About a month ago, several of our returning staff members attended the Ramah Weinstein Leadership Institute at Camp Ramah in Ojai. We reunited with each other, learned from various Ramah professionals, connected with staff from different Ramah camps, and participated in fun and engaging peulot (programs) that we will bring home to Ramah in the Rockies. Read our staff’s reflections on their Weinstein experience below. To our current & future staff, keep in mind that you too will have the opportunity to participate in this leadership conference:
Ramah Rockies Staff Reflections
Weinstein was a great opportunity to connect with leaders from other Ramahs. Between exchanging dances and t’filah rituals, it was so fun to see how the spirit of Ramah exists across the country. Weinstein made me especially grateful for the inclusive, driven, and wacky community we have at Ramah in the Rockies. The unique challenges that our chalutzim embark on together in the backcountry, with the mountains as our classroom, is truly incredible. I am so grateful to have grown up at Ramah in the Rockies and to now get to instill the spirit of Ramah in my chalutzim.
Weinstein was by account the perfect weekend. The rain was refreshing and brought in a wave of fresh air, Ramah Ojai was green and lush with vegetation. Our fellow Ramahniks were incredible and eager to share about their camp and traditions. Throughout the sessions we learned about how different camps operate, how staff at other camps embrace their camps’ heritage, and how to be better counselors ourselves. In a session led by Rabbi Joe Menashe of Ramah Ojai and Anna Serviansky of Ramah Darom we even learned about the business side of Ramah camps. This session was interesting because it not only helped introduce an alternative way of thinking about camp decisions, but it also showed the importance of fundraising and donations for camps to operate. Another session taught by Dr. Jeff Kress helped teach about the importance of communication between campers and staff and taught us how to create better guidelines for our tents throughout the summer. Overall, the sessions were valuable and will help me on my path to become a better counselor.
In true Rockies fashion, a group of us also went on a hike. We woke up at 5:30am on Shabbat and hiked a six and a half mile loop to an overlook above camp. The views were amazing, and we had the special privilege of watching the sunrise over camp. The best part of the morning wasn’t the amazing trip but getting back in time for breakfast and walking in still dressed in our dirty hiking clothes (we cleaned off and changed right after breakfast). Everyone there was so surprised that we had gone on the hike and even more so that we were able to get back on time. Someone even said that they finally understood Ramah in the Rockies and how “crazy” we are about the outdoors. In all, Weinstein was a delightful weekend that taught me so much, and I’m very glad I went.
Being at Weinstein is a little like going to a family reunion full of relatives who’ve never met before, but they all seem to have a little more in common with each other than they do with you. Some of these camps have been around for decades, they’ve carved out years-old traditions that we don’t have anything like at Rockies. They seem to have more camp culture, more history to look back at. Their parents sang the same songs and slept in the same bunks that they do now. It’s a little jarring to notice just how new our Ramah still is. Of course, what they don’t have more of than us is crazy stories. You turn more than a few heads in the dining hall when you tell some Nyack or Ojai counselors about “lightning protocol” or third graders climbing Prospector.
When we first got to the conference, the other camps thought our stories were strange, sure, but there seemed to be a sort of consensus that they all came to; “No camp can be that weird.” That was what they thought, until we Rockies folk decided that, at 5:30 one morning, we would go on a seven-mile hike. To us, this just seemed like a fun, relatively easy way to start the day, but to the other camps, when we walked into the dining hall only a few minutes after they had all just woken up, covered in dirt and sweat, talking about how we had just climbed a mountain, that was when they really began to pay attention to us.
We were inundated with questions, a lot of disbelief, and more than a little bit of awe. I guess, before then, I’d never really realized how different our camp was. Or how special. A few of the other counselors heard our stories and seemed to really resonate with them. Like they’d just learned about the most incredible place in the world, somewhere they’d maybe like to check out someday. And I even talked to people who wanted to bring some of our programs over to their camps. Of course, some of them were talking our ears off but would still never dream of spending their summers in a place with bears and infrequent showers, and that’s okay.
It’s humbling, really, to realize all over again something I take for granted too often. We go to an incredibly special camp, but that also comes with an entirely new realization: our camp is part of a huge network of other camps, places that would gladly host us for an off-season weekend, or even take us on for a summer, something we’d also gladly do for them. I came to see that we’re part of a giant family that spans across the country and even other parts of the world, and also see now just how special our little branch of the family really is.
Attending the Weinstein Leadership Institute was a great experience in a variety of ways. The first piece of understanding that I received was finding out the goals and objectives of Camp Ramah. I realized how the education parallels camper experiences as they grow up. As a camper and even as a first year staff this was not something made apparent to me until I attended Rabbi Joel Seltzer’s session at Weinstein. This is where he spoke about Rabbi David Mogilner’s influence on Ramah and how he now interpreted the same role of directing a Ramah summer camp.
Another great part about attending the conference was connecting with many other peers. When I arrived at the airport, I recognized multiple people that I went on Ramah Seminar with but had not been very close to while in Israel. This weekend was a chance for me to get to know those friends much better in a more professional setting. Separated from the routine of summer, being at Weinstein, allowed me to interact with staff that have held positions at camp for multiple summers all the way up to members of the NRC. Those conversations enabled me to process new ideas about how I can leave my impact on Ramah.
Weinstein was a very impactful conference and I learned so much from it! Before I share some takeaways from this experience, I would just like to mention how amazing it is to spend a Shabbat with friends in a beautiful place. It’s easy to get back into a routine and keep summertime activities in the summer, but spending Shabbat at Ramah Ojai reminded me that we can take time out of our schedules to be with a vibrant Jewish community yet again. My first takeaway had less to do with the actual material we were learning, and is more focused on the environment. Simply being in the same place as so many other people who care about their camps as much as I do was really powerful. It was clear that all of the staff on Weinstein wanted to be there to learn more about Ramah as a whole, and build new skills. A second thing that was awesome about Weinstein was learning about the other Ramah camps, especially the Ramah-adjacent camps in South America. It was really cool to be able to compare and contrast my own Ramah camp with others, and it helped me to further recognize how lucky we are that we get to go to a Ramah camp! Not only did this conference make me feel so grateful for our camp itself, but the entire Ramah community that comes with it. I am so happy I had the opportunity to go on Weinstein, and I would definitely recommend it to other Ramahniks!
Learn more about the Ramah Weinstein Leadership Institute here.