After another wet evening, the sun is again shining brightly. We began our morning with rocking musical teffilah with the entire camp gathered in our new Pardes Teffilah. Although it was relatively warm this morning, we had 45 minutes of physical exercise before breakfast where we played tag, kick the can, and ran running drills. As I type this letter we have chalutzim (pioneers/campers) who are shooting targets at the archery range, riding horses on the trail, cooking around a campfire, climbing cliff, doing art projects and so much more. Read more
Our Session I chalutzim have been gone for only a few hours, and our incredible staff have begun their first well-deserved day off of the season. Sitting here in Starbucks down in Woodland Park, I have only the warmest memories from the past two weeks. Leading up to the beginning of Session I, many on our staff were anxious about our second season at Ramah Outdoor Adventure. Could we repeat the magic we created in 2010? Would the new chalutzim (pioneers/ campers) bond with the returning campers? Would the new programs we have added this year be as successful as the ones we began last year? Would our new staff work well with our returning staff? Would our attempt to differentiate between different edot (age groups) succeed? Would a two week session, at the beginning of the summer, provide an emotionally moving experience for our chalutzim? These were just some of the questions racing through our minds in the weeks leading up to the opening of the 2011 season.
This was posted on our monthly Constant Contact before Passover: I wanted to share it with the readers of our blog, should people have missed it in the pre-pesach mailing.
On Pesach, as we drink 4 cups of wine, raise 3 matzot and sing about 13 attributes of God in “Who Knows One”, we share a few key numbers of our own…
500 Loaves of organic bread we plan to order from a local bakery
250 Pounds of organic granola we plan to order from a local supplier
240 Gallons of milk we anticipate using this summer
187 Campers currently registered for the 2011 summer season
106 Campers coming to Ramah Outdoor Adventure in 2011 for the first time
41 Campers from Camp Ramah in the Poconos spending a week at the Ramah in theRockies ranch this summer
30 Program staff members who are working in camp this year
24 Campers we are hoping to enroll before opening day
23 States from which campers are coming
14 Horses coming to “work” at camp this summer
13 Camper bunks we will have at camp this summer for session II
12 Hens who will be laying eggs at camp this summer
2 Goats coming to camp this summer (on loan from a local goat farm)
1 Registered camper coming from the state of Wyoming
Part I: Maintaining a positive community
How do we maintain a close‑knit camp community where we all know each other but where there are no cliques, even as we grow enrollment by 75% in one year? This is an issue we are dealing with in the off‑season as we gear up for our second summer with chalutzim (pioneers/campers) at Ramah Outdoor Adventure and our inaugural summer for the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute.
“So what do you do the rest of the year?” This is the question I am most often asked when I tell people that I am a Rabbi/educator who works as a camp director. In most people’s eyes, camp is an eight week job. For the other 10 months, I think that they imagine year round camp staffget to kick back by the pool for hours every day.
This was printed last week in the ejewishphilanthropy.com newsletter. In case you missed it, I am reprinting it here:
by Rabbi Eliav Bock
Last year, while recruiting our first cohort of campers to the county’s only Kosher outdoor adventure camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventure, someone forwarded me a funny video titled Jews Don’t Camp (see above). While clearly intended as some light humor, there is an element of truth in this video. American Jews, as a whole, are not known for their rustic “outdoors-y” nature. Although we are a people whose ancient texts and traditions emerged from an agrarian society, most American Jews live in urban settings with minimal daily contact with the broader natural world. And worse, perhaps, is the fact that our children are constantly connected to technology. What parent among us does not regret that?
The holiday of Tu B’Shvat is intended to make us stop and consider our relationship to the earth. At a Tu B’shvat seder, we sit with friends, sing songs about nature, eat special fruits that represent an element within nature, drink hues of wine that represents the changing seasons and discuss how we can protect our natural environment. In recent years, with the rising awareness of humanity’s deleterious impact on the natural world, Tu B’shvat sedarim seem to be ever more popular.
And while celebrating this holiday is a good start, as a camp director, I know that we can take the lessons of Tu B’shvat and apply them to our summer camp lives. At Ramah Outdoor Adventure, we have created a program with the specific goal of reconnecting our youth with the natural world around them. We have made environmental living an integral part of the summer program. From waking up with the sun, to living in a technology free zone with limited electricity, to eating sustainable food at meals, our goal at camp is to spend a few weeks living intentionally in the natural world.
Our program seeks to engage campers in environmental programming. This might be an exploration through the surrounding forest to search for mushrooms or a specific type of tree. It might be a discussion about our own carbon footprint each time we fly to camp or drive three hours to go on a four day hike. But other times our environmental education is embedded within the broader camp program. For example, by spending extended time camping in the backcountry, our campers are able to gain a deeper appreciation about how to use nature for their own good while also leaving it undisturbed for other humans and animals to enjoy. Similarly, by adjusting our internal clocks to wake up at sunrise and go to sleep when dark, campers not only gain an appreciation for living according to the natural rhythms of the day, but they also see that one can survive in a world without electricity.
Throughout, we never lose sight of the fact that Jewish camp works as an educational enterprise because it creates a model community disconnected from the “real world.” Educators have been using camp to impart the importance of living in a deeply connected Jewish community for over 100 years. Because of this, countless campers have spent ten months of the year yearning to return to their camp community. As research now shows, immersive Jewish experiences at camp are a good predictor for life-long engagement in Jewish life. Ramah has long recognized the fact that in every activity and circumstance – and now in the daily routine of Ramah’s first specialty camp – the emphasis on Jewish life and learning remains a critical ingredient. Our environmental learning and outdoor experiences would not be nearly as impactful without grounding in Jewish text learning and the context of Jewish tradition and ritual.
At Ramah Outdoor Adventure, we build upon the success of Jewish camping by creating an immersive Jewish community with an additional layer which makes us unique in the North American Jewish camping world. We have created a program that places equal emphasis on how our community relates to the natural world around us. This means we engage our campers in the choices of food we eat; we spend days at a time sleeping on the ground in tents and under tarps; we walk around at night guided only by moonlight; and we perform weekly service projects to beautify our ranch and to take care of the natural landscape around us. In addition to having our own working garden on the ranch, we contract with a local organic farm to source much of our food. Our older campers have a chance to spend five days living with the farmers and cultivating the land, and return to camp with boxes of fresh produce for us to eat the following week.
We do not want camp’s lessons to remain behind in the Rocky Mountains when campers go home. Rather, we want our campers to return to their regular lives not only with a deeper sense of their own Jewish identity but also with a deeper commitment to protecting and preserving the natural world around us. By marking Tu B’shvat within their home communities, they and we are reminded, as winter wanes, of the imperative to engage more deeply with the natural world and live Jewish lives imbued with wonder at the beauty, bounty, and fragility of the natural world.
Rabbi Eliav Bock is the Director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure
Thanks for Eytan Deener-Agus (2010 session I) and Mikaela Kaiser (2010 Session II) for their submissions to our story contest. While neither won the grand prize, both wrote terrific stories that are reprinted below.