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.
On Sunday night we had our annual gathering in Denver to celebrate the Ramah camp we are creating here in Colorado. Thank you to the 250+ people who participated in the event. Below, I will paste the words spoken by our own Emilie Helfand. She won an essay context to fly to Denver and read her thoughts about camp at the dinner. In addition to a few speeches, we aired a new video that is directed more towards the fundraising side of the project than the recruitment side. Take a look at this link. Much of it might look familiar.
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.
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.
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:
n We made huge improvements in all areas related to Spiritual, Cultural and Religious life.
n We received improved ratings on cabins/tent accommodations.
n We received twice as many “excellent” scores for the bathroom/shower facilities compared to 2010.
n We scored very strong ratings on all areas related to cost.
n 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.
It is official. The summer 2011 season has come to an end. The gear bins have been sealed, the tents closed down and all the kitchen equipment stored for the off season. All that is left are lots of memories and good stories. If we were in camp, the chadar ohel would be ringing with the sound of the entire camp singing “shabbos is coming we are so happy, we’re going to sing and shout out loud.” Instead, we are all welcoming Shabbat back in our homes; probably devoid of the service projects, Israeli dancing and massive challah baking (up to 75 challots) that were part of our Friday afternoon rituals at camp.
Our second year was a resounding success. We welcomed over 250 campers and staff to the Ramah in the Rockies ranch. We lead over 30 extended massaot (excursions) and numerous shorter trips. We rode bikes, and we rode horses. We climbed mountains and rappelled down cliffs. We planted our own vegetables and harvested our own food. We laughed, and we cried. We sat in quiet meditation and we sang songs with intense passion.
While 2011 is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share three vignettes with you that capture the spirit of our community this past summer.
#1 Returning from Masa. A new tradition was solidified this year. As each Masa (excursion) returned to camp, they marched back to the gear shed singing a song from their trip, or chanting their masa cheer. (Last month I wrote about a biking masa’s return). Those of us who remained at base camp would come out of the office as we heard their voices to welcome back the returning chalutzim (campers). One of the most memorable returns of any group was group of metayalimers (entering 5/6th grade) who had gone on a day trip to our neighbor’s buffalo ranch to feed the buffalo. On their way back, they found a large mud puddle, and rather than walk around it, apparently began a competition of who could become the muddiest. After the first puddle, they found a second and then a third, and thus began a game of mud painting, and mud sliding. They eventually ran the final mile to camp, covered in thick brown mud, almost as if they had just been hanging out at the Dead Sea. Rather than returning upset to be so dirty, these 10 & 11 year olds were “hooting” and “hollering” and squealing with delight about their expedition. Each bragged about how they were muddier than the next. This type of uninhibited play could only happen at camp!
#2 Bo Bo Bo Boker Tov: Each morning, these are the words that begin Ramah Outdoor Adventure. This summer, Dan AKA “Juice-Boxx” [note the double X], Gabi AKA “G-baby,” and Or, AKA Or, took the lead on leading the Bo Bo Bo Boker Tov cheer when they were at base camp. They would meet at the picnic table at 5:58 or 6:58, depending on the day, and begin chanting. All of us at camp became so used to this chant that we stopped setting our own alarm clocks as their voices would echo off the valley walls. Last Thursday, “G-baby” had already left to go back to school, and Juice Boxx & Or were on a Masa. As a result: the rest of the camp overslept, because no one set an alarm! Eventually people began to wake on their own, and once we realized why everyone had overslept we all had a good laugh. The irony of our community is that we are in a gorgeous natural setting, and often just listen to the sounds of nature around us, such as during meditative teffilot or during solos on our massaot. But much of the time at base camp, there is a constant din of cheering, whether it is chalutzim cheering on their friends in the duathlon, chanting edah cheers in the chadar ohel or at 6:00am during camp wake up! As a tribute to our Bo-Bo Boker tov wake ups, all the staff gathered on the picnic table on our final full day of programming and gave a collective cheer. No one slept in that day!
#3 Increased environmental awareness: At our core, Ramah Outdoor Adventure is a community dedicated to living intentional Jewish lives with a heightened sense of our natural environment. It is for this reason that we focus so much on the food we eat, on our water consumption and on how our decisions impact the broader world around us. (Watch this video by our metayalimers on this topic) Last Sunday we had a final barbeque during lunch to finish off the final 40 pounds of meat that we had left in our freezer. As we always do when we have our occasional barbeque meals, we placed disposable plates and cups on the serving tables (we have no meat dishwasher, and therefore are not able to use reusable tableware at meat meals). But when it came time to serve the meat, I noticed that most of the chalutzim were holding cut out pieces of cardboard, in place of disposable plates. I am still not sure whom, but someone apparently had gone to the kitchen, taken a few of the boxes they had placed outside for recycling and began cutting small “card board” plates. Instead of rejecting these primitive plates, the chalutzim chose to use them in lieu of the disposables that the camp provided. In this way they were making a powerful statement that even if we were serving a meal that had a huge impact on the natural environment (our meat is sadly, NOT organic or local and creates about 4 times the amount of garbage as a typical meal at Ramah Outdoor Adventure), they were going to do whatever they could in their own power to make the meal a little more environmentally friendly. We have put all the paper goods back into storage instead of the local landfill. Just like the previous groups who came through this summer, there were many chalutzim who third session asked whether next summer we could try to serve local and/or organic meat and make the meal far less wasteful of natural resources.
As we draw the curtain on the 2011 season, please know that we are already counting down the days until the opening of camp in 2012. We are expanding our program and expect up to 150 chalutzim at camp at any one time. (See our current dates and rates here, and register here—though know that we expect to add additional programs for younger children AND adults). We already have a number of families who have registered their children for next year. Thank you to everyone who made our second season such a success. We would not be able to be building this camp without the support of parents, chalutzim, donors and volunteers. We look forward to many more successful summers together.
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO4i4CzaQ2Y
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
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
It’s bound to be an exciting last week together!
Excerpts of student reflections to come!
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