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This year, we are so excited to welcome to Ramah in the Rockies a delegation of fourteen chalutzim (campers) and three madrichim (counselors) from Mexico City! Here, the head Rabbi of the Beit El Conservative Congregation in Mexico City, Rabbi Leonel Levy, shares a bit about the Mexican experience at Ramah in the Rockies.

How did you learn about Ramah in the Rockies?
I met Rabbi Eliav; we have a friend in common that connected us. Rabbi Eliav came to Mexico in order to advertise the camp. We really enjoyed his enthusiasm and his great personality and his leadership, and decided to come [to camp]! At the beginning, we the group was only a few chalutzim and we sent them alone. This year we are fourteen chalutzim, plus three madrichim, so now that we have a larger group I decided to come and share this wonderful experience with them. This is my second year at camp.

How is American-Jewish culture different from Mexican-Jewish culture?
For us it’s very important to be an egalitarian community and a Kehillah Kedoshah (holy community). Mexico City is not so egalitarian. In Mexico, most of the Jews of the city belong to an Orthodox community, but they are not Orthodox; they belong because it is the tradition of their families. We don’t have a Reform [synagogues] in Mexico City, we only have two Conservative synagogues, and Beit El is the larger Conservative synagogue in the city: it has 1,000 families. So I think it’s really good to have this [egalitarian] experience. Also, we don’t have these kinds of camps in Mexico City, and I think it’s very important, in a time when we are discussing walls… to build bridges instead of walls.

What do your chalutzim get from this experience?
One of the things that our chalutzim get from this experience is an understanding that we are all the Jewish people and we all share links and connections. We have the same traditions here in the states and in Mexico and in Israel. Seeing the diversity of the Jewish people is very important to their experience. Also the connection with nature. Mexico City is a very urban place, and being here with nature and connecting with G-d and the tradition and the custom of the Jewish people in this environment is something that enriches their lives a lot.

What keeps you coming back?
It’s a wonderful experience. The t’fillot here are something very special. We don’t have the same kind t’fillot in Mexico, and I hope that our chalutzim will take advantage of this opportunity and will bring to Mexico some of this spirit. And I am looking forward to encouraging this spirit in our congregation in Beit El.

Last thoughts?
Thank you! Thank you to Ramah, to Reshet Ramah, to Mitch Cohen, to Rabbi Eliav. It’s such a privilege to be here in the Rockies at Camp Ramah and to meet the staff… it’s something so unique. I hope to have more chalutzim from our community come next year to strengthen the links with American-Jewry and with Camp Ramah.

Compiled by Rachel Blau

On Sunday we marked 100 days until our first chalutzim arrive!

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 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

Last Sunday night, 220 people gathered in Denver to honor Don Skupsky and to celebrate our Camp Ramah.

Here are the brief thoughts I shared with everyone that evening.  Also, if you have not yet seen it, check out our new fundraising video here.

The question is, what do the following people have in common?

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One of the stated goals of Ramah Outdoor Adventure is to be a “green camp”.  Over the years, I have blogged about some of our greening initiatives, from reducing paper use in our year-round office to serving organic milk in the dining hall.  We have recently added a section to our website that we will be populating in the coming weeks about these green initiatives and we will continue to update this page as we develop new ways to reduce our carbon footprint and create systems that reduce our impact on the natural environment. Read more

As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and reflect on the year that has passed, those of us who had the fortune to spend time at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch will inevitably recall highlights we experienced at 8000 feet.  We will remember the songs we sang, the trails we biked and the mountains we climbed.  And almost all the chalutzim (campers) will remember the hours they worked on our new mural depicting the seven days of creation. Read more

And just like that, our 2012 masa (excursion) season has come to an end.  A few minutes ago, our last masa rolled back into camp.  This past week we had groups hiking, biking, spelunking, and climbing in the back country.  Our Ilanot (3rd/4th graders) slept out on our ranch and then had a day hike up Givat Ilanot (Hill of Trees);  last night, they had the first ever Ramah Space Station overnight (see the link on Facebook for more info)!  Amitzim chalutzim (campers with special needs) had a horse overnight and went to a wolf preserve today.  This week we ran a new masa for a group of Bogrim chalutzim (9/10th graders).  They left on Sunday and spent the entire week horseback riding with an outfitter near the Wyoming border, from the initial report, this new masa was a galloping success (pun intended).

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Today marks our 75 day countdown until we welcome our first Chalutzim (pioneers/campers) to the Ramah Ranch.  In this time of Pesach, when we think about 4 cups of wine, 3 matzot and the numbers in “Who Knows One”, I wanted to reflect on a few of the key numbers we are thinking about as we prepare for our upcoming camp session

300         Gallons of milk we anticipate using this summer—most from a local organic supplier

250         Campers currently registered for the 2012 summer season

140         Campers who are coming to Ramah Outdoor Adventure in 2011 for the first time

130         Maximum number of campers at camp at any one time

50           Program staff members who are working in camp this year

40           Additional campers we are hoping to enroll before opening day

20           Horses coming to “work” at camp this summer

18           Number of shower stalls in our renovated shower-house.

13           Number of campers coming from the State of Oklahoma

8              Hens who will be laying eggs at camp this summer

7              Dogs we will have living with us on the ranch (they all belong to older

staff members and do not live in camper tents)

2              Goats coming to camp this summer (on loan from a local goat farmer)

1           Currently registered camper from each of the following states: Wyoming, Wisconsin and

Tennessee, plus 1 camper coming from the Dominican Republic (our 4th country represented at Ramah Outdoor Adventure).

January 1st marks the beginning of the secular new year, and even though I am a Jewish camp director who feels much more connected to the Jewish new year, I could not help but take a few moments this past weekend to reflect on the year that had passed and the year ahead.  I found myself “Googling” Ramah Outdoor Adventure and came across many of the writings and videos I have posted over the past three years as well as the various articles that have been written about this new camp.  My secular new year turned into a trip down memory lane.

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Dear Blog readers:

I want to share a letter with you that is being sent to all our camper families.  Filling our sessions too early is a terrific “problem” to have, and we look forward to many more similar problems in the months and years ahead.

Two Week Camping Now Available for 5/6th Graders in Session I

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As our days begin to shorten and the cool fall breezes begin to fill night, the afternoons, our thoughts turn from celebrating the success of summer 2011 to the planning for 2012.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak with many of our camper families.  I have heard time and again about the profound changes that our camp engendered in their children.  One mother told me that her 9th grade son came home with a new found confidence; he use to shy away from challenge, and now, even in school, seems more prepared for activities and lessons that require him to apply himself.  One father told me that his 7th grade daughter has an entirely new appreciation for the food that she eats.  She has come into the kitchen on numerous occasions and asked him why they purchase one type of food over another.  At dinner time, she actually asks to help with the cooking!  And a mother of a 5th grader told me that last week, her son insisted that they go off for a day hike in the mountains. He lead them on a trail that left them huffing and puffing, but they were able to successfully complete it because he kept cheering them on!

Summer 2011 was a rousing success!  All of our new programs, from archery, to Frolf, to gymnastics to the 3/4th grade “taste of Ramah session” to the 11 & 12th grade JOLI program were better than any of us could have hoped.  In one summer, we more than doubled our capacity.    Sadly, we also had to turn away many campers from our more popular age groups because we did not have physical space in our tents for them.  Next year, we hope to grow each session by an additional 30%, which is slow enough to maintain the small camp feel, but high enough that we will move in the direction of financial sustainability.

Over the next few weeks and months, we will continue to process and evaluate this past summer.  And I look forward to speaking to more parents and campers by phone, email and in person to hear their  thoughts on the Ramah Outdoor Adventure program.

But summer 2012 will be here before we know it and we are well underway in preparing for our third season.  Our plans include an expanded archery program, a further development of our gymnastics program, the addition of either Krav Maga, or another form of martial arts, an expansion of our fields sports program and  additional single track trails for mountain biking.   We plan to add more frequent Israeli dancing, better music and song instruction and a more robust arts & crafts program.  We have also opened our entire summer program to rising 3 -6th graders, while continuing to offer quality programming for rising 7-12th graders.  Next summer we will further differentiate our “younger kids” and “older kid” programs.   Registration is already open and many campers have already signed up

All of us at Camp Ramah are so grateful to the families who have entrusted us with their children.  It is a responsibility that we do not take lightly and an honor we do not take for granted.  While we must continue to grow our program to ensure that we are economically viable in the long run, we are committed to building our community along the same core values that has enabled us to run memorable and transformative programs these past two summers.

Rosh Hashana is a time to stop and both assess the year gone by and plan for the year ahead.   In our year round camp office, this is exactly what we are doing: taking time to appreciate what was, and to hope for what will be.

Shana Tova!

What do a Kosher, free- range chicken distributor, a pulpit rabbi from LA who composts and the program director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure have in common? Well for one thing, they all recently had the opportunity to attend the 2010 Hazon Food Conference in Petaluma, California. This conference brings together some of the most innovative and progressive thinkers in the world of Jewish environmentalism for four days of learning and discussion. Yes, the program director mentioned above is me, and I have been sitting in front of this computer for weeks since the conference trying to figure out what I want to say regarding my experience.

The first entry I wrote but never posted praised the energy and inspiration of all the participants, but I felt that it didn’t do justice to the amazing projects all around the country in which people are engaged.

So the second entry I wrote but never posted was about how impressed I was with people who are turning their fantastic ideas in realities. There are some really amazing projects out there that are being actualized this moment. Kosher, free range meat, a heksher that certifies the ethical standards of food products in addition to the halachic kashrut, the building of a Jewish land based community outside of Baltimore to name a few. But this entry didn’t express how impressed I also was with the many people who are not in a place to devote their lives and careers to environmental Judaism, but attended the conference just out of person interest and passion.

Feeling defeated, I tried to change my attitude and my third blog attempt was a critique of the scholarship behind environmental Judaism. I wrote that we rely so heavily on a small group of texts to support what we consider to be a revolutionary movement. I cynically pointed out that every class, lecture or conference on Jewish environmental topics explores the same texts as the previous one as if they had discovered something totally radical. But thinking about it, I realized I wasn’t being fair. While I do feel there is a need for an intermediate track of Jewish learning around environmentalism, the fact is, I have learned so much about this different face of Judaism I never experienced in my childhood education, and even though the texts express the same words each time I see them, the meaning I gain from them is always different, and isn’t that one of the truly amazing aspects of Jewish learning?

So where does that leave me? Three failed blog entries later, I was back where I started, so I turned to the wisdom of our Tradition to guide me. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, an 18th century mystic, describes three stages of spiritual growth: the mountain, the field and the city. The mountain is a place that is wild and unpredictable; there we might face adversity at any moment.  The field is our attempt to make sense of this chaos, where we can feel the influence of our own order while still being at the mercy of the variances of nature. The city is the place we can dwell most comfortably, where we have the most control of ourselves and our surroundings. Rebbe Nachman teaches it is our spiritual mission to leave behind the mountain and move to the city. My understanding of this teaching is not that we are somehow supposed to leave the uncertainty of mountain; life is wild and unpredictable and there is little we can do to change that. But rather, we must equip ourselves with the tools and consciousness to live comfortably in this unpredictable and challenging reality. We must make the mountain feel like a city.

And that, my friends, is what I think people in the Jewish environmental movement are doing.  We are learning and teaching the skills that make us feel more comfortable and excited in our own tradition, more at ease as ethically conscious beings, and more competent in providing for ourselves and living as a truly integrated piece of the amazing natural world that G-d created. That is the common thread, and whether we are doing through a kitchen compost bucket, an educational institution, or a green business, intellectually, physically, or spiritually, we are all doing our part to build our home on the mountain.

As my thoughts turn toward camp this summer, I think of some of the mountains we will face. Maybe it is coming to camp for the first time, or practicing skills outside of our comfort zone. It may be experiencing things that frighten us, or simply creating a recycling program at a location that is 10 miles down a mountainous, dirt road. Perhaps  it’s creating a community at camp that exemplifies our ideals, or even figuring out what those ideals are. These mountains are daunting, but if there is one thing in which I am confident after seeing the drive and inspiration of our 2010 chalutzim and staff, as well as experiencing the competence and passion in those involved in the Jewish environmental world, the mountains that may daunt us now will quickly become a place where we feel at home. To me, this is a pretty strong metaphor for a camp that makes its physical home high in the mountains.

Recruiting season & camp planning has shifted into high gear.  All of our 2010 chalutzim (lit. pioneers, campers) should have received their thank you gift for being part of our opening summer.  We’ve heard that many chalutzim wear their new orange sweatshirts all the time.

By November 1st, we have enrolled over 40% of the total number of chalutzim who joined us in 2010.

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Two important announcements:

#1 Please remember that on November 15th anyone who has already registered for Ramah Outdoor Adventure in 2011 will be entered into a drawing to receive a free embroidered fleece jacket/pullover.  The drawing will be in the afternoon and only registered chalutzim are eligible.

#2 We are pleased to announce a brand  new 11th grade leadership training program:   Click below for more details. . .

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