By Rabbi Eliav

Late last month I returned to the Ramah in the Rockies Ranch for the first time since February 24, 2020. Driving through the gates, I was overcome with a sense of relief and excitement thinking about the reopening of our camp community in only six more weeks. 
This time last year, as we were facing the possibility of a closed camp season, we also were in danger of losing our camp. Staring down the possibility of returning over $1.5 million in camper tuition, with major construction projects already underway, and monthly bills that needed to be paid with or without a camp season, we were not sure whether we would survive the pandemic with our camp intact. Due to the incredible work of our year round team, the enormous generosity of hundreds of donors and a lot of good luck, we are in a strong place to welcome back our community to an updated ranch.

During my visit I had a chance, for the first time, to tour our new: waste water system, infirmary, bathrooms, dining hall and administrative center. I walked the property with our year round team who will be erecting over $75,000 in new tents, picnic tables and other items that will enable us to run camp this summer while allowing for social distancing and reduced capacity in most areas.

One of my favorite sections from Tanach are the verses from the third chapter of Kohelet: that there is a time for everything: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to sow and a time to reap; a time to destroy and a time to build up. My return visit reminded me of this powerful message. Last year was the time to shut down our camp given all the unknowns. It is now time to reopen and do whatever we need to do to enable over 500+ Jewish youth to have a joyous and transformative Jewish summer camp experience.
Click below to watch a time-lapse video of the construction of our new Chadar Ochel (dining hall). I can just imagine the laughter, song, and friendship that will fill this space for years to come.

See you soon on the Chava!

Avram Pachter, Head Chef

Avram watching over the staff Iron Chef competition

Avram watching over the staff Iron Chef competition

Here at Ramah in the Rockies we take our food very seriously. Whether the various ingredients come to us via farm to table or farm to store to table, we strive to “lift the veil” on everything we do in the kitchen so our chalutzim and tzevet (staff) can be more informed in making their future food decisions.

For us this means starting with as much local and organic fare as possible while also staying within budget. Often there are questions about why some things we serve are organic, but others that could be are not. The simple answer is that the prices of organic foods sometimes mean that we are unable to serve as much as we would like. But our chalutzim do not stop there and want to know more. We teach about the differences between organic and semi-organic, how these choices help our planet, and why they may impact our final decision on what to have available on our camp menus.

We serve a predominately vegetarian diet instead of one filled with large quantities of animal protein which lets us introduce alternative protein sources such as quinoa and tofu (complete proteins), or lentils and seitan (incomplete proteins). When meat or fish is on the menu, our choices include sustainable tilapia direct from Quixotic Farming in Southern Colorado. In addition to providing a low cost option for increased variety in our meals, sourcing our fish from Quixotic supports their program teaching job skills to assist the rehabilitation of prison inmates. In this way our kitchen enables our camp community to perform the highest level of tzedakah as outlined by Maimonides – strengthening another’s hand until that person is no longer dependent upon others.

Challah Baking“Lifting the veil” does not stop here. It continues with understanding how the kitchen runs. Every Friday afternoon we have some of our chalutzim helping with the Shabbat dinner preparations – rolling and braiding challah, setting the tables, cleaning the ohel ochel (dining tent). Our oldest edah is invited to volunteer for shtifat kaylim (dish pit), and learn first-hand how much work goes into cleaning all the dishes, utensils, and cooking equipment for a camp meal. Everyone learns how to work together quickly and efficiently. Then, our campers are guided on a tour of the kitchen, to see where things are stored and why it’s important that everything is put away in its proper place. Sometimes there are special surprises from the Head Chef!

And what would camp be without peulot (activities) involving food? One of the favorites is Iron Chef. The chalutzim are divided into groups to compete in creating the best-tasting and best-looking dish from a selection of random ingredients. Teamwork, complementing flavors, and time management are the take-away lessons. A big bonus was our kitchen staff including one of the winning creations as a new addition to the lunch menu offerings for everyone to enjoy.

Through all these and other activities, our camp community appreciates the difficult choices and hard work necessary to provide an interesting and nutritious menu each day.