March 6, 2023 | Adar 14 5783
At the end of each summer, we spend weeks calling and emailing our camper families, speaking with our staff, and listening to everyone’s feedback. This past fall, we heard one message loud and clear: tzevet (staff), chalutzim (campers) and parents (helicopters) want more technology, more screens and more connectivity in all areas of camp!
We asked, you spoke, and we listened. Here is the update on where we are at the moment as we plan for kayitz (summer) 2023:
For years we have hired Israeli staff members who have just completed their service in the Modiin (Israeli intelligence). The past two summers, these post-army officers shared top-secret Israeli intelligence with us: China had developed sophisticated balloon technology that could not only transform the way we do shmira (evening watch) at camp but also enable parents to monitor their children in real-time from high definition cameras mounted on these balloons. For years we have proudly proclaimed that we have the worst pictures in the American Jewish camping industry so our families should not expect much in terms of photo highlights. 2023 was going to change all of this. With the help of a Chinese company, Zhuzhou Rubber, which is known for their high altitude balloons, we could finally give our parents exactly what they’ve wanted all along: real time images of their kids 24/7, without them knowing they were being photographed.
While we were apprehensive about engaging a Chinese contractor with close ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), we realized that most of our campers already shared their every dance move with the Chinese surveillance state via TikTok, so why not real time video as well? In November, President Xi became directly involved in the negotiations with Ramah after he heard we are a utopian Jewish community that is able to bring together people from disparate backgrounds into a common mission with a shared Ramah language. He wanted to understand how it was that so many families willingly send their kids away from their comfortable suburban lives to create this rural community where they share meals, sleeping accommodations and lovingly volunteer for acts of service. Of course, as you likely have read in the media, our plans clearly went awry. Just last week the Defense Department sent us This video seen above was taken by the cameras on the balloon. Given the international condemnation of this balloon, we too have decided to suspend our contract with Zhuzhou Rubber, and parents will have to once again spend their evenings hitting “refresh” on their browsers to see our rather lackluster photo uploads in the 2023 season.
In this overheated labor market, where the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low, we constantly hear how 19/20 year olds need leadership training opportunities to prepare for entering the work force upon graduation. In droves, they are leaving the camping world and accepting “resume building internships”, focused on making copies, entering data into spreadsheets or injecting pipettes with sugar-water. How could being a leader in Ramah, where one is influencing the character development of Jewish youth and is literally in charge of the social-emotional wellbeing of others, possibly compare?!
When Open AI released Chat GPT to the public in December, we knew we had found an answer to our staffing challenges: this summer, we will run camp with NO in-person madrichim (counselors)! Instead, we will rely on a combination of Chat GPT and madrichim interacting with campers in real-time through an iPad connected to a hoverboard type device. Here is our vision:
Each chalutz/a (camper) will receive an Apple watch with the Chat GPT app already installed upon arriving at camp. These watches will automatically connect to a new mesh system installed throughout our ranch and link to our Starlink internet. Chalutzim will speak into their watch to ask their madrich GPT a question, and the madrich GPT will provide a response based on 75 years of Ramah history. We imagine it working like this:
Chalutz: Are we on lightning protocol?
Madrich GPT: This is a great teachable moment. Do you see lightning?
Chalutz: I did 10 seconds ago, but I’m hungry and want to grab a snack at the chadar.
Madrich GPT: Count how long it’s been until you hear thunder. If it’s 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is close enough to be dangerous.
Chalutz: So I have 10 second to get to chadar?
Madrich GPT: That’s not what I said.
Chalutz: Gavi, wait for me! I’m coming to get popcorn with you!
Madrich GPT: Lord Usmani just announced we’re on lightning protocol.
When there are issues that the madrich GPT cannot handle, the chalutz/a will press a button on their Apple watch, and a 19/20 year old, who got hoodwinked into doing a fancy internship instead of continuing on their own personal and spiritual journey, will magically appear on Facetime to offer guidance. (Let’s be honest, most interns have plenty of time on their hands and can easily handle a part-time virtual job concurrent with their internships; what better way to have the best of both worlds!) College age students can continue to positively impact the lives of Jewish youth while sitting in an LED lit office, hundreds of miles away, pining away for camp. Of course, we still plan to hire real-live humans to help with food service and maintenance, since current technology still does not allow for robots to do these important jobs.
Two New Masa’ot (Backcountry Excursions)
Not only will technology change our staffing structure, but we also hope it will positively impact our masa program. For too long chalutzim have returned from their masa’ot dirty and tired with bruises and bites. A few even say that they were cold at night or wet during a storm. This sort of discomfort must end! What bsort of personal growth could possibly happen in these situations? We are excited to announce two new masa’ot for this summer:
1. Virtual masa: For our Bogrim Edah, we are committed to diving head-first into the world of virtual reality. We will be running our first ever Himalayan masa with the creature comforts present in Beit Kesher. We’ve invested in virtual reality headsets, full-body haptic feedback suits, and ten omnidirectional treadmills. Each day chalutzim will put on their gear, strap into their treadmill, and spend a day climbing some of the most magnificent 20,000 foot peaks in the world. After a long day of living in their virtual world, they will turn off their technology, shower, eat and sleep comfortably in our hotel style accommodations. The United States Forest Service, with whom we partner to obtain permits for our regular masa’ot, has asked us to report back to them about this program, since there is simply no more room for commercial permits in Colorado, and if successful, this program could be expanded to allow even more people to experience the magic of the Colorado Rockies from the comfort of their own home. (See our 2022 Purim blog for more on the nonsensical USFS rules.)
2.Harley masa: Earlier this year while listening to Harley Davidson’s (HOG) earning call, we were sad to hear about the lackluster sales of their EV motorcycle. Despite heavy marketing, it seems that most Harley riders are not going to embrace the EV revolution when it comes to their bikes. For years, we have been dreaming about putting our JOLI participants, many of them of legal driving age, on motorcycles. We see this as a natural extension of our current biking program. There is such a strong riding culture in Colorado, and we want our chalutzim to experience the magic of the glorious open road, not just of a steep single track. While perhaps not appropriate for their current demographic, Harley Davidson’s pivot to EVs is completely on-brand with Ramah in the Rockies! We reached out to Harley Davidson and asked whether they would donate 12 EV bikes to us. This summer, 10 JOLI participants and 2 madrichim will embark on the first ever Ramah Rally. They will leave our ranch and drive 200 miles a day, staying each night at roadside La Quinta. They will stop at biker restaurants, like our own, Zokas, where they will eat whatever vegetarian food is available. On Thursday night we will be stopping in the first halakhically approved tattoo parlor in Colorado Springs, and each JOLI participant will be able to select one “tat” to be engraved onto their arm or thigh.
We are so excited for all the upcoming changes happening at Ramah this season. We hope that you have a wonderful Purim and that you have enjoyed reading our farcical ideas as much as we enjoyed writing them.
Chag Purim Sameach!
!– Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team