As I have written many times on our camp blog, the secret behind the success of Ramah Outdoor Adventure is the unbelievable group of passionate & talented staff members who come to our ranch each summer to create a magical experience for our chalutzim (campers/pioneers).  As we move into the final few weeks before opening our doors in 2012, I can assure you that this year’s staff is another incredible group.  Twenty staff members from last summer are being joined at camp by almost forty new individuals.  Each of these people are committed to ensuring that our chalutzim  have a transformative experience, where they are able to challenge themselves emotionally & physically and where they will bond with other members of the community.  If we do our job correctly, our chalutzim will leave more engaged in their own Jewish lives and ready to take on new challenges at home and in school.

This summer, we will be joined during the second month by a recent Duke graduate, and fourth year staff member (yes she was at our training in 2009), Risa Isard.  Risa was one of the founders of our duathelon program, and has spent her time at Ramah Outdoor Adventure helping to ensure that every child in the duathelon program and her own bunk really understands what it means to live according to our motto “challenge by choice.”   Risa recently published an article on about being an amateur athlete.  I will paste the entirety of the article below, but if you would like to see some pictures of Risa, including one shot at Ramah Outdoor adventure, then click here.

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About a year ago, our then program director, Daniel Buoniauto wrote a blog post entitled “A Camp Built on Good Will.” Dan described his experience spending a day on the ranch preparing for the upcoming camp season, working with a group of dedicated volunteers.

Over the past three years, I have seen time and again how a group of passionate volunteers consistently go above and beyond what is expected of them to make our camp the success it has become.  In the first season, we had volunteers who donned gloves and masks to clean out aging chicken waste from the old chicken coop so that our chickens would have a clean place to live.  Last year, we had groups of people who came up on two Sundays to erect fifteen canvas tents, each weighing several hundred pounds.  When I drove up during the tent building with a truckload of hay that I had hauled from eastern Colorado, three people came running to the hay loft to help unload, and we had it emptied in matter of minutes.

Recently, someone asked me what area of camp I think best encapsulates what we are about at Camp Ramah in Colorado.  I answered the Pardes Teffilah (literally the prayer orchard), where we conduct Friday night services each week.  In 2010, the Chalutzim Hamiyasdim (founding pioneers/campers) told us we needed a large space in which the camp community could gather for prayers and other camp‑wide events.  They chose a spot on the hillside near the ohelim (tents) on which to begin the construction.  But rather than hire an outside construction crew, these campers began work on the project themselves.  This work has been continued by nearly every camper group since.  They found logs on the property to serve as supports and using both new and reclaimed wood constructed benches with their own hands to create our wonderful Pardes Teffilah.  Every time I walk down the path to this space and look out on the hillside, I think about how amazing it is that our main gathering space was built by dedicated campers and staff using only basic tools and materials.

The volunteer spirit that has built our camp and the service our chalutzim offer each week to the camp community & the surrounding forest is at the foundation of who we are as a community.  While we rely on professionals for the heavy lifting (like the one ton boulder we had to move from the tent area last year) and the skilled labor we need in constructing structures like our new dining deck, we continue to rely on volunteers to do basic tasks.  Our volunteers love being able to help build a community in the Rockies, and we have met so many interesting people, many of whom might never have had a chance to connect with Ramah in Colorado had it not been through this experience.

For this reason, we once again want to invite friends in Colorado to join us at the ranch on Sunday May 20th and Sunday June 3rd from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. to help us prepare for the upcoming season.  Some of the projects we hope to complete on these days include: planting a garden, erecting our three new camper tents, erecting our Ohel Eshel, planting 100 trees and more.  If you are able to join us on either or both days, please email info[at]ramahoutdoors [dot] org.  We will have a group coming from Denver and are always looking to arrange for carpools.  We ask you to bring a picnic lunch for May 20th as our kitchen will not be open yet, but will be serving a hot lunch on June 3rd to everyone who is helping us that day.

Four years ago, I was sitting in my living room in Israel, where I was spending my fourth year of Rabbinical school studying at Machon Schechter, when I received the email.  It was from Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the National Ramah director.  It read “Call me; I have big plans for you.”  I picked up the phone and called Rabbi Mitch.  He told me that the National Ramah Commission was going to apply for a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp & the Jim Joseph Foundation through a new program called the Specialty Camp Incubator.  These foundations were looking to seed five new Jewish specialty camps to attract Jewish children who were either not going to camp, or attending non-Jewish specialty camps.  Rabbi Mitch asked me to help craft the grant.  Working with a team of exceptionally talented individuals, we put together a winning proposal and were awarded an incubator grant in the fall of 2008.  Shortly after, I became the director of this new camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventure, and commenced work to implement our 2009 staff training program and our 2010 inaugural summer camp program.

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Today marks our 75 day countdown until we welcome our first Chalutzim (pioneers/campers) to the Ramah Ranch.  In this time of Pesach, when we think about 4 cups of wine, 3 matzot and the numbers in “Who Knows One”, I wanted to reflect on a few of the key numbers we are thinking about as we prepare for our upcoming camp session

300         Gallons of milk we anticipate using this summer—most from a local organic supplier

250         Campers currently registered for the 2012 summer season

140         Campers who are coming to Ramah Outdoor Adventure in 2011 for the first time

130         Maximum number of campers at camp at any one time

50           Program staff members who are working in camp this year

40           Additional campers we are hoping to enroll before opening day

20           Horses coming to “work” at camp this summer

18           Number of shower stalls in our renovated shower-house.

13           Number of campers coming from the State of Oklahoma

8              Hens who will be laying eggs at camp this summer

7              Dogs we will have living with us on the ranch (they all belong to older

staff members and do not live in camper tents)

2              Goats coming to camp this summer (on loan from a local goat farmer)

1           Currently registered camper from each of the following states: Wyoming, Wisconsin and

Tennessee, plus 1 camper coming from the Dominican Republic (our 4th country represented at Ramah Outdoor Adventure).

[Written on erev Shabbat, posted on Sunday)

My work week began this week, at 6:00am on Sunday morning in Denver, on my way to catch a flight to Laguardia Airport for a week of meetings and conferences in the tri-state area.  No sooner had the cab pulled away from my house and merged onto the main road, did I realize that I had forgotten an important item at home: my reusable coffee mug.  When I leave the house for a meeting or trip, I try to remember to bring a reusable cup and a reusable water-bottle.  I have found that by carrying these two items in my bag, when I am attending meetings, I am able to reduce the amount of waste I produce because rather than reaching for a disposable cup or bottle, I reach for my reusable bottle or cup.

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For this week’s blog post, I wanted to post an essay written by Adin K, who  was a JOLI participant during our our inaugural JOLI program in the 2011 season.

Based on the success of last years four week program, we have decided to run two four week sessions of JOLI this upcoming summer.  Both sessions are nearly full, so if you are hoping to join us this summer, please register ASAP.  At the moment, we still have room for boys and girls in session I of JOLI and for one male and two females in session II of JOLI

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The following is a Dvar Torah I gave this past Shabbat at the Hebrew Educational Alliance (HEA) in Denver Colorado.  HEA is the largest Conservative Shul in Colorado.  Their clergy, staff and lay leaders have been some of the most ardent supporters of Camp Ramah in Colorado.

It is a sound I am privileged to hear numerous times throughout the summer.   It is the sound of squealing, chanting and shouting of excited campers as they return to camp from their various excursions.  Some were away for only twenty-four hours and hiked five miles while running through mud puddles.  Others were away for five days having biked over 120 miles up and down alpine dirt roads.

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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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Dear Blog readers:

I want to share a letter with you that is being sent to all our camper families.  Filling our sessions too early is a terrific “problem” to have, and we look forward to many more similar problems in the months and years ahead.

Two Week Camping Now Available for 5/6th Graders in Session I

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January 1st marks the beginning of the secular new year, and even though I am a Jewish camp director who feels much more connected to the Jewish new year, I could not help but take a few moments this past weekend to reflect on the year that had passed and the year ahead.  I found myself “Googling” Ramah Outdoor Adventure and came across many of the writings and videos I have posted over the past three years as well as the various articles that have been written about this new camp.  My secular new year turned into a trip down memory lane.

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On most mornings, I begin my day with a few minutes of davening (prayers) while looking out of the picture window.  Usually, I am joined in the living room by my twenty month old son Matan, who dons his own tallit (“feefeet” as he call it) and sits next to me holding a small blue siddur.  I treasure these moments together because I know that they are helping to forge his own Jewish identity, and because they are a constant reminder of the responsibility I have as a parent to set a good example, as he mimics my actions.  While I wish I could say that I have deep religious experiences on most mornings, more often than not, my prayers are said by rote with only a little more kavanah (intention) than I would have if I were reading the New York Times.  Inevitably, after a few minutes Matan becomes bored sitting next to me and motions that he wants to head to the kitchen to eat.  I usually hurry through the rest of my teffilot and move on with my day.

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At Ramah Outdoor Adventure, we pride ourselves on creating a counseling team made up of some of the finest counselors in the camping industry.  For the past three summers (we began staff training in 2009) we have assembled a group of relatively older counselors who are able to execute our camp’s mission and build intensive Jewish programming that relates to our camp’s core values.  After each of the past two summers, the compliment I heard most often from our chalutzim and parents was just how amazing our staff is and how they created a magical atmosphere where our chalutzim were able to thrive.  As we grow, we are committed to maintaining this extraordinary level of staffing and to hire only the most motivated and passionate of college and post college age counselors.

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This past week, I have had the pleasure of sitting in my Sukkah that I built using wood and hardware from Home Depot, topped with a bamboo mat that arrived via Fedex from a warehouse in Brooklyn.  A Sukkah is supposed to be a place that is less comfortable than one’s house and is built as a temporary structure in the outdoors.  My Sukkah, fits this description while also being a halachically acceptable.

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This was a letter sent to all parents today.  Our email crashed while sending the letter, so many people might not have received it.

As we enter the Sukkoth holiday later this week, when we move outdoors to eat our meals in the sukkah, I am reminded of the incredible experiences I shared this summer with your children and our incredible staff.  While enrollment for 2012 is well underway (we have close to 50 campers already registered!) we are still evaluating lessons learned from last season and are considering how we are going to improve and expand the camp program for 2012.

I want to thank all the parents who provided us feedback on the customer satisfaction survey, which was administered by a third party organization to ensure anonymity.  The first 25 pages can be read here.  As you can see, we have made improvements in most key areas and continue to rank higher than the national average in many categories.   We are especially pleased that so many campers said they would highly recommend this camp to their friends.

If you do not have time to read all 25 slides here are the “headlines” from the results:

We made huge improvements in all areas related to Spiritual, Cultural and Religious life.

We received improved ratings on cabins/tent accommodations.

We received twice as many “excellent” scores for the bathroom/shower facilities compared to 2010.

We scored very strong ratings on all areas related to cost.

Our campers’ ratings up across the board compared to 2010.

That being said, we know that we must continue to improve our program and will be working throughout the off season to ensure that summer 2012 is even better than our initial two seasons.

As always, please do not hesitate to be in touch with any questions or comments.

Chag Samaiach.

Rabbi Eliav

As our days begin to shorten and the cool fall breezes begin to fill night, the afternoons, our thoughts turn from celebrating the success of summer 2011 to the planning for 2012.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak with many of our camper families.  I have heard time and again about the profound changes that our camp engendered in their children.  One mother told me that her 9th grade son came home with a new found confidence; he use to shy away from challenge, and now, even in school, seems more prepared for activities and lessons that require him to apply himself.  One father told me that his 7th grade daughter has an entirely new appreciation for the food that she eats.  She has come into the kitchen on numerous occasions and asked him why they purchase one type of food over another.  At dinner time, she actually asks to help with the cooking!  And a mother of a 5th grader told me that last week, her son insisted that they go off for a day hike in the mountains. He lead them on a trail that left them huffing and puffing, but they were able to successfully complete it because he kept cheering them on!

Summer 2011 was a rousing success!  All of our new programs, from archery, to Frolf, to gymnastics to the 3/4th grade “taste of Ramah session” to the 11 & 12th grade JOLI program were better than any of us could have hoped.  In one summer, we more than doubled our capacity.    Sadly, we also had to turn away many campers from our more popular age groups because we did not have physical space in our tents for them.  Next year, we hope to grow each session by an additional 30%, which is slow enough to maintain the small camp feel, but high enough that we will move in the direction of financial sustainability.

Over the next few weeks and months, we will continue to process and evaluate this past summer.  And I look forward to speaking to more parents and campers by phone, email and in person to hear their  thoughts on the Ramah Outdoor Adventure program.

But summer 2012 will be here before we know it and we are well underway in preparing for our third season.  Our plans include an expanded archery program, a further development of our gymnastics program, the addition of either Krav Maga, or another form of martial arts, an expansion of our fields sports program and  additional single track trails for mountain biking.   We plan to add more frequent Israeli dancing, better music and song instruction and a more robust arts & crafts program.  We have also opened our entire summer program to rising 3 -6th graders, while continuing to offer quality programming for rising 7-12th graders.  Next summer we will further differentiate our “younger kids” and “older kid” programs.   Registration is already open and many campers have already signed up

All of us at Camp Ramah are so grateful to the families who have entrusted us with their children.  It is a responsibility that we do not take lightly and an honor we do not take for granted.  While we must continue to grow our program to ensure that we are economically viable in the long run, we are committed to building our community along the same core values that has enabled us to run memorable and transformative programs these past two summers.

Rosh Hashana is a time to stop and both assess the year gone by and plan for the year ahead.   In our year round camp office, this is exactly what we are doing: taking time to appreciate what was, and to hope for what will be.

Shana Tova!

One of our stated goals at Ramah Outdoor Adventure is to “lift the veil” on the food we eat at camp. After our second summer, I see this goal as a work in progress, something that will take a few more seasons to fully achieve. With the addition of a “food educator” we accomplished far more of this goal this summer than in 2010, and know that we will continue to make strides in future years. It is important to emphasize that we do not preach about what to eat, but rather that we should be informed about what we are putting into our bodies, and why we (as a camp and as individuals) make certain decisions about our food.

For today’s blog post, I want to share a write up that Yael Greenberg, our food educator, wrote after her masa with a group of Sollelim (7/8th grade) chalutzim back in July. Yael has written a follow up letter to parents of Sollelim campers that I will share early next week on this blog.

July 31, 2011. Written by Yael Greenberg

I’ve had four encounters with ritual Jewish slaughter, or shechita, each of which was a uniquely moving experience. The first was on the edge of a field at the Kayam Farm in Resterstown, Maryland and led me to the conclusion that the “eco” part of “eco-kashrut” stands on its own as a value in our tradition and should not be conflated with the laws of kosher food. The second was when I joined a group of families from Denver in their venture to procure chicken they really trusted. We spent a full day on a farm about an hour from their homes and stood in the scorching heat processing fifty chickens. Fifty is a lot of chickens. But just five days later, at the Center for Eco-Judaism just outside Pueblo, Colorado, I came to appreciate that no matter how many animals are being slaughtered, whether it be fifty or five hundred or just one, Judaism demands a deep, internal understanding of the fact that we take animal life to sustain ourselves.

The fourth shechita was just the other day, back at the Center for Eco-Judaism. But this time I was there as more than just a guest exploring my own values and religious ethics. In my charge were nine twelve- and thirteen-year old campers from Ramah Outdoor Adventure, out on a four-day excursion to this ranch that was so different from the one we had just left behind. Over the course of the trip, the campers learned firsthand what it takes to put food on the table. They weeded, they turned soil, they fertilized, they mucked, they watched sheep herded for breeding. They were tired after ten minutes in the sun, and their eyes grew wide at the thought of facing farm work every day. But when they took their noses away from the grind, they marvelled in the unique little pleasures of life on the ranch. They strolled the fields, picking a carrot here, a sweet pea there, and sampling the offerings of the land. They gleefully ran around the chicken coop, learning to catch chickens and collect eggs, crowing with delight when they caught the fastest bird and got her to perch on someone’s head.

When I first suggested watching a chicken slaughter, I figured the campers would run away screaming, but they didn’t. All but two wanted to watch, even once I offered an alternative activity and emphasized that this was not something for the ambivalent. A number of the campers were filled with gusto and excitement at first, but as the shechita drew nearer, the atmosphere changed. One camper who told me excitedly that he was going to take a video of the event changed his mind and asked one of his friends with a camera if she was sure it was such a good idea to record. The campers caught the chicken themselves, and then spent a long while talking with the shochet, Rabbi Robert, sitting in a circle with the chicken, bringing it into their circle of energy and beginning to comprehend what it meant to take an animal life.

I’d say that reactions to the shechita were nothing short of astounding, but I’d never taken a group of tweenagers to watch their first animal slaughter before. I will say that I was highly impressed. Not only did each camper form his or her own unique opinion on what it means to take an animal life, but they also applied what they saw to their own day-to-day realities and then shared their thoughts with their peers during today’s Limmud period. Though not all of them plan on changing their eating habits, they made the connections between what they saw on the farm and what they see on their dinner plates, and not one of them will look at a piece of chicken quite the same way again. Which was exactly the point. A world of vegetarians is not an attainable dream, nor do I think it’s a noble aspiration. But I do think there can be a world of informed meat eaters, and it’s already getting started — one Ramah camper at a time.

A week ago, the idea of running a camper program geared towards younger campers was but a dream.  I am happy to report that five days into session III the dream has become a reality and I now know that the Ramah Outdoor Adventure program works for younger campers as well as it does for older campers.  This session, 50 campers are spending time at the chava (ranch).  Half are entering grades 3-6 and half are entering grades 7 & 8.  While we could have enrolled more campers for the session, we decided to cap this session at seven tents in total in order to allow us to focus our resources on providing excellent programming for these younger campers.

So how have we adjusted our program to suit the needs of these campers?

#1 Alternate schedule:  During the rest of the summer we wake up at 6:00am and end our program between 8:00 and 8:30.  This session we have moved wakeup until 7:00am in order to allow for extra sleep and end our program by 8:00pm.  While we had thought that our younger campers would need the extra time to sleep as it turns out, many our campers wake much earlier and many even leave their tents to hang out outside until 7:00am.  We have decided to keep this “later” wake up in place because at this point in the summer our staff greatly appreciate the extra hour of sleep, and for those children who do sleep until 7:00, they are able to have more fulfilling days.

#2  Reimagining goals of program:  At Ramah Outdoor Adventure we pride ourselves on teaching in depth skills to our older chalutzim.  It is for this reason that we ask all chalutzim entering grade 7-10 to choose specific activities at base camp on which to focus.  No one in grades 7-10 comes to camp and tries all that we have to offer on our ranch.  For our younger kids, we look at our educational program differently.  This session, every chalutz entering grade 3-6 will have the opportunity to try almost every activity we have at base camp.  Because they are being exposed to each activity, they only spend an hour and ten minutes during this short session in any given area.  As a result, the goal of the activity is less about learning in depth skills, and more about having a fun experience that they might want to build upon in a future summer.  This session our older campers (those entering grades 7 & 8) are continuing with the more skills based learning model that we used the first six weeks of the summer.

#3 Greater emphases on song and dance:  Compared to last year, our teffilot (prayers) throughout the summer have been much improved.  This session, Rabbi Ranon Teller (AKA Rabbi “T”), has joined us as our Rosh Teffilah.  Rather than assign him the task of overseeing all of the Teffilot at camp, I asked Rabbi “T” to focus his energies on creating lively services for the youngest two groups of campers.  Rabbi “T” has put together an age appropriate siddur, he has infused the service with fun stories and easy to sing songs.  Teffilot for our youngest campers have become a time for song and dance.  In addition, during the session, each group will meet with Rabbi T a few times outside of the formal prayer time to learn new Hebrew songs.  We are testing this format of having formal time for learning song and dance with the hopes of rolling it out to the entire camp next year.  While Rabbi T has focused his energies on the youngest two groups, our sollelim campers (entering 7 &8) have had a chance to experience the best of the teffilot that we developed and ran over the past six weeks.  These have included a learners minyan, a musical teffilah and tomorrow, a sunrise hike followed by teffilah and breakfast overlooking  a scenic vista.

#4 Perhaps our most important asset this session that has made our first five days such a success is an extra dose of patience.  Especially for our staff members who just spent six weeks working with older high school students, making the transition to working with younger campers has taken a great deal of intentionality.  They have had to remember that younger campers often take longer to do basic tasks such as brushing teeth, getting dressed or even clearing the tables in the chadar ohel (dining hall).  During our intersession, we worked with our counselors to help them understand how an 8 year old is developmentally very different than a 15 year old.  Each is able to engage with our core values in their own way, but the demands placed on a counselor of a younger camper are very different from those placed on the counselor of an older camper.

#5 Age appropriate Masa program.  As I write, our youngest campers are all sleeping outside under tents and tarps.  As everyone at Ramah Outdoor Adventure knows, our masa program is one of the gems of this camp.  Each camper has the opportunity to head out into the back country for an excursion.  Because of the size of our youngest campers and the limited amount of time available in this session, it is not realistic to send them out for a multi-day experience.  (While we did send our 5/6th graders on a three day hike in session II, this was only after they had had three weeks of preparation on our ranch for this excursion).  Instead our youngest campers wore day packs for a hike today and a sunrise hike tomorrow.  In between they are sleeping at the back of our property so that they get the feeling of sleeping out under the stars, but do not have to carry their gear a great distance.  Before they return to camp, they will all have eaten at least two meals around a camp fire of food that they will have prepared themselves.  Of course, our oldest campers this session (7&8) are heading out on an abbreviated masa from Wednesday through Friday.

In the camp world, they say that one day of camp is the equivalent of 3 days of life in the real world.  This certainly seems to be the case this session, as we are only 5 days into our session, but it seems as though we have been together for weeks.  Friendships are being made, inside jokes are being created, and new memories are being formed by all!

Please note: throughout this blog post there are many hyper links.  Each one refers to a Youtube video

Our session II chalutzim have left the chava(ranch).  Our Madrichim are in the midst of preparing for our session III chalutzim who will be arriving in less than 48 hours.  Beds are being moved, bikes are being fixed and the dining hall is being scrubbed.  And just like that we have drawn the curtain on our largest session ever at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

The past four weeks have surpassed our wildest expectations.  We biked, climbed, fed buffalo, witnessed fantastic rainbows, crossed snowy mountain passes and bathed in refreshing Colorado streams.  We laughed and we cried, we hugged and we played.   We shared scrumptious meals around the camp fire and nicely set Shabbat tables in the dining hall.  We learned, and we taught.  And perhaps most importantly we all grew spiritually, emotionally and physically through our month together at our alpine ranch.

As we bring session II to a close, I wanted to share three vignettes from the past month that capture the spirit of what transpired here. I have embedded youtube clips throughout.

#1 Returning from bike masa:  One of the highlights of each session at Ramah Outdoor Adventure is watching the chalutzim return from their masaot (excursions).  These chalutzim enter camp after having been away for a few days; they are excited, dirty and full of wonderful stories.  We had three bike massaot return to camp this session, and each time the bikers assembled at the top of the hill on the far side of our pasture.  They road down the access road coming to a skidding stop in front of the chadar ohel (dining hall) where they began singing the cheer they wrote while on masa, and then launching into our trademark “Shabbos is coming, we’re so happy” song. The energy these riders brought with them each time they returned was palpable.  Most had ridden well over 100 miles up rocky mountain roads and down steep windy paths.  All had experienced moments where they thought they could not ride another foot and moments where they felt like they were on top of the world.  As they road into camp, they brought these intense emotions with them.

#2  Yom Sport:  If I had to describe the day in one word, I would just say WOW!  Year after year, yom sport is always one of the highlights of the summer at any Ramah camp.  It is hard to pinpoint why children of all ages get so excited about this day of playful competition.  From our “yom sport break out” where an olive and a grape debated which one was more important to Jews (check out our session II slide show for a clip), to the actual sports competitions during the day to the singing of the teams’ original songs, all who participated in Yom sport had a spectacular time.  Yom sport is one of the loudest days in camp, not only because this year a helicopter landed in the middle of it (bringing some honored guests), but also because when chalutzim are not playing games they can be found walking between activities cheering loudly or standing on the sidelines yelling for their teammates.  This year’s yom sport featured a long relay race that included almost every camp activity area on our ranch culminating in a fire building contest where the screaming and cheering reached a near ear popping decibel.  I think all can agree that we also witnessed one of the more exceptional “original songs” composed by the yarok (green) team captain, Ethan A.  At our closing campfire last night, the entire camp joined in the singing of this upbeat song.  It truly became one of the theme songs of the session.

#3 Our Final Havdallah

At camp, we place a special emphasis on our Havdallah ceremony.  We form a giant circle with the entire camp and have a chance to give “shout outs” or reflections from the week that passed.  We then move into singing havdallah and a series of other songs together.  Perhaps more so than any other time at camp, at Havdallah one really feels the sense of community present on our ranch.

This past week, we asked a few chalutzim from each edah (age group) to speak for a few minutes about what camp meant to them.   Each spoke in age appropriate way about some aspect of the summer and some memory that they are taking with them.  The commonality between all their speeches was that this is a place where kids can come to challenge themselves, live amongst friends in a supportive environment and connect to a larger community.  Most of us were in tears by the end of havdallah as we looked around at the faces of the people whom only weeks earlier we barely knew and now had shared such intense experiences.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  And our second session has now drawn to a close.  We will miss each and every chalutz/a who walked through our gate.  We are left now with only memories, pictures and transformed selves from our time together.  As we transition to third session all of us staff members know that we will be even better counselors in session III and form an even tighter community because of the experiences we had with our first two sessions of chalutzim.

Luckily camp opens in 46 weeks.  Stay tuned for Tuesday’s email about registering for our 2012 camping season.


P.S.  An additional MUST see video is this one by our metayalim chalutzim on the importance of recycling:

Written by two of our JOLI participants:

To begin, I want you to think through an average day in your life. And
now I would like to exemplify the following: in an average day, most
of your time is spent talking with or doing things with other people.
Most of the things we say are for the benefit of others, and would be
left unsaid if there were no one else to hear it. Our mannerisms, ways
of speech and courtesies are all based on the fact that this world is
build on the principle of cohesion between people. Please, thank you,
eye contact, reassuring phrases, they all arose because people spend
so much time together and realized that it was better than being
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Written by Elyssa Brown

JOLI — the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute — returned from our
12-day backpacking masa to the Indian Peaks Wilderness area: happy and
healthy, with countless bug bites and new leadership skills to show
from our adventure.

Our first five days were spent learning how to survive and thrive as
an expedition group in the wilderness. Rain (and even hail!) turned
everyone into tarp set up experts by the end of the second day.
Chalutzim learned basic map and compass use, how to select appropriate
camp and cooking sites, how to hang bear bags, and how to cook some
stellar backcountry meals. Each day, two chalutzim were appointed as
“Leaders of the Day.” They would work together to lead t’fillah, pack
up camp in the morning, navigate sometimes challenging terrain, make
decisions on trail, and keep the group motivated. Every evening, we
would debrief the day all together and give feedback to the Leaders of
the Day.

We spent Shabbat at a designated campsite, and JOLI madrich Matt
brought up clean clothing, pre-cooked camp food, and other treats to
make the day special. We took solar showers and spent quality time
bonding as a group. It felt wonderful to be clean, and we prayed in a
grove of trees beside a river. In our free time, we packed in a few
good games of soccer and ultimate frisbee.

On Sunday morning, we set off on the second half of our journey.
Having covered the basics in week one, we could do more in-depth
map-reading and navigation, including several days of off-trail
travel. Chalutzim were divided into cook/clean/bear-bag teams, and
some chefs prepared delectably elaborate meals: favorites included
chili, Chinese noodles, “soup bombs,” cinnamon buns, scrambled
brownies, and “Kivi cake.”

Toward the end, each JOLI participant took part in a 10-hour “solo.”
Placed away from all other masa members, the chalutzim had a chance to
reflect meaningfully on their journey thus far. Over the next few
nights, they shared their writings and thoughts with the rest of the

Some assorted highlights of the trip included crossing the Continental
Divide (repeatedly!), a wonderful campfire, a singing session under a
tarp during a rainstorm, sliding down a snowfield with a rope and
harness set-up, and just spending 12 days together in the wilderness.

This coming week, JOLI members are being trained and certified in
Wilderness First Aid (WFA). Afterward, several are serving as
co-leaders on a backpacking trip for Metaylim (the 5th/6th graders).
Others are using their skills to plan and lead all components of a
JOLI trip to the Garden of the Gods area, which will include a day of
rock climbing.

It’s bound to be an exciting last week together!

Excerpts of student reflections to come!

It is hard to believe that we are half way through our second session!  Our days have been jammed packed, and so I must apologize for not writing more frequent updates over the past two weeks.  If you are not a fan of our Facebook page, please become one, as we post frequent updates on camp there.

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