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Thank you for joining us for our Hanukkah Highlights series – an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! 

Yaakov Dermer Posing
Name: 
Yaakov Dermer

Job at Camp: Rosh Chuggim (Head of Activities)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 1

Favorite Camp Activity: Singing around the medurah (campfire)

Occupation: Rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and Student Rabbi at Temple Beth Tzedek in Amherst, NY

 

Meal time at Ramah in the Rockies was not for the faint of heart. Most afternoons, as lunch began to wind down and hundreds of plates were shuffled and stacked, the dining tent where we gathered as a community three times each day would erupt into a chorus of deafening cheers. As I had come to expect from my experience working at other Ramah camps, campers proved their creativity and pride by the decibel levels they could reach. Out in the Rockies, however, I was surprised to discover our campers’ cheers were often much more than an excuse to bang on the table and clang their silverware.

One such cheer truly captured the spirit of our community this summer. Picture this: hundreds of campers have just finished eating a meal that largely consisted of farm-fresh produce, most garbage has been composted rather than thrown away, and untouched leftovers have been diligently returned to the kitchen. Slowly, but with increasing strength, we begin to hear a familiar cadence echoing through the mountains: “Ain bizbuz b’machane Ramah! Ain bizbuz b’machane Ramah!” (There is no waste at Camp Ramah!)

What this cheer lacked in rhythmic catchiness, it made up for in moral conviction. Chalutzim (campers) were not reveling in their success on the basketball court or insisting their edah (age group) was the best. Rather, with this cheer, they were celebrating a far nobler accomplishment: their ability to finish the meal with as little wasted food as possible. As more campers learned this cheer and its meaning, the intentionality of our meals deepened. Even our youngest campers began to develop an awareness that this cheer was not just a cheer, but a protest against a world which, despite rampant hunger, wastes close to 1.4 billion tons of food each year.

Looking back, it seems obvious that a cheer about food waste would be among the most popular at Ramah in the Rockies this summer. The staff at camp worked tirelessly to create a culture of awareness around environmental sustainability which permeated every aspect of camp. We watched as a greenhouse was built from the ground up, and ate the first lettuce it produced. We learned with a dedicated farm staff about everything from the Torah of bread to the role of goats in ancient Israel. We sang Jewish songs by moonlight and davened close to the earth, our prayers reaching toward the mountain tops. Ain bizbuz b’machane ramah. Nothing is wasted; all of God’s creation has a purpose, and is deserving of our utmost care and respect.

In my work as Rosh Chuggim, head of base camp activities, I was concerned with another form of wastefulness – wasted time. A large part of my role was to ensure that the daily activities happening around camp were running smoothly and according to a tight schedule. I worked primarily behind the scenes, coordinating with activity supervisors, supporting staff, and managing an unending array of logistical minutia. From mountain biking to outdoor cooking, mural making, and mining, the campers had a non-stop program of wilderness challenges, and I felt responsible for helping them to get the most out of each and every day. While I could have gotten lost in the details, I remained motivated by the fact that each moment at camp is precious, an opportunity to influence the next generation of Jewish leaders, and not to be wasted.

As I reflect on the summer from my NYC apartment, I’m called to bring the energy of camp from the mountains to the city and into my final year of rabbinical school. Our campers’ unlikely favorite cheer is still ringing in my ears. Ain Bizbuz, there is no place for waste, no time for apathy or indifference. As a soon-to-be rabbi, I’m grateful to take this lesson to heart. I move toward the rabbinate remembering that each moment is an opportunity to bring honor and sanctity into the world. Each person I meet, each piece of food I enjoy, is a gift from God, to be appreciated and respected rather than carelessly discarded. Following the campers of Ramah in the Rockies, may we all learn to cheer with pride, ain bizbuz. May we create a world in which little is wasted, and much is gained.

 

 

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. 

 Yuval Sharabi riding a horse


Name: 
Yuval Sharabi

Job at Camp: Tzevet Susim (Horse Staff)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 4

Favorite Camp Activity: Horseback Riding, of course!

Occupation: Therapeutic Horseback Riding Guide

 

Many of my friends in Israel ask me why I keep coming back to Ramah in the Rockies each summer. They say, “Yuval, you’re 30 years old. What are you still looking for out in Colorado?”

My answer is always the same. I tell them, “If you’ve never been to camp, you cannot understand the powerful experience of being in a place free from judgement, a place where everyone is equal. I come back to Colorado every summer because at Ramah in the Rockies, I can be my true self and not have to hide behind any mask.”

I think that in today’s world – a world full of technology so advanced that it is possible to do almost anything by pressing a button – sometimes we forgot what it means to be human. We forget what it feels like to interact with someone without having a cell phone get in the way. We forget the excitement of getting to know someone new and discovering that you have something in common with them. I think that for both chalutzim (campers) and for tzevet (staff), the experience of disconnecting from technology to spend a few weeks together in the mountains is so important. We all need to remember how to connect meaningfully, face to face. There is no better place to do this than at camp.

Especially on Friday evenings, when our entire community comes together to welcome Shabbat, that is when the real magic happens. Israeli and American, we all join together, singing and dancing as one kehillah kedoshah, one holy community.

When my friends in Israel ask me why I keep coming back, I ask them to show me another place who I can impact the lives of hundreds of chalutzim throughout the course of the summer; a place where I can help them acquire the tools they need to grow and learn, all while growing and learning myself.

When I was asked to reflect on my favorite memories from last summer, two occasions came to mind. The first is slightly mixed with sorrow, but is still a precious memory to me. The night the fire broke out and everyone was evacuated to a field far away from the flames, I sat on the sidelines for a moment and watched the amazing scene that was happening. I saw the entire team of counselors put their campers’ needs above their own, looking after their chalutzim by them by wrapping them in blankets so they would not be cold and singing songs with them so they would not be afraid. In that moment, I felt so at home that I forgot what a scary situation we were in. I saw in this place what we would call in Israel “Israeli Fraternity.” On that night, our community became a family.

The second memory that came to mind was Yom Kehillah, a day where the campers could connect with Israel. Myself and the rest of the Israeli delegation worked night after night to prepare for this day, because it is so important to all of us that our chalutzim feel close to Israel in their hearts, no matter how far away it is. To see the campers laughing, singing Israeli songs, and participating in conversations about Israel with their peers and their counselors was amazing.

Camp is a place where everyone can be themselves, celebrate Shabbat together, comfort each other when times are hard, and form a meaningful connection with Israel. For these reasons and so many others, I will continue to return every summer to my favorite place in the world, Ramah in the Rockies!

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. 


Name: 
Eliana Willis

Job at Camp: Bogrim Rosh Edah (Unit Head)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Care of Magical Creatures (Animal Care)

Occupation: Jewish Engagement Coordinator at BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy

 

 

What do recent Bogrim campers and residents of the UC Santa Cruz Trailer Park have in common? A knack for slackjaw dance-off!

What is slackjaw dance-off, you might wonder? Try letting your mouth hang open with your jaw completely slack. If you can hold the expression while watching a friend do the same without bursting into laughter, I’m impressed. If you can hold it longer than them while you’re both dancing, you’ve just won slackjaw dance-off.

Before I came to Ramah in the Rockies, I was a student at UC Santa Cruz, living in a community known as the UC Santa Cruz Trailer Park. This amazing place is unlike any other trailer park and student housing option I’ve ever seen. We lived in artfully decorated trailers, shared meals, and played music together. The highlight of the year was always the Olympics, where we dressed up in our wackiest outfits and competed in a series of ridiculous games. It was a celebration of our community and the freedom to be silly!

This year was my third summer at Ramah in the Rockies, and my first as a Rosh Edah (unit head). I was a couple years removed from college and missing the shenanigans of the trailer park days. As the Bogrim tzevet (staff) and I brainstormed program ideas, we knew we needed to plan an event that combined our favorite camp games and activities, such as “the Oreo challenge” and dancing to popular Israeli music, into one evening of silliness, laughter, and fun. Throw in some trailer park classics like the aforementioned slackjaw dance-off and finger jousting, and we managed to create an amazing new tradition… the Bogrim Balagan Olympics!

We ran the program as a Peulat Erev (evening program) once each session. During second session it happened to rain on the night we planned to hold the Olympics, so we ended up crowding all of Bogrim – the largest edah (age group) at camp – into a small, indoor program space. It was the last night of camp for our the two-week chalutzim (campers), so the energy in the room was full of excitement before the festivities even began.

Everyone showed up in their wackiest attire: tie-dye, onesies, and even an evening gown! Campers rotated through stations where they participated in hilarious slack-jaw dance-offs, challenged each other to competitive games of finger jousting, and attempted to disentangle themselves from a human knot, among other fun activities.

Counselors taught and refereed games, played high-energy Iraeli pop music, took pictures, and brought a ton of ruach (spirit) to the event. Though it was a cool night, we soon opened the big garage doors for some fresh air. The pine trees surrounding us sparkled with raindrops and our view of the huge, jagged rock face in the distance was stunning. Soon people were dancing and running around in the rain! It wasn’t long until the sky began to clear, and we spotted a rainbow emerging from the clouds above us. I recited a bracha on the rainbow, which was met with a resounding “Amen” by all.

Now that the rain had passed, we gathered in a circle outside and distributed prizes (in the form of tiny plastic reptiles) for winning games and for the most creative costumes. We sang and chanted all of our edah cheers (we had at least eight), affirming our self-proclaimed status as the best edah at Machane Ramah!

Throughout the summer, myself and my fellow Rashei Edah were challenged to bring our unique identities and our whole selves to our job. For me that meant a lot of things, from making up songs for the campers before bed, to teaching some of my most beloved Jewish texts, to sharing my favorite college tradition – the Olympics – with my chalutzim.

As an educator, I am continuously inspired by the communities I’ve been a part of, and strive to bring the best of what I learn from each of these experiences to my own work. Slackjaw dance-off may not seem like education, but we all experienced something powerful that night –  the vulnerability of looking ridiculous, a sense of unity and pride in our community, and just plain, pure simcha (joy).

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. 

Name: Ryan “Lunch Pail” Fleischer

Job at Camp: Ilanot Madrich

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 6

Favorite Camp Activity: Mountain Biking

Occupation: Student at University of Colorado Boulder studying Neuroscience and Human Geography

I could feel the excitement in the air from the moment my Ilanot chalutzim (campers) – the youngest at Ramah in the Rockies – woke up that morning. They were bouncing off the walls of our ohel (tent), unable to talk or think about anything other than the amazing Peulat Erev (evening program) we had planned for that night.

Tonight was the Annual Ilanot Rocktion.

For those of you wondering what a “Rocktion” is, it’s simply a “Rock Auction.” But as mundane as that may sound, I can assure you that the Rocktion is a highlight of the summer for both chalutzim and tzevet (staff).

Every summer we start preparing for the Rocktion in advance by telling our campers to save any beautiful or interesting rocks they unearth during their mining chuggim (activity period). They discover chunks of smokey and rose quartz, iridescent crystals, and even the occasional piece of topaz. Ilanot chalutzim absolutely love collecting these beautiful stones, and stockpile their favorites in preparation for the Rocktion each session. Over the last week and a half their collections had started to take over our ohel!

We always hold the Rocktion in the middle of masa (backcountry excursion) week, when all of the older campers are away from base camp having amazing adventures. We invite all the staff who are not off leading masa’ot to come and participate, and the Ilanot chalutzim love to be the center of attention for the night!

We began the Rocktion that night by giving the campers a few minutes to set up their “stores.” They made signs advertising their great rocks and competitive prices, and then arranged their rock collections on the table before them, organizing their stones by size, color, or type. Finally, it was time for the Rocktion to begin!

Staff from every corner of camp showed up to support Ilanot! They were handed a small cup full of dried beans, which served as our currency for the evening. For the next half hour, our dining hall was transformed into a noisy, bustling marketplace. Counselors and campers bargained with each other, haggling over the best deals and most beautiful rocks. And when to sale was over, the auction began!

Campers counted the beans they earned by selling their rocks and then had the opportunity to spend these beans on a number of amazing prizes! Prizes that were available for bidding ranged from a personalized meal courtesy of our kitchen tzevet to an ice cream party on Rabbi Eliav’s front porch! Needless to say, everyone headed back to their ohel that night with a huge smile plastered on their face.

The Rocktion is always my favorite memory of the summer because it is a time for both chalutzim and tzevet to act silly and have fun together! Everyone who participates has a blast, and year after year I look forward to my favorite night of the summer… the Rocktion!

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. 

Elana
Name: 
Elana Schrager

Job at Camp: Bogrim Yoetzet (Camper Care Staff)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Backpacking – anywhere, anytime!

Occupation: Communications and Research Intern at End Citizens United PAC, a grassroots funded group dedicated to fighting for campaign finance reform

 

I drove to camp last summer. Vermont to Maryland to Colorado in five days. Campus to camp, student to graduate before Shabbat had time to roll around again.

College, I thought as I drove—college is a game played for and by yourself. Camp, though—camp is a place of utter self-abnegation. Camp is where you go—where I went—to give in ways that you can’t during the school year. But I hadn’t been at camp for any length of time in over a year, and I felt young and unprepared and wasn’t sure if I remembered, anymore, how to give in the ways camp required of me.

As I drove west I thought – am I old enough to do this? This summer, rather than returning as a madricha (counselor), I would be a yoetzet, a member of the camper care team – a small group of individuals who serve as parent liaisons, provide extra support for counselors, and connect one-on-one with campers who are struggling. Throughout my summers on staff I had looked up to the camper care team – I had trusted them, respected them, and valued their advice. Now I was about to be one of them.

After days of driving I finally arrived at Ramah in the Rockies, where I quickly discovered that I possess tools I didn’t know I had – tools I’ve gathered from books and friends and choices (good and bad) and personal history. They are the tools I use to sort and organize the goings on of the world and my reactions to them. My chalutzim (campers) I learned, are still acquiring those tools. They are utterly fragile and utterly sound, with bodies and minds that break and mend all at once in the split second that you look away. They are testing, always testing … you, and themselves, and their friends, and their parents. They are bundles of raw sincerity, a sincerity made even more obvious by their half-hearted cynicism.

And I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the worlds of these amazing kids. I got to talk with them and listen to them and work with them as they shattered and mended and shattered again over the course of minutes, hours, days. And, for the first time in my life, I got to hear from their parents—to hear from Real Adults, grownups whose very voices made my knees go trembly when I got on the phone. I realized that I am not yet a Real Adult and no longer a kid. As a member of the camper care team, I learned that the role I play as a kind of intergenerational translator is an essential one – one that I am uniquely qualified for in my confusing, post-collegiate liminality.

It is December now, and dark outside. I am not a kid, or an adult, or a student. I, like my teenage campers this summer, am at home, working and testing and probing to figure out what identity, what thing will define me as my life moves forward. And sometimes little gleams of memory float across my eyelids—of a camper this summer, turning his face up to me and asking in total sincerity: “But… how do I know that that’s really who I am?”

I don’t have an answer, and I didn’t have one this summer. And I can now accept that not having an answer is okay. In the end, our campers take care of each other, and our incredible counselors take care of them. And we in the camper care office, no matter our age, exist as support—as liaisons, as backup…safety nets to catch those who stumble, waiting hands ready to help them step back into everyday life at camp.

And that’s the way it should be.

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.

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. First up, Danit Cohen!

Name: Danit Cohen

Job at Camp: JOLI Madricha (Counselor)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Mountain Biking in Buffalo Creek

Occupation: Wilderness Field Guide at BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy & Ski Instructor in Breckenridge, CO


Monday, August 7, 2:24 a.m.

Talya: “Danit? Wake up, I think something’s going on outside.”

Danit: “What? It’s probably nothing, you can go back to sleep.”

It was just a few minutes later that I awoke once more to a voice outside of our ohel (tent) shouting, “Everyone has to wake up, make sure everyone is awake and out of the ohelim. There’s a fire. Get everyone up right now!

Strange as it may seem, I wasn’t surprised that the first responders telling me where to go and what to do were my own chalutzim (campers). After all, it was Week 4 of the JOLI Program; I had already witnessed tremendous growth and leadership from these amazing campers.

Perhaps my favorite part of being a JOLI madricha (counselor) is the feeling that our edah (unit) is not simply a few staff members and 20 chalutzim – it is a cohesive team of Jewish Outdoor Leaders. There comes a point in the summer when the staff begin to step back and let the JOLI chalutzim lead the way with their own internal compasses. Don’t get me wrong – they don’t just arrive at camp on Day 1 with this initiative. We help them acquire the tools necessary with an intensive wilderness medicine course, programs based on healthy self expression and communication skills, and a curriculum of backcountry skill-building that includes making a fire, building a shelter, and throwing a proper bear bag. Once these basic skills are acquired, we step back and watch as our JOLI chalutzim utilize them in a real-world context, growing into leaders in our camp community. Like we tell them from the start of the summer: “This program will be what you make of it.”

In many ways, the fire that burned down the lodge this summer revealed the strength and determination of our entire community, from the leadership who coordinated our relocation to JCC Ranch camp to the remarkable volunteers who worked tireless to ensure that our campers remained safe and comfortable throughout the transition process. Still, the events of that week definitely took their toll on the staff. Counselors were running on fumes; desperately tired but determined to remain present and optimistic for their campers. It was at this moment that the JOLI chalutzim stepped up to the plate, showcasing the leadership qualities that we had been developing all session.

I’ll never forget their faces when we finally got an opportunity to sit down together at the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver after the evacuation. We were prepared to support them, hear their concerns, and give them some time to just be campers and hang out together. But these remarkable teenagers had something else in mind: they immediately started suggesting ways they could help the rest of camp. “Can we go to JCC Ranch Camp before everyone else to help set it up?” asked one JOLI chalutz. “We can make signs, give the tours, and be a warm welcome to this new place where they’ll be for the week.” And that is exactly what we did. JOLI made anxious campers feel at ease in a new environment and allowed exhausted tzevet to take a well-deserved break, knowing their chalutzim were in good hands.

I often hear people ask, “what do you folks really do in JOLI?” I always answer with this: we build leaders. Those who come through the JOLI program at Ramah in the Rockies leave with the skills, the confidence, and the initiative necessary to be great leaders in their academic, extracurricular, and professional lives. Furthermore, I am certain that when these chalutzim return to camp as staff members in just a few short years, they will be exceptionally prepared to nurture the next generation of Jewish leaders.

To learn more about our JOLI Program, click here or email info@ramoutdoors.org

 

Every morning at camp when our kehillah (community) awakens, we begin our day by reciting Modeh Ani, the morning prayer that starts with the words “I give thanks.” Our tradition teaches us that we should start each day by humbling ourselves and expressing gratitude for the food that we eat, the earth we walk upon, and the people around us. By engaging in this daily practice, we remind ourselves to pause and actively experience gratitude. This Thanksgiving, our team at Ramah in the Rockies wanted to reflect upon our many blessings and to say “Thank You” to the community that has supported us steadfastly through every obstacle and challenge.


Kehillah Kedoshah
(Holy Community)
Campers on Shabbat
Every summer, we are once again reminded how lucky we are to have such an incredible, caring community at camp. Our chalutzim (campers), tzevet (staff), and guest educators come from across the country and around the world to contribute their ruach (spirit). The result is a vibrant and diverse Jewish community unlike any other; a supportive and loving kehillah that encourages everyone to embrace who they are and grow into the person they want to become. And when we gather together to welcome Shabbat, the power of this community becomes almost tangible; an electricity that draws people back to our ranch summer after summer.


Natural EnvironmentCamper in Nature

Our location in the heart of the Rocky Mountains is one of our favorite things about camp. We are so grateful to be located in the middle of Pike National Forest, where our chalutzim have the opportunity to witness the splendor of the natural world every single day. On their masa’ot (backcountry excursions), chalutzim experience Colorado’s beauty as they bike scenic trails, raft through rapids, climb natural rock faces, and even summit mountains. By the end of their time at camp, our chalutzim gain an appreciation for all living things, and better understand their place in the world.


Ongoing Support Camper and Counselor

The impactful, high-quality programming that is the signature of Ramah in the Rockies would not be possible without the support of our extended community. Thanks to over 700 unique donations since our fire, we are able to raze the burned structures and build temporary facilities to welcome our campers and staff in 2018. Additionally, an anonymous donor has given us $1,000,000 to kick start our rebuilding campaign for our permanent, multi-purpose lodge, which will serve our community for 2019 and beyond! We are grateful not only for the physical improvements these donations will allow us to make, but for the generosity of spirit and commitment to the Jewish camping experience they demonstrate. Here at Ramah in the Rockies, we LOVE what we do. Thanks to you, we will continue the important work of nurturing the character development of Jewish youth for countless summers to come.

Over the past six weeks, our year-round team has reached out to hundreds of our camp families through emails, phones calls, and our annual feedback survey. Thank you to everyone who responded to our requests for honest feedback! Our goal is to provide our chalutzim (campers) with an amazing summer experience year after year. We know that in order to achieve this goal we must work to make each summer better than the one before, and continue to adapt our camp program to meet the needs of our community. Thanks to your feedback, we have a clear understanding of what aspects of our program have been successful and where there is room for improvement.

TWO THUMBS UP

Communications
This past summer, our team worked diligently to communicate clearly, concisely, and consistently with our parents through email, phone calls, and regular social media updates. We aimed to find a balance between keeping families informed and allowing our campers to experience the joy of living unplugged in the remote Rocky Mountains. Our communication systems were put to the ultimate test when the Lodge building fire broke out on August 7th, and we managed to keep our entire community updated in real time. We are committed to maintaining this spirit of transparency as we prepare to open in 2018 and determine short-term and long-term solutions for rebuilding our dining facility.

Connections
This year, we were delighted to hear that so many of our chalutzim made meaningful and lasting connections during their weeks at camp, both with their peers and with their madrichim (counselors)! In 2017 we made a number of changes to the role of our madrichim, including adding a third counselor to each tent and carving out more unstructured time for them to bond with their campers. We also added extra ohel (tent) and edah-wide bonding time. The difference these changes made was especially evident in our older chalutzim who spent a full month at camp. The deep bonds of friendship and mentorship these campers formed was incredible to witness! We will continue to encourage all children who are ready to be away from home for four weeks to join us for a month-long session in order to foster these connections across our entire community!

Grit & Resilience
This summer, our campers faced a number of challenges that encouraged them to stretch their limits, take calculated risks, and ultimately accomplish more than they ever thought possible! Part of this process of personal growth, however, is failure and perseverance. When the going got tough, our chalutzim could have chosen to focus on the frustration of a scraped knee or a rainy hike. However when they arrived home, the stories they told were not about defeat, but about the joy of overcoming obstacles. Ramah in the Rockies has created a culture where grit and determination are celebrated. This positive ethos allowed those of us who experienced the fire to remain hopeful and undaunted in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge. As one parent said when his children arrived home at the end of the summer, “they forgot the challenges and focused on the positive… it is because of the experiences they have had at Ramah Rockies that they are prepared for the challenges life will throw at them… it is amazing to see the transformation that occurs.”

MIXED REVIEWS
(WHERE WE NEED MORE EMPHASIS)

Food
Our food program fell short this year, especially during the first session of the summer. While we had an incredible kitchen staff, too often the meals were geared towards the palates of adults, and not the taste buds of our chalutzim. Towards the end of our first session, we reworked our menu considerably. From adding a “breakfast for dinner” option to including a pizza dinner each week, the changes we implemented were made with your feedback in mind. As we design and build our temporary kitchen for next summer, we will continue to plan menus that balance the comfort of a main dish such as pizza with the innovation and creativity of side dishes like kale or seitan. This way, we will be able to ensure that everyone is nourished while giving our campers the opportunity to try new things.

We also learned that many chalutzim reported being hungry between meals and before breakfast. To remedy this, we intend to do the following in 2018:

  1. We will continue to provide snacks in the morning before breakfast at a central location.
  2. We will continue to improve the protein options at meals, including more eggs, fish, and legumes. We will also continue our Sunday night chicken cookouts, which were a huge hit this year!
  3. We will ensure that chalutzim never have to go out of their way to get wholesome, nutritious snacks throughout the day by placing bear-proof coolers of snacks around the property and by offering snacks at the beginning of each program period.

Outdoor & Environmental Education
At our core, we are an outdoor adventure camp that seeks to educate and inspire the next generation of Jewish outdoor and environmental leaders. However, too many of our chalutzim are graduating our program with a love of the outdoors, but lacking in specific camping skills necessary to succeed in the backcountry. While we made vast improvements to our backcountry curriculum this past summer, we will redouble our efforts in 2018.  We will devote the day before each masa(backcountry excursion) to outdoor training, during which our chalutzim and trip leaders will complete various age-appropriate stations such as fire building, stove maintenance, rope skills, first aid, and outdoor cooking. We also hope to expand the environmental education found in our farm program throughout our entire machane (camp), reemphasizing the ways in which our actions affect the natural world around us.

Sunday Programs
Throughout the Summer of 2017, we listened to your feedback and made major changes to our Sunday Yomai Meyuchad (special day), programing. We learned that our Yomai Meyuchad first session, while engaging for our younger chalutzim, left some of our older campers feeling bored and restless. Second session, we piloted a new program in which each Sunday had a theme that our edot explored through age-appropriate activities. The feedback we received confirmed for us that this change was a step in the right direction.

Every summer, our campers love Yom Sport (Color War). They eagerly anticipate traditions such as the all-camp relay race, and aspire to be a team captain one day. Our vision is that in future summers our campers will look forward to all of our Yomai Meyuchad the way they look forward to Yom Sport. We will also continue to allow our oldest chalutzim to take on additional leadership roles during these special days, with the understanding that they will be more invested in programming they helped to create and facilitate. These 16/17 year olds are the future leaders of Ramah in the Rockies, and Sunday programs allow them to practice some of their leadership training in a real-world context.

IN CONCLUSION

We are so excited for another magical summer in the mountains, and have been preparing to implement all of the positive changes and improvements outlined above. We have also been working diligently with architects and contractors to ready our site for next summer! Our early bird enrollment is still open, and any child who registers before the end of October will receive a free piece of embroidered Ramah in the Rockies outerwear. Register Today!

We are honored that you choose to send your children and spend your summers as part of our community at Ramah in the Rockies. As we look ahead to 2018, we know that our camp will look and feel different. Our beloved Lodge is gone; we will be eating in a new area of camp, and will be packing out for trips in a new facility. Yet, as we proved in 2017, our camp is so much more than a physical space. It is the people, the attitudes and the lessons that we experience day in and day out. We know that 2018 will bring new challenges, but we also are certain that by staying focused on what we do best – while continuously remaining open to change and improvement – next year will be the most transformative summer we have ever had at Ramah in the Rockies.

As always, please be in touch with any specific questions, comments or concerns. All of us on the year-round team are available to speak via phone, email or in person.

Sincerely,

The Ramah in the Rockies Team

 

Although our kitchen facilities were lost in the fire on August 7th, Ramah in the Rockies remains committed to providing our camp community with delicious, farm-to-table options while drawing parallels between the food we consume and Jewish context. If you are interested in making a donation to our rebuilding effort, please click here. 

Ramah in the Rockies cares deeply about its food sources and production. Here on the ranch, every meal is made with love, care, and intentionality. But what does that mean? How does our camp model this philosophy? In order to learn more about the ways we interact with food at Ramah in the Rockies, I talked to people all along the camp ‘food chain,’ and what I discovered renewed my appreciation for each and every meal we share together on the chava (ranch).

To begin, I ventured to the most obvious place for my research; the kitchen, or the mitbach, located right off the dining hall. There I had the opportunity to speak with Phreddy, a restaurant chef for 15 years who now serves as one of our head chefs at camp. As we spoke, he massaged lemon juice, salt, and olive oil into a big bowl of kale. I was struck by what a labor intensive project this salad was! Indeed, every aspect of the work done in the kitchen is treated with tremendous care and attention. “We try and put a lot of love, intention, and creativity into each meal so that everyone feels cared for,” Phreddy told me. “We want everyone to feel like there’s an abundance of options, and not a lack of choice.” Here at camp, our kitchen staff designs every meal to include at least one protein, starch, and vegetable. Their goal is to keep everyone healthy, happy, and properly nourished!

It was clear, however, that there was more to this food than just nourishment. Phreddy spoke of honoring each step in the process of preparing a meal, from planting the seeds to cooking the harvest. He explained, “Judaism is about knowledge. At every step of the process we want to know where our food is coming from, whether it’s organic, and whether it’s local.” This awareness of and appreciation for the process of food production is much of why the kitchen reuses and repurposes untouched leftovers, minimizes our waste with reusable milk and cereal containers, and composts all organic leftovers. Phreddy referenced this season of Sukkot, saying, “one week in the Sukkah infuses the whole year with thanks and appreciation for the food on our plates.”

Outdoor CookingIt turns out that the kitchen is not the only part of camp that emphasizes food appreciation. Out on masa, our backcountry excursions, food takes on a whole new role. Rather than having their meals prepared for them, chalutzim (campers) are tasked with packing up all their food in the right measures and quantities, as well as helping to prepare each of their meals. Like everything else on masa, this proves to be a team-building activity, and one that leaves campers with “a new sense of appreciation for where their food comes from,” according to Alex Hamilton, head of masa ‘pack out’ here at camp. “It brings people together,” says Hamilton, “It’s like a little mini Thanksgiving.” Having this unique opportunity to partake in the food process is not only a collaborative activity – it also gives our chalutzim a newfound investment in their dinner. Oftentimes campers will try foods they would normally avoid when they’ve cooked the meal themselves!

Camper and Counselor with chickenA similar phenomenon can be observed on our farm, where even the pickiest of eaters can be found munching on veggies they helped to grow themselves! On the farm, chalutzim have the opportunity to interact first hand with the garden, the chickens, and the goats. Each day ripened veggies must be harvested, freshly layed eggs must be collected, and goats must be milked. Our chalutzim play a vital role in these tasks, getting their hands dirty, stepping outside of their comfort zones, and interacting with their food first hand.

“It’s about interconnectedness” says Blair, the head of our farm here at camp. She spoke with me as we harvested produce for that night’s Shabbat dinner. She explained to me how the chalutzim used composted liquids to help with soil fertility, and soon began “thinking of different ways  the food that they eat both comes from this place, but also is going back into it.” By emphasizing this cycle of growth, sustenance, and compost, our kitchen and farm staff have joined forces to encourage a camp culture of gratitude and ‘ain biz-buz’ – no waste.

In the context of Sukkot, Blair, a Rabbinic student, talked about what a festival of the harvest really means to her. She stressed laborious cycle of planting, saying “you only get to have a harvest if you put in all the hard work during the season. I think that reinvigorating the sense that Judaism really cares about and takes responsibility for the whole food chain, and not just what we put into our mouths, is a valuable lesson.”

-Rachel Blau

As the season of Sukkot comes to an end, may we all consider with gratitude the journey our food took to reach our tables! 

 

 

Picture two boys running after each other – laughing and smiling as they dart through the tent circle. Picture a group of girls sitting crosslegged in their ohel (tent), shuffling a deck of playing cards. One of them calls out to a girl sitting on her bed and invites her to play with them. It may appear as though there is nothing extraordinary about these interactions, and yet these were some of the most remarkable moments of the summer.

Summer 2017 was full of countless new adventures; I’d like to tell you about one of them.

In years past, Ramah in the Rockies has offered an Amitzim edah (special needs group). However, this summer we made the decision to implement a full inclusion model for our special needs campers instead. What does a full inclusion model mean, exactly? It means that all campers, no matter their ability, are included into their age appropriate edot and participate in all the wonderful activities our machane (camp) has to offer alongside their peers.

To ensure the success of this program, the Director of Inclusion, three phenomenal Inclusion Specialists, and the rest of our Camper Care team worked together to support not only our inclusion chalutzim (campers), but also their madrichim (counselors), activity staff, and the rest of our kehillah (community).

This support came in many forms. The Inclusion Team would float throughout camp helping to support the campers and the staff as needed. They provided training sessions to both staff and campers about what it means to be inclusive. They were there to lend a helping hand or to be an ear to listen to campers and staff.

When reflecting on the summer, one of our Inclusion Specialists said, “It filled me with joy to witness how the chalutzim in our inclusion program excelled and grew during their time at camp this summer. I look forward to watching this program expand and transform as we accept new chalutzim into our inclusion program in future summers, and as we see the overall inclusivity of our camp grow to be even greater than it already is.”

Why did we decide to implement this model – a model that brings about logistical hassles and additional work? Ramah in the Rockies decided to go the way of the full inclusion model because we know that inclusion benefits everyone.

Inclusion benefits neurotypical campers because it teaches them to be accepting of all people, no matter who they are. It teaches patience, understanding, and gives them an amazing opportunity to interact with individuals who are different from themselves, broadening their perspective in the process.

Inclusion benefits campers with special needs because it gives them an opportunity to socialize with their neurotypical peers. Our special needs campers have the chance to get out of their comfort zone and practice being independent!

Inclusion benefits staff as it teaches them how to work with a wide range of individuals. They are challenged to be more creative as they plan programs, problem solve, and serve as a leader and a role model. It teaches our tzevet (staff)  to be patient and pushes them to be the best counselors they can be.

Furthermore, inclusion benefits you at home, because the lessons that chalutzim learn at camp are lessons they will carry with them for years to come.

Those boys that we asked you to picture? One of them had been a shy, quiet camper in our special needs edah in previous summers. As an Amitzim camper he had not wanted to participate in activities and had difficulty making friends. But this summer, in his age appropriate edah, you would find him eagerly participating in group activities and creating and maintaining friendships. And those girls? One of them struggles with creating friendships at home. Thanks to the inclusion model, she was able to form friendships and connections that she will continue to deepen in summers to come.

Inclusion is not easy. It takes time, effort, energy and work. However when an inclusion model is implemented and supported by a team of dedicated specialists, the results can be life changing for everyone involved.

Campers with arms around each other

Written by Abby Gavens, Director of Inclusion

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.

Over the summer, we were honored to have Rabbi Peretz Rodman and his wife, Miriam.  He wrote this to several of his Rabbinical colleagues, and we are honored at his words about our Camp! Register your child today so that they can share in the magic of camp!

How I Spent Shabbat Hazon:

Fifteen or twenty minutes off the nearest paved road, on a 360-acre 1880’s Colorado homestead next to a pristine National Forest, and almost an hour from any sustained cellphone reception, Jewish life is vibrant and exciting. Shabbat with Ramah Outdoor Adventure / Camp Ramah in the Rockies was rich and fulfilling.

Our colleague Eliav Bock gives visionary leadership to this community, which he has led since its shoestring inception 4 summers ago. Clearly focused on values, mission-driven in every detail, this is the place for kids — and young adult staff members — who want a rustic, physically challenging outdoor adventure in a supportive environment infused with a Jewish living and learning.

It is recognizably Ramah, but distinctively different. Campers spend every other week offsite on backcountry excursions even further off the grid. (We’re talking satellite phone by a counselor on the backcountry trips.) When they return for Shabbat, it is evident that they are exhilarated from the week and thrilled to be all together again.

The director, Rabbi Eliav, himself sets the tone: relaxed, low-key, ready to take on any task himself, attentive and welcoming to everyone. He has constructed a model environment for health and sustainability. And how many RA members sometimes have to ask the nearest neighbor, a few miles up the road, to borrow a bale of hay for the horses?

Ramah in the Rockies takes kids and staff from all over. It might be a wonderful opportunity for kids you know or college students you know.

This post was originally posted here.

Kaspar M. Wilder, 12, is a published poet, National Latin Exam Gold Medalist, a mythology buff, and all-around science fiction geek. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder while in early elementary school. She recently celebrated her bat mitzvah by leading services at Temple Beth El in her hometown of Portland, Maine.

For the past four summers, Kaspar has been a camper at Ramah Outdoor Adventure (ROA) in the Colorado Rockies. Kaspar has participated in ROA’s Tikvah Program for campers with disabilities, both as a participant in the Amitzim edah (division) for campers with disabilities and, most recently, as part of the camp’s inclusion program.

Ramah Outdoor Adventure has become her second home and, according to her parents, has been a big part of her everyday happiness and success. Kaspar hopes someday to become a member of ROA’s tzevet susim (“horse staff”). Below is her take on life at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

Four summers. Four summers bursting with the harmony of cycles. Every year, the drive up, and up, and up. That in itself is enough to break some spirits.

But there it is: the homecoming. The cheering, the screaming of names. If you are a returning camper, you are passed around, admired, and soon bear the mark of a hundred dirt-encrusted hugs. Newbies are taken in, enveloped in a new universe that welcomes you with every ventricle of its beating heart.

The first day is a whirlwind. Pick your chugim (electives), be assigned your ohel (tent), unpack, meet new people, write your ohel brit (tent “covenant”), and crash into an unfamiliar bed. Even the hardness of the bunk feels like down pillows after your day. A million new names have overwhelmed your mind: kfar (village), amitzim (“brave”–the name of the division for campers with disabilities), mitbachon (cooking), beezbooz (waste, usually waste of resources).

This is the pattern of life at camp. Up at 6:30. The weight of your bakbuk mayim(water bottle) feels strange? Get used to it. Time to throw yourself into prayer, song, and dance. Some days this feels beautiful, even ecstatic. Other days you are only praying for breakfast.Kaspar dancing before ShabbatThen you wake up your body, wondering when your mind will catch up. Relax. You are home, in the calming shadow and soon-to-be-warm arms of the Rockies. Then finally breakfast, but it’s over all too soon. Your electives become normal, eventually. Things settle into a rhythm of heart and mind and body and soul. You grow stronger. You make friends. You begin to understand not only the dances at shira (singing activity), but the dance of the earth. You begin to realize why we eat everything we’re given, even those awful sun-nut butter sandwiches. (Be glad. My first year they had something even worse.) Dreams are a rarity. Sleep is essential. So is water. Your stomach hurts? Drink water. You’re dizzy? Drink water. You have a twisted ankle? Drink water. Trust me, do it. It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Finally, after six days, there comes a soft undertone to this wild rhythm. It swells, overtakes you. Take a deep breath. There’s time for a shower now. The drumming stops. Finally, it is Shabbat.

This is a day that moves to a different song. Hours to yourself, to spend in the village playing cards or reading in one of the numerous hammocks that inevitably pop up. Prayer becomes less of an ordeal, even though you have to do more of it. You get to eat more, and better. It’s time to let your body rest and your soul soar.

Shabbat ends when three stars are in the sky. Havdalah begins. The drumming starts up again, filling your mind, awakening your heart. Another week. Masa week.

My first year at camp, when we were still young and over-simplified things, “masa” was defined for me as “outing.” This invoked, for me, undirtied picnic wear and parasols–even perhaps, since we were at camp, a tent, complete with a blow-up mattress for inside. Psych!

Masa

“Masa,” correctly defined, means “journey.” That means rain. That means sleeping on the ground and freezing your eyes out in your pitiful so-called sleeping bag. That means waking up at the crack of dawn to climb that mountain, by God. But it also means triumph. It means beauty. It means camaraderie and strength that will change you, inside and out. It means Ramah. High place (the literal translation of the word “ramah”).

Eventually you must return to the faraway world you once called home. Where showers are daily and machines a common sight. But you are different. You have returned from a high place. So when your friends ask, “You went to the mountains?” your response will be, “Even higher.”

This post is part of a three-part series sponsored by the Ramah Camping Movement. The National Ramah Tikvah Network of programs serves children, teens, and young adults with disabilities. All eight North American Ramah overnight camps offer programming for campers with disabilities. To learn more, click here.

This was written and sent out to all of our parents the day after camp:

Yesterday morning we said goodbye to the last of our 2014 chalutzim campers].  Our staff members spent the afternoon winterizing our tents, packing the tripping gear and cleaning camp for the long nine months until we reopen for our 2015 season. Our chalutzim have already arrived home,and many spent the day on airplanes heading to one of 27 states, Canada, Israel and Mexico from which they hail.  Last night we will gathered as a Kehillah Kedosha [holy community] for the final time this summer to celebrate our invaluable tzevet [staff] at our annual staff banquet.  These young men and woman have spent the past 9+ weeks providing the most incredible, educational and inspiring experiences possible for nearly 400 chalutzim who came to our camp this summer. 

At our slide show Monday night, I began to tear up while watching the faces of the chalutzim who have spent time with us this summer.  I saw pictures of smiling children climbing rocks, biking trails, building fires, throwing Frisbees and playing basketball.  I saw pictures of children dressed in white swaying to the music on Friday night and then gathered around the havdallah candles on Saturday evening.  I saw children perfecting old skills and acquiring new talents.  I saw the faces of hundreds of youth being positively impacted in an intense and intentional Jewish environment.

A summer is made up countless moments, and no two people at camp have the exact same experience.  Here are three vignettes from this past session that will forever stand out in my mind.

#1 The Rain: If there was one aspect of camp that we all experienced it was the rain.  This summer has been one of the wettest in decades.IMG_7216  Session IIA experienced the wettest two weeks of the summer, with almost 4 days of non-stop rain.  Amazingly, the rain did little to dampen people’s spirits.  Most Masa’ot continued as planned.  The afternoon of Yom Sport turned into a two hour “sing down” and dance party in our dining tent.  While most of the always epic apache relay was cancelled, we did manage to gather outside for the final rope burn.  The most common question heard over the staff radios was, “are we still in lightning mode?”  With the rain this summer, all of us were that much more appreciative when we had beautiful weather and blue skies.  All of us played a little harder, climbed a little higher and rode a little stronger when we had the chance to be out in the sun.  And at the end of the day, we all know that a wet summer in the West is a real blessing, as the region has suffered through too many scorching hot summers that have led to catastrophic fires and parched hillsides. 

#2 Hearing reflections from a 5th year Chalutz:  Each week at Havdallah, as we gather on our basketball court, I eagerly await the ritual of hearing one member of each edah [age group] reflect on the week that has passed.  This past Saturday night, Aaron, one of our JOLI chalutzim who has been here since our inaugural summer, read a short speech that sums up what so many of us are thinking and feeling:

 I’d like to introduce you all to a phenomenon I have noticed after 5 years [at Ramah Outdoor Adventure] called the “music distortion effect”.  You will notice it on the way home on Tuesday.  You’ll notice the sound of your headphones is surprisingly grainy.  Maybe this is just what happens when you don’t listen to your iPod for a month.  However, I think “music distortion effect” has a much deeper meaning.  When we call the world outside of camp the “real world” we are in fact mistaken.  The “real world” is just too loud for us to hear the truth about what is real.  What’s real is right here.  When we can finally hear, we figure out that the freedom and peace and happiness [we feel here]–is what’s actually real.  And when we go home, we have to try to stop just listening to the blaring siren of “real life”, begging us to believe it when it says that such bliss isn’t possible.  We have to try and sing the songs we learned here, and when we return from our ten-month masa, trust me, we’ll have so many more songs to sing.

Aaron sums up what so many of us are feeling and struggling with as we re-enter our lives away from the ranch.  How do we take the magic that exists here and apply it to our lives back home? 

#3 60 Successful Masa’ot!  One amazing aspect of our camp is the masa’ot [excursions].  This summer we sent out a record 60 masa’ot — Postcard-commentsfrom overnight horseback trips on our ranch with the Ilanot (3/4th graders) to 6 day intensive high alpine backpacking trips for our JOLI (11/12th grade) participants.   Chalutzim return from masa with a contagious energy.  Those of us who stay back at camp during masa week look forward to their return– beginning around noon on Fridays.  As each group comes back to camp there are loud shrieks of delight as friends reconnect.  Aside from the energy present when groups return, it is incredibly special to see how new bonds are created when a group must work together in the backcountry.  People who left as near strangers come back as close friends.
Perhaps most importantly, our motto of “challenge by choice” is so clearly visible on these days, as each person feels that s/he achieved his/ her own personal goals during their time away from camp.  Some might have climbed a hill faster or scaled a more difficult route or carried more weight, but at the end of the day, everyone returned to camp secure with their own personal triumph.

We spend most of the year planning for the summer, and while each day at camp feels like at least three days in the “real world”, the end of the summer still seems to creep up on us way too quickly.  And just like that, we are set to close the curtain on Kayitz 2014. 

JOLI edit2This summer will go down as our best yet.  Our staff, once again, went above and beyond to provide an incredible experience for the chalutzim.  Our educational program was engaging and probing.  Our schedule had few
er issues than in years past, and the 
masa’ot were more varied than they have ever been.  From the youngest chalutz to the oldest tzevet member, we had an incredibly high caliber of people at camp this summer.  So many chalutzim commented to me over the past eight weeks just how nice and genuine everyone was at camp.  This is perhaps one of the greatest hallmarks of our unique community; a place that respects differences and celebrates diversity within our Jewish community.

Over the next few weeks, those of us that work year round for Ramah will be taking some time to sleep, relax, and reflect.  While today we will say goodbye to the most incredible group of staff ever assembled at a Jewish summer camp, we know that the 2015 season is just around the corner.  If you have not already registered your camper for 2015, you may do so here.  Over 40 chalutzim have already registered for next year.  While we will not be filled before the end of the month, we do expect to reach capacity once again in 2015 — so please do not wait too long to register.  Deposits are 100% refundable until March 1, 2015 AND campers enrolled before October 31, 2014 will receive a complimentary Ramah soft shell jacket.

As always, we welcome your comments or suggestions via email and phone.  Parents, we will also be sending a final customer satisfaction survey.  Please complete it if you have not yet done so, as it helps us continue to improve our program each year. 

And when we come back online, we look forward to reflecting more on kayitz 2014 and planning for an even better kayitz 2015.  

Rabbi Eliav Bock

Rabbi Eliav Bock, Director
Ramah Outdoor Adventure

Rabbi Ranon Teller

This morning at Ramah in the Rockies, for the first time in my rabbinic life, I watched a shochet slaughter a chicken. I’ve eaten meat all my life, but I’ve never experienced a shechita (ritual slaughter). I’ve never dealt head on, with the emotional, ethical concerns of taking an animal’s life to support my own. I’ve been meaning to visit a slaughterhouse for some time to confront this deficiency in my rabbinic and human experience. Confrontation time had arrived.

Every year, a local shochet from Boulder visits the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community to teach about kosher shechita. Yadidya Greenberg invited anyone who chose to participate to gather at the chava (farm) to witness a shechita. As we arrived, he carefully displayed his tools of his trade: the rectangular knives, the sharpening stones, the aprons, and a bucket of earth. He began by asking the chalutzim (pioneers/campers) to share their initial thoughts about shechita, eating meat, and slaughtering animals. Then, he told us about his journey from vegan to vegetarian to kosher meat eater. Some time ago, Yadidya discovered that he needed meat protein for health reasons. As an animal lover, he made an oath to stop eating the meat he needed until he learned how to slaughter it himself. He wanted to confront the dilemma with his own hands. And he did. He learned to be a shochet. Yadidya explained with great compassion about the Jewish code of ethics and his personal commitment to teach and spread kosher slaughter. When the shochet does it right, the the animal feels no pain and the animals death is given proper respect.

Yadidya prepared the area by placing some earth underneath an aluminum tube. Then, he bought out the rooster. It was a heritage rooster, a rooster that was allowed to grow naturally. It was a beautiful, big, orange rooster. He handed it to a madricha (counselor), who held the chicken in her arms. The shochet sharpened his knife. He recited the blessing – “Praised are You, Adonai our God, Source of All, for sanctifying us through the commandment of shechita”. What a meaningful blessing at this powerful moment. I thought to myself, ‘Thank you God, for Your system of mitzvot that allows us to partake of the blessings of this world, with ethics, sustainability and compassion.’ As the madricha held the chicken in a cradle hold, Yadidya exposed the rooster’s neck. With one swift, smooth stroke, he cut across its neck, and the rooster was dead. The madricha placed the rooster upside down in the aluminum tube to allow the blood to drain on top of the earth. When the rooster shook and twitched in the throws of death, we were all reminded about the gravity of life and death. Then, it stopped.

We were all a bit shaken by the experience. For those of us who eat meat, it gave us all a much deeper appreciation for the process that brings the meat to our supermarket and our table. For those of us who don’t eat meat, it confirmed the reality that kept us from eating meat. Yadidya stressed the importance of allowing our dietary decision-making process to evolve slowly and for the kids to be sensitive to their parents’ homes and practices.

After processing the experience with kids, Yadidya invited them up to pluck the rooster’s feathers. When it was all over, Yadidya asked me to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood with earth. I took some earth from the bucket and covered the blood that had been spilt. I recited the closing bracha (blessing): “Praised are You, Adonai our God, Source of All, for sanctifying us though the commandment to cover blood with earth.” I thought to myself, ‘Thank you God for your system of mitzvot that allows us to give honor and pay respect to the life that we’ve taken to sustain our lives.’

Thank you Yadidya and Ramah Outdoor Adventure for an incredibly meaningful experience for me and the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community of staff and campers. I don’t know yet how this experience will affect my food decision, but I know I’m a better Rabbi, Jew, citizen, and human for experiencing a shechita first-hand.

 

Rabbi Ranon Teller

Congregation Brith Shalom

Risa Isard, one of our founding tzevet member (2010-2013) recently wrote a piece about her experience of living in California during this drought and reflecting upon the dryness through the Jewish lens she learned at Ramah.

I’ve spent the last year living in Fresno, California—the heart of agriculture capital of the country. It’s been an amazing and eye opening experience to have this kind of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, including being able to differentiate between varieties of fruits I’d never even heard of before now. But it’s not the fruitsJOLI 2012—the end of the labor—that move me most. Rather, I am most moved by this newfound knowledge I have about what exactly it takes to produce the food I enjoy so much. I’m grateful for the men and women in the field whose hard work makes it possible for me to shop at farmer’s markets almost exclusively, where I buy produce that was sometimes picked the very day I bought it. I’m also moved by the uncontrollable “x factors” and the game of roulette that seemingly determine the fate of my community’s economy and quite frankly, our nation’s and our world’s food supply. Read more

Written by: Elyssa Hammerman, Tikvah Director

elyssah@ramahoutdoors.org or 303-261-8214 x103

The Tikvah Program at Ramah Outdoor Adventure continued to thrive in summer 2013.  While we continued our incredible programming from the previous summer, one of our highlights was the extended masa (overnight camping excursion), which we extended to two nights.  Before the overnight Tikvah campers and staff carefully packed their hiking packs and prepared for our adventure.  Every camper saddled up his/her horse and rode off to our first campsite.  

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We played games, told stories, and feel asleep under the stars as we had done the year before; however, when we woke up, we rolled our sleeping bags, packed our packs, and hiked out of camp to our next spot.  We camped next to a beautiful stream in which we played.  That afternoon some of us relaxed around the campsite, while others set out to climb a nearby mountain! We all picked berries and then carefully followed an incredible orienteering course set up by one of our counselors.  We cooked a delicious dinner on the fire and sang silly songs!  In the morning we hiked back into camp singing our made up songs; every other group was also coming back from different directions.  We were warmly received with pictures and hugs and couldn’t wait for lunch and showers! This was a truly special component of our 2013 summer.  

Besides the masa we incorporated a buddy program which was also a huge success.  Every morning during Shmirat Hagoof (exercise) we played games with our buddies.  Everyone really enjoyed getting to know each other on a new level.  There were many other highlights from 2013 including: spending time with our baby goats, the talent show, archery, and Shabbat Shira.  We also hired a professional videographer and have a new Tikvah recruitment video.

As we count the days to summer 2014 we have a lot to look forward to. This summer we will be offering our traditional Tikvah program; however, campers will be participating in program prakims (periods) with their peers rather than their ohel (tent). We are also excited to launch a new inclusion track for campers who are capable of being integrated into BOTH our typical base camp program and a typical masa WITHOUT a one-on-one counselor. We will have an inclusion specialist who will be working with the counselors of those campers and who will be providing extra support to those campers while at base camp. We can’t wait until we’re all together again, back on the ranch riding the trails and gazing at the beautiful starry sky.

This summer, Alan P. and David and Michelle F. represented a first for a young camp named Ramah Outdoor Adventure – campers from Mexico. David and Michelle live in Mexico City, where Alan, their cousin, was also born and lived until moving to San Diego three years ago. Alan and David, both aged 13, attended Ramah Outdoor Adventure for two weeks in session one, and lived in the same bunk (for campers entering 7th and 8th grade). Michelle, 16, participated in session one’s month-long Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute (JOLI), a training program for older high-schoolers interested in leading outdoor experiences. (Next Summer Michelle plans to be one of the founding participants on the Ramah Seminar Outdoors program launching this summer in Israel).

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I wanted to share with all our readers an email sent by one of our camper parents, Barbara Gottesman.  Barbara sent this message to the parent list at her kid’s school.  I think she captures what we are about 100%. –Rabbi Eliav

I’m not sure which Ramah you were considering but I highly recommend Ramah in the Rockies (Outdoor Adventure Camp). We are hosting an info session . . .  and the camp director will be there. Several kids go from the Bay Area each session (with numbers growing) and staff meet the kids at the gate in Denver – flights on South west are nominal. My kids (7th and 10th grades) LIVE for this camp.

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