Posts

Tonight at our Seder tables, we will sing Dayenu: “It would have been enough.” The simple reading of this part of the Hagadah is that it really would have been enough just to leave Egypt, or just to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. However, the reality is that without each event outlined in the Hagadah, we would not be the Jewish people we are today.

So, what do we mean by Dayenu?  Dayenu reminds us that numerous events, actions, and people contributed to our journey to the Holy Land. Furthermore, Dayenu insists that we cannot just be grateful for the end result – we must also pause, understand, and express gratitude for each individual step along the way.

Ramah in the Rockies has come so far since our opening season, and we are so grateful for the community that has helped us get to where we are today. Over the last nine summers, we have grown from 120 chalutzim (campers) and 33 tzevet (staff) to a community of over 500 people. It is you, our extended community, who have helped us spread the word about the magic of Jewish summer camp, and we are so excited to announce that in Summer 2018 we will be welcoming more than 100 new chalutzim to Ramah in the Rockies!

From summer to summer we have improved and expanded our program using the feedback shared by camp families, and with the resources provided by our generous donors.  Every year, our tzevet give their all to our machane (camp), forming connections with their chalutzim and facilitating the programs and masa’ot (backcountry excursions) that become lifelong memories. The Ramah in the Rockies ranch has become a second home to many, and we are so proud and thankful for the progress we have made together.

Dayenu reminds us that change happens gradually over time.  Each summer, it is the little actions that have the greatest impact, bringing us closer to being a kind of “Holy Land,”  – a place where every individual feels welcomed and empowered! Though we cannot know what Ramah in the Rockies will look like ten, twenty, or fifty years from today, we feel confident that our trajectory of growth and improvement will pave the way for a bright future. We are grateful for the new traditions we have yet to establish, the buildings yet to be constructed, and for the chalutzim and tzevet yet to walk through our doors.

To our chalutzim, families, donors, and tzevet, we say ‘Dayenu.’  Dayenu that we are in the place we are today, and Dayenu that we will be in an even better place in the future.

Wishing you a Passover filled with gratitude,

Julia Snyder
Program Director

 

Every morning at camp when our kehillah (community) awakens, we begin our day by reciting Modeh Ani, the morning prayer that starts with the words “I give thanks.” Our tradition teaches us that we should start each day by humbling ourselves and expressing gratitude for the food that we eat, the earth we walk upon, and the people around us. By engaging in this daily practice, we remind ourselves to pause and actively experience gratitude. This Thanksgiving, our team at Ramah in the Rockies wanted to reflect upon our many blessings and to say “Thank You” to the community that has supported us steadfastly through every obstacle and challenge.


Kehillah Kedoshah
(Holy Community)
Campers on Shabbat
Every summer, we are once again reminded how lucky we are to have such an incredible, caring community at camp. Our chalutzim (campers), tzevet (staff), and guest educators come from across the country and around the world to contribute their ruach (spirit). The result is a vibrant and diverse Jewish community unlike any other; a supportive and loving kehillah that encourages everyone to embrace who they are and grow into the person they want to become. And when we gather together to welcome Shabbat, the power of this community becomes almost tangible; an electricity that draws people back to our ranch summer after summer.


Natural EnvironmentCamper in Nature

Our location in the heart of the Rocky Mountains is one of our favorite things about camp. We are so grateful to be located in the middle of Pike National Forest, where our chalutzim have the opportunity to witness the splendor of the natural world every single day. On their masa’ot (backcountry excursions), chalutzim experience Colorado’s beauty as they bike scenic trails, raft through rapids, climb natural rock faces, and even summit mountains. By the end of their time at camp, our chalutzim gain an appreciation for all living things, and better understand their place in the world.


Ongoing Support Camper and Counselor

The impactful, high-quality programming that is the signature of Ramah in the Rockies would not be possible without the support of our extended community. Thanks to over 700 unique donations since our fire, we are able to raze the burned structures and build temporary facilities to welcome our campers and staff in 2018. Additionally, an anonymous donor has given us $1,000,000 to kick start our rebuilding campaign for our permanent, multi-purpose lodge, which will serve our community for 2019 and beyond! We are grateful not only for the physical improvements these donations will allow us to make, but for the generosity of spirit and commitment to the Jewish camping experience they demonstrate. Here at Ramah in the Rockies, we LOVE what we do. Thanks to you, we will continue the important work of nurturing the character development of Jewish youth for countless summers to come.

Over the past six weeks, our year-round team has reached out to hundreds of our camp families through emails, phones calls, and our annual feedback survey. Thank you to everyone who responded to our requests for honest feedback! Our goal is to provide our chalutzim (campers) with an amazing summer experience year after year. We know that in order to achieve this goal we must work to make each summer better than the one before, and continue to adapt our camp program to meet the needs of our community. Thanks to your feedback, we have a clear understanding of what aspects of our program have been successful and where there is room for improvement.

TWO THUMBS UP

Communications
This past summer, our team worked diligently to communicate clearly, concisely, and consistently with our parents through email, phone calls, and regular social media updates. We aimed to find a balance between keeping families informed and allowing our campers to experience the joy of living unplugged in the remote Rocky Mountains. Our communication systems were put to the ultimate test when the Lodge building fire broke out on August 7th, and we managed to keep our entire community updated in real time. We are committed to maintaining this spirit of transparency as we prepare to open in 2018 and determine short-term and long-term solutions for rebuilding our dining facility.

Connections
This year, we were delighted to hear that so many of our chalutzim made meaningful and lasting connections during their weeks at camp, both with their peers and with their madrichim (counselors)! In 2017 we made a number of changes to the role of our madrichim, including adding a third counselor to each tent and carving out more unstructured time for them to bond with their campers. We also added extra ohel (tent) and edah-wide bonding time. The difference these changes made was especially evident in our older chalutzim who spent a full month at camp. The deep bonds of friendship and mentorship these campers formed was incredible to witness! We will continue to encourage all children who are ready to be away from home for four weeks to join us for a month-long session in order to foster these connections across our entire community!

Grit & Resilience
This summer, our campers faced a number of challenges that encouraged them to stretch their limits, take calculated risks, and ultimately accomplish more than they ever thought possible! Part of this process of personal growth, however, is failure and perseverance. When the going got tough, our chalutzim could have chosen to focus on the frustration of a scraped knee or a rainy hike. However when they arrived home, the stories they told were not about defeat, but about the joy of overcoming obstacles. Ramah in the Rockies has created a culture where grit and determination are celebrated. This positive ethos allowed those of us who experienced the fire to remain hopeful and undaunted in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge. As one parent said when his children arrived home at the end of the summer, “they forgot the challenges and focused on the positive… it is because of the experiences they have had at Ramah Rockies that they are prepared for the challenges life will throw at them… it is amazing to see the transformation that occurs.”

MIXED REVIEWS
(WHERE WE NEED MORE EMPHASIS)

Food
Our food program fell short this year, especially during the first session of the summer. While we had an incredible kitchen staff, too often the meals were geared towards the palates of adults, and not the taste buds of our chalutzim. Towards the end of our first session, we reworked our menu considerably. From adding a “breakfast for dinner” option to including a pizza dinner each week, the changes we implemented were made with your feedback in mind. As we design and build our temporary kitchen for next summer, we will continue to plan menus that balance the comfort of a main dish such as pizza with the innovation and creativity of side dishes like kale or seitan. This way, we will be able to ensure that everyone is nourished while giving our campers the opportunity to try new things.

We also learned that many chalutzim reported being hungry between meals and before breakfast. To remedy this, we intend to do the following in 2018:

  1. We will continue to provide snacks in the morning before breakfast at a central location.
  2. We will continue to improve the protein options at meals, including more eggs, fish, and legumes. We will also continue our Sunday night chicken cookouts, which were a huge hit this year!
  3. We will ensure that chalutzim never have to go out of their way to get wholesome, nutritious snacks throughout the day by placing bear-proof coolers of snacks around the property and by offering snacks at the beginning of each program period.

Outdoor & Environmental Education
At our core, we are an outdoor adventure camp that seeks to educate and inspire the next generation of Jewish outdoor and environmental leaders. However, too many of our chalutzim are graduating our program with a love of the outdoors, but lacking in specific camping skills necessary to succeed in the backcountry. While we made vast improvements to our backcountry curriculum this past summer, we will redouble our efforts in 2018.  We will devote the day before each masa(backcountry excursion) to outdoor training, during which our chalutzim and trip leaders will complete various age-appropriate stations such as fire building, stove maintenance, rope skills, first aid, and outdoor cooking. We also hope to expand the environmental education found in our farm program throughout our entire machane (camp), reemphasizing the ways in which our actions affect the natural world around us.

Sunday Programs
Throughout the Summer of 2017, we listened to your feedback and made major changes to our Sunday Yomai Meyuchad (special day), programing. We learned that our Yomai Meyuchad first session, while engaging for our younger chalutzim, left some of our older campers feeling bored and restless. Second session, we piloted a new program in which each Sunday had a theme that our edot explored through age-appropriate activities. The feedback we received confirmed for us that this change was a step in the right direction.

Every summer, our campers love Yom Sport (Color War). They eagerly anticipate traditions such as the all-camp relay race, and aspire to be a team captain one day. Our vision is that in future summers our campers will look forward to all of our Yomai Meyuchad the way they look forward to Yom Sport. We will also continue to allow our oldest chalutzim to take on additional leadership roles during these special days, with the understanding that they will be more invested in programming they helped to create and facilitate. These 16/17 year olds are the future leaders of Ramah in the Rockies, and Sunday programs allow them to practice some of their leadership training in a real-world context.

IN CONCLUSION

We are so excited for another magical summer in the mountains, and have been preparing to implement all of the positive changes and improvements outlined above. We have also been working diligently with architects and contractors to ready our site for next summer! Our early bird enrollment is still open, and any child who registers before the end of October will receive a free piece of embroidered Ramah in the Rockies outerwear. Register Today!

We are honored that you choose to send your children and spend your summers as part of our community at Ramah in the Rockies. As we look ahead to 2018, we know that our camp will look and feel different. Our beloved Lodge is gone; we will be eating in a new area of camp, and will be packing out for trips in a new facility. Yet, as we proved in 2017, our camp is so much more than a physical space. It is the people, the attitudes and the lessons that we experience day in and day out. We know that 2018 will bring new challenges, but we also are certain that by staying focused on what we do best – while continuously remaining open to change and improvement – next year will be the most transformative summer we have ever had at Ramah in the Rockies.

As always, please be in touch with any specific questions, comments or concerns. All of us on the year-round team are available to speak via phone, email or in person.

Sincerely,

The Ramah in the Rockies Team

 

Although our kitchen facilities were lost in the fire on August 7th, Ramah in the Rockies remains committed to providing our camp community with delicious, farm-to-table options while drawing parallels between the food we consume and Jewish context. If you are interested in making a donation to our rebuilding effort, please click here. 

Ramah in the Rockies cares deeply about its food sources and production. Here on the ranch, every meal is made with love, care, and intentionality. But what does that mean? How does our camp model this philosophy? In order to learn more about the ways we interact with food at Ramah in the Rockies, I talked to people all along the camp ‘food chain,’ and what I discovered renewed my appreciation for each and every meal we share together on the chava (ranch).

To begin, I ventured to the most obvious place for my research; the kitchen, or the mitbach, located right off the dining hall. There I had the opportunity to speak with Phreddy, a restaurant chef for 15 years who now serves as one of our head chefs at camp. As we spoke, he massaged lemon juice, salt, and olive oil into a big bowl of kale. I was struck by what a labor intensive project this salad was! Indeed, every aspect of the work done in the kitchen is treated with tremendous care and attention. “We try and put a lot of love, intention, and creativity into each meal so that everyone feels cared for,” Phreddy told me. “We want everyone to feel like there’s an abundance of options, and not a lack of choice.” Here at camp, our kitchen staff designs every meal to include at least one protein, starch, and vegetable. Their goal is to keep everyone healthy, happy, and properly nourished!

It was clear, however, that there was more to this food than just nourishment. Phreddy spoke of honoring each step in the process of preparing a meal, from planting the seeds to cooking the harvest. He explained, “Judaism is about knowledge. At every step of the process we want to know where our food is coming from, whether it’s organic, and whether it’s local.” This awareness of and appreciation for the process of food production is much of why the kitchen reuses and repurposes untouched leftovers, minimizes our waste with reusable milk and cereal containers, and composts all organic leftovers. Phreddy referenced this season of Sukkot, saying, “one week in the Sukkah infuses the whole year with thanks and appreciation for the food on our plates.”

Outdoor CookingIt turns out that the kitchen is not the only part of camp that emphasizes food appreciation. Out on masa, our backcountry excursions, food takes on a whole new role. Rather than having their meals prepared for them, chalutzim (campers) are tasked with packing up all their food in the right measures and quantities, as well as helping to prepare each of their meals. Like everything else on masa, this proves to be a team-building activity, and one that leaves campers with “a new sense of appreciation for where their food comes from,” according to Alex Hamilton, head of masa ‘pack out’ here at camp. “It brings people together,” says Hamilton, “It’s like a little mini Thanksgiving.” Having this unique opportunity to partake in the food process is not only a collaborative activity – it also gives our chalutzim a newfound investment in their dinner. Oftentimes campers will try foods they would normally avoid when they’ve cooked the meal themselves!

Camper and Counselor with chickenA similar phenomenon can be observed on our farm, where even the pickiest of eaters can be found munching on veggies they helped to grow themselves! On the farm, chalutzim have the opportunity to interact first hand with the garden, the chickens, and the goats. Each day ripened veggies must be harvested, freshly layed eggs must be collected, and goats must be milked. Our chalutzim play a vital role in these tasks, getting their hands dirty, stepping outside of their comfort zones, and interacting with their food first hand.

“It’s about interconnectedness” says Blair, the head of our farm here at camp. She spoke with me as we harvested produce for that night’s Shabbat dinner. She explained to me how the chalutzim used composted liquids to help with soil fertility, and soon began “thinking of different ways  the food that they eat both comes from this place, but also is going back into it.” By emphasizing this cycle of growth, sustenance, and compost, our kitchen and farm staff have joined forces to encourage a camp culture of gratitude and ‘ain biz-buz’ – no waste.

In the context of Sukkot, Blair, a Rabbinic student, talked about what a festival of the harvest really means to her. She stressed laborious cycle of planting, saying “you only get to have a harvest if you put in all the hard work during the season. I think that reinvigorating the sense that Judaism really cares about and takes responsibility for the whole food chain, and not just what we put into our mouths, is a valuable lesson.”

-Rachel Blau

As the season of Sukkot comes to an end, may we all consider with gratitude the journey our food took to reach our tables! 

 

 

Picture two boys running after each other – laughing and smiling as they dart through the tent circle. Picture a group of girls sitting crosslegged in their ohel (tent), shuffling a deck of playing cards. One of them calls out to a girl sitting on her bed and invites her to play with them. It may appear as though there is nothing extraordinary about these interactions, and yet these were some of the most remarkable moments of the summer.

Summer 2017 was full of countless new adventures; I’d like to tell you about one of them.

In years past, Ramah in the Rockies has offered an Amitzim edah (special needs group). However, this summer we made the decision to implement a full inclusion model for our special needs campers instead. What does a full inclusion model mean, exactly? It means that all campers, no matter their ability, are included into their age appropriate edot and participate in all the wonderful activities our machane (camp) has to offer alongside their peers.

To ensure the success of this program, the Director of Inclusion, three phenomenal Inclusion Specialists, and the rest of our Camper Care team worked together to support not only our inclusion chalutzim (campers), but also their madrichim (counselors), activity staff, and the rest of our kehillah (community).

This support came in many forms. The Inclusion Team would float throughout camp helping to support the campers and the staff as needed. They provided training sessions to both staff and campers about what it means to be inclusive. They were there to lend a helping hand or to be an ear to listen to campers and staff.

When reflecting on the summer, one of our Inclusion Specialists said, “It filled me with joy to witness how the chalutzim in our inclusion program excelled and grew during their time at camp this summer. I look forward to watching this program expand and transform as we accept new chalutzim into our inclusion program in future summers, and as we see the overall inclusivity of our camp grow to be even greater than it already is.”

Why did we decide to implement this model – a model that brings about logistical hassles and additional work? Ramah in the Rockies decided to go the way of the full inclusion model because we know that inclusion benefits everyone.

Inclusion benefits neurotypical campers because it teaches them to be accepting of all people, no matter who they are. It teaches patience, understanding, and gives them an amazing opportunity to interact with individuals who are different from themselves, broadening their perspective in the process.

Inclusion benefits campers with special needs because it gives them an opportunity to socialize with their neurotypical peers. Our special needs campers have the chance to get out of their comfort zone and practice being independent!

Inclusion benefits staff as it teaches them how to work with a wide range of individuals. They are challenged to be more creative as they plan programs, problem solve, and serve as a leader and a role model. It teaches our tzevet (staff)  to be patient and pushes them to be the best counselors they can be.

Furthermore, inclusion benefits you at home, because the lessons that chalutzim learn at camp are lessons they will carry with them for years to come.

Those boys that we asked you to picture? One of them had been a shy, quiet camper in our special needs edah in previous summers. As an Amitzim camper he had not wanted to participate in activities and had difficulty making friends. But this summer, in his age appropriate edah, you would find him eagerly participating in group activities and creating and maintaining friendships. And those girls? One of them struggles with creating friendships at home. Thanks to the inclusion model, she was able to form friendships and connections that she will continue to deepen in summers to come.

Inclusion is not easy. It takes time, effort, energy and work. However when an inclusion model is implemented and supported by a team of dedicated specialists, the results can be life changing for everyone involved.

Campers with arms around each other

Written by Abby Gavens, Director of Inclusion

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.

We are incredibly grateful to our chalutzim [campers], parents, tzevet [staff], fans, supporters, and guest stars over the summer and year round who make Ramah in the Rockies the truly incredible place that it is.

This could not happen without all of your support.  Here is a graphic we put together to show you what physical impact on the site your support has enabled.

(please click the image to view this at full size)
Ramah Gratitude Week