my life moves forward. And sometimes little gleams of memory float across my eyelids—of a camper this summer, turning his face up to me and asking in total sincerity: “But… how do I know that that’s really who I am?”

I don’t have an answer, and I didn’t have one this summer. And I can now accept that not having an answer is okay. In the end, our campers take care of each other, and our incredible counselors take care of them. And we in the camper care office, no matter our age, exist as support—as liaisons, as backup…safety nets to catch those who stumble, waiting hands ready to help them step back into everyday life at camp.

And that’s the way it should be.

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

Isaac Rosen Climbing rocks

Name: Isaac Rosen

Job at Camp: Solelim Madrich, Climbing Staff, & Masa Leader

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 5

Favorite Camp Activity: Rock Climbing

Occupation: Student at Tufts University studying English and Film & Media Studies

 

For as long as I can remember, my biggest fear has been lightning. If I was ever outdoors with even the threat of a storm on the horizon, I would tense up and figure out how, where, and when I would be able to get inside. I knew how to tell how far away a strike was, and which indoor and outdoor locations are the safest hideouts in case of an emergency. Needless to say, a deep-rooted fear of lightning and five summers in the Colorado Rocky Mountains set me up for some interesting situations.

Fast forward to the first time I ever lead a backpacking masa (backcountry excursion). Though I had participated in numerous masa’ot throughout my time as a camper at Ramah in the Rockies, I still felt as nervous as I did excited, stepping into this new leadership role for the first time. I spent the next few days exploring Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness with a group of 13 and 14 year old chalutzim (campers). Everything was going according to plan until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

*FLASH*

I instinctually start counting in my head. “One…Two…Thr – ”

*BOOM*

Less than a mile away.

The clouds overhead still looked light – far from the ominous dark gray of the typical Colorado thunderheads – and yet the thunder roared before I could even take a breath. The calm, pale sky had misled us, urging us to push onward toward the top of the saddle we had to pass, and now the lightning was much too close for comfort. If it had been five years earlier I would have been shaking in my hiking boots, closing my eyes, and hauling tuchus down the mountain towards safety. Even as an adult, I felt the familiar childhood terror creep into my mind. This time, however, I knew that I couldn’t let fear stand in the way of being the leader my campers needed me to be.

I looked at the faces of those middle schoolers behind me, and in that moment, I realized that I couldn’t be the shaky, whimpering kid anymore. It was my turn to become one of the level-headed role models that I had looked up to and trusted to protect me during my masa’ot as a camper.

I kept my cool, instructed everyone to turn around, and we quickly headed for lower ground. We found a small grove of aspen trees, all of which were evenly sized but weren’t the tallest trees in the vicinity I knew this would be the safest place to wait out the lightning storm; we had gone over lighting protocal time and time again during staff week and throughout the Wilderness First Responder training course that masa leaders participate in.

Together we sat down on our backpacks and assumed “lightning position,” watching the flashes of the lightning, listening for the crashes of the thunder, counting the seconds between them all, and waiting patiently for the storm to pass.

From that point forward the trip went smoothly, and the lighting storm became just another story for my campers to eagerly share with their friends when we returned triumphantly to base camp just in time for Shabbat that Friday. But for me, the memory of that storm is so much more than just another exciting masa story. In that moment, crouching in the aspen grove with those kids, I suddenly understood that the counselors I had looked up to as a chalutz all those summer ago were not super-human. They were ordinary people – people just like me – who rose to the occasion because they knew their campers were depending on them.

This is what makes masa’ot  at Ramah in the Rockies so special – for both the chalutzim and for their counselors. On these excursions into the unknown, we all have the opportunity to face our fears, overcome challenges, and emerge on the other side knowing that we are capable of more than we ever imagined.

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. First up, Danit Cohen!

Name: Danit Cohen

Job at Camp: JOLI Madricha (Counselor)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Mountain Biking in Buffalo Creek

Occupation: Wilderness Field Guide at BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy & Ski Instructor in Breckenridge, CO


Monday, August 7, 2:24 a.m.

Talya: “Danit? Wake up, I think something’s going on outside.”

Danit: “What? It’s probably nothing, you can go back to sleep.”

It was just a few minutes later that I awoke once more to a voice outside of our ohel (tent) shouting, “Everyone has to wake up, make sure everyone is awake and out of the ohelim. There’s a fire. Get everyone up right now!

Strange as it may seem, I wasn’t surprised that the first responders telling me where to go and what to do were my own chalutzim (campers). After all, it was Week 4 of the JOLI Program; I had already witnessed tremendous growth and leadership from these amazing campers.

Perhaps my favorite part of being a JOLI madricha (counselor) is the feeling that our edah (unit) is not simply a few staff members and 20 chalutzim – it is a cohesive team of Jewish Outdoor Leaders. There comes a point in the summer when the staff begin to step back and let the JOLI chalutzim lead the way with their own internal compasses. Don’t get me wrong – they don’t just arrive at camp on Day 1 with this initiative. We help them acquire the tools necessary with an intensive wilderness medicine course, programs based on healthy self expression and communication skills, and a curriculum of backcountry skill-building that includes making a fire, building a shelter, and throwing a proper bear bag. Once these basic skills are acquired, we step back and watch as our JOLI chalutzim utilize them in a real-world context, growing into leaders in our camp community. Like we tell them from the start of the summer: “This program will be what you make of it.”

In many ways, the fire that burned down the lodge this summer revealed the strength and determination of our entire community, from the leadership who coordinated our relocation to JCC Ranch camp to the remarkable volunteers who worked tireless to ensure that our campers remained safe and comfortable throughout the transition process. Still, the events of that week definitely took their toll on the staff. Counselors were running on fumes; desperately tired but determined to remain present and optimistic for their campers. It was at this moment that the JOLI chalutzim stepped up to the plate, showcasing the leadership qualities that we had been developing all session.

I’ll never forget their faces when we finally got an opportunity to sit down together at the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver after the evacuation. We were prepared to support them, hear their concerns, and give them some time to just be campers and hang out together. But these remarkable teenagers had something else in mind: they immediately started suggesting ways they could help the rest of camp. “Can we go to JCC Ranch Camp before everyone else to help set it up?” asked one JOLI chalutz. “We can make signs, give the tours, and be a warm welcome to this new place where they’ll be for the week.” And that is exactly what we did. JOLI made anxious campers feel at ease in a new environment and allowed exhausted tzevet to take a well-deserved break, knowing their chalutzim were in good hands.

I often hear people ask, “what do you folks really do in JOLI?” I always answer with this: we build leaders. Those who come through the JOLI program at Ramah in the Rockies leave with the skills, the confidence, and the initiative necessary to be great leaders in their academic, extracurricular, and professional lives. Furthermore, I am certain that when these chalutzim return to camp as staff members in just a few short years, they will be exceptionally prepared to nurture the next generation of Jewish leaders.

To learn more about our JOLI Program, click here or email info@ramoutdoors.org

 

Ramah Community:

Below is a letter that we sent out to all of our current 9th grade chalutzim and families.  We are proud to share the details of our new 10th grade Edah, and are availible to answer questions via phone or email.

Dear 9th grade chalutzim (campers) and parents:

Originally we had intended to share this letter with our community while our summer session was still in full swing.  However, after the events of the fire on August 7th, we spent the last weeks of camp planning and implementing our “Plan B” at the JCC Ranch Camp.  Our kehillah (community) shared a remarkable eight days at our adopted home, and we are so grateful for the support and generosity that allowed us to finish the summer on such a positive and hopeful note.

On Wednesday, September 6th, you will be receiving an official announcement about the opening of our 2018 registration. This announcement will include information about our newest edah (age group). It will also explain that beginning next summer, we will only be admitting chaluztim entering grades 9-12 for four weeks. Before sending out this announcement, we wanted share with our 9th grade families more details about our newest edah and explain why we decided to move forward with these changes.

 

THE WHY

Moving to Four Weeks
For our younger chalutzim, our two-week program is a great way for campers to try out Ramah in the Rockies and see if the program fits their needs. As chalutzim mature, however, our two-week program becomes less effective. Since our older edot participate in longer, more intensive masa’ot (backcountry excursions), they spend less time at base camp. We want to ensure that each and every camper has time to form the deep interpersonal relationships that are at the core of our program. Indeed, over the past few years we’ve found that less than 30% of our older two-week campers return to camp. On the other hand, almost 85% of our older four-week campers return to Ramah in the Rockies year after year.
We believe that in the long run, our community and the lives of those affected by it will be stronger if we foster stronger relationships between its members.  Sadly, this will mean that some of our chautzim who have split their time between multiple camps and programs will have to decide where to spend their full month. We are committed to raising additional funds for those families who have been coming for two weeks out of a financial necessity.
Creating a New 10th Grade Edah   
Bogrim has become so big that it is difficult for all of the chalutzim to form deep connections with each other. With larger enrollments, we have seen cliques emerge in Bogrim – something we are fortunate to have rarely seen at Ramah in the Rockies. Additionally, while combining age groups works very well for most ages, the one age group where we see a tremendous distinction in just one year is Bogrim, where some campers are entering high school and others already have completed a year of high school.  Campers with a year of high school under their belt often are more mature than those without, and our rising 10th graders deserve a summer experience that reflects their growth and independence.
Reframing the High School Experience
Over the past year, we have been busy reexamining the educational and experiential aims of Ramah in the Rockies, especially when it comes to our high school programs. While JOLI has been (and will remain) the pinnacle of the Ramah in the Rockies experience, we realized that much of the outdoor skill development currently taught in JOLI should be emphasized earlier. We know our rising 10th graders are ready to take on greater challenges, therefore our newest edah will focus on developing outdoors skills, which campers will have the opportunity to practice and perfect on their masa’ot. 
In 2018, our JOLI program will continue to function like it did during second session of 2017.  This means there will be equal emphasis on backcountry skills and counselor-in-training skills. In 2018, we will continue to accept new applicants to JOLI who have not come through the Ramah in the Rockies community.  However, beginning in 2019 we expect JOLI to focus far more on leadership skills at our base camp.  JOLI’ers will continue to do an intensive 5-day masa for the first masa, but will then spend the second part of camp as “ozrim” (helpers) in a specific program area. They will have the opportunity to co-lead on a masa for one of our younger edot.  Starting in 2019, admission to JOLI will be contingent on successful completion of our new 10thgrade edah.

 

 

 
THE WHAT

Additional Skills Training
Starting in 2018, our rising 10th graders will choose a “major” for each session. In the first year, the four majors will be: farming, biking, survival, and climbing. 10th graders will spend half the day in their major, and half the day working on backcountry skills development and Jewish environmental learning.  Chalutzim will also go out on their first masa with their major, led by the same people who have been teaching them at the base camp. This model will allow campers to form close relationships with madrichim(counselors), and find Jewish outdoor role models to learn from and look up to. For the second masa, all chalutzim will go out on an intensive hiking experience in the backcountry, where they will practice the skills they have developed at base camp. Chalutzim will also have a chance to experience their first six-hour solo!
Additional Privileges at the Chava (Ranch)
We will be constructing a new meeting tent with lights and walls behind the upper bathhouse.  This will be a place where our 10th grade edah will be allowed to hang out until 9:30 each evening (an hour later than other campers).  Additionally, we expect to add a 10th grade oneg on Friday nights, where chalutzim will be able to celebrate Shabbat with some sweet treats after the rest of the campers have gone to bed.

 

THE HOW

Register now
When registration opens, please register for our new edah for rising 10th graders! In the spring, we will send out more specific explanations of the different majors. Once at camp, we will ask each rising 10th grader to rank their choices in order of preference.
Naming Contest!
Stay tuned for our upcoming Naming Contest – all that our new edah is missing is its name, and you can help us chose! This fall, we will be posting a poll and sending out a survey so that every member of our community can make their voice heard and vote for their favorite name. Don’t miss out on your chance to influence the future of Ramah in the Rockies for years to come!
Share your Feedback 
We are happy to answer any questions you may have! We’d also love to hear your feedback. In summers to come, we have the opportunity to improve upon the foundation we have established here at Ramah in the Rockies. In order to continue to provide our chalutzim with impactful experiences year after year, we ask that you please take a moment to fill out a brief survey about your child’s experience at camp. Click here to take our 2017 Summer Feedback Survey!

We are so excited about our newest edah – we hope you are too!

Eliav Bock, Executive Director
Julia Snyder, Program Director

scott wasserman sukkahThere is something primordial about carving a space out from the wilderness. Backpacking in a national park this summer, I was struck by the persistence of the instinct.
This log is our kitchen. This branch is where we dry a towel. We enter the tent from this direction. Over here, just beyond camp, we store our food. We can’t help but to carve a space from the wilderness.

From within wilderness we organize, and shape and assemble. We look outside that space and say, “outside is wilderness and in here something seperate.”

When we are children, we delineate such spaces. We conjure caves, we play home, we build fortresses. We duck under sheets to escape the terrors of a wilderness.

Leaving Egypt, the Jewish people are young and newly free humans. They are flung into a vast wilderness and from within it, they carve a space for themselves. They fashion a moving encampment and dwell in smaller spaces therein.

A sukkah is a space assembled at precisely that time of year when one begins to draw inward, bringing together those things that you might need in the winter ahead. A sukkah is a cozy, autumnal comfort. You adorn it with symbols of the harvest and gaze at a swollen moon. You consider the universe and the vast wilderness in which you live.

Scott Wasserman, Ramah Parent

A Place to Be Yourself, The Place to Take on Life’s AdventureSONY DSC

The Ramah Rockies Experience 

 Rabbi Scott Bolton, Congregation Or Zarua, New York City

Writing from the beautiful Rockies, Basecamp


I believe that we need to find the right places for growing, reflecting, experiencing joy and awe. At every stage of our lives, we must find it for ourselves, and parents, to be good guides for their children, have to search out those environments. Finding a place, school, camp, or synagogue that encompasses them all is a challenge. What an incredible privilege to be able to become part of this sacred community at Ramah Rockies where I can see that everyone is in explorer mode and committed to the core values of community, individual growth, joy and honoring one another.

From this Rabbi’s perspective, when a camp is filled with people who are little like angels you have to share the blessings. Let me call out to fellow parents, Jewish community members and those wanting to contribute to the lives of children as camp staff – this is an inspiring Jewish place to be for two, four or eight weeks! Everyone here is accepted for who they are, what they stand for and how they express their Judaism, yet the commitment to community and finding common ground places everyone in a trust relationship. SONY DSC

With those trust relationships built through sacred attachments, the adventures themselves into the wilderness, up boulders, through forests, down paths both excite individual campers and create an understanding about teamwork and responsibility important both for summer adventures and for all of life.

At about 9,800 feet above sea level, at a trailhead, I saw a group of teens take on leadership under the careful supervision of dedicated adventure counselors. The gave each of the young leaders a different job and had them carefully sort out, equitably, all the extra equipment they would need to camp over five days and reach more than 12,500 feet above the tree lines. Their initiation into the ways of survival and skills for staying safe, and their celebrating Shabbat together got them ready for that journey. The leaders of the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Initiative (JOLI) empowered those teens from around the world, of one Jewish family, to each find their own inner strength and to create a team that could literally and figuratively realize new heights! JOLI bolton masa bierstadt

I am seeing that when those of all backgrounds, of one family, come to make magic here at Ramah Rockies there is a buzz and a peace all at the same time. There are physical heights and spiritual heights to ascend. Few places in my travels have inspired such an electricity as well as a sense of acceptance, potential growth and Jewish spirit. 

I know I am in the right place for these weeks I will be here! Hineini! “I am here,” as our ancestors responded to God when asked if they were ready for the next chapter. 

 

To register for Ramah in the Rockies today, please click this link. Register Now!

2014 Tzevet Tipus [Rock Climbing Staff], Noah Kaplan, wrote this spoken word poem this summer about the power of the Masa [backcountry excursion] experience.  Words to the poem are below the video.  We hope you will enjoy this!

 

For five days we leave behind our phones, we forget about conventional conveniences, the clutter of the day, we sweep it all aside for a while to find what hides behind our eyes unclouded by wifi. For five days We breathe the fresh air cradled rocky and strained by aspen groves, sipping on the sweet smells of summer fed to us by our sky Hashem whispers to us, adventure is out there. We, who fly a whole mile high, there is nothing like this ride. We call this time Masa, the journey. We leave early and pack light, for we plan to travel far, wide, We give up our complex comforts for a simpler sense of service to ourselves, of preference and priority, of sound, Listen, adventure is out there, listen. It’s laping at your shore. This song never gets old.  We leave our watches, our roofs, and yes often our bathrooms, for a timeless place, a forever truth in nature. These ancient languages have not been lost, the trees still whistle and hum in the breeze with their lips bigger thaan SUV’s and their tongues that never get tired, are you listening? Can you hear it? We call this time Masa, this place, the Journey. We are in search of adventure, in search of god and each other, we are the Masa, the journey and for four nights the moon is our spotlight, watching as the stars nod across the sky to tuck us into that silver darkness, nothing is warmer, nothing is freer than this blanket this fire by our side, we, the pioneers of our own potential have  songs with their endless arms reaching upward, there is something magic about this circle, these hurtles, this path untraveled, you’ll find your potential is just as endless, listen as the wind plays the trees against the drumming, there is rhythm to discover in our feet. Learn what it means to feed yourself full to this beat, what it means to push yourself more, to take care of your core, to be apart of this team, born of a collective dream, we are all in this together, strip the white noise of the city from your skin, we should all know this everything, and to make memories that do not require batteries. Write stories with your every step. For five days and four nights we learn to take care of our bodies, our minds, our souls. Look up, Hashem is all around us out here, this air, this water, these lives and laughter let its voice fill you, climb its mountains, ride it smooth, move with purpose, groove, climb, bike, shoot, lace up your boots. It is time, Learn precision and how to sleep by its side, no lie, out here we are the pioneers of our own potential, the students of our surroundings, the reverent citizens of our world, there is no end to this road, us all a part of this team, this whole, this time, like an endless smooth sounding rhyme, with light hearts, and laughter, find us pushing our limits going faster choosing the challenge that will bring us forward, for there is no end to this road. This journey where we sing ourselves to sleep and awake in the morning with the possibilities simply at our feet, all around us, waking up to find that adventure is out here.