This year, as we prepare for our seders, we are thinking about numbers: eight days of Passover, four cups of wine, three matzot, and one Elijah’s cup. We think about the two years that have passed since we began living with COVID–the fear, the illness, the losses, the adjustments, and the growth. We are thinking about our numbers for camp too: the numbers of campers, staff, and animals. We think about the lives we are going to impact, the vehicles needed to transport them, and the final funds we need to raise to make our budget:
$100,000 Cost to install a second solar array at camp and bring our year round waste-water system off the grid
$20,400 The increased cost of rental vehicles from summer 2021 to 2022 (a ~40% increase Y/Y)
1080 Rolls of toilet paper ordered so far for the summer
360 Seed starts growing under blue lights in Beit Kesher that we will eventually plant in our greenhouse and garden
300 New transliterated siddurim designed for our masa program
220 Maximum number of campers on site at any one time during the summer
100 New Friday night siddurim ordered to replace our moldy ones
62 Days until we welcome our first chalutzim back to the chava (ranch)
30 Number of states from which our campers come
20 International staff (excluding Israelis) coming to work at camp to support the maintenance, hospitality and kitchen teams.
14 Horses coming to Ramah in the Rockies
10 Additional space for campers in kayitz 2022
5 Old growth trees removed last month by the electric company to prevent them from falling on power lines as part of their fire mitigation efforts
4 Additional staff members we hope to hire for kayitz 2022
3 Raised beds we will build to begin our new kitchen garden (ultimately growing to 10+ over the next few years)
1 Camper coming from each of the following states: Montana, Missouri, Indiana, Wyoming
0 Dogs currently planning to be with us at camp for the whole summer (help us “adopt” a calm kid-friendly camp dog this summer!)
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Passover.png4571200Chatinoverhttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngChatinover2022-04-14 15:00:002022-04-14 12:15:44Camp by the Numbers – Passover 2022
At the end of each summer, we spend weeks calling and emailing our camper families, speaking with our staff, and listening to everyone’s feedback. This past fall, we heard one message loud and clear: tzevet (staff), chalutzim (campers) and parents (helicopters) want more technology, more screens and more connectivity in all areas of camp!
We asked, you spoke, and we listened. Here is the update on where we are at the moment as we plan for kayitz (summer) 2023:
For years we have hired Israeli staff members who have just completed their service in the Modiin (Israeli intelligence). The past two summers, these post-army officers shared top-secret Israeli intelligence with us: China had developed sophisticated balloon technology that could not only transform the way we do shmira (evening watch) at camp but also enable parents to monitor their children in real-time from high definition cameras mounted on these balloons. For years we have proudly proclaimed that we have the worst pictures in the American Jewish camping industry so our families should not expect much in terms of photo highlights. 2023 was going to change all of this. With the help of a Chinese company, Zhuzhou Rubber, which is known for their high altitude balloons, we could finally give our parents exactly what they’ve wanted all along: real time images of their kids 24/7, without them knowing they were being photographed.
While we were apprehensive about engaging a Chinese contractor with close ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), we realized that most of our campers already shared their every dance move with the Chinese surveillance state via TikTok, so why not real time video as well? In November, President Xi became directly involved in the negotiations with Ramah after he heard we are a utopian Jewish community that is able to bring together people from disparate backgrounds into a common mission with a shared Ramah language. He wanted to understand how it was that so many families willingly send their kids away from their comfortable suburban lives to create this rural community where they share meals, sleeping accommodations and lovingly volunteer for acts of service. Of course, as you likely have read in the media, our plans clearly went awry. Just last week the Defense Department sent us This video seen above was taken by the cameras on the balloon. Given the international condemnation of this balloon, we too have decided to suspend our contract with Zhuzhou Rubber, and parents will have to once again spend their evenings hitting “refresh” on their browsers to see our rather lackluster photo uploads in the 2023 season.
In this overheated labor market, where the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low, we constantly hear how 19/20 year olds need leadership training opportunities to prepare for entering the work force upon graduation. In droves, they are leaving the camping world and accepting “resume building internships”, focused on making copies, entering data into spreadsheets or injecting pipettes with sugar-water. How could being a leader in Ramah, where one is influencing the character development of Jewish youth and is literally in charge of the social-emotional wellbeing of others, possibly compare?!
When Open AI released Chat GPT to the public in December, we knew we had found an answer to our staffing challenges: this summer, we will run camp with NO in-person madrichim (counselors)! Instead, we will rely on a combination of Chat GPT and madrichim interacting with campers in real-time through an iPad connected to a hoverboard type device. Here is our vision:
Each chalutz/a (camper) will receive an Apple watch with the Chat GPT app already installed upon arriving at camp. These watches will automatically connect to a new mesh system installed throughout our ranch and link to our Starlink internet. Chalutzim will speak into their watch to ask their madrich GPT a question, and the madrich GPT will provide a response based on 75 years of Ramah history. We imagine it working like this:
Chalutz: Are we on lightning protocol?
Madrich GPT: This is a great teachable moment. Do you see lightning?
Chalutz: I did 10 seconds ago, but I’m hungry and want to grab a snack at the chadar.
Madrich GPT: Count how long it’s been until you hear thunder. If it’s 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is close enough to be dangerous.
Chalutz: So I have 10 second to get to chadar?
Madrich GPT: That’s not what I said.
Chalutz: Gavi, wait for me! I’m coming to get popcorn with you!
Madrich GPT: Lord Usmani just announced we’re on lightning protocol.
When there are issues that the madrich GPT cannot handle, the chalutz/a will press a button on their Apple watch, and a 19/20 year old, who got hoodwinked into doing a fancy internship instead of continuing on their own personal and spiritual journey, will magically appear on Facetime to offer guidance. (Let’s be honest, most interns have plenty of time on their hands and can easily handle a part-time virtual job concurrent with their internships; what better way to have the best of both worlds!) College age students can continue to positively impact the lives of Jewish youth while sitting in an LED lit office, hundreds of miles away, pining away for camp. Of course, we still plan to hire real-live humans to help with food service and maintenance, since current technology still does not allow for robots to do these important jobs.
Two New Masa’ot (Backcountry Excursions)
Not only will technology change our staffing structure, but we also hope it will positively impact our masa program. For too long chalutzim have returned from their masa’ot dirty and tired with bruises and bites. A few even say that they were cold at night or wet during a storm. This sort of discomfort must end! What bsort of personal growth could possibly happen in these situations? We are excited to announce two new masa’ot for this summer:
1. Virtual masa: For our Bogrim Edah, we are committed to diving head-first into the world of virtual reality. We will be running our first ever Himalayan masa with the creature comforts present in Beit Kesher. We’ve invested in virtual reality headsets, full-body haptic feedback suits, and ten omnidirectional treadmills. Each day chalutzim will put on their gear, strap into their treadmill, and spend a day climbing some of the most magnificent 20,000 foot peaks in the world. After a long day of living in their virtual world, they will turn off their technology, shower, eat and sleep comfortably in our hotel style accommodations. The United States Forest Service, with whom we partner to obtain permits for our regular masa’ot, has asked us to report back to them about this program, since there is simply no more room for commercial permits in Colorado, and if successful, this program could be expanded to allow even more people to experience the magic of the Colorado Rockies from the comfort of their own home. (See our 2022 Purim blog for more on the nonsensical USFS rules.)
2.Harley masa: Earlier this year while listening to Harley Davidson’s (HOG) earning call, we were sad to hear about the lackluster sales of their EV motorcycle. Despite heavy marketing, it seems that most Harley riders are not going to embrace the EV revolution when it comes to their bikes. For years, we have been dreaming about putting our JOLI participants, many of them of legal driving age, on motorcycles. We see this as a natural extension of our current biking program. There is such a strong riding culture in Colorado, and we want our chalutzim to experience the magic of the glorious open road, not just of a steep single track. While perhaps not appropriate for their current demographic, Harley Davidson’s pivot to EVs is completely on-brand with Ramah in the Rockies! We reached out to Harley Davidson and asked whether they would donate 12 EV bikes to us. This summer, 10 JOLI participants and 2 madrichim will embark on the first ever Ramah Rally. They will leave our ranch and drive 200 miles a day, staying each night at roadside La Quinta. They will stop at biker restaurants, like our own, Zokas, where they will eat whatever vegetarian food is available. On Thursday night we will be stopping in the first halakhically approved tattoo parlor in Colorado Springs, and each JOLI participant will be able to select one “tat” to be engraved onto their arm or thigh.
We are so excited for all the upcoming changes happening at Ramah this season. We hope that you have a wonderful Purim and that you have enjoyed reading our farcical ideas as much as we enjoyed writing them.
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/SpyBalloonOver-Prospector-scaled.jpg17072560David Zetleyhttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngDavid Zetley2023-03-06 11:45:232023-03-06 11:45:24It’s All About Tech! Purim 2023
I write this email from the front porch of my log cabin, gazing out across the frozen kfar. Most of the tents have been removed for the winter. While I have not had any running water since September, due to frozen pipes, I do have electricity. I decided to spend this season, in solitude, up on the ranch living a more “simple” life. Each morning, I break apart ice in the frozen streams for my drinking water, I light a fire to stay warm and connect to my satellite internet. In the fall, as the rest of the world was moving on from the COVID pandemic, I decided the only way to remain truly safe was to head to the mountains and cease in-person contact with anyone. Instead of masking and remaining six feet away from other people, I unmasked and remained thirty miles away from the closest human! I have been capturing my time on the ranch on Instagram and developing a number of new dances that I have uploaded to Tik Tok. Henry David Thoreau waited years to publish his treatise, Walden; my up-to-the-minute blog has already enjoyed a wide audience. What better way to live a simple life than by posting every moment to social media?! Tomorrow, Purim, is the day on the calendar when I begin to transition psychologically to pre-summer mode; the quiet that permeates my days is going to be broken by the sounds of joyous children re-entering their home away from home and I, along with the rest of the Ramah leadership team, had better be prepared! While there are so many exciting developments to our program, in this Purim update I wanted to highlight just three:
Our masa (excursion) program is one of the key elements of our camp experience. We spend untold numbers of hours planning our trips. Most of them take place in the National Forest, which is controlled by the U.S. Department of the Interior. To minimize our impact on the land, we practice LNT (Leave No Trace) camping; this makes us one of the most highly-regulated industries in Colorado. We have been hindered year after year in our efforts to expand our routes because there are almost no more available hiking or camping permits in many parts of the state (all this is actually true). And so, we needed to find a creative solution.
We realized that while LNT groups are being banned from federal land, companies focused on LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) are being welcomed AND have the full support of the Federal Court System. With oil prices well above $100 a barrel, we are swapping out the T for a G, and will now gain unfettered access to millions of new acreage. We are updating our motto “challenge by choice” to “drill baby drill.” Afterall, our forests belong to the people! Although the Federal Government is spending time and resources protecting its 21-inch wide hiking trail system, it allows anyone who claims to help Americans achieve oil independence to explore federal lands unencumbered. We can now take our campers to hike anywhere we want on “exploratory” masa’ot. We can totally ignore how our actions will affect the broader environment, as long as we wrap ourselves in the American flag and use words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “patriots.”
Recent headlines have featured Hank the Tank– an over 500 pound black bear breaking into houses in Lake Tahoe. It seems clear that like so many in California, Hank is not able to find the room he needs to roam and is being priced out of an exploding real estate market. We read these stories and knew we had to help. Thousands of people have been moving from California to Colorado over the past few years. Why not also have them bring their bears to us?! Working closely with the Department of Wildlife in both states, we have offered our ranch as a premier location for black bears. Our campers specialize in leaving trash around the ranch and rarely utilizing the bear bins. Why walk the extra 50 feet to a bin when you can drop a half-eaten orange into a trash can meant for bathroom paper towels knowing that a wild animal will knock it over and eat it later that night!? Our older campers have been flouting the “no food in tents” rule for years, thinking that none of us know they smuggle in food on opening day. We have embraced our identity in the ursine community as THE PLACE to find a good meal.
Starting this summer, instead of teaching bears to fear humans, we will be welcoming our furry friends with open arms. During the off-season, our local bears have learned to open doors and walk freely in and out of our staff lounge. As seen in this video, one bear, upon exiting our staff lounge, realized that he forgot his keys to his truck, and simply jumped up, opened the door, and headed back in to get what he needed. This sort of independent, problem-based thinking is what we thrive to inculcate in our campers and staff! In preparation for this summer, we are training our bears to provide needed cuddles to campers who want a strong hug. We are also training them to work alongside our maintenance team to lift heavy objects, which will hopefully save us from some worker-comp claims for injured lower backs. We know Hank is going to find a welcoming place and cannot wait to welcome him to our kehillah kedosha.
On the one hand, we never want to make our campers feel unsafe by indoctrinating them with the left-wing socialist idea that human actions are causing a climate crisis. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the fact that snow is becoming harder and harder to come by these days and that the traditional ski season is getting shorter each year. We recently noticed an upsetting article that Vail Resorts had sold so many Epic Passes (unlimited seasonal ski-passes) that lines at winter ski areas were over 200 people deep on many days. Given all that is going on in the world these days, this is a travesty; we love corporations and are always looking to help out the big guy!
After reaching out to Vail Resorts to see how we could help, we learned that to appease their unhappy customers, they were looking to expand their season into the summer months. We knew just the place for them to do it: Givat Ilanot! Modeled on two two famous indoor ski areas, the Snow Dome in Newark, NJ and the indoor ski slopes of Dubai, we recently broke ground on an incredible 200-acre dome. The dome will cover the entirety of Givat Ilanot and the adjacent hilltops. We have covered the roof with solar panels which will power eight, 200,000 BTU units of air conditioning to ensure that our hill remains at a brisk 30 degrees all summer long. We were so inspired by the winter Olympics in China, which showed us that even arid places can provide world-class slopes and half-pipes, that we too decided to divert much needed water from farmers downstream to fulfill our own vanity project. We have tapped into our remaining historical water-rights and plan to blast our temperature-controlled hill with snow for 19 hours a day until we have eighteen inches of packed powder. We are going to focus on free-style skiing and half-pipe snowboarding, understanding that a dome will never provide the conditions needed for slalom skiing. We hope the snow guns will be installed and blow snow no later than May 15th, just about the time when the last of the mountain resorts in Colorado close for their normal season. Because we are committed to inclusivity, we negotiated with Vail Resorts to allow holders of both an Epic Pass and their rival, the Ikon Pass, to come enjoy the slopes on Sundays throughout the season and any day thereafter once campers leave in August.
We are so excited for all the upcoming changes happening at Ramah this season. We hope that you are having a wonderful Purim and that you have enjoyed reading our farcical ideas as much as we enjoyed writing them. Chag Purim Sameach!
– Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team
PS. While 98% of the above is farcical, there are two elements of truth.
1. We really do spend 100s of hours applying for masa’ot permits, and most trails in Colorado are not accessible to us as commercial outfitters. 2. The video of the bear walking out of our staff lounge is real and was captured on camera in September 2021. The footage was filmed by a game camera set up by the Colorado Department of Parks & Wildlife next to one of their bear traps. Unfortunately, that bear is no longer in the land of the living, having broken into other buildings and caused thousands of dollars in damage. The bear had been captured and tagged in a previous year and likely relocated to our forest, meaning it had already been labeled “a nuisance” and could no longer be retrained. We are partly at fault that the bear became so comfortable around camp. We must do better with disposing of food only in bear bins. When we ask families not to send food to campers to keep in their cabins, and plead with staff and campers to dispose of their waste only in bear-proof garbage cans, this is why!
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Bernie-Shabbat-1-1.jpg10801080Chatinoverhttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngChatinover2022-03-16 20:00:002022-03-16 15:31:35Fracking Masa and More! Purim 2022
We are excited to share “Kavanot Ramah l’Yamim Noraim,” a collection of resources to help enhance the meaning of the upcoming High Holidays. Ramah leaders from throughout our camps and Israel programs have created short videos—songs, prayers, and reflections. We hope that these resources will help inspire greater kavanah—meaning and introspection during these upcoming ten days of repentance.
Check out all the wonderful videos, including these from our Rockies Tzevet.
May we all have a sweet new year!
Rabbi Eliav and the whole Ramah in the Rockies team