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By Moss Herberholz,
Director of Inclusion Kayitz 2019

It’s Friday night at camp, and the singing after Shabbat dinner has begun. Chalutzim (campers), tzevet (staff) and orchim (guests) all stand up and move toward the center of the room enthusiastically to join in the celebration. As I watch from a table nearby, two young chalutzim come up to me and ask if they can have some earplugs. I pull two pairs out of my pocket and hand a pair to each of the chalutzim. Reminding them that they are reusable, I pull two pairs out of my pocket and hand a pair to each of the chalutzim. A few minutes later I have joined the gathering in the middle of the chadar ochel (dining room) and a tzevet member taps me on the shoulder, asking if there are any noise-reducing headphones left. I grab her a pair of headphones and mention to her that chalutzim have priority, so I may need to reclaim them from her later. 

This past summer in my role as the Director of Inclusion, I worked to expand what our inclusion program looks like, with the goal of providing extra support to campers who need it. One way I did this was by making personal sound-reduction equipment available to everyone at camp during meals, shira (singing), and other large group gatherings.

Meals at Ramah in the Rockies can be noisy; chalutzim and tzevet members engage with each other, reviewing the highlights of the day and talking about upcoming programming, All of this combines with the acoustics of our chadar ochel to make for a dissonance of sound. Although this level of sound is tolerable for many chalutzim and tzevet members, there are plenty of people whose dining experience is disrupted by the chorus of excited voices.

Any chalutz or tzevet member who will benefit from earplugs or noise-reducing headphones only needs to ask and they shall receive. Chalutzim are able to ask their madrichim (counselors) or any member of our camper care or support teams for ear protection and they will get it. 

We saw many chalutzim and tzevet members wearing their reusable earplugs or rocking a pair of noise-reducing headphones. With smiles on their faces and their ears protected, they enjoyed their meals and the company of those around them. Allowing them to socialize and get the fuel they need for a successful day at camp, all without getting overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the chadar ochel.

This accommodation, originally intended for specific chalutzim who needed additional support, has become a helpful resource for all of the chalutzim and tzevet in our community. By advertising this option to everyone, we have allowed anyone who needs, and may not have known how to previously ask, to easily get the support they require to be comfortable. What was once a resource reserved for a small number of individuals is now available to everyone. We, at Ramah in the Rockies, look forward to exploring more ways in which we can improve the camp experience and expand what it means to effectively support everyone in our kehilah kedosha (holy community). 

Director of Inclusion, Moss Herberholz

Over the past two years, Ramah in the Rockies has moved away from a stand-alone Tikvah program, transitioning to a full inclusion model that provides a high level of integration and support for young people with autism spectrum disorders. More than anything, this change has been made in order to fulfill the needs of our chalutzim (campers), as well as enrich both our program and community as a whole.

Our masa’ot (backcountry excursions), which run every other week throughout the summer season, have historically caused challenges for our Tikvah campers that we were unequipped to handle. We realized that, as a community, we are much better able to serve a population of campers who are high functioning but need additional support in dealing with emotional and social issues, particularly when it comes to providing these campers with an enriching and empowering masa experience.

Since transitioning to a full inclusion model, we have been able to serve up to eight inclusion campers each session. By expanding the number of our Inclusion Specialist staff who work directly with these campers, we have been able to provide the structure and support that allows them to have a successful camp experience. In the coming years, we hope to increase the support we provide for all staff that work with our inclusion campers on a day-to-day basis, so that our tzevet (staff) feel empowered to engage more fully with our inclusion campers.

In addition to strengthening our Inclusion Program, we hope to continue expanding our Vocational Education Program by welcoming between four and five vocational education participants, including one who is a former Tikvah camper from Ramah in the Rockies. With the support of our inclusion team, they will be working in specialty areas throughout the ranch. As this program continues to grow, we hope to eventually have the ability to accommodate up to eight Vocational Education participants at a time!

We are excited to see how these programs flourish in the years to come,  feel confident that these changes will strengthen the culture of inclusion at camp, and know that they will bring us closer to our goal of providing  transforming experiences of Jewish summer camp to as many individuals  as we can.

Click here to learn more about our inclusion program!
Click here to read about how an inclusion model benefits our whole community!

Author Julia Turnbow (left) and Program Director Julia Snyder (right) at the conference

When I attended camp as a chalutza (camper), it never crossed my mind that my counselors spent time outside of the summer thinking about their role at Ramah in the Rockies and how they can grow to be better leaders and role models. My first summer as tzevet (staff), however, has lifted a curtain for me, letting me in on the behind-the-scenes preparation that makes camp so great each summer.

I recently had the privilege of attending the Bert B. Weinstein Leadership Training Conference, a National Ramah staff training seminar that takes place each winter in California. From acting out camper care scenarios and working through challenging situations to discussing what makes inclusion programs successful, our cohort focused on how we can make the Ramah experience thoughtful, intentional, and fun for our chalutzim!

In our bunk dynamics session, I played the role of a counselor observing a group of chalutzim. In the scenario we were assigned, one of the campers was a camp veteran who had trouble making new friends in the bunk, one was shy, another was a social butterfly, and the last was excited and entirely new to camp. After paying attention to the interactions, we created a sociogram – a diagram our campers’ relationships with one another – in order to better understand the group dynamic. The exercise was a wonderful practice in being an attentive and involved madricha (counselor).

Our session on inclusion touched upon the deeper values that underlie the difference between meaningful inclusion and tolerance. Throughout the discussion, inclusion staff from across the country wrestled with this distinction. We concluded that tolerance views differences as inherently problematic; issues to be dealt with quietly. Meaningful inclusion, on the other hand, values each individual for what they can offer, and understands differences in personal limitations. As madrichim, the way we treat all our chalutzim should embody our shared Jewish value that each person is created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God.

At the beginning of the conference, Rabbi Ed Feinstein told the story of the prayer Ma Tovu. He explained that when Balaam was hired to curse the people of Israel, he climbed to the top of a nearby hill overlooking the Israelites’ tents. From that vantage point, he was unable to see the challenges that were taking place on the ground, and was instead overcome with awe as he gazed upon the community the Israelites had created. When he finally opened his mouth to say the curse, he spoke a blessing instead.

From a place of perspective, Balaam was able to experience his environment in a new way – appreciating the big picture without getting distracted by the details. Similarly, at camp, it can be easy to get distracted by the details and lose sight of why our machane (camp) is so special.

Participating in the Bert B. Weinstein Leadership Conference has given me the tools I need to return to Ramah in the Rockies as the best counselor I can be. Next summer, I will remain aware of the dynamics of my bunk and how they are impacting the chalutzim. I will understand what meaningful inclusion looks like and why it’s so important. And most importantly, I will remember to seek places of perspective, from which I can appreciate the beauty of our community.

Campers on Masa posing

Author Julia Turnbow (left) and campers head out on masa (backcountry excursion)

By Julia Turnbow

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

Masa 2016
Mushon Samuels, Tikvah Summer Director

For chalutzim (campers) at Ramah in the Rockies, the masa (outing) is an integral part of camp. This summer, our Tikvah campers spent three days and two nights at Chatfield State Park, a very well-organized site with all of the necessary facilities for our campers, including showers, toilets, lake, playground, etc.  

After setting camp up, our group headed over to the lake and took a stroll along the beach. When we returned to ourcampsite, we cooked a delicious meal of veggie burgers accompanied with roasted sweet potatoes and onions. We played some games by the campfire and headed to bed early. The following morning, we hiked along the dam overlooking the lake and then went swimming. After lunch, we met up with Amber, one of the park’s rangers, and she taught us about the wildlife in the park. She showed us skulls, skins, and furs of the different animals. Then Amber took us to clean the beach of the lake as part of our service project. We concluded with a scavenger hunt along one of the park trails. That night, we had a Mexican fiesta, complete with salsa, chips, guacamole, rice, and beans. Each of our campers enjoyed a different part of their masa experience. The facts that we had such an organized site and that our vans had all of the food and games needed to keep our campers occupied and entertained made it very easy! 

Other than some rainy moments, our campers had a great time. All agreed it was a positive experience and that they would happily do it again! 

Howard Blas, director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, was very impressed when he learned details of our masa during a recent visit to Ramah in the Rockies. “I have been taking Tikvah campers on masa (we call it “Etgar”) for the past fifteen years at Ramah New England. Many Tikvah programs don’t have such camping trips. I thought our one-night, two-day hiking, canoeing, and rafting trip was impressive. But, wow! The Rockies’  three-day masa is amazing!” 

This blog is being reposted in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

 

At Ramah in the Rockies we believe that all Jewish children should be able to experience the transformative experience of Jewish summer camp. We know that each child has his/her own special needs, and whenever possible work closely with parents and guardians to develop a customized plan to enable their child to succeed in our community. At the same time, we know that there are some children we are not able to serve for a variety of reasons, and whenever possible will work with parents to find a Jewish summer camp that is suitable for their child.

The Ramah Camping Movement has been a pioneer in serving campers with developmental disabilities. Our first Tikvah Program started in 1970. Since 2011, Ramah in the Rockies has run a Tikvah program for children with developmental disabilities. What began as a standalone program, where campers with disabilities lived in their own tents, has evolved into a combined integrated and stand-alone program. We have served over twenty campers in this program for the past few summers.

Starting in 2017, Ramah in the Rockies will only run an integrated program for children with special needs. We will focus our efforts on providing a high level of integration and support for young people with autism spectrum disorders. Potential campers must:

1. Possess ADLs (activities of daily living/self-care skills)
2. Participate in daily activities at the base camp and on extended masa’ot (excursions) with their neuro-typical peers.

Campers who exhibit self-injurious or violent behavior will not be accepted for this program.

Ramah in the Rockies is committed to providing a number of special services and supports before, during and following the summer. We believe these will help participants integrate more successfully into the broader community.

Prior to the summer:
Parents of our campers in the Tikvah program will meet, virtually or in person, with our head inclusion specialist (i.e Rosh Tikvah) to design an appropriate program for their child. Our goal is to work with parents, teachers and therapists to learn what supports and strategies their child needs to succeed at camp.

During the summer:
-All bunk staff at Ramah in the Rockies with Tikvah campers will receive additional training to help integrate campers.
-Inclusion specialists will help Tikvah campers integrate into their bunks and activities, and better manage transitions and free time.
-There will be a space at camp for campers in our inclusion program to go when they are in need of sensory breaks/respite from the broader camp community.
-Staff will work with each camper to develop skills to better integrate into communities at camp and at home.

After the summer:
-Tikvah Director or one of the inclusion specialists will provide a written report on the child’s progress at camp.

Ramah in the Rockies is committed to offering the highest level of care for our Tikvah campers, and will limit the number of campers in any given session.

For more information or to be considered for the Tikvah program, please contact the Camp Director, Rabbi Eliav Bock eliavb@ramahoutdoors.org or our Rosh Tikvah at Tikvah@ramahoutdoors.org

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!

Dear Families of Chalutzim (campers) in the Tikvah program,

moshe-pic-e1435590866176-144x150I would like to introduce myself- my name is Moshe Samuels, also known as Mushon, and I am the new interim Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in the Rockies. I am an experienced informal Jewish educator, with vast experience in both Israel and North America. Specifically, I have spent 16 summers on staff at Camp Ramah- I’ve spent 12 summers at camp Ramah in Canada, where I served as both the unit head and the Jewish educator for the Tikvah program (8 summers with the Edah in total), and for the past couple of summers I’ve served as Rosh Chinuch (Educational Director) at camp Ramah in the Rockies.

I am honored to lead this superb program, which offers more opportunities for inclusion, growth and challenge by choice for your children than any other Tikvah program nationwide. That said, while the foundation of the program is solid, there is always room for improvement. Based on my experience and observations over the past couple of summers.

I would like to inform you of three key changes to the Tikvah program we intend to implement this year:

  1. Masa: Masa’ot (excursions) are the highlight of our camp and what sets it apart than any other Jewish camp in North America. They serve as an opportunity for our Chalutzim to leave their comfort zone and challenge themselves. This year we intent to run a 3 day Masa to a nearby State Park that will include spectacular day hikes, outdoor camping, swimming and participating in a service project along with the park rangers. Our campsite will include a bathhouse with toilets and running showers.  We will also have a camp van along with us just in case we need to make any runs for camp.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Chugim (specialty tracks): Our daily routine at camp is divided into 4 Prakim (periods) a day in which our Chalutzim enjoy all of the great outdoor activities our camp has to offer. This summer we will be shortening the length of the Prakim to an hour each (instead of 70 min’) in order to allow a bit more rest time and a smoother transition time between activities. Our Edah will be offered all of the “trademark” chugim we offer- biking, wall climbing, farming, outdoor cooking, archery, and the Tikvah all-time favorite- mining. The chalutzim will be accompanied to
    each of these by one of our trained Madrichim (counselors), who will remain with them throughout the Perek. In addition, we will have a Madrich covering the Tikvah sensory tent at all times, allowing any camper who might feel they need a break to leave their activity and head over to a quiet, familiar and supervised area.
  1. Inclusion: One of the hallmarks of our camp is the inclusiveness of or Kehillah (community). We are hoping to take the inclusion of our campers in Tikvah to another level this summer. We are going to implement a buddy system, in which Chalutzim from our oldest Edah, Bogrim, will be voluntarily paired up with our campers in Tikvah. In rotation, these buddies will sit at our Edah during meals and attend the Chugim that Tikvah attends. They will also be spending time with the Edah during the daily rest hour and during free time on Shabbat, which tend to be less structured and often challenging for our Chalutzim. We are also intend to have a few Peulot Erev (evening activities) with the entire Edat Bogrim during the session.

Over the next few weeks I will reach out to each of you individually by phone, introduce myself in person, and be available to answer any question you may have. In the meantime please feel free to contact me, I would love your feedback regarding all of the above.

Last but not least- we still have room for a few more Chalutzim in our program, especially in our female camper bunk. If any of you know any potential camper that is suitable for our program please reach out to them and tell them about our camp! Please inform me as well and I will follow up on them ASAP.

Looking forward for a wonderful summer at ROA!

Best regards,

Moshe (Mushon) Samuels