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.

Sitting here in my house listening to the constant drops of rain, it is hard to believe that it is August 1st and that we are now in our intersession before our last session.  Yet, this morning, we said goodbye to 56 of our campers, all of whom were here for our session II.  Like so much else this summer, it was an amazing session filled with countless highs and occasional lows.

At Havdallah, on Saturday night, one member of each ohel (tent) shared a high point of the summer.  While there were mentions of the masaot (excursions) the theme that emerged again and again were the close friends that chalutzim made during their time at camp.  I sat there smiling thinking about all the conversations I had with potential chalutzim and their parents over the course of the year.  The concern that emerged most often was “will I be the only person who does not know anyone?”  And 100s of times during the year I reassured potentialchalutzim that most people coming know one or two people at most.    Sure enough, over the past two weeks, we were able to transform ourselves from a group of 56 individuals into a single united kehillah (community).

Ironically, our kehillah became even more united after the week we spent in small groups on massaot (excursions).  During these massaot, chalutzim had a chance to become very close to a few other people with whom they spent 24 hours a day and on whom they relied to get them through the day.  What we witnessed on Friday, when everyone returned from their Massaot, was that chalutzim not only felt connected to those on their own masa, but that they also felt a closer bond to those who were not on their masa.  I believe that this “trans-masabonding” was due to the fact that they all had similar experiences (like cooking dinner over a camp fire, huddling together during a thunderstorm, waking up early and working to the point of exhaustion in the late afternoon, encouraging each other to keep going  etc).

Our last Shabbat was the perfect way to end the session.   We had time to sing together as a Kehillah, time to relax, time to study, time to play sports, time for some group bonding activities and of course, time for a festive Seudat Shlishit, AKA final banquet.   Packing on Motzei Shabbat posed an interesting challenge because there is no electricity in the camper tents (they live in a technology free zone).  We figured it would be easier for them to pack if they had bright lights, and not just their flashlights.  So after Havdallah, we drove seven cars over the camper tents, pulled them up to the front of them and turned on the lights on bright.  It was quite a scene to see all the chalutzim packing by the light of headlights with the din of the running motor in the background.  The extra lights enabled everyone to pack in time to make it to the 10:30 slide show.    After the slide show, chalutzim had a choice between going to sleep or coming to the field to “cloud gaze” (sadly there were no stars on our last night).  Not surprising, most chalutzim chose to stay on the field until 1:00am chatting in small groups before we sent everyone to sleep for a few hours.

This was the first time any of us on staff had ever run a two week camp program.  Overall, I believe it was a successful trial, one that we will replicate next year during session I & III (June 21-July 4th & August 3-15th) .  But I think I speak for many of us (chalutzim and madrichim) when I say that one of the challenging aspects of this session was that just as we were really coalescing as a kehillah, just as we were really getting to know each other on a deeper level, it was time to pack up and leave.  As I have written before on the directors blog, much of the research on the effectiveness of Jewish camping shows that three and four week sessions are far more effective in the long run at instilling a deep sense of Jewish identity and Jewish passion than are two week sessions.  The reason appears to be that campers who come for longer build deeper relationships with each other and have additional Jewish experiences with their pears.  My hope is that many of our session II campers from 2010 will return to our Kehillah next summer and be able to continue building the friendships they began this summer and continue to have intense meaningful life changing moments with each other, both in our adventure activities and in our Jewish activities.  Of course, because the sessions for next summer are different from this summer (session I & III are two weeks and session II is four weeks) we will have to see how the different communities we created this summer will come together next year during the different session.

Speaking of next summer:  Registration is already open and chalutzim have already registered!

Session I: Tuesday, June 21st -Monday July 4
This session is open to Chalutzim entering grades 5-11
Session II: Wednesday, July 6th – Monday, August 1st
This session is open to chalutzim entering grades 5-11.
Session III: Wednesday August 3rd – Monday, August 15th
This session is open chalutzim entering grades 3-8.  In the fall we are likely to be adding additional programs during these two weeks, so please check back soon or call the camp office for more information

As a thank you to our founding families, we will not raise tuition for you in 2011.  We will even offer the same early bird discounts to our founding families that we offered in 2010.

Until January 1 the rates are:

Session I: $2,000

Session  II: $3,800

Session III: : $1, 800

To register, please click here: