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This week we will celebrate the miracles of Chanukah!  This summer, we celebrate the wonder of our 8th summer! 
Each summer, we celebrate the miracles of camper achievements:
  • Living out our Core Values of Kavod (Respect), Simcha (Joy), Tzmicha Ishit (Personal Growth), and Kehillah
    (Connection). 
  • The pride and joy of biking to the summit of Mt. Evans (elevation: 14,265), a Colorado 14-er! 
  • Chalutzim learning to milk goats, feed chickens, saddle horses, and and care for our fellow ranch inhabitants
  • The feeling of accomplishment when reaching the top of a climbing route for the first time!
  • Learning skills on backcountry excursions to become independent.
  • Meeting Jews from around the world and creating intense, meaningful, and lifelong friendships and connections.

We wish you and your entire family and community a wonderful Chanukah full of sufganiyot, miracles, and enjoying the glow of the candles!

Chag Sameach! 

 

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!

We sent this email out yesterday to all of our camp families. 

 

Dear Camp Families and Friends,

We hope the school year has started off well for you. With the opening of our Summer, 2017 registration, we have some updates to share also.

SurveysValues

We are enjoying reading the survey responses so far received and will be publishing results once we finish compiling them all.  If you have not yet completed our survey and would like to give us the gift of feedback on your summer experience with us, please click here.  Your responses to our surveys help us shape our program updates and changes for next summer.


Midah Tile Project

Throughout the summer, we told our campers about the new Midah Murals we will be creating around camp, using their artwork to fashion mosaics around their summer experiences. If you have not yet created a tile as a part of our Tile Project, it’s not too late to submit one! If you chose to create digital artwork, you can send that to us via email at arip@ramahoutdoors.org.  Please read the full instructions on how to participate at ramahout.s466.sureserver.com/tileproject.

Registration and Program Updatesisrael

Registration for Kayitz 2017 has been open for a month now and we already have a number of registered campers. If you want to receive your super comfy Ramah fleece, please register before October 31st!  While we still have room in all sessions and all bunks, we do expect to begin filling some by the end of September. To register now, please click here.

While we are using this time immediately after camp to still fully evaluate our 2016 program, we want to let you know about a few upcoming changes that might affect your registration choices. We hope these modifications for 2017 will improve the Ramah in the Rockies’ experience for all of our chalutzim (campers).


IMG_79322-Week vs 4-Week Programs

Traditionally when our campers have arrived for their sessions, whether attending for two or four weeks, all of our older campers would spend over an hour “leveling” into (choosing) their electives at camp. While this is useful for our four-week campers, we realized that our two-week campers were passing over an hour choosing activities in which they would participate for a total of three hours in the following days at base camp.  Additionally, our four week campers were not able to experience the full programmatic arc of our speciality programs because there were often two week campers transitioning either in or out of their activities.

To improve this system, we are making the following change for our 2017 programs:  our two week campers (all ages) will travel to our different activities in camp as members of “mishpachot” (families).  This will give our new and returning campers the opportunity to experience all that base camp has to offer in their two weeks with us. We think this will enable our two-week campers opportunities to do more activities while also creating a more communal feeling among our four-week campers.

dancingTwo and four week campers in our older age groups will continue to live in different, but adjacent, tents.  Our rising 3/4th grade campers will continue to live in mixed tents, while most of our rising 5/6th grade campers will live in separate tents, unless our registration numbers warrant otherwise (likely in our August session).

Please note that our six-week campers will spend their four-week session as four-week campers and their two-week session with the different activities.

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to reach out to Rabbi Eliav Bock or Julia Snyder, and we will be glad to answer your questions about these improvements to our program.

JOLI

The goal of our JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute) program is to create future Jewish outdoor leaders. As such, the program is designed to push participants physically, spiritually, and mentally to take on new challenges and find new areas of growth.  While our JOLI program is incredibly rewarding for those who complete it, it is not suitable for all rising 11th/12th graders.

For a number of years, we have required JOLI applicants new to our community to have an interview and complete essay questions.  Because of this
process, these individuals have often been the best prepared because they fully understand the challenges that they are going to undertake while participating in JOLI.  For our 2017 season, we will expand this intake procedure to include our
Bogrim graduates wanting to join the JOLI program.  

For those who have applied or will be applying to JOLI 2017, we will be sending information about interviews and essay questions, and will begin the interviewing process in early October.  In the meantime, anyone who registers for JOLI 2017 will have a spot saved for them, but no one will be confirmed until after we decide, together, whether JOLI is a good fit for each applicant.  (Don’t worry, anyone who registers prior to October 31, whether or not s/he has gone through the interview process will still receive a free Ramah in the Rockies fleece).

To read more about the program, please visit https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/about/joli/

TikvahTikvah

We are currently re-evaluating our Tikvah program to figure out the best model for our camp and our participants.
We invite all of our current and potential Tikvah families to discuss their child and what type of program is the right fit for them with our former Tikvah Director, Elyssa Hammerman (
elyssah@ramahoutdoors.org).  Rabbi Eliav will be convening a group of stakeholders  in the coming weeks to discuss the future trajectory of this program.  If you would like to be part of this group, please be in touch with him directly.

Financial Aid

In an effort to move the process of need-based financial aid along more efficiently, we are starting the application process three months earlier this year. Requests for financial aid are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.  Families are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.  If you have any questions, please visit ramahout.s466.sureserver.com/scholarships or email Douglas Wolf at douglasw@ramahoutdoors.org.

This is the third installment in a series of blogs from our camp staff. Each of the staff were asked how their area of camp (rock climbing, archery, horseback riding, etc) and Judaism was linked for them, and how they have brought the two together in their lives.

Ilana Weisberg

farm 7The ways that we interact with animals at Camp Ramah reflects a greater compassion for the natural world. Judaism teaches that we should respect and love the animals that surround us. We focus on learning from the goats, chickens, alpacas, and ducks by observing the way that their world works in connection to ours. Our campers and staff help provide our animals with food, shelter, and safety while we receive milk, eggs, and love from our animals.

DSC_0021 2There are a few specific things we do to really focus on the back and forth of caring for the animals. I particularly like to focus on thanking the animals. For example, after milking Grace, one of our goats this summer, we always went back to thank her. Thanking her for her milk changes the interaction from one where we are simply receiving, to one where we are gratefully receiving. Not only does this completely change the dynamic of caring for Grace as a being instead of just a means to receive milk, but it also teaches us to appreciate the things we are given. By loving and caring for Grace, including cleaning her enclosure, walking her, feeding her, socializing with her, and milking her, we are learning the amount of work it takes to receive a small amount of milk.

Beyond appreciating the animals, I try to encourage campers and staff alike to connect with the animals. Simply saying hello while passing by an enclosure is a great way to form a relationship with the other inhabitants of camp. It takes a lot of patience and understanding, but when we were really able to have relationships with the animals, it was magical to see the interactions. From some campers that were willing to wake up early to feed the chickens, to others who were missing home and told the goats all about their families, I’m sure our animals can’t wait for the buses to roll up and for camp to be in session again.

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.

This post was originally featured on the Jewish News of the Greater Phoenix Area.  Debbie was a guest of ours at Shavuot this past year, and we are touched and amazed at her words here.  If you are interested in coming for Shavuot camp this year, please contact Matt Levitt.

 

For one week in June 2014, I made aliyah. Not to Israel, but up the mountain to Ramah, my spiritual home, where the mountain meets the sky. It had been many years since I stepped onto the hallowed ground of any Ramah campus, and though this ascent was not to my home camp of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, I was instantly in my element at Ramah Outdoor Adventure in the Rockies (ROA) in Deckers, Colorado. Because my daughter had been a member of the brave “Chevrat HaMeyasdim” (founding/pioneering staff members) in 2009 and 2010, I already recognized some names and faces and was familiar with landmarks from her photos and descriptions. I had heard her sing ROA songs and chants, and knew a bit about what made this Ramah camp similar yet different from the original Ramah prototype.

There is no mistaking the ruach of Ramah, the ineffable bond that exists among generations of Ramah-niks all across the country. Shared values, curiosity, connection to the place and each other. Even as a camp that is only four years old, all of this is part of ROA. This is a place to feel Jewish and be Jewish in a way that reaches deeper inside than any experience you can have back in your everyday school-year world. What makes ROA extra special is the exploring spirit brought to just about every activity. Everyone hikes, bikes, climbs, rappels, kayaks, works on the farm and backpacks in the rugged, yet serene, Rocky Mountain wilderness. Founded on the principle of “challenge by choice,” Ramah Valley is like a vortex where campers and staff learn things about life and themselves, creating a kehillah kedosha — a holy community.

The gardens for fruits and vegetables (enjoyed at meals) are built and maintained by campers and staff. The horse pastures are accessible in the center of the camp. The sounds of tefillah (prayer), limmud (learning), shirah (singing), rikud (dancing) and amanut (arts) may be concentrated in rooms adjoining the Chadar Ochel ohel (dining room tent), but the life of this camp is breathed everywhere among acres of both semi-developed and undeveloped land.

Shavuot Shabbat CampI knew most of that, or thought I did, before I arrived. But I didn’t fully get it until I found myself living it. Last spring, I opened an email newsletter from ROA. It contained a small announcement inviting interested families to contact the camp for more information about a new Shavuot study opportunity. There would be holiday-specific programming as well as free time for these visitors to the ranch. They would be joined by senior tzevet (staff) who were readying the camp for the beginning of the summer season. Right away, I signed up, encouraged by my daughter and her formative experiences as a young adult.

Upon arrival, I learned that the other families who had expressed interest had not been able to come that week. I was the only person not on staff there, yet immediately I knew that I was not an outsider. Just as I had a sense of familiarity with ROA based upon my daughter’s involvement, all I had to do was introduce myself as Risa’s Mom and, immediately, I was embraced, literally and figuratively. Lucky me, I was invited to participate in every aspect of staff orientation, study sessions, discussion groups, and even wilderness first-responder training. I volunteered in the farm-garden, braided challah, and assisted in the kitchen. Soon, I wasn’t just my daughter’s middle-aged mother. I quickly became a member of a tight-knit family of young people, some in college, some recent grads, and some rabbinical students.

I hiked up the mountain with the entire community as we symbolically received the Torah from Sinai on a glorious Shavuot morning. Moses may not have brought dogs with him, but faithful pets accompanied us. Amidst the group of tallit-clad fellow hikers, wearing a kippah that I had crocheted decades earlier as a camper, I was called up for an aliyah as the Torah was read on the mountaintop.

Eliav ShavuotLike all Ramah camps, every meal began with hand-washing and motzi. But ROA goes further than that, by also beginning each meal with announcements by the food educator, a dedicated position on staff, who described what was on the menu, what the health benefits were of the locally sourced ingredients, and what the vegan/gluten-free option was. This was unlike any camp food I’d ever eaten. Every tasty dish was crafted with the intention to maximize nutrients, and was energy-fueling and appetite-quenching. Each table had a designated helper/cleaner, yet everyone pitched in. There was always room for one more person to sit on the bench. And of course we “benched” after every meal, conscious of which food groups were represented.

What ROA lacks in sprawling manicured lawns, paved sports courts, and cathedral gathering halls, it makes up for with rustic-but-civilized ohelim (tent-bunks) where windows are unzipped, and light comes from flashlights, headlamps and solar-powered lanterns. (Helpful tip for first-timers: place the solar-powered lantern outside in the sun during the day!) There is no need to clean the bathroom in your ohel, because there isn’t one; just walk up the hill to the bright and airy communal bathhouses. (Tip: DO remember to bring your bucket of toiletries.) While you won’t find yourself crossing perfectly sodded fields to get to your next activity, do allow time to hike up and down the rocky hills and valleys, and to stop to watch the caterpillar spin its silk, the aspen leaves flutter, and the deer in your midst. (Tip: DO wear sturdy shoes daily. DO carry your day-pack everywhere. DON’T try to capture these experiences with a camera; you simply can’t.) Most important tips: drink water, lots of water; apply and reapply sunscreen; and always wear your hat. ROA is located at serious altitude.

From one Jewish mother to another, if you think that your son or daughter might enjoy the challenges and confidence-building experience of developing outdoor physical skills while being supported by a Jewish-values-driven community, check-out the information about an upcoming meet-and-greet event being hosted here in Phoenix/Scottsdale on Tuesday Nov. 18th. See you there!

by Beth Hammerman

Ben Skupsky w/water tankIn recognition of Shemini Atzeret, the holiday we just celebrated, we share with you the various ways in which Ramah Outdoor Adventure works on conserving its precious water resource. This holiday, which follows the Jewish festival of Sukkot, marks the beginning of the rainy season after the harvest in Israel. The prayer for rain, Tefilat Geshem, is the only ritual that is unique to Shemini Atzeret. After the prayer for rain is recited, the phrase Masheev HaRuach U-Moreed HaGeshem (“He causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall”) is inserted into the Amidah prayer until Passover. This is the season of divine judgment for the future year’s rainfall, the time when we pray that God’s goodwill may afford us the appropriate amount.

Donald Skupsky, Chairman of the Ramah in the Rockies Board, and his son Ben, developed camps most significant water related initiative. They spent years researching an effective way to bring hot water to our shower house that would be both economical and practical. After years of research, they designed and implemented a passive solar system made up of two hot boxes housing two bladders that are continuously being filled from the creek water that is piped in. Each bladder holds 500 gallons of water and measures 7ft. X 9ft. X 16 in. high. The black color of the bladder absorbs more of the sun’s rays and heats the water inside more quickly. By having a large surface area and shallow depth, the water inside the bladder is able to heat more quickly than traditional upright storage tanks.

camp waterfallThe two bladders are plumbed in series, so that heated water from one bladder serves as input to the second, increasing water temperature. The bladders are housed in separate hot boxes, each covered with polycarbonate, which is often used for greenhouses and lets 90% of sunlight pass through. The top of each box is angled to catch the maximum amount of sun in the spring and summer months. Each box is lined with reflective insulation to direct sunlight inward and further heat the bladders. Even if the sun does not shine for a few days, storing water above ground significantly improves hot water availability over traditional water heating systems.

The advantages to this system are many. It significantly reduces the monthly water heating cost from the shower house. On Friday alone, over 200 showers occur. The system is designed to use up to 1,500 gallons of hot water in that 3-hour period. It is very eco friendly since there are practically no moving parts, which means that the system does not use any fossil fuels or electricity to operate. Further, this has been a great learning experience for our campers and staff.

There are many other initiatives the camp has implemented regarding water usage. Campers are encouraged not to flush the toilet after each use so the tank does not have to empty out and fill up unnecessarily after each use. Half of the sinks in the new shower house have facets with 15 second timed water release. This reminds campers when cleaning their teeth and washing up of the need to be conscious of their water usage. The showerheads have a reduced water stream, further saving on water usage. Excess water from the dining room table pitchers is reused in the gardens and greenhouse. There is a poster board outside the dining room indicating each day how much water is being used in the different areas of the camp. This public display has sparked discussion among campers and staff and the hope is that water consumption will decrease as a result.

hydroMickey Vizner, the camp’s environmental and sustainability project manager, is always thinking of new initiatives to conserve water. The latest is thru the use of Hydroponics. This is where plants are grown without the use of soil. The nutrients that plants normally derive from the soil are simply dissolved into water instead, and depending on the type of hydroponic system used, the plant’s roots are suspended in, flooded with or misted with the nutrient solution so that the plant can derive the elements it needs for growth. ROA is testing this concept with two camp-made vertical “water trees,” each able to hold 14 plants and camp-made nutrients (egg shells and banana peels soaked in water with some added purchased minerals).

There are significant environmental benefits to hydroponics use. Such a system requires significantly less water than soil-based plants because it recycles and reuses water and nutrient solutions, as it is continually pumped through the plant roots. Hydroponics requires little or no pesticides and much less nutrients. This represents not only a cost savings but also benefits the environment in that no chemicals or nutrition pollution are being released into the air. As the population increases and arable land available for crop production declines, hydroponics will allow us to produce crops in alternative places. Hydroponically grown foods not only taste better and are more nutritional, but you can change the properties of your food and monitor what goes into it.

Lastly, one of Mickey’s dreams is to build a water powered ner tamid (eternal light). He hopes to design a water wheel that will be turned by the flow of the creek water to create electricity to power the light. He sees this as a force of nature coming from G-d, which serves as a reminder that G-d is forever eternal.

 

 

 

 

 

Miriam Green, one of our kitchen staff and student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, wrote this poem over the summer. We think it serves as a great reflection for Yom Kippur.

I don’t understand the point.
If trustworthiness is so hard to attain
and so easy to destroy
Why work to be trustworthy at all?
When each one of us seems destined to fail
in matters big or matters small?Perhaps we should turn from emun to emunah
from trustworthiness to Trust
and the only
One
we can truly trust is G-d
for we know people will fail us
time and again
people we love
people we despiseand the more power, the more weight
we give to their words
the harder that weight will fall
and crush
us
in our disappointment.
We must always trust that G-d has a way
that G-d has a plan
that we have no hope of seeing the big picture of our lives
yet G-d has already painted it.
Each place
each relationship
each moment
a gift, specially formed for each one of us
precisely as G-d intended.So.
If humans can’t be trusted
Why should we aspire to this ideal of trustworthiness
that we can at best momentarily attain?Perhaps it is part of our endeavor to be holy as Hashem our G-d is holy.
But I think it is about forgiveness.
My students asked me
How can you trust someone who has failed you?
Can you trust someone who has been in jail?
And I had no clear answer for them.
But one wise student gave a teshuvah:
Yes
I could trust someone who can failed me, he said.Ahh, I kvelled.
You see, you have found the answer.
It’s about forgiveness.Because as we endeavor to be trustworthy
We know in our heart!
that at least in moments
all humankind will fail
and as we regard our fellow as ourself
we know in our gut we must forgive.
And each act of forgiveness
is a stitch repairing the fabric of the world
making us whole
granting us a taste
of the bliss
of the world to come.

Chalutzim [campers] at Ramah in the Rockies now understand how the expression “busy as a bee” came into being. Chalutzim learned all about bees through Rinat Levinson, a tzevet [staff member] from Israel, who studied biodynamic beekeeping. Rinat became interested in this field only a year ago and has become so passionate that she found a Denver beekeeper, Oliver Stanton, who donated a hive full of bees so she could teach our chalutzim.

Bee KeepingBiodynamic bee keeping is an approach that respects the integrity of the colony and was founded over 150 years ago. Its aim is to minimize stress factors and allow bees to develop in accordance with their true nature. There are many protocols one must follow so as not to exploit the bees for their honey and ROA followed them while mainting the hive. Examples include: bees are allowed to build natural comb, swarming is acknowledged as the only way to rejuvenate and reproduce a colony, the queen is allowed to move freely throughout the hive and sufficient honey is retained in the hive to provide for the winter.

Rinat’s goal was to make us more aware of the bee’s life cycle and its impact on the environment. Bees are useful in helping thousands of plants to exist and multiply, since they carry pollen from one flower to another, enabling them to form seeds and reproduce themselves. Campers learned about community from studying the bees as each bee and bee activity is integral to the whole. No single part, not even the queen, can be seen as isolated from the whole. Isn’t this what community is all about?

She taught how to respect and take care of the hive and the importance of its survival. Unfortunately, the honeybee is becoming an endangered species, with more than a 50% US decline in managed honeybee colonies due to parasites and disease, climate change and air pollution. The most serious of all is the impact of pesticides– an environmental hazard for any being. Campers discussed what they could do about this phenomenon.

Honeybees are the only insects that provide an important food for man. Interesting note is that the bee is a non-kosher insect, so why is its honey kosher?

So much Jewish learning can be taught through studying the bees. “Devorah” is Hebrew for “bee.” It’s also the name of two great women mentioned in the Torah. What is so special about a bee that these great women should be named after it? There are several citings in the Midrash where the Jewish people and the Torah are compared to bees. For example, just as bees swarm behind a leader, so too are the Jews led by the sages and prophets who teach and guide them. Just as the nature of a bee is to collect pollen and nectar for others, so do the Jews toil accumulating Torah and mitzvahs, not for our own benefit, but for a higher purpose.

BeeHiveHoney is first mentioned in the Bible as one of the gifts sent by Jacob with his sons when they went down to Egypt to seek food during the famine. Moses, at his first encounter with God at the burning bush, hears God’s pledge for the first time: “I shall rescue them from the hand of Egypt and bring them up to a land flowing with milk and honey”(Exodus 3:8). Throughout the Bible, Israel is repeatedly referred to as the land of “milk and honey.” Manna, the most perfect food ever created, which sustained the Israelites for 40 years of wandering in the desert, is described as tasting “like a cake fried in honey” (Exodus 16:31)

“The Torah is sweeter than honey to my mouth,” sang King David. So just like a honeybee spreads the news of the sweet nectar it found to the rest of the colony, so too should we spread the word of Torah. A bee knows that spreading her knowledge is important for her entire colony to prosper. By spreading the sweetness of Torah and mitzvahs to others, you can enhance the capability of the Jewish people to fulfill its purpose, and to be a “light unto the nations.”

We all know that on Rosh Hashanah, honey is used in a symbolic way. We ask for a Shanah Tovah – “May we have a good and sweet year” as we dip apples into honey. It is not only for a good and sweet year in material blessings that we have in mind, but also a good and sweet year in our spiritual life of Torah and mitzvahs, which are “sweeter than hon
ey and the honeycomb” (Psalms). As we eat honey during these High Holidays, we hope campers will remember the labor of love that went into making that honey. There were a lot of honeybees, working very hard, as each honeybee will only produce about one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. We are hopeful that our Ramah bees will provide a taste of honey for the upcoming New Year.

 

 

This post was written by Miriam Green, one of our tzevet mitbach [kitchen staff] during the summer.  She is currently a rabbinical student at the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies.  She writes a regular blog about food and values that we will be sharing here.

HUMILITY: RECITATION PHRASE

What is a Recitation Phrase?

A chalutz [camper] wearing the value bracelets from the summer.

A chalutz [camper] wearing the value bracelets from the summer.

In Mussar [Jewish Teachings], it’s a statement (like an inspiration, or a reminder) that a person says first thing in the morning, as the first half of a “journaling” practice, intended to facilitate self-reflection.  So a Mussar practitioner would say her Recitation Phrase in the morning, and then in the evening, write a journal entry (any length, one word minimum) about how the day went.  Did the Recitation Phrase serve as a useful reminder or was it repeatedly forgotten?  Did the practitioner observe that she was handling situations and relationships in a different way because of her Mussar practice?  (This is the Big Goal we’re going for.)

Over the summer, at Ramah in the Rockies, we practiced a middah for one week at a time.  Now that the academic year is beginning and time seems to be moving at a different pace, I’ll stay with a middah for two weeks.  My second week focusing on Humility has already begun.

And the Recitation Phrase will remain the same:

My body is on loan from Hashem; it is my responsibility to care for it.

Miriam writes her own blog on Mussar, Food, and Life.  The blog can be found at: http://mussarandfood.wordpress.com

Shalom Camp Families,

The past few days have been an exciting few days of saying lehitra’ot [goodbye] to our Session I chalutzim [campers], taking some time to refocus and refresh with our tzevet [staff], and welcoming our Session II chalutzim.  Now that we are all together here as a kehillah kedosha [holy community], I wanted to share with you all a few highlights from the first few days of our second session.

Our opening day this session was probably one of the hottest days we have had here at the ranch all summer! Our tzevet were ready with water and sunscreen as the cars and buses streamed in throughout the day.   With Israeli music playing in the background, chalutzim got off the busses and were greeted by tunnels of madrichim that the chalutzim came running through.  Already within the first few hours we heard cheers of “Bo-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bogrim!” and all the other edot [age groups] learning and enthusiastically shouting their names!

Bee KeepingThe opening day also saw our chalutzim doing the typical ice breakers, health checks, and unpacking. The following day, our chalutzim awoke to a full day of programming.  Chalutzim were biking our single track, riding our horses, planting in our garden and playing basketball.  A new highlight this session for our chalutzim is beekeeping.  Led by Rinat Levinson, one of our veteran tzevet members, chalutzim are learning all about bee life cycles and needs, as well as getting some honey snacks for themselves.

The first night we enjoyed our traditional opening medura [bonfire], where we created a special musical space together.  We learned our camp song, and sang a few other favorites around the bonfire.  It was so thrilling to watch our oldest chalutzim sitting next to our youngest and dancing the moves of the camp song side by side.

Last night we tried a new camp-wide game, capture the counselor.  Often we like to play a camp-wide game of capture the flag in our Ramah Valley, but in our constant attempt try new things we decided to try this new game.  In capture the counselor, essentially a giant game of hide-and-go-seek, each staff member was assigned a point value and in teams by ohel [tent], chalutzim sought out the counselors within the time window.  Those with the most points at the end of the time period won the game.  Ohel 11 of Sollelim were the victors of the evening!

Sollelim/Bogrim/JOLI Torah RollWe often say that one day in camp time is three days in the outside world.  With that said, while we have only had a few short days with your kids, it seems like we have all been here together forever.  After these few short days (or was it a week?) we are ready to make the special transition to Shabbat together.   Our chalutzim are currently showering and changing into their special Shabbat whites. Each time I see our entire kehillah enter the Pardes T’fillah [our outdoor amphitheater], smiling in their Shabbat clothing, I know the hard work of the staff and the devotion of our families is all worth it.

Next week all of our chalutzim will be heading out of camp for their masa’ot [trips].  This morning, our JOLI and Bogrim chalutzim packed their group gear and prepared their food for the week.  They leave on Sunday and Monday mornings.  Our younger campers will also be heading out next week, Metaylim and Ilanot on overnight trips and day trips, and Sollelim on a four-day masa starting Tuesday morning.

As a reminder, we post pictures and updates on Facebook most days that chalutzim are at the chava [ranch]. If you are not a fan of ours on Facebook, please become one.  Here is the link to our online photos that we update every two or three days, and here is a link to a video we posted on Facebook of the first day.

As always please be in touch with any questions or comments.  You can always email me or our yoatzim [camper care team] at campparent@ramahoutdoors.org.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Eliav Bock

It seems like just yesterday that we were gathering for the first time during shavua hachanah [staff week]  with our tzevet [staff] and spoke about how we are forming the basis of our Kehillah Kedosha [holy community].  And in a few hours, we will gather as a Kehillah Kedosha for the final time with our first session chalutzim [campers].  This session has truly flown by! What a week it has been!
The week started off with Yom Sport, our annual color war competition. In case you missed our video from it, check out the link, and read Beth Hammerman’s article about it here:

There are some things you just can’t live without at camp. Call it what you want, for some it’s Color War and for others it’s Maccabia Games. But for Ramah Outdoor Adventure, it’s Yom Sport.  Camp wouldn’t be camp without this day of friendly competition! When it falls is usually a surprise. Campers anxiously await the “break” and when that happens, camp instantly goes into a frenzy. There is so much excitement in the air that you wonder if the campers will ever get to sleep Erev Yom Sport.

Yom Sport is an intense day of activities that requires teamwork, cooperation, and consideration for others. Good sportsmanship and mutual respect are expected, and every team member needs to participate in some way. Most important is that every camper enjoys the day. (Continue Reading)

One of my favorite aspects of Yom Sport is the JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute- 11th and 12th Graders) participation as captains and judges.  It was inspiring to see the camp unite around the JOLI captains as they engaged in the final challenge–the rope burn.  During this competition, the JOLI captains must put their outdoor skills to use and build a fire high enough to burn a rope strung
between two chairs, and they must do it all before the other teams can.  Yom Sport is always an exciting time at camp, and the day is charged with this ruach [spirit] and energy that is unparalleled.

This week we welcomed to the chava [ranch] two new sets of residents: our goats, Buttercup and Chetzi, and our bees.  The goats join the pigs, sheep, and chickens in our barn; we know the chalutzim will love these two! This summer we are adding a beekeeping chug [elective], led by veteran staff member Rinat Levinson.  She is beyond excited to be teaching the chalutzim about bees and beekeeping.

Currently, our chalutzim are getting ready for Shabbat after an amazing, chaotic, energetic, and fun day of returning from their masa’ot [excursions].  Upon their return, they spend a few hours in “de-issue,” a process of unpacking, cleaning, and returning all gear checked out for their masa’ot. Aside from the unpacking and cleaning process, they trade tales among friends and bunkmates of their experiences roughing it.  Returning from masa is always a frenzied experience here but an incredible one to both be a part of and observe.

Weather-wise, this week has been a wild one in most of Colorado.  All our groups who were sleeping in the backcountry encountered rain and thunder storms.  Most were able to stay dry or not get more than the usual back-country damp, though a few had to take shelter in some creative places, including our Amitzim (campers with special needs) edah [age group], who spent a night sleeping in a hay loft because their campsite was so wet!

Metaylim, the 5th and 6th grade edah,  went on a three-day backpacking trip at the three eastern gateways of the Lost Creek Wilderness. For the first time, we mixed the bunks and genders on their masa.   Metaylim also spent Monday at the local YMCA camp where they were supposed to spend the day on high rope elements, but instead, because of storms in the area, spent most of the day playing ground games.

Sollelim, the 7th and 8th grade edah, chose between climbing, backpacking, rafting-biking, and service/trail crew options.  This year we have been adding several new masa options for Sollelim including an archery masa and an omanut masa [art-themed excursion].

Bogrim, our 9th and 10th grade edah, returned to Rocky Mountain National Park, north of Boulder and also hiked to Sangre De Christo Wilderness, south of Colorado Springs.  The climbing masa went to the local twin peak mountain, Sheeprock, and spent their days dodging storms and climbing between the showers. Another group went on a Horsepacking masa, crossing through the Holy Cross Wilderness, with many legs of the journey through snow.

JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute), the 11th and 12th grade program, went on an adventure challenge masa, doing segments 1, 2, 4, and 5 of the Colorado Trail. They hiked, climbed, and biked all around the Lost Creek Wilderness area.  They also biked up and over the continental divide at Kenosha Pass, at over 10,000 feet. The JOLeaders who did not go on masa with JOLI were CIT’s with Metaylim  and Sollelimmasa’ot, learning the ropes of being staff and leaders for camp.

Our Amitzim campers road horses to our neighbor’s buffalo ranch and set up camp along their pond.  As a wild storm moved in, they sought shelter in their barn, and ended up spending the night there.  Yesterday they moved to Wellington Lake where they swam and played on the shores before riding back into camp today on horseback.

Now that our chalutzim are all back, we are excited to spend Shabbat and this next week at camp together.  We look forward to our famous Shabbat Challah, tilapia,and a reuniting final Shabbat of Session 1B.

As a reminder, we post pictures and updates on Facebook most days that chalutzim are at the chava [ranch]. If you are not a fan of our Facebook page, please become one.  Here is the link to our online photos that we update every two or three days, and here is a link to a video we posted on Facebook of Yom Sport and the masa’ot returning.

As always please be in touch with any questions or comments.  You can always email me or our yoatzim [camper care team] at campparent@ramahoutdoors.org.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

 

Rabbi Ranon Teller

This morning at Ramah in the Rockies, for the first time in my rabbinic life, I watched a shochet slaughter a chicken. I’ve eaten meat all my life, but I’ve never experienced a shechita (ritual slaughter). I’ve never dealt head on, with the emotional, ethical concerns of taking an animal’s life to support my own. I’ve been meaning to visit a slaughterhouse for some time to confront this deficiency in my rabbinic and human experience. Confrontation time had arrived.

Every year, a local shochet from Boulder visits the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community to teach about kosher shechita. Yadidya Greenberg invited anyone who chose to participate to gather at the chava (farm) to witness a shechita. As we arrived, he carefully displayed his tools of his trade: the rectangular knives, the sharpening stones, the aprons, and a bucket of earth. He began by asking the chalutzim (pioneers/campers) to share their initial thoughts about shechita, eating meat, and slaughtering animals. Then, he told us about his journey from vegan to vegetarian to kosher meat eater. Some time ago, Yadidya discovered that he needed meat protein for health reasons. As an animal lover, he made an oath to stop eating the meat he needed until he learned how to slaughter it himself. He wanted to confront the dilemma with his own hands. And he did. He learned to be a shochet. Yadidya explained with great compassion about the Jewish code of ethics and his personal commitment to teach and spread kosher slaughter. When the shochet does it right, the the animal feels no pain and the animals death is given proper respect.

Yadidya prepared the area by placing some earth underneath an aluminum tube. Then, he bought out the rooster. It was a heritage rooster, a rooster that was allowed to grow naturally. It was a beautiful, big, orange rooster. He handed it to a madricha (counselor), who held the chicken in her arms. The shochet sharpened his knife. He recited the blessing – “Praised are You, Adonai our God, Source of All, for sanctifying us through the commandment of shechita”. What a meaningful blessing at this powerful moment. I thought to myself, ‘Thank you God, for Your system of mitzvot that allows us to partake of the blessings of this world, with ethics, sustainability and compassion.’ As the madricha held the chicken in a cradle hold, Yadidya exposed the rooster’s neck. With one swift, smooth stroke, he cut across its neck, and the rooster was dead. The madricha placed the rooster upside down in the aluminum tube to allow the blood to drain on top of the earth. When the rooster shook and twitched in the throws of death, we were all reminded about the gravity of life and death. Then, it stopped.

We were all a bit shaken by the experience. For those of us who eat meat, it gave us all a much deeper appreciation for the process that brings the meat to our supermarket and our table. For those of us who don’t eat meat, it confirmed the reality that kept us from eating meat. Yadidya stressed the importance of allowing our dietary decision-making process to evolve slowly and for the kids to be sensitive to their parents’ homes and practices.

After processing the experience with kids, Yadidya invited them up to pluck the rooster’s feathers. When it was all over, Yadidya asked me to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood with earth. I took some earth from the bucket and covered the blood that had been spilt. I recited the closing bracha (blessing): “Praised are You, Adonai our God, Source of All, for sanctifying us though the commandment to cover blood with earth.” I thought to myself, ‘Thank you God for your system of mitzvot that allows us to give honor and pay respect to the life that we’ve taken to sustain our lives.’

Thank you Yadidya and Ramah Outdoor Adventure for an incredibly meaningful experience for me and the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community of staff and campers. I don’t know yet how this experience will affect my food decision, but I know I’m a better Rabbi, Jew, citizen, and human for experiencing a shechita first-hand.

 

Rabbi Ranon Teller

Congregation Brith Shalom

By Ari Polsky, Customer Experience Specialist

horseAs a longtime Ramahnik, and recent transplant to Ramah in the Rockies, I have had over 2000 camp meals in my life. While there are many fond memories of camp meals and routines, none have quite been like the dining experience that happens here at Ramah in the Rockies. This first and most easily noted difference is the routine: upon entering the chadar Ochel  [dining hall] and sitting down to start the meal, one of our tzevet mitbach [kitchen staff] offers tafrit hayom [menu of the day].

Wayne, Miriam, Neil, Yael, or Terry stand in front of the entire dining hall, and announce the menu, and what nutritional features or special ingredients the day’s meal might have. Sometimes the tafrit hayom focus on the anti inflammatory properties of coriander, or how quinoa is a complete protein. Whatever the fact of the day, it educates those sharing the meal about something new that helps everyone appreciate the meal.

The other clear difference I have observed is the length of the meals—they are longer than I am used to having in a camp setting. The length has allowed me to have more in depth conversations with those at the same table, as well as allowed for a more leisurely eating pace. Not only are the meals longer, but we are also not supposed to start clearing or cleaning up until the moment that it has been declared “Zman L’nakot!” [Cleanup time!]

Perhaps the most suprising part of my first ten days at Ramah in the Rockies is the lack of red meat or poultry. Tasty and more sustainable alternatives have been frequent: quinoa, tofu, seitan, salmon, rice and beans, etc.

From my conversations with veteran staff, I learned that this was a conscious decision from both the chalutzim [campers] and the tzevet [staff] after the first two summers at camp. Together, they asked the camp rather than serving meat regularly that they would prefer to have it less often, but know that when meat was served it came from a farm where the animals are cared for, responsibly fed, and raised environmentally, and of course kosher.  Last week, I helped unload over 200 frozen chickens and 50 pounds of ground beef that were raised at a farm by one of our camper families.

The sustainable and local food ethos of camp goes even farther, with our milk coming from a local, organic, and sustainable dairy, called Aurora Organic Dairy and the fish from a local Fish Farm, Quixotic Farming.  Over the course of the summer, these companies will donate over 400 gallons of Milk and 600 pounds of fish for our campers and staff to enjoy.  Quixotic food, which has a contract with the Colorado prison system, employs inmates getting ready to be released and provides them with meaningful job training that they can use when they return to the outside world.  Our senior staff have visited the prison and met with the workers there to ensure that the fish fits in with our broader food values.

A staple of many camps is a canteen, or some opportunity to get extra snacks throughout the day. I was surprised that there was no such place at Ramah Outdoor Adventure and wondered how campers and staff would obtain food throughout the day, as food is strictly prohibited in living areas.   I discovered that there are almost always healthy snacks such as fruit or pita chips are available throughout the day near the kitchen (except for 30 minutes before and after the meals). I have enjoyed the ability to pick up a nectarine or chips and dip at 11am or 9pm if I so desire.

Even the way that the dining hall is run fits within the broader values that I can see permeate all areas of Ramah in Colorado.   Everyone from the chalutzim to the hanhallah [administration] take turns acting as Meltzarim [Waiters]. The Meltzarim are responsible for setting tables before the meals, and sweeping up after. Another group helps in the “dishpit” after the meal and assist the fulltime dishwashers pushing every plate, utensil, and serving dish through the industrial dishwasher and then putting the clean dishes away on the drying racks.  While we have only been staff and senior leaders at camp thus far, I can only imagine how being a part of meal set up and clean will affect the 390 chalutzim that will grace the Ohel Ochel [dining tent] throughout this summer.

I have been continually impressed in my short time here so far with the quality, intention, and effort that go into providing three daily meals. As I continue to learn my new home here at Ramah in the Rockies, I discover more and more about the camp and food culture here. I look forward to seeing how the food education at this camp will transform the lives of all of our chalutzim and their families.

One of the core values of Ramah Outdoor Adventure is that Chalutzim (campers) will feel connected to the land and people of Israel, articulate how their lives are impacted by Israel and its citizens’ choices, and be able to engage in conversations about Israeli society.  We accomplish this goal through a variety of methods: we hire a number of Chevrei Mishlachat (Israeli staff members) to work at camp. We bring Israeli chalutzim to camp. We sing Israeli songs, hang Israeli flags, conduct learning sessions about Israel related topics, and use Israel themes throughout much of our program.

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It is hard to believe that we have been at the Ramah Ranch for over a week.  Last Thursday a large group of counselors from across the URJ (Reform) & Ramah camping movements arrived for Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training.  During this time, we switched off between intensive first aid training, eating delicious meals together and spending time engaged in ritual practice and Jewish learning.  All in all, it has been a fantastic week.  While almost thirty five individuals have been learning first aid, about ten others have been helping to physically prepare our site for the rest of the camp staff who arrive this Sunday for staff week.

While our first session campers do not arrive for another 12 days (!), if the past week is any indication, the dedication to living according to our core values and creating a wholesome atmosphere, which has been the hallmark of our community here in the Rockies, will once again define us as a summer camp and ensure that we all have a wonderful summer.

A few examples from this past week:

  1. On Sunday a group of volunteers arrived at our ranch from the Denver area ready to build tents, to weed the garden and to plant trees.  These volunteers, most of whom will never come to camp as campers (sadly they are too “old”), worked throughout the morning and early afternoon for nothing more than a Thank You, and the knowledge that they were helping to build a Jewish community in the Rockies.  While most of the volunteers were familiar with Ramah in the Rockies, one family joined us because they had heard from the Deputy Sheriff in the area that we are looking to borrow an alpaca for the summer.  This family, who live about 25 miles from camp in the town of Pine, not only have an alpaca to lend, but also wanted to help ready camp for our campers.  They had so much fun that they asked whether they could join us for a Friday night service and perhaps return on a future Sunday to help out again.
  2. This week, a group of our counselors have been at the ranch moving beds, erecting tents, and doing loads of manual labor to ensure that camp is ready to open on June 19th.  One of the largest structures that they assembled was our white tent in front of the art room, which we call the Ohel Eshel (after Abraham’s tent that was also open on all four sides).  At two different points in the construction process, we needed the help of about twenty other people to lift and move the tent.  After a meal, I asked for volunteers, and almost everyone from the URJ camps AND the Ramah camps came to help out.  While it is not surprising that people are willing to lend a hand, it is the positive and happy attitude that they have that ensures that tasks are not only completed, but are finished with a sense of pride and purpose.  Once our Chalutzim (campers) arrive, we will continue to emphasize that communities are strengthened when people help each other.
  3. Just like we will do during the summer, we have  awoken each morning to the booming voice of Juiceboxx and G‑baby (their parents named them Dan and Gabi, but chalutzim refer to them by their camp names) who yell Bo- Bo‑ Bo‑ Boker Tov!  Some of our counselors have already been awake for forty five minutes practicing yoga by the time the shout it heard.  Others have been for a run, and most are just beginning to stir.  Each morning, thirty minutes after our ‘wakeup call’ we gather for teffilot.  It is hard to describe the sense of awe that one feels here each morning.  Because we have been mixed with the URJ participants, we have offered a variety of “alternative” teffilot, from meditation, to nature walks to yoga.  We have also had some more traditional forms such as a musical teffilah yesterday and a traditional Torah reading service today.  A personal highlight was our Reform lead service that took place in the hay loft on Sunday morning.   Although the hour is early, and the temperature cool, we have had inspirational teffilot that I hope will become even more inspirational once the rest of our staff and chalutzim arrive.

Each summer in early June we all feel a sense of nervous excitement.  Will this be a good summer?  Will I like my counselors?  Will I meet new friends?  Will I like the food?  As the camp director, I too am filled with nervous excitement, although my list includes items that campers might not worry about, such as: will the food truck arrive on time?  Will the water pipe leak?  Will the internet keep our phones running?  Thankfully, one week into our summer season, I am pleased to report that almost everything has been running better than expected.  If we can replicate nine more weeks like this past one, we will be in great shape!

Core Values revisited

In the winter of 2008‑2009, a full eighteen months before we were scheduled to welcome our first chalutzim (campers/pioneers) to Ramah Outdoor Adventure, a group of us spent many weeks articulating a set of Jewish core values that we would use as our guiding principles when creating the camp program.  We used Dr. Ismar Schorch’s Sacred Clusters as the basis for our principles, written in 1995 by the then‑Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in an attempt to articulate the principles of Conservative Judaism.  By beginning our planning process around our Jewish values, and not the activities we hoped to offer, we were able to ensure that everything we developed for camp from that point forward would be influenced by these values.  Each year, we begin our staff training with a program articulating our Jewish core values.  Anyone who enters our Chadar Ohel (dining hall) knows that these values are displayed in large print on the walls of the dining hall, as a constant reminder of why we come together each summer as a Kehillah Kedosha (a holy community).

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It is official.  The summer 2011 season has come to an end.  The gear bins have been sealed, the tents closed down and all the kitchen equipment stored for the off season.  All that is left are lots of memories and good stories.   If we were in camp, the chadar ohel would be ringing with the sound of the entire camp singing “shabbos is coming we are so happy, we’re going to sing and shout out loud.” Instead, we are all welcoming Shabbat back in our homes; probably devoid of the service projects, Israeli dancing and massive challah baking (up to 75 challots) that were part of our Friday afternoon rituals at camp.

Our second year was a resounding success.  We welcomed over 250 campers and staff to the Ramah in the Rockies ranch.  We lead over 30 extended massaot (excursions) and numerous shorter trips.  We rode bikes, and we rode horses.  We climbed mountains and rappelled down cliffs.  We planted our own vegetables and harvested our own food.   We laughed, and we cried.  We sat in quiet meditation and we sang songs with intense passion.

While 2011 is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share three vignettes with you that capture the spirit of our community this past summer.

#1 Returning from Masa.  A new tradition was solidified this year.  As each Masa (excursion) returned to camp, they marched back to the gear shed singing a song from their trip, or chanting their masa cheer.  (Last month I wrote about a biking masa’s return).  Those of us who remained at base camp would come out of the office as we heard their voices to welcome back the returning chalutzim (campers).  One of the most memorable returns of any group was group of metayalimers (entering 5/6th grade) who had gone on a day trip to our neighbor’s buffalo ranch to feed the buffalo.  On their way back, they found a large mud puddle, and rather than walk around it, apparently began a competition of who could become the muddiest.  After the first puddle, they found a second and then a third, and thus began a game of mud painting, and mud sliding.  They eventually ran the final mile to camp, covered in thick brown mud, almost as if they had just been hanging out at the Dead Sea.  Rather than returning upset to be so dirty, these 10 & 11 year olds were “hooting” and “hollering” and squealing with delight about their expedition.  Each bragged about how they were muddier than the next.  This type of uninhibited play could only happen at camp!

#2  Bo Bo Bo Boker Tov:  Each morning, these are the words that begin Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  This summer, Dan AKA “Juice-Boxx” [note the double X], Gabi AKA “G-baby,” and Or, AKA Or, took the lead on leading the Bo Bo Bo Boker Tov cheer when they were at base camp.  They would meet at the picnic table at 5:58 or 6:58, depending on the day, and begin chanting.  All of us at camp became so used to this chant that we stopped setting our own alarm clocks as their voices would echo off the valley walls.  Last Thursday, “G-baby” had already left to go back to school, and Juice Boxx & Or were on a Masa.  As a result: the rest of the camp overslept, because no one set an alarm!  Eventually people began to wake on their own, and once we realized why everyone had overslept we all had a good laugh.  The irony of our community is that we are in a gorgeous natural setting, and often just listen to the sounds of nature around us, such as during meditative teffilot or during solos on our massaot.  But much of the time at base camp, there is a constant din of cheering, whether it is chalutzim cheering on their friends in the duathlon, chanting edah cheers in the chadar ohel or at 6:00am during camp wake up!  As a tribute to our Bo-Bo Boker tov wake ups, all the staff gathered on the picnic table on our final full day of programming and gave a collective cheer. No one slept in that day!

#3 Increased environmental awareness:  At our core, Ramah Outdoor Adventure is a community dedicated to living intentional Jewish lives with a heightened sense of our natural environment.  It is for this reason that we focus so much on the food we eat, on our water consumption and on how our decisions impact the broader world around us. (Watch this video by our metayalimers on this topic)  Last Sunday we had a final barbeque during lunch to finish off the final 40 pounds of meat that we had left in our freezer.  As we always do when we have our occasional barbeque meals, we placed disposable plates and cups on the serving tables (we have no meat dishwasher, and therefore are not able to use reusable tableware at meat meals).  But when it came time to serve the meat, I noticed that most of the chalutzim were holding cut out pieces of cardboard, in place of disposable plates.  I am still not sure whom, but someone apparently had gone to the kitchen, taken a few of the boxes they had placed outside for recycling and began cutting small “card board” plates.  Instead of rejecting these primitive plates, the chalutzim chose to use them in lieu of the disposables that the camp provided.  In this way they were making a powerful statement that even if we were serving a meal that had a huge impact on the natural environment (our meat is sadly, NOT organic or local and creates about 4 times the amount of garbage as a typical meal at Ramah Outdoor Adventure), they were going to do whatever they could in their own power to make the meal a little more environmentally friendly.  We have put all the paper goods back into storage instead of the local landfill.  Just like the previous groups who came through this summer, there were many chalutzim who third session asked whether next summer we could try to serve local and/or organic meat and make the meal far less wasteful of natural resources.

As we draw the curtain on the 2011 season, please know that we are already counting down the days until the opening of camp in 2012.  We are expanding our program and expect up to 150 chalutzim at camp at any one time.  (See our current dates and rates here, and register here—though know that we expect to add additional programs for younger children AND adults).  We already have a number of families who have registered their children for next year.   Thank you to everyone who made our second season such a success.  We would not be able to be building this camp without the support of parents, chalutzim, donors and volunteers.  We look forward to many more successful summers together.

First of all congratulations to the winners of a free week of camp for February:  Ariel from New Rochelle  & Rose from California.

And now the blog post:  On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of holding a toast to Ramah Outdoor Adventure at a local bar in Midtown.  A fellow staff member from Camp Ramah in Canada, Sharon Zinns, who currently works as a lawyer in New York City was instrumental in helping to arrange the evening.

Originally, Sharon and I thought that we would use this gathering as a chance to reconnect with our Ramah friends from our years at camp and perhaps raise a few dollars to help campers afford to attend Ramah Outdoor Adventure in Colorado.  As it turned out, many of the people who came on Thursday were not people whom either of us knew from our time at camp, but rather, Ramahniks who wanted an excuse to come and meet their other camp friends and hear more about this exciting project.

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