Deena Cowans, Rosh Chinuch (Head of Education) 

You’ve heard it before, “Jews are the People of the Book”. Our religion is transmitted through books. Our religious practices rely on books. Our ethnicity values book smarts. But how many of us spend any significant time with “our” books?

Modern Judaism is a practice of rabbinic Judaism, or the Judaism first discussed by the rabbis of the Talmud. Anyone who has ever tried to learn Talmud, whether they are a beginner or a yeshiva bocher, knows that the Talmud is hard. The reasoning is often opaque, much of the Talmud is written in a mostly dead language (Aramaic) and the subject matter is sometimes seemingly unrelated to our modern lives.

Yet those who stick with it, who allow themselves to dig into a text and consider its meanings and lessons, describe the experience as transformative. In part this is because the Talmud (and other Jewish texts) contain a wealth of wisdom. But in part this is because the effort it takes to understand the text and the intimacy that comes from engaging in consistent study are part of the reward. Just like with people, the more we invest in a relationship, the more meaning we find in it.

This summer, we will take on the challenge of becoming the People of the Book by dedicating ourselves to the sustained study of a book of Talmud (technically the Mishnah) known as Pirkei Avot. The book of Pirkei Avot– often incorrectly translated as Ethics of the Fathers, but more correctly translated as Selections of Principles– contains the transmitted moral and ethical one-liners of the early rabbinic period (around the year 0-200CE). Some of the material is timeless in its wisdom, other selections are troubling to our modern values. We’re going to study both parts, because an educated and thoughtful person does not shy away from what is hard.

At Ramah in the Rockies, we focus on developing the inner and outer selves. We take on physical challenges like rock climbing, mountain biking and backpacking; we also take on emotional and spiritual challenges like living in close quarters with others, practicing Judaism more intensely than many of us do during the year and living in close proximity to nature.

Our study of Pirkei Avot will challenge our inner and outer selves. We will explore forms of learning such as embodied learning, chevruta (partner) learning, theater, arts and discussion. We will learn to question and challenge each other respectfully, to try something we have never considered or valued.

 We believe that we can learn both from the text and from the process of study. We hope that learning this entire work together over the course of 10 weeks will teach us about patience, love, community and self. We will certainly be challenged, but Ramah in the Rockies embraces challenge by choice, and we will choose to persevere when the material pushes back at us. Along the way, we will celebrate our accomplishments with a siyyum, a joyful celebration of completing a unit of text study. Judaism links Torah study with food– a siyyum usually involves a feast, and children are often given honey when they study Torah to make their learning sweet.  

We hope that we will feel nourished by this endeavor, and that our learning will sweeten our lives.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes leaders and elders to help set the tone for the community.  Ramah in the Rockies is a magical village that opens its doors for nine weeks each summer and transforms the lives of the hundreds of youth who walk through our gates.  And, if our chalutzim (campers/pioneers) are our village members, then our village leaders are the madrichim (counselors) and the village elders are Hanhallah (senior staff).  The Hanhallah of our camp form an extraordinary group of passionate Jewish educators.  They are the ones who work tirelessly throughout the summer ensuring that your children have impactful, fun, and safe experiences at Ramah in the Rockies.

With only weeks until we welcome our first chalutzim, it is with great pride that we introduce the members of our 2016 Hanhallah.

(To read about our year round team, please visit Our Team.)

Julia Snyder – Program Director

11069266_10152729187695509_6031520002684934310_nJulia is originally from Seattle, and joined ROA as a madricha in 2012, and later as Rosh Ofanayim (Biking).  She is a passionate cyclist, lover of vegetarian cooking, and avid explorer.  Julia is thrilled to be moving to Denver and returning to the wide open spaces of the West after spending time in New York City.  She has experience teaching both Jewish studies and environmental science to learners of all ages, and is excited to combine her academic background of Talmud and Earth Science with the energy and joy of camp.


Rafi Daugherty – Director of Camper Care

RafiDaughertyRafi is excited to be returning to camp as the Director of Camper Care with his baby daughter, Ettie! Rafi is a Colorado native who is working towards a graduate degree in Counseling. He also organizes the largest LGBTQ Passover Seder in the world called Queer Seder, held in Denver. Rafi went to camp as a kid and worked in camp as a teen and young adult- he is thrilled to be a part of the Ramah Rockies community.



Melanie Levine – Programming Specialist (aka Meracezet)

Melannie Levine photoMelannie is thrilled to be returning to ROA for her 5th summer and, thus, is eagerly anticipating the bestowal of the 5th-year swag item (oh, and her job at camp as well, of course!). For almost a decade, she has lived out of a backpack while studying and working abroad. In this time, Melannie has come to look forward to her time at ROA as a chance to reconnect with friends, nature, Judaism, and the amazing program that camp offers. After a several year hiatus, she is returning to school at Brandeis University in Massachusetts to pursue to her master’s degree in Sustainable International Development and is currently seriously contemplating making her life much more difficult by undertaking a second degree at the same time, of which is an MBA in Nonprofit Management.

Moshe “Mushon” Samuels –Interim Tikvah Director

moshe-pic-e1435590866176-144x150I 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. Currently, I am the Shaliach (Israeli Emissary) at Bnai Jeshurun Congregation in New York.


Deena Cowans – Rosh Chinuch (Education Director)

IMG_0918Deena is excited to join Team Rockies after seven summers on staff at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin and one summer on staff with Ramah Israel Seminar. She will graduate from Columbia University in May with a Masters in Public Administration- Development Practice (aka International Development, aka helping the developing world). Deena graduated from Duke University in 2011 and then made her way through the Jewish social justice world: she was a corps member with AVODAH in Washington DC, then worked in Israel with the JDC, then in Nepal with an Israeli organization called Tevel B’Tzedek.

Leora Kling Perkins – Rosh Mumchim

HeadshotOriginally from the Boston Area, Leora is entering her third year of rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and will be returning to camp for her second summer. She is a graduate of Gann Academy and Brandeis University, and worked for several years at the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston coordinating a literacy volunteer program. She is loves hiking, singing, and cooking delicious vegetarian food, and is especially proud of the garden she planted with her classmates in Jerusalem.


Ben Braunstein – Rosh Logistics

Ben BraunsteinThis will be my second summer at Ramah in the Rockies, and I could not be more excited! I am a Jewish Studies major with a background in technology and teaching. I love the outdoors and frequently hike and camp in my home town of Los Angeles. Can’t wait to see you all soon!




Zack Slavkin- Co-Rosh Masa

1184836_496264560455207_1062678445_nI was born and raised in Southern California, but came home to Colorado in 2008. Finishing up my psychology degree at CSU, after which I hope to travel and volunteer before coming back and working in alternative therapy environments. I love the outdoors,  especially backpacking and mountain biking which are my two main hobbies at the moment. I also like to make music, and I love sharing my passions with others.



Bri Andersen – Co-Rosh Masa

unnamed-7I was born and raised in Colorado. This will be my 6th summer up at Ramah and I LOVE the outdoors. I love to hike in the mountains, bike around Denver, and read a good book by the fireplace. I’m currently studying meteorology at MSU Denver.

This was originally published on E Jewish Philanthropy

Eliav headshotSome say leaders are made. Others believe that leaders are born. I believe that leaders are nurtured and developed from a young age in spaces where failure, honesty, fun, and creativity can thrive.

When I look back on my childhood, my most formative experiences were during my years in the Boy Scouts and attending Boy Scout camp from age 12-14. During this time I learned how to make emergency shelters using only wood and bark, swam a mile for the first time, and spent a night sleeping under the stars as part of the Order of the Arrow ordeal ceremony. While I was never going to become the next Michael Phelps or the next mountain man, these experiences taught me the importance of taking initiative, setting goals, and overcoming fears.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to start a summer camp for Jewish children (while still completing my MA at The Davidson School), one that would inspire young people to become the next generation of leaders. I turned to the lessons I learned as a Boy Scout to craft the vision for what is now Camp Ramah in the Rockies. I hoped to create a place young people could come and experience many of the values present in the Boy Scouts combined with so many of the Jewish core values I had learned over the years at Camp Ramah and JTS.

But there was a key element that might not have been present as much in the Boy Scouts or even in more formal academic settings that I wanted to make central to a new community inspiring leaders for the 21st century. And that element was failure. Yes, I wanted to make sure that everyone from campers to counselors to the highest level of staff members knew how to fail and that failure was usually the first step to succeeding.

Joli2And this is why we decided to focus our efforts on creating an outdoor adventure camp. Campers and staff who come to Ramah in the Rockies know that it is impossible to get it right 100 percent of the time, or even 95 percent. If we are getting straight As then we are not pushing ourselves hard enough. We strive for excellence, but know that “good enough” is sometimes best.

When our campers return from a climbing trip, they are scarred with bruises from their slips on the rock slab (only to be caught by the safety ropes/harnesses). Bikers return from attempting ever more challenging trails, knowing that at some point they will fall, scrape themselves, and get back on to try again. Bandages, cuts, and bruises are worn with pride. Even in our non-physical programming, be it our meals or evening activities, we push our staff to try new ideas, knowing that some will work wonderfully and others will fall flat.

So what does it take to create such an environment, assuming that not everyone has access to magnificent mountains and inspiring natural surroundings?

Here are four recommendations that I suggest are replicable in almost any environment:

1. Create a relatively flat organizational structure where every person is mission aligned. Yes, you need a director, and yes, you need someone to wash dishes or to take out the trash, but make sure that every person has the opportunity to create change and feel that they have a voice in the organization. If an employee who has been there for two weeks wants to try something new, then let her. What is the worst that can happen: someone tries something new that advances the mission in a way you did not expect? Or perhaps someone has even more dedication to the organization because she was given the chance to take initiative.

2. Create a place where complaining is not allowed. At Ramah in the Rockies, any senior staff member will listen to a complaint once, but the next time the same person/people come with a similar complaint the answer is always: “What do you want to do to fix it?” Assuming the answer is mission aligned, then the next line is, “Please go make it happen.”

3. Create a place where failure is celebrated and be open about failures. No one likes to mess up, but we all need to make mistakes. I have said some regrettable things to staff and parents over the years. I have created some abysmal programs (as well as some pretty awesome ones). And I am open with my staff about these. When a staff member makes a mistake, I often ask them what they learned from it and what they might do differently next time. End of story. No need to harp on it; usually we are our own worst critics.

4. Have fun. Many camp people of my generation grew up singing songs by the Indigo Girls around the campfire. A quote by Indigo Girls member Emily Saliers that still rings true is: “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.” A community that creates impactful leaders should be imbued with a sense of fun and purpose where we laugh with each other and only we alone laugh at ourselves.

Camp is often seen as a microcosm for the real world. We all want our children, our teachers, and our leaders to aspire to be even more effective and to create an even better community. To constantly create the environment that allows children, teens, and young adults become effective leaders requires these places where we can fail, be honest, be creative, and have fun.

Rabbi Eliav Bock is the director of Camp Ramah in the Rockies. Eliav received his rabbinical ordination from The Rabbinical School and his MA in Jewish Education from William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education of The Jewish Theological Seminary.

Over the summer, we were honored to have Rabbi Peretz Rodman and his wife, Miriam.  He wrote this to several of his Rabbinical colleagues, and we are honored at his words about our Camp! Register your child today so that they can share in the magic of camp!

How I Spent Shabbat Hazon:

Fifteen or twenty minutes off the nearest paved road, on a 360-acre 1880’s Colorado homestead next to a pristine National Forest, and almost an hour from any sustained cellphone reception, Jewish life is vibrant and exciting. Shabbat with Ramah Outdoor Adventure / Camp Ramah in the Rockies was rich and fulfilling.

Our colleague Eliav Bock gives visionary leadership to this community, which he has led since its shoestring inception 4 summers ago. Clearly focused on values, mission-driven in every detail, this is the place for kids — and young adult staff members — who want a rustic, physically challenging outdoor adventure in a supportive environment infused with a Jewish living and learning.

It is recognizably Ramah, but distinctively different. Campers spend every other week offsite on backcountry excursions even further off the grid. (We’re talking satellite phone by a counselor on the backcountry trips.) When they return for Shabbat, it is evident that they are exhilarated from the week and thrilled to be all together again.

The director, Rabbi Eliav, himself sets the tone: relaxed, low-key, ready to take on any task himself, attentive and welcoming to everyone. He has constructed a model environment for health and sustainability. And how many RA members sometimes have to ask the nearest neighbor, a few miles up the road, to borrow a bale of hay for the horses?

Ramah in the Rockies takes kids and staff from all over. It might be a wonderful opportunity for kids you know or college students you know.