Rabbi Eliav Bock
Greetings 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.
As 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).
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.
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.
And 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!
(and yes 99.9% of the above is made up!)