And just like that, our 2012 masa (excursion) season has come to an end. A few minutes ago, our last masa rolled back into camp. This past week we had groups hiking, biking, spelunking, and climbing in the back country. Our Ilanot (3rd/4th graders) slept out on our ranch and then had a day hike up Givat Ilanot (Hill of Trees); last night, they had the first ever Ramah Space Station overnight (see the link on Facebook for more info)! Amitzim chalutzim (campers with special needs) had a horse overnight and went to a wolf preserve today. This week we ran a new masa for a group of Bogrim chalutzim (9/10th graders). They left on Sunday and spent the entire week horseback riding with an outfitter near the Wyoming border, from the initial report, this new masa was a galloping success (pun intended).
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.
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
——- Read more
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.
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
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.
The oil in the Menorah was supposed to last for one day, but it lasted for eight. Our registration goal was to be 20% full by Chanukah and we are closing in 45% of capacity! Is it a miracle? I prefer to think about it as testament to the incredible job that our staff and campers did in helping us initiate the camp in 2010.
Kislev was an excellent month to work in the Ramah Outdoor Adventure office. Each day we registered chalutzim for 2011 and we continued hiring our 2011 staff. At this point, almost half of our 2010 staff has committed to return for another summer. Our registered 2011 chalutzim include a mix of both new and returning campers. This means that while there will be some wonderful reunions on the first day of each session, all the chalutzim who come to camp in 2011, will make new friends as we renew our community at our rustic Ramah in the Rockies ranch.
While summer is still seven months away, we are starting to count down the days. We expect some of our tents to begin fillings by the end of December when the early bird discount ends. We will try to add capacity in the more popular edot, but will wait until the end of January to make these decisions.
We asked our chalutzim to write a short story about a moment they had at camp this summer. Over the next few weeks we will be posting all these stories on this blog. In the meantime, here are the two that won our contest. Each of these campers will have the opportunity to tell their story at our gala event in Denver on December 12th.
Two important announcements:
#1 Please remember that on November 15th anyone who has already registered for Ramah Outdoor Adventure in 2011 will be entered into a drawing to receive a free embroidered fleece jacket/pullover. The drawing will be in the afternoon and only registered chalutzim are eligible.
#2 We are pleased to announce a brand new 11th grade leadership training program: Click below for more details. . .
It is hard to believe that two months have passed since we closed our first season at our gorgeous ranch! With the chagim behind us, we are now working fulltime on planning our second season. As most chalutzim (pioneers/campers) from our 2010 season can attest, it truly was a magical experience at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch. I think I speak for most of us when I say that the summer went off with far fewer glitches than we had expected! Our staff and chalutzim truly seized the opportunity to make it one of the best summers they ever experienced.