This past sunday we marked 100 Days until camp- so we thought this would be a good time to start introducing you to our 2015 Summer Staff!

PicMonkey Collage


From left to right: Ben Winter, Leora Perkins, Rafi Daugherty, and Moshe “Mushon” Samuels

Hey, I’m Ben, and I’ll be your program director this summer. I’m looking forward to a great summer full of ruach and fun! I’m super excited to be joining the Camp Ramah family. Although I’m new, I’ve only heard awesome things about the camp and am confident we’ll have a fantastic time together. I can’t wait to meet all of you in 100 short days!

Hey, I am Leora Perkins, a first-year rabbinical student from JTS. I am super excited to be at camp this summer as Rosh Chugim [Head of Base Camp Activities]. I love hiking,  swimming, cooking tasty vegetarian food– and recently started getting into gardening.

My name is Rafi. This year, i’m the Director of Camper Care. I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the chalutzim [campers] and their smiling faces at camp!

Hi I’m Mushon and I’m thrilled to be returning to Etgar b’Ramah as Rosh Chinuch [Director of Education]. My favorite thing about camp is Shabbat- I love the ruach [energy] and singing at Kabbalat Shabbat [Friday night services] at the Pardes Tefilah [outdoor sanctuary], the sense of kehilah [community] at the K’far [tent area], and of course the delicious Friday night dinner at the ohel ochel [dining tent]. Can’t wait to celebrate Shabbat with all of you in 100 days!

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.

We just added a new page to our website called BEING GREEN.  We were inspired to create this page after a conversation with Sybil Sanchez, Director of  COEJL.  She was musing  about the need for every Jewish organization to have a link on their website about ways in which they  are taking the enviroment into account in their programs.  We will continue to update this page in much greater detail over the coming months and years, but wanted to start somewhere.  To check out the new page, click here:  To read the content, without the fancy videos and pictures, scroll down:

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Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting the writings of some of our former chalutzim and some of our own staff members.  This week, I will share a write-up from one of our counselors, Hannah Samet who, along with Jordan Anderson, attended a weeklong training for over Ramah staff members (from all our camps) that takes place annually in Ojai CA.  Hannah is returning to Ramah Outdoor Adventure this summer as a counselor and Rosh Edah for our youngest Chalutzim.

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What do a Kosher, free- range chicken distributor, a pulpit rabbi from LA who composts and the program director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure have in common? Well for one thing, they all recently had the opportunity to attend the 2010 Hazon Food Conference in Petaluma, California. This conference brings together some of the most innovative and progressive thinkers in the world of Jewish environmentalism for four days of learning and discussion. Yes, the program director mentioned above is me, and I have been sitting in front of this computer for weeks since the conference trying to figure out what I want to say regarding my experience.

The first entry I wrote but never posted praised the energy and inspiration of all the participants, but I felt that it didn’t do justice to the amazing projects all around the country in which people are engaged.

So the second entry I wrote but never posted was about how impressed I was with people who are turning their fantastic ideas in realities. There are some really amazing projects out there that are being actualized this moment. Kosher, free range meat, a heksher that certifies the ethical standards of food products in addition to the halachic kashrut, the building of a Jewish land based community outside of Baltimore to name a few. But this entry didn’t express how impressed I also was with the many people who are not in a place to devote their lives and careers to environmental Judaism, but attended the conference just out of person interest and passion.

Feeling defeated, I tried to change my attitude and my third blog attempt was a critique of the scholarship behind environmental Judaism. I wrote that we rely so heavily on a small group of texts to support what we consider to be a revolutionary movement. I cynically pointed out that every class, lecture or conference on Jewish environmental topics explores the same texts as the previous one as if they had discovered something totally radical. But thinking about it, I realized I wasn’t being fair. While I do feel there is a need for an intermediate track of Jewish learning around environmentalism, the fact is, I have learned so much about this different face of Judaism I never experienced in my childhood education, and even though the texts express the same words each time I see them, the meaning I gain from them is always different, and isn’t that one of the truly amazing aspects of Jewish learning?

So where does that leave me? Three failed blog entries later, I was back where I started, so I turned to the wisdom of our Tradition to guide me. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, an 18th century mystic, describes three stages of spiritual growth: the mountain, the field and the city. The mountain is a place that is wild and unpredictable; there we might face adversity at any moment.  The field is our attempt to make sense of this chaos, where we can feel the influence of our own order while still being at the mercy of the variances of nature. The city is the place we can dwell most comfortably, where we have the most control of ourselves and our surroundings. Rebbe Nachman teaches it is our spiritual mission to leave behind the mountain and move to the city. My understanding of this teaching is not that we are somehow supposed to leave the uncertainty of mountain; life is wild and unpredictable and there is little we can do to change that. But rather, we must equip ourselves with the tools and consciousness to live comfortably in this unpredictable and challenging reality. We must make the mountain feel like a city.

And that, my friends, is what I think people in the Jewish environmental movement are doing.  We are learning and teaching the skills that make us feel more comfortable and excited in our own tradition, more at ease as ethically conscious beings, and more competent in providing for ourselves and living as a truly integrated piece of the amazing natural world that G-d created. That is the common thread, and whether we are doing through a kitchen compost bucket, an educational institution, or a green business, intellectually, physically, or spiritually, we are all doing our part to build our home on the mountain.

As my thoughts turn toward camp this summer, I think of some of the mountains we will face. Maybe it is coming to camp for the first time, or practicing skills outside of our comfort zone. It may be experiencing things that frighten us, or simply creating a recycling program at a location that is 10 miles down a mountainous, dirt road. Perhaps  it’s creating a community at camp that exemplifies our ideals, or even figuring out what those ideals are. These mountains are daunting, but if there is one thing in which I am confident after seeing the drive and inspiration of our 2010 chalutzim and staff, as well as experiencing the competence and passion in those involved in the Jewish environmental world, the mountains that may daunt us now will quickly become a place where we feel at home. To me, this is a pretty strong metaphor for a camp that makes its physical home high in the mountains.

One of the goals of our program at  Ramah Outdoor Adventure is to serve sustainable food.  This means we take into account how our food affects: our health, our environment and our financial bottom line.  One of the areas on which  we are working during the off season and are committed to improving in the summer of 2011 is making our food decisions  more transparent to our chalutzim (campers).   We have already hired  returning counselor Yael Greenberg as our food counselor for the summer.  In addition to being a counselor, Yael’s specialty area this summer will be working to include food education throughout of program.

Yael has begun keeping a blog documenting her experiences.  Currently she is trying to find a place to buy  “fair trade” bananas.   Below is copy of her first post.  If you would like to follow her  on this journey to buy fair trade bananas , please do so on her blog:


First, a short disclaimer:  These first few posts are going to be a little bit disingenuous because I’m going to go day-by-day, but in fact the story started Sunday and it’s now Tuesday.  But trust me, a recap up until this point would be no fun at all and would miss most of the point.

So what’s going on here?  What is this all about?  How did it start?

It started with a phone call mid-morning on Sunday, December 26.  Before hitting the after-Christmas sales downtown, I had a conversation with the director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, where I will be returning to work this summer as the food educator.  Since this is a relatively new camp and there has never been a food educator before, I am designing the position and the food education curriculum pretty much from scratch.  I’m going to draw a lot on existing material, but I really need to figure out what it is that I want to impart to the campers and how to go about doing that.  Before this point I had already decided that my position as food educator should entitle me to at least some say over what gets ordered for the kitchen, so I had tried to get in touch with a company that does fair trade stuff to see what it would look like to order chocolate.  Their email address doesn’t work and their offices are closed for the holiday, so that project is tabled for the time being.  But after I got off the phone with the director I got to thinking, and one thing led to another and I decided that there should be fair trade bananas at camp this summer.  See here for an explanation of why fair trade and why specifically bananas.

My explorations thus far have been guided by a series of questions, the first being Where does one buy fair trade bananas? I know where to get them for breakfast, but I don’t know where to buy them in Colorado, and I certainly don’t know how to get them delivered to the doorstep of a ranch somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  So I went on the TransFairUSA website and got a listing of where to buy fair trade-certified goods in the state of Colorado.  I got a list of 119 results, 38 of which indicated that they sold fair trade produce.  The phone calls began.

My first four calls were to Sam’s Clubs, none of which carried them.  Most of the people I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about (they thought Fair Trade was a brand), but the conversation was interesting, if unhelpful.  The guy at Sam’s Club in Arvada told me that they used to carry them, but they weren’t doing as well as conventional bananas.  People just didn’t want to pay the extra fifty cents for the fair trade, so they went back to selling just Dole.  My next call was to Vitamin Cottage in Lafayette who told me that they do sometimes carry fair trade bananas, but that no, they don’t deliver, and I would have to call back the following day to speak to a manager for more information.  I had similar results at two Whole Foods branches (Whole Foods also does not deliver), but from those phone calls I learned to ask for the produce manager in future conversations.  Not only does that streamline things, but when you ask to speak with a manager–especially one in a specific department–you sound really impressive and like you’re someone who knows exactly what she wants.  Which I guess I am.  Anyhow, the most interesting call of the day was to Holly at Love Your Mother, LLC.  Holly runs a small produce business, and she told me that unfortunately she does not sell fair trade bananas because she has been unable to get them cleared for importation, mostly, it seems, because of the minuscule size of her business.  Despite her inability to sell me bananas, Holly told me she would do a bit of research for me and get back to me.

By the end of Sunday the fire was really lit under my rear.  I stopped making phone calls because somehow it got to be 8:30 PM ET, so I was getting Sam’s Club security instead of the actual store.  Seemed like time to close up shop for the day.  But by this time I had a new mission.  Forget actually getting my hands on fair trade bananas for camp.  I mean, that’s still the ideal, but I had just begun to unearth a rich, deep mine of teachable moments.  My new goal was slightly different.  In my own words (excerpt from an email I sent to the camp director at 11 PM Sunday):

I’m not asking you (yet) if we can have them; right now I’m a lot more interested in the process than the outcome.  What’s exciting for me is trying to get fair trade bananas at camp.  It’s fascinating.  I might not even get to the point where I can ask if they are a financial possibility because there may be limiting factors way farther back in the system than camp director that prevent Ramah Outdoor Adventure from having ethically-produced bananas.  Just think, if it’s this difficult for an organization that’s committed to sustainability to get them, and it’s requiring the legwork of an individually motivated person, how ENORMOUS must the conventional banana industry be, and how huge the hurdles must be to do this elsewhere?  What I really want is for the campers to have an insight into this whole thing.  If we end up having fair trade bananas I want campers to know how they get to camp, and if we don’t, I want them to know why not.

And there was night, and there was dawn; Day 1.

It is the month of Nissan and spring is in the air.  If I was living on a farm here in Colorado, I would be plowing the fields, spreading manure, and getting ready to plant our first spring vegetables.  Sadly I do not live in such close proximity with the land.  Instead, I live in a house in Metro Denver and would not be able to fit a tractor through the door that leads to my back yard.

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