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Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

Tamar Moss climbing rocks


Name: 
Tamar Moss

Job at Camp: Base Camp Intern

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 7

Favorite Camp Activity: Rock Climbing

Occupation: Student at Brandeis University studying Environmental Studies

 

This past summer, two other counselors and I had the opportunity to lead a group of Metayalim (5th and 6th graders) campers on a backpacking trip along the Goose Creek Trail. The route snakes through the beautiful Lost Creek Wilderness and involves summiting a few small mountains, but I was especially excited for this masa (backcountry excursion) for another reason – this was a route I had previously hiked as a camper just a few summers before.

I was back at Ramah in the Rockies as a base camp intern, my first summer on staff, and had the opportunity to experience one of my favorite trails as a madricha (counselor) instead of as a chalutza (camper). As we packed up our gear, I wondered what the next few days would bring. Would I be able to facilitate amazing masa memories for my campers the way my counselors had for me?

On our first afternoon out on the trail it immediately started to rain, and we were all a little bit cold and miserable. We decided it would be a good idea to stop for the night, even though there wasn’t a stream big enough to use as a water source right near our campsite. We helped the campers set up tarps and they changed into dry clothes as we cooked dinner.

After dinner, another counselor and I collected empty water bottles and hiked a down the mountain to get water from a bigger stream. As I trudged back up the mountain, my backpack heavy with full water bottles, I remember thinking that the first day of our masa had been more frustrating than fun. All I wanted was for our group to get some rest and start fresh in the morning. I hoped the kids were winding down and going to sleep.

As I got closer to the campsite, however, I was surprised to hear bursts of laughter and giggles. The kids, who I had presumed were cold, damp, and probably grumpy, were just the opposite! Huddled together in their sleeping bags under a dripping tarp, morale was high and they had been busy inventing a new game.

This game was sort of like a competition between two teams, where someone came up with a topic, and each team composed a satirical advertisement or skit about it. Then a panel of judges voted on which performance they liked best. The chalutzim continued to play this game throughout the rest of the masa. Every time we took a break and were ready to get back on the trail, they would beg for time to play just one more round.

I realized that while I had been busy worrying about making masa fun and memorable for the chalutzim, they had been busy creating their own fun! This experience taught me that sometimes being a great counselor isn’t about planning the best activities or being in control. Sometimes being a great counselor is about encouraging your campers to be creative and silly, and empowering their leadership by being an enthusiastic participant in the games they create themselves.

It was really special to watch these chalutzim come together over something that made them all laugh – to see every single one of them included and participating. I hope that someday those campers will be on staff themselves, having grown up at Ramah in the Rockies the way I did. And I hope that when they lead their first masa, they remember their hike along the Goose Creek Trail in 2017 and realize that as long as they give their campers space to be goofy and creative, the fun will find them!

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

Isaac Rosen Climbing rocks

Name: Isaac Rosen

Job at Camp: Solelim Madrich, Climbing Staff, & Masa Leader

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 5

Favorite Camp Activity: Rock Climbing

Occupation: Student at Tufts University studying English and Film & Media Studies

 

For as long as I can remember, my biggest fear has been lightning. If I was ever outdoors with even the threat of a storm on the horizon, I would tense up and figure out how, where, and when I would be able to get inside. I knew how to tell how far away a strike was, and which indoor and outdoor locations are the safest hideouts in case of an emergency. Needless to say, a deep-rooted fear of lightning and five summers in the Colorado Rocky Mountains set me up for some interesting situations.

Fast forward to the first time I ever lead a backpacking masa (backcountry excursion). Though I had participated in numerous masa’ot throughout my time as a camper at Ramah in the Rockies, I still felt as nervous as I did excited, stepping into this new leadership role for the first time. I spent the next few days exploring Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness with a group of 13 and 14 year old chalutzim (campers). Everything was going according to plan until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

*FLASH*

I instinctually start counting in my head. “One…Two…Thr – ”

*BOOM*

Less than a mile away.

The clouds overhead still looked light – far from the ominous dark gray of the typical Colorado thunderheads – and yet the thunder roared before I could even take a breath. The calm, pale sky had misled us, urging us to push onward toward the top of the saddle we had to pass, and now the lightning was much too close for comfort. If it had been five years earlier I would have been shaking in my hiking boots, closing my eyes, and hauling tuchus down the mountain towards safety. Even as an adult, I felt the familiar childhood terror creep into my mind. This time, however, I knew that I couldn’t let fear stand in the way of being the leader my campers needed me to be.

I looked at the faces of those middle schoolers behind me, and in that moment, I realized that I couldn’t be the shaky, whimpering kid anymore. It was my turn to become one of the level-headed role models that I had looked up to and trusted to protect me during my masa’ot as a camper.

I kept my cool, instructed everyone to turn around, and we quickly headed for lower ground. We found a small grove of aspen trees, all of which were evenly sized but weren’t the tallest trees in the vicinity I knew this would be the safest place to wait out the lightning storm; we had gone over lighting protocal time and time again during staff week and throughout the Wilderness First Responder training course that masa leaders participate in.

Together we sat down on our backpacks and assumed “lightning position,” watching the flashes of the lightning, listening for the crashes of the thunder, counting the seconds between them all, and waiting patiently for the storm to pass.

From that point forward the trip went smoothly, and the lighting storm became just another story for my campers to eagerly share with their friends when we returned triumphantly to base camp just in time for Shabbat that Friday. But for me, the memory of that storm is so much more than just another exciting masa story. In that moment, crouching in the aspen grove with those kids, I suddenly understood that the counselors I had looked up to as a chalutz all those summer ago were not super-human. They were ordinary people – people just like me – who rose to the occasion because they knew their campers were depending on them.

This is what makes masa’ot  at Ramah in the Rockies so special – for both the chalutzim and for their counselors. On these excursions into the unknown, we all have the opportunity to face our fears, overcome challenges, and emerge on the other side knowing that we are capable of more than we ever imagined.

Why you should go to Adult Camp

By Alan Levitt

AdultCamp RiverCrossingI’m guessing you know a kid who’s been to Ramah in the Rockies. I’m guessing you’ve had that wonderful, enthusiastic encounter, when they try to describe their experience: they’re talking a-mile-a-minute about the fantastic adventures they had, telling you about a new friend or three, perhaps singing a new Hebrew song or laughing at some inside joke. You’ve probably noticed a renewed sense of Jewish identity. And a fresh confidence.

And we all say the same thing: Man, I wish I could go to camp.

I said that. Three of my kids have worked multiple summers at Ramah Outdoor Adventure (ROA), and a couple of my nieces have attended as campers. So I had visited the camp and had seen the literature and watched the videos and heard the stories. Hiking. Biking. Climbing. Sleeping under the stars. A community Shabbat filled with singing and dancing and ruach. Archery!

AdultCamp RockClimbingLast year, ROA offered Adult Camp, and a dozen of us jumped at the chance to be part of the inaugural class. Most of us had some connection to the camp; we had children who either attended or worked there. Or we knew someone who did. We were from all over the country, from a variety of Jewish backgrounds and with a diverse range of abilities and experiences. In that sense, we were exactly like every group of campers that comes to ROA.

In truth, I think a lot of us did it to connect with our kids – to better understand what made ROA so special to them. We also did it because it sounded like fun. Yes, we did the stuff you see in the brochure: biking, climbing, singing, davening. Archery! We marveled at the deepest, clearest night sky most of us had ever seen. We enjoyed a wonderful Shabbat and then we embarked on a backpacking trip through the beautiful Pike National Forest.

AdultCamp TfillahBut here’s the thing the kids and the brochure won’t tell you: the activities are indeed a blast, but more than that the experience is also transformative. Even for an adult. You will bond with amazing, interesting people. You will learn from first-rate Jewish educators and outdoor leaders. You will be challenged and at times pushed beyond your comfort zone. If you let it, it will open and touch your heart.

I don’t want to give too much away. You should discover for yourself. I’ll just say, when you march back into camp property on the final morning after your masa (“journey”) you’ll be different – you’ll be “more” – than you were when you arrived at camp a week earlier. Then, and only then, will you truly understand why your kids get so excited about Ramah in the Rockies.

For more information or to register now, click here.

2014 Tzevet Tipus [Rock Climbing Staff], Noah Kaplan, wrote this spoken word poem this summer about the power of the Masa [backcountry excursion] experience.  Words to the poem are below the video.  We hope you will enjoy this!

 

For five days we leave behind our phones, we forget about conventional conveniences, the clutter of the day, we sweep it all aside for a while to find what hides behind our eyes unclouded by wifi. For five days We breathe the fresh air cradled rocky and strained by aspen groves, sipping on the sweet smells of summer fed to us by our sky Hashem whispers to us, adventure is out there. We, who fly a whole mile high, there is nothing like this ride. We call this time Masa, the journey. We leave early and pack light, for we plan to travel far, wide, We give up our complex comforts for a simpler sense of service to ourselves, of preference and priority, of sound, Listen, adventure is out there, listen. It’s laping at your shore. This song never gets old.  We leave our watches, our roofs, and yes often our bathrooms, for a timeless place, a forever truth in nature. These ancient languages have not been lost, the trees still whistle and hum in the breeze with their lips bigger thaan SUV’s and their tongues that never get tired, are you listening? Can you hear it? We call this time Masa, this place, the Journey. We are in search of adventure, in search of god and each other, we are the Masa, the journey and for four nights the moon is our spotlight, watching as the stars nod across the sky to tuck us into that silver darkness, nothing is warmer, nothing is freer than this blanket this fire by our side, we, the pioneers of our own potential have  songs with their endless arms reaching upward, there is something magic about this circle, these hurtles, this path untraveled, you’ll find your potential is just as endless, listen as the wind plays the trees against the drumming, there is rhythm to discover in our feet. Learn what it means to feed yourself full to this beat, what it means to push yourself more, to take care of your core, to be apart of this team, born of a collective dream, we are all in this together, strip the white noise of the city from your skin, we should all know this everything, and to make memories that do not require batteries. Write stories with your every step. For five days and four nights we learn to take care of our bodies, our minds, our souls. Look up, Hashem is all around us out here, this air, this water, these lives and laughter let its voice fill you, climb its mountains, ride it smooth, move with purpose, groove, climb, bike, shoot, lace up your boots. It is time, Learn precision and how to sleep by its side, no lie, out here we are the pioneers of our own potential, the students of our surroundings, the reverent citizens of our world, there is no end to this road, us all a part of this team, this whole, this time, like an endless smooth sounding rhyme, with light hearts, and laughter, find us pushing our limits going faster choosing the challenge that will bring us forward, for there is no end to this road. This journey where we sing ourselves to sleep and awake in the morning with the possibilities simply at our feet, all around us, waking up to find that adventure is out here.

Wow! It is hard to believe that this time next week our ranch will be empty, except for the few people on our maintenance staff who will be helping to ready it for the winter.  What a summer it has been, and what a wonderful way to end the summer with this smaller once week program.

This weekend, our ranch has been filled with life!  All of our chalutzim returned from their Masa on Friday.  Overall, they had a wonderful time on their hike.  Like so many of the past few days, it rained for a few hours on their Masa, and the chalutzim had the opportunity to use their tarp building skills to stay dry.  I was told that they all slept out under tarps rather than put up tents.  Ironically, in rainy weather, a tarp will keep you dryer than a tent, and because we are so high in the mountains there are almost no mosquitoes to worry about.

In addition to the regular Metayalim (6th/7th grade program), we also have been running a small family camp here for the past few days.  For the most part, our two programs have remained separate, except for meals and some of the services (family camp sleep in a different part of the ranch about a 7 minutes walk from our chalutzim’s tents).  One of the nice aspects of having a family camp here at the same time as our chalutzim is that we really do feel like a big family.  Throughout the summer, the unifying element of every session has been the sense that we are one big Kehillah (community).  Even though many members have changed, the feeling has remained the same.  It is wonderful to see this same sense of community continue when we have so many “real” families here as well.

In what is perhaps a record for a Ramah Camp outside of California, we were able to conduct every Friday night service outside on our field, and not have to go to our rain plan even once for Kabbalat Shabbat.  This Friday, it looked as though we would be davening under our large white circus tent as it rained on and off all afternoon.  But about 20 minutes before services, when the sun broke through the clouds,  Stevo, our Rosh Shira, said that he would get some counselors to go and dry all the benches if it meant that we could conduct services outdoors.  And so sure enough, as the rest of us were up at the tents dancing our preshabbat Israeli dances, our staff readied our benches.  By the time we all danced down to the field, the sun shone brighter than it had all day, and the benches were completely dry.

In addition to the usual eating, singing and resting one of the highlights of Shabbat was the “Lorax” debate that the Metalyalim had about who should be responsible for the damage done by the people who cut down all the Truffela trees.  We actually had to cut off the debate after an hour and fifteen minutes because it was time to move to the next activity.  Given the pace of the camp on most other days, on Shabbat the chalutzim all appreciated being able to sleep in (until 8:00am) and having down time to sit and play cards or just to hang out and chat.

Today was a full day of programming including: paper making in arts and crafts, slack line and team building exercises in the low ropes, relay races in shmirat hagoof, soccer/ ultimate (our unique Ramah Outdoor Adventure sport) during sports, service projects on the farm (including time with the chickens) and much much more.  Tomorrow we have another full day– filled with biking, horseback riding and climbing– our last of the summer.  Our hope is that by the end of the session, each chalutz will have had a chance to experience each of the activities offered at camp.  Hopefully next year they will be able to return for a longer session and actually be able to choose a few activities in which to go in depth.

Over the past few days, I have also had an opportunity to speak with each member of our staff individually to hear about how they would like to continue with Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  It warms my heart to know that most of our staff want to return for another year, and many of them are planning on doing so (“sadly” some of our older staff members are beginning fulltime jobs that will not allow them to return for 8 weeks next summer).  As I have written so often in these blog updates, the success of this summer is due in a large part because of the extraordinary staff we have here at the Chava.  Our staff are some of the most committed group of camp counselors I have ever seen.  They each see the success of this camp as being part of the legacy they would like to leave.  And therefore, so many of them are working late into the night putting down their ideas and programs on paper so that on the off chance they do not return next year, whomever takes over their position will be able to continue the work they are doing, and not have to worry about recreating the programming that the inaugural staff already implemented.

The next update I will send, the last of the summer will be a much more nostalgic one.  For now, we are working to ensure that our last day of full programing is as well run, challenging and meaningful as our first few days.  We operate at 100% until our last chalutz leaves the chava  on Tuesday morning.