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.

 In early January, seven of our staff and Rabbi Eliav traveled to Camp Ramah in California to attend National Ramah’s Weinstein Winter Training Conference.  This is just one part of our ongoing commitment to staff training and education throughout the year. 
Here is what some of our participating staff had to say about the conference: 

Staff posing“My favorite thing about the Weinstein Conference was the ability to experience all the Ramah camps in one setting, where we could share how each camp is different in its own way. Furthermore, it was fantastic being able to form lasting friendships with staff from other Ramah camps that I would not have met if we both did not go to Weinstein. The sessions I attended were all interesting because I could hear how different counselors from different camps might plan entirely different activities with the same guidelines. One session that particularly sticks in my mind is this session about creating a bedtime ritual in the ohel that wraps up the day and creates a sense of family between everyone. This is an easy way to make the end of the day something everyone looks forwards to.”

“My weekend at Weinstein is not one that I will soon forget. Not only was it a great opportunity to get to know some of the amazing Ramah Rockies staff but it gave me the chance to learn and grow with tikvah staff from all the camps. I can’t wait to put some of these great ideas from other Ramah’s into action. I didn’t think it possible, but my time at Ojai got me even more excited for kayitz 2017!!!”

“It was really nice to experience a national Ramah retreat. As someone who is relatively new to the Ramah culture, it was fun to connect to people from all different camps and also learn what makes Rockies unique. Two highlights for me was leading a hike in the green mountains of Ojai and meeting people in person, who I work with during the year.”

“At Weinstein we met staff from all across the country, and had the opportunity to learn from each other, exchange program ideas, and find out what makes each camp unique. But the best moments were when you couldn’t even tell that we were all from different camps. Often, it was music that brought us together. During t’filla and shira, we all know many of the same melodies, and we catch on quickly to the new ones. Joining our voices together in song is a powerful and beloved part of every camp, and it was amazing to be able to share it with the wider Ramah community.”

Rabbi Leo of Mexico City brought a delegation of twenty campers from his community this past summer. He wrote this during the summer about the experience of being at camp.  We look forward to welcoming more campers from Bet El this summer, and our continued partnership with the Mexico City community.

An English version is below the Spanish.


Camp Ramah in the Rockies, una experiencia inolvidableKitchen staff

”Que bellas son tus tiendas Yaacov, tus moradas, pueblo de Israel”

Es un gusto y un privilegio estar aqui en Camp Ramah, en Colorado, con un grupo fantastico de niños y madrijim de Comunidad Bet-El. Por primera vez casi veinte campers de nuestra comunidad de la ciudad de Mexico pudieron tener la experiencia de venir juntos. Esto fue posible gracias a generosos donadores de nuestra comunidad y a Camp Ramah asi como Rabbi Eliav que tuvieron la vision de que jovenes judios mexicanos puedieran interactuar con amigos de Estados Unidos, Israel y otras partes del mundo vivenciando que el pueblo judio es uno, a pesar de las diferencias de idiomas costumbres y lugares.

Llegamos hace una semana  y por lo que hemos vivido, ha sido increible!!! Los  niños estan muy emocionados de estar aqui. Han podido crear nuevas amisatades y practicar su ingles. El Camp ofrece actividades increibles como montar a caballo, andar en bici, clases de arte, escalar, mineria, cocinar en el bosque, y muchas otras mas.

Por otro lado todos nuestros jalutzim estaban muy emocionados de ir a el programa de Masa que es cuando se van fuera del camp a acampar por varios dias y cada uno escoge a cual quiere ir y viven una experiencia inolvidable.

Hemos logrado unirnos  a todas las tfilot  diferentes que otorga el camp y aprendimos las diversas meoldias que tienen en sus canciones. Asi como ya pasamos nuestro primer Shabat en Camp Ramah y fue muy emotivo, nos identificamos mucho con esta Kehila kedosha y descubrimos que son muchas mas las cosas que nos unen que las que nos diferencian.

Esperamos que para el proximo año podamos regresar otra vez y vivir nuevamente esta gran oportunidad!!!

Kol Tuv

Rabbi Leo Levy – Comunidad Bet-El de Mexico


Camp Ramah in the Rockies, an unforgettable experienceInternational flags

”How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel”

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be here at Camp Ramah in the Rockies, with a fantastic group of kids and madrichim from the Bet-El Community. For the first time, almost twenty campers from our community in Mexico City have the experience of coming to camp together.

This was possible thanks to the generous donors of our community, Camp Ramah, and Rabbi Eliav who all had the vision of bringing young jewish Mexican kids to camp so the could interact with other Jewish kids from America, Israel, and all over the world; acknowledging that the Jewish people are one– no matter the different languages, customs, and places.

We arrived a week ago and for what we have experienced it has been an amazing time. The kids are really excited to be here. They have been able to create new friendships and are practicing their English, this camp offers incredible activities such as riding horses, mountain biking, arts and crafts, climbing, mining, outdoor cooking, and many others.

All of our chalutzim were very excited about the Masa program which is when they go camping outside of camp for a couple of days. Each camper had the chance to choose which Masa they wanted to go on, and they get to have unforgettable experiences.

We have been able to join the different T’fillot that camp has to offer and we have learned all the different melodies of the different songs. We had our first Shabbat in Camp Ramah, it was very emotional, we had become part of this Kehilla Kedosha and we have discovered that there are more things that unite us than things that set us apart.

We hope that next year we can come back and enjoy this great opportunity once again!!!

Kol Tuv

Rabbi Leo Levy – Comunidad Bet-El de Mexico

During the past six weeks, our year-round team has reached out to hundreds of camp families by email, phone, and survey.  Many of you responded to our requests for honest feedback, including a record number to our online survey.  We know that we can only continue to provide an amazing summer experience to our campers and staff by constantly working to make each summer better than the one before it.  The way to do this is by always being open to adapting our camp program to meet the needs of our community.  Our mission might remain the same, but aspects of our program have to change and improve from year to year.

We cannot thank you enough for your time and thoughtful responses to our questions.  Now that we have had the opportunity to review and evaluate all the feedback, here is what we have learned and our action plan for the future.


Values Based Community

The comment heard most often from campers, staff, and parents is that ours is a warm, intentional community, where people are kind, welcoming, and accepting.  So many remarked on how newcomers and returning campers are able to bring their full personalities to our camp. We frequently also heard about the benefits of having a geographically diverse camper population. While our younger campers  particularly enjoyed earning and bringing home the stickers with our four core values home, these concepts stood out to all that Ramah in the Rockies is a place where we strive to treat everyone and everything with respect.  This is something that so many parents (and campers) appreciated.

Outdoor Programs

Ramah in the Rockies continues to be THE Jewish camp for rustic outdoor living.  So many families observed how their children were able to express the sensation of awe and grandeur that comes from living in the Colorado Rockies. While there are always some questions before camp starts concerning our  not allowing any screens or earphones around camp, once engaged in the program, parents and campers realize that this is one of the more powerful aspects of our camp.  And, of course, our outdoor program is best on display as exhibited by the various masa’ot (excursions) in which our campers participate throughout the summer. Masa’ot allow campers to bond with each other and challenge themselves in ways that they could not ordinarily do if they always remained in the relative comforts of base-camp.

Song and Dance

So much of the formal teaching in our children’s lives is directed towards obtaining further knowledge.  At camp, we have the opportunity to also affect a child’s spirit and soul.  This year, we made an extra effort to improve our song, dance, and visual arts programs.  Many families noted how much their children loved these additions, including our daily dances at Mifgash. By the end of the summer, we also had switched to playing modern Israeli hip-hop as part of our Havdallah dance party for the older campers.  We know that the culture of dancing that took off this summer will take a few more years to fully institutionalize, but we are eager to continue to invest resources in this area, including hiring a Rosh Rikud for the summer of 2017, a position we have never formally had.  Additionally, parents told us that their children had been onto SoundCloud and Youtube to continue listening and dancing to some of their favorite camp songs.


Camper Care

During the summer you are entrusting us with your single most beloved treasure – your children – confident that we are providing your child with a safe, enjoyable experience.  This is an incredible responsibility which we daily appreciate and continually strive to earn. While we pride ourselves on having the most mature staff in the Jewish camping industry, we know that we cannot rest on our laurels.  To ensure and improve camper care for our families, including communicating well, we plan to make a number of changes going forward that will address specific areas where we know we could have done better.  Two main areas of change include:

  • Medical Facility and Medication Distribution:

    • While complying with codes and regulations, our health center is pushed to its limits. We are now designing a new facility and raising funds to build a Wellness Center that should be open for the 2018 season. (Let me know if you would like to contribute to this important project.) In the interim, we plan to expand our medical space into the adjacent staff building known as “Don’s House”, giving us more room for sick campers to heal and another working bathroom.

    • We are re-examining our medication dispensing procedures, including assigning dedicated medical staff to pulling, logging, and distributing the medication rather than making this one of the many daily tasks for the camp nurse.  We will continue to work with CampMeds or another pharmacy that individually packs pills for appropriate dispensing.

  • Parent/Camper Communication

    • Our goal this summer was to communicate personally with every parent of a new camper in the younger edot (age group) within the first few days of camp.  While we did call most parents, we know that we missed some and for this we are truly sorry.  We are also working on systems to ensure that parents hear information about their children in a more timely fashion and have a chance to collaborate more closely with us when their child is struggling.  To follow up after the session ends, we are working on ensuring better feedback letters from our counselors describing aspects of the camp program and including a list of questions to help parents engender more of a conversation with their camper concerning their experiences.

    • We will work to improve our mail system.  While we will remain a few miles from the closest mailbox (where our USPS & UPS carriers drop all mail and packages), we know that campers deserve to get their packages and letters in a more timely fashion once they arrive at the ranch. For next summer we plan to hire a staff member who will oversee all parts of the mail operation, including sorting and delivering mail and printing emails.  We also expect that this person will check outgoing mail to ensure it is properly addressed and stamped so that it reaches its destination sooner.

Teaching More Outdoor & Naturalist Skills

We have a beautiful remote ranch and all our campers spend some time sleeping in tents and under the stars. With that said, we need to work more intentionally at teaching outdoor and wilderness skills, especially to our younger campers.  We heard from many parents who were surprised that their child did not learn how to put up a tent or use knives.  While we cannot teach everything one needs to know to survive in the wilderness in two – or even four – weeks, we are spending time this year working on a five-summer curriculum whereby each age group will have specific outdoor skills in which they will gain proficiency.  We are basing our curriculum on the merit badge system used in the Boy Scouts of America, and will include items like setting up shelter, using knives, creating fires safely, navigation techniques, and knot tying.  While elements of each will also be taught in the different chugim (activities), we also plan to add a regular chug called camping skills where campers can practice these skills at base camp in a more relaxed atmosphere than they could when they are out on masa, where too often time is of the essence.  We also hope to build upon some of the more naturalist activities often taught in the farm program and teach them in other areas of camp as well.  This includes a greater appreciation for plant diversity and learning more about the natural history of the land around us.

 Interpersonal Connections

Jewish summer camp works as an educational medium in large part because campers develop close, personal connections with their counselors and friends. While improving this area was a goal going into the summer, and we did better in 2016 than ever before, we have yet to fully realize our vision.

Moving forward, we will continue to improve our staff training to ensure that social connections are being made within the ohelim (tents) and require counselors to complete regular socio-grams (an activity to aid them in identifying and encouraging healthy group dynamics).  We will also encourage more activities that foster positive early connections and adapt our scheduling to include more bunk-specific bonding activities.  Our goal is for each ohel, when they are in base camp, to have a minimum of two scheduled peulot ohel each week where the counselors will have a chance to oversee some sort of intentional bonding program or discussion to help draw campers together.

We also intend to include more scheduled times for counselors to be with their campers in less formal environments, outside of the dining hall.  We know that counselors can have incredible impact and influence on their campers, and want to help foster these positive relationships.

Finally, while our two-week programming will continue to be available to our edot through their Bogrim summer, our older two-week campers will no longer be able to select their activities at the base-camp.  Instead, they will travel by “mishpachot” (coed families) to each activity and be able to experience most of the fourteen base camp opportunities we offer each two-week session.  We have made this change to give our short-term campers more chances to bond within a smaller group and also to give our four week campers the ability to experience a few activities in greater depth along with a similar group of friends for their entire time at base-camp.

With the exception of our first-time Ilanot and Metaylim campers, we will continue to encourage families to consider the four-week options over two-week sessions.  No matter how incredible we make our two-week program, it simply cannot live up to the magic experienced over four weeks.

We feel incredibly privileged that so many families have entrusted us to care for their children each summer.  We know the awesome responsibility that this entails and are aware that a child’s experience at camp can influence decisions throughout life.  We constantly seek to improve our camp and to fully realize the values that guide us throughout our summer.  We also know that there will be times when we fall short of expectations, and cannot thank our parents, chalutzim, and tzevet enough for continuing to push us make our camp better and stronger!

Thank you and Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies team!

P.S If you have not yet seen our new recruitment video, check it out below.

Dear Families of Chalutzim (campers) in the Tikvah program,

moshe-pic-e1435590866176-144x150I would like to introduce myself- my name is Moshe Samuels, also known as Mushon, and I am the new interim Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in the Rockies. I 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.

I am honored to lead this superb program, which offers more opportunities for inclusion, growth and challenge by choice for your children than any other Tikvah program nationwide. That said, while the foundation of the program is solid, there is always room for improvement. Based on my experience and observations over the past couple of summers.

I would like to inform you of three key changes to the Tikvah program we intend to implement this year:

  1. Masa: Masa’ot (excursions) are the highlight of our camp and what sets it apart than any other Jewish camp in North America. They serve as an opportunity for our Chalutzim to leave their comfort zone and challenge themselves. This year we intent to run a 3 day Masa to a nearby State Park that will include spectacular day hikes, outdoor camping, swimming and participating in a service project along with the park rangers. Our campsite will include a bathhouse with toilets and running showers.  We will also have a camp van along with us just in case we need to make any runs for camp.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. Chugim (specialty tracks): Our daily routine at camp is divided into 4 Prakim (periods) a day in which our Chalutzim enjoy all of the great outdoor activities our camp has to offer. This summer we will be shortening the length of the Prakim to an hour each (instead of 70 min’) in order to allow a bit more rest time and a smoother transition time between activities. Our Edah will be offered all of the “trademark” chugim we offer- biking, wall climbing, farming, outdoor cooking, archery, and the Tikvah all-time favorite- mining. The chalutzim will be accompanied to
    each of these by one of our trained Madrichim (counselors), who will remain with them throughout the Perek. In addition, we will have a Madrich covering the Tikvah sensory tent at all times, allowing any camper who might feel they need a break to leave their activity and head over to a quiet, familiar and supervised area.
  1. Inclusion: One of the hallmarks of our camp is the inclusiveness of or Kehillah (community). We are hoping to take the inclusion of our campers in Tikvah to another level this summer. We are going to implement a buddy system, in which Chalutzim from our oldest Edah, Bogrim, will be voluntarily paired up with our campers in Tikvah. In rotation, these buddies will sit at our Edah during meals and attend the Chugim that Tikvah attends. They will also be spending time with the Edah during the daily rest hour and during free time on Shabbat, which tend to be less structured and often challenging for our Chalutzim. We are also intend to have a few Peulot Erev (evening activities) with the entire Edat Bogrim during the session.

Over the next few weeks I will reach out to each of you individually by phone, introduce myself in person, and be available to answer any question you may have. In the meantime please feel free to contact me, I would love your feedback regarding all of the above.

Last but not least- we still have room for a few more Chalutzim in our program, especially in our female camper bunk. If any of you know any potential camper that is suitable for our program please reach out to them and tell them about our camp! Please inform me as well and I will follow up on them ASAP.

Looking forward for a wonderful summer at ROA!

Best regards,

Moshe (Mushon) Samuels

Reflections on the Ramah Service Corps Fellows Conference:

Who says summer camp is only in the summer?

Ari Polsky

A few weeks ago, I packed a bag, ready to escape the cold, and hopped on a flight to California. I attended the Ramah Winter Training Institute at Camp Ramah in California, as a part of the Ramah Service Corps Fellows. At this conference I was blessed to be a part of a cohort of my peers from all the Ramah camps. Aside from the blessing of being back in the camp setting in the middle of winter (not to mention visiting my childhood camp), it was great to really see camp magic happening all around me.

Shacharit at Temple Beth Am with Josh Warshawsky

Shacharit with the Josh Warshawsky and the Pressman Academy Middle School, where I grew up.

The conference featured six different tracks, each with their own sessions and activities. In each track the cohorts gathered to sharpen their skills, and gear up for the summer. The Ramah Service Corps track was a little different, in that our focus was on bringing the summer into our year-round positions.

As a member of the RSC, we each work in synagogues, schools, and youth groups, to bring the magic of camp to the rest of the year. We use our skills as Rashei Edah, Madrichim, and Moomchim, and infuse synagogue, school, and youth group life with camp-style programs and Jewish learning.

A true highlight- on the second day of the conference, we woke up bright and early, and made our way to Pressman Academy at Temple Beth Am to see one of our fellow RSC Fellows in action. Josh Warshawsky led a spirited musical shacharit service for the middle schoolers, in which we got to take part. I and another fellow, Alan, were treated to catching up with many of our former campers briefly after shacharit. Afterward we heard a bit about Josh’s many hats within the synagogue and school, and what he has been doing to bring camp to school life.

Ramah Service Corps Fellows Group Shot

Ramah Service Corps Fellows 2014-2015 at the Zimmer Museum.

Our next site visit was at the Zimmer Children’s Museum at the Jewish Federation, meeting with Esther Netter. While taking us on a tour of the museum, Esther told us, “A day at a good museum is a lot like a good camp program.” We heard all about the thought, intention, and planning that went into the various parts of the museum, and making it accessible to a diverse population. Seeing all the kids and activities going on at this museum, it felt less like a “museum” and more like a collection of playgrounds and role playing sets. I guess that’s what Esther meant by museums being like camp. She gave us another piece of advice that stuck with the group, “Share your failures. Talk about them. It’s what you will learn the most from, more than your successes.”

Later, Alisha Pedowitz, from BJE-Los Angeles, joined us to talk about Service Learning, and using active service projects and debriefing sessions as experiential service learning. To model this, we took part in helping the Zimmer Museum prepare materials for a future workshop, and cleaning some of the toys. We cut out pictures and shapes, and cleaned the toys, and had a great time together.

The final part of the day involved an interactive cell phone and picture scavenger hunt throughout parts of Hollywood. We had a great time roaming the city and coming up with cool ideas for creating our own monitored scavenger hunts.

Zimmer Museum BJE Los Angeles Service Learning

Doing service learning with the Zimmer Museum and Alisha Pedowitz.

The conference itself really was an exercise in modeling activities that we could all use in our camp, synagogue, school, and youth group lives. We had a great time sharing our best practices. Of course, we also shared our failures and challenges, and crowd sourced ways to improve them. By bringing all of us together at this conference, we each strengthened our network of colleagues, of friends, and fellow camp people. Thank you to Amy Skopp Cooper, Dr. Zachary Lasker, Esther Netter, Alisha Pedowitz, Josh Warshawsky, Dan Messinger, and Rabbi Joel Alter for all facilitating, teaching, and presenting to the cohort.