Late last month I returned to the Ramah in the Rockies Ranch for the first time since February 24, 2020. Driving through the gates, I was overcome with a sense of relief and excitement thinking about the reopening of our camp community in only six more weeks. This time last year, as we were facing the possibility of a closed camp season, we also were in danger of losing our camp. Staring down the possibility of returning over $1.5 million in camper tuition, with major construction projects already underway, and monthly bills that needed to be paid with or without a camp season, we were not sure whether we would survive the pandemic with our camp intact. Due to the incredible work of our year round team, the enormous generosity of hundreds of donors and a lot of good luck, we are in a strong place to welcome back our community to an updated ranch.
During my visit I had a chance, for the first time, to tour our new: waste water system, infirmary, bathrooms, dining hall and administrative center. I walked the property with our year round team who will be erecting over $75,000 in new tents, picnic tables and other items that will enable us to run camp this summer while allowing for social distancing and reduced capacity in most areas.
One of my favorite sections from Tanach are the verses from the third chapter of Kohelet: that there is a time for everything: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to sow and a time to reap; a time to destroy and a time to build up. My return visit reminded me of this powerful message. Last year was the time to shut down our camp given all the unknowns. It is now time to reopen and do whatever we need to do to enable over 500+ Jewish youth to have a joyous and transformative Jewish summer camp experience. Click below to watch a time-lapse video of the construction of our new Chadar Ochel (dining hall). I can just imagine the laughter, song, and friendship that will fill this space for years to come.
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This year, as we prepare for our seders, we are thinking about numbers: eight days of Passover, four cups of wine, three matzot, and one Elijah’s cup. We think about the year that has passed since we last gathered around the seder table. We remember the hundreds of thousands who have died, the millions of students who have had to adjust to limited or remote schooling and the untold numbers of people who were ill with COVID. Thankfully, we can now think about the millions more who have been vaccinated and the tens of thousands of children preparing to return to their Jewish summer camps. Here is a look at some of our own numbers at Ramah in the Rockies:
15,674 Pounds of CO2 saved due to the highly efficient solar arrays on our new Mirpa’ah (Health Center). We hope to raise funds to build two more arrays in the coming years.
14,000 Gallons of waste water we can process and return to the Denver water drinking supply each day in our expanded wastewater treatment plant
4,953 Square footage of the new dining hall we are ready to open this summer
1,071 Square footage of our new covered dining patio
200 Maximum number of campers on site at any one time during the summer
84 Days until we welcome our first chalutzim back to the chava (ranch)
60 Number of new Kelty backpacks we plan to purchase for 2021
26 Chicks incubated and raised by The Denver Jewish Day School until they move to camp in June to lay eggs for our community all summer (Only the hens are invited to camp, the roosters will likely end up on someone’s dinner plate; how many of each is TBD)
20 Number of picnic tables we are purchasing for 2021 to allow for more outdoor meetings and activities.
16 horses coming to Ramah in the Rockies
4 Additional camper tents we will construct to enable us to accommodate our community this summer
3 Raised beds we will build to begin our new kitchen garden (ultimately growing to 10+ over the next few years)
2 Additional space for campers in kayitz 2021
1 New garden and nature center opening this summer
0 Dogs currently planning to be with us at camp for the whole summer (help us “adopt” a calm kid-friendly camp dog this summer!)
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This blog post was originally featured as part of the Rabbinical Assembly’s #HeshbonHodesh: Nisan monthly newsletter.
This past Shabbat morning, I suited up my baby daughter in her winter gear, put on my own jacket and gloves, put her in the hiking backpack and headed out the door for my Shabbat teffilot. It is a ritual we have practiced almost every shabbat over the past year, so long as the temperature is above 20 degrees, and it is not raining. Walking around my suburban neighborhood I sing, out loud, often clapping and dancing to the words of the morning prayers. It is a practice started last March when I thought I would be gone from shul for only a few weeks. I watched the early spring turn to the hot summer, to the vibrant fall, to this past snowy winter. I watched the brook, where I often stop to recite the Amidah, go from a thawing stream, to a small trickle in the late summer, to a frozen slide the past few months.
I connect most deeply with the Divine when I am outdoors. I experience radical amazement when looking at flowers and trees. I understand what it means to become I and Thou when I am staring at a hillside about to burst with green leaves and turning brilliant hues in the fall. The sun, the breeze and even the bitter cold allow me to feel the Divine energy in my daily life.
Pre-pandemic, the only place I consistently prayed outside is at Ramah in the Rockies. My ten weeks at camp, davening in the high mountains, are usually the highlight of my spiritual year. I am often able to coast on that spiritual nourishment when I return to my indoor suburban synagogue for a few months, only to crave a healthy dose of outdoor teffilot by late winter. A gift of this pandemic has been to give me a reason to pray outside, almost every shabbat for an entire year.
I miss seeing other people on Shabbat morning. I miss my elementary age boys coming to shul and having friends to play with while I sit in the service; but I do not miss sitting in a sanctuary. I hope that we can once again gather for in-person communal prayer, but I also know that walking and davening, even in a cookie cutter suburban neighborhood, can provide an enriching and sustaining teffilah experience.
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/PrayerOutside-min-scaled.jpeg17072560Chatinoverhttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngChatinover2021-03-18 09:43:522021-03-18 09:43:55Connecting with the Divine in the Outdoors
Dave Yedid is a long time tzevet member, former Bamidbar staff member, and 4th year Rabbinical School student at JTS. He is currently the Cooperberg-Rittmaster Rabbinical Intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York. He shared this d’var torah two weeks ago for Parshat Terumah, and we are excited to share it with our community.
By Dave Yedid
The center camp was a small building called the lodge. It was built by the Girl Scout Camp that was based on the ranch before us. It was brown painted wood on the outside, light grey on the inside, the paint worn away through countless footsteps revealing the bare floorboards. There were a pair of antlers hung out in the front above three concrete steps.
The lodge was the nucleus of camp, the center of it all. Everything came back to the lodge.
On the first floor was the director’s office, the second floor the education and camper care offices. In 2012, it was a spare bedroom for Matt and Sarah Levitt. We built our kitchen and hadar ochel (dining hall) off of the main floor, with a shitfat kelim (dish pit) in which all community members and guests were expected to help out. There was a beautiful wrap-around porch with views of the valley below where horses graze. We painted plaques in the first summers of camp with the names of the chalutzim and tzevet, which we hung on the walls of the original hadar ochel. For three years, we had a cement basement that served as our staff lounge. It was also the mail center, the administrative office, the center for staging, cleaning, and unpacking gear before and after wilderness expeditions.
I helped construct the chadar ochel in 2012 assembling the metal frame, stretching plasticky canvas over it, and raising it with a team of thirty onto metal poles….an extremely haphazard endeavor, looking back. It stood from year to year but was by no means a perfect structure; it would often flood when it rained, was acoustically extremely loud and, after a while, too crowded.
The lodge was a palimpsest; a building we just kept adding on to. As camp grew, we built more structures. What was once the food storage and prep room was repurposed as a dining hall for younger chalutzim so we could fit everyone. The kitchen was expanded with a bakery room and walk-in fridge and freezer. The purpose of the upstairs rooms changed every year. Even as we built Beit Kesher and set up portable office trailers, the lodge was still the center of camp.
Summer 2017, a year in which I only visited camp for two weeks as a guest, an electrical fire burned down that lodge. Thank God, no people were injured. But the center of our camp was gone. Camp could not exist without this space; we had no food, no main office. All that was left was rubble and those three concrete steps.
Hearing this news while in New York was devastating. I felt deep grief and a desire to make it better. Mostly, I felt helpless. I thought back to the old hadar ochel, which I had helped build with my own hands. I thought of all of the campers and tzevet assembling in the early morning cold, knowing the center of camp was burned.
The next summer, camp rebuilt a new structure, this time built by a trained construction crew (which was much safer) but the center of our camp was gone. My first days back in 2018, I felt disoriented not returning to the site of the lodge.
I thought of the lodge as I read Parashat Terumah, which is about a community of people in the wilderness building a small structure. This time, it was not for camp, but for God. Parashat Terumah details how the Israelites built the tabernacle that would house God’s presence.
We see the verse, [Exodus 25:8]
וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃ And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.
If God is everywhere, in our homes and on mountaintops, why does God need a little box? It seems both impossible and unnecessary. Looking at the verse as a whole, we would think that because the word mishkan is a singular male noun, last word should read “betocho”–I will dwell in “it,” referring to the physical structure. But the plural ending, betocham, “dwell in/among them,” suggests that God won’t actually dwell in the structure, but among the people who build it. God is the creator of our bodies but also exists in our souls, in the prayers that come out of our mouths. So why did the Israelites build this structure and why does the Torah care so much about the process by which it was built?
I want to suggest three reasons for why building the Mishkan is important:
It required us to be invested in something.
In order to be in community with one another and with God, the Israelites must give something up.
I wonder what it felt like for the Israelites to give their treasured possessions–of the few things they were able to take out of Egypt–their yarns, precious metals, cloth, and tanned skins, jewels, wood. I wonder what it felt like to contribute toward something that was not ordered by slave masters, not going to be inhabited by the people who rule over you. I wonder what it felt like to see these earthly objects become a sacred space for God.
In donating these objects toward the construction of this small masterpiece, the Israelites become invested in bringing God’s presence into their midst. They value the mishkan because they participated in creating it. The second verse of the Parashah explicitly states that this investment is not a tax for all people or even a commandment. Instead, people should give that they brought with them out of Egypt, אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִדְּבֶ֣נּוּ לִבּ֔ם–asher yadbeinu libam, out of the generosity of their hearts.
To be invested, we are asked to give something up and put it towards a greater purpose.
We value the things we make.
Even if it is a frustrating process or isn’t actually worth something monetarily, at the end of the day we take pride in the work of our hands. The effort that we put into something does not just change the object. It changes us and the way we evaluate that object; the challenge of creating fosters responsibility. And the greater the labor, the greater the love for what we have made.
Think of a piece of origami, which before folding is just a piece of colored paper. But when it is folded in specific sequences to create a new shape, it has new value.
The Mishkan was such a project. The labor was about valuing God and about valuing holiness through contribution of prized possessions, time, and careful labor. The fact that the Torah dedicates several chapters to the dimensions, materials and steps of construction communicates to us that the process is just as important as the product itself. We learn the process and understand the labor in order to understand–and to love–what the Israelites made. The project required them to show their love for God.
It marks a shift in the Israelites’ freedom.
For most of Exodus, the Israelites had been recipients of God’s powers and creations; everything they experienced was God-given; plagues, the splitting of the red sea, manna, water springing from rocks, being led by a pillar through the wilderness. We get the sense, at times, that they were ungrateful or whiny; “the Torah isn’t coming down the mountain soon enough!” “the Manna is too repetitive” “we want to go back to the foods we had in Egypt.”
This changes when the Israelites are required to be actors for the first time as they begin to build the Mishkan. It forced them to come together by co-creating amidst the chaos of wandering in the desert. They were free from slavery, but what were they free for? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ז״ל answers this question: “God gave them the opportunity to give.”
Giving the Israelites this opportunity gave them the chance to give back to God some of what God gave them. They did creative, detailed work as a gift to God and a commitment to holiness. Building the mishkan allowed the Israelites to grow up, become partners in creation and take hold of holiness, rather than waiting for miracles to happen. This is so important in their formation of a nation of people, as it was in the cultural and moral DNA of camp.
In modern Hebrew, when we speak about tzedakah or donating to an organization, we use the verb Litrom. It is the basis for the name of this week’s parsha: Terumah. We can translate the word terumah as “a contribution” but it actually has a different meaning without an easy translation. Some linguists and biblical scholars think it means “something you lift up” by dedicating it to a sacred cause.
In 2012, when we built the hadar ochel section of the lodge, a team of staff literally lifted up a giant steel frame under which hundreds of campers and counselors would gather three times a day to eat. We would sing Birkat Hamazon and dance after meals and on Friday nights. That space, at times, felt like the closest space to a mishkan that I have known on this earth. It was a holy place, a place that invited God’s presence and generated holiness. And it was temporary. The mishkan was also temporary. The Tabernacle was long ago replaced by the Temple, and the Temple by the synagogue. But our task remains unchanged: the responsibility to give and bring God’s presence into the world. This is the secret of giving: when we lift something to give to another, it is we ourselves who are lifted. May this parsha inspire us to build together and give together, so that we may uplift God and uplift one another.
With each passing week, we are becoming more excited about the reopening of our ranch. You have likely read so much from us about our reopening COVID protocols that you have wondered whether we are also thinking about how to improve the actual camp experience. Rest assured that we have been hard at work planning the daily schedule for this summer, and in the following Purim blog, we highlight some of our upcoming programmatic changes.
Lions and Tigers and Bears
As the world was moving into lockdown last spring, we heard from so many about Netflix’s Tiger King. You called and emailed to express dismay that we had not used our wide open space to cage exotic animals. If there was one positive side to closing camp last summer, it was that we were able to realize a long-held dream and finally had the time to erect the twelve-foot fencing needed to house big cats at Ramah in the Rockies. Over the past few years, we have been continually improving our farm and animal program; we have become adept at milking goats, collecting eggs from chickens, and caring for horses. African Cats were clearly the next step. Shortly after we finished our ten-acre enclosure around the “Shabbat Pasture,” we learned that Joe Exotic’s zoo was being shut down by the State of Oklahoma. Given our longtime connection with the Jewish communities in the Sooner State, we were quickly able to make the necessary arrangements to offer refuge to five of their cats.
The past few months of running our cat sanctuary have not gone exactly as planned (but then again, what has?) . Nonetheless, we have learned how to source cheap meat, both from a local hunting lodge and the Jefferson County roadkill department. From a programmatic standpoint, we see the addition of these cats as the ultimate “Challenge by Choice”activity. We know that some chalutzim will find even viewing the animals from afar challenging. Others might feel comfortable petting their wet noses through the chain-link fence. Others might be confident enough to walk into the enclosure and play with the animals. The Colorado Department of Human Services, which grants us our annual child care operating license, has given us a one-year reprieve to demonstrate that we can safely house big cats and small campers at the same time. In the months ahead, we hope to trap a few of the local black bears and add them to the enclosure too!
Big cats will not be the only new addition to our community. Ramah is also delighted to welcome the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time), Tom Brady, to camp this summer. After leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a crushing win in this year’s Super Bowl, one might think that Brady has nothing more to prove to solidify his title. As it turns out, however, he has never won a Super Bowl playing above sea-level. Next year’s Super Bowl will be played at the Denver Broncos’ Mile High Stadium where there is way less oxygen than New England or Tampa Bay. Brady is eager to be in shape for the big game, and has been looking for a summer retreat even higher than Denver where he can run, climb and throw at elevation. Last week, we received a call from Brady’s agent asking whether we would be willing to offer him a quiet place to workout most of the day in exchange for a few hours training each week with our chalutzim. While he could easily rent a house in Denver to begin acclimating, he is looking for a more secluded place to set up shop, free from the paparazzi who follow him so much of the time in urban areas. The fact that we serve a mainly vegetarian diet, and always have a vegan option at meals, is an added bonus to one of the world most famous, and unlikely, vegans.
While the exact schedule remains in preparation, we expect Brady to spend his mornings in Ramah Valley running and throwing. He will also spend two hours per day training his core muscles on our bouldering wall. We imagine him setting up some more challenging practice courses using the protruding rocks of Prospector Mountain. We have guaranteed him a spectator-free day until 2:00pm, sha’at menucha, at which time he will lead optional clinics for a few chalutzim each day. (Chalutzim who disrespect the Buccaneers, Patriots, or any of the Boston Sports teams for that matter, need not register). While Ramah in the Rockies has never had a team sports program, we also know that we should never pass up an opportunity to stray far from our mission. If this summer is a success, we can imagine one day laying an astro-turf field throughout Ramah Valley, erecting two goals posts, and creating the country’s first Jewish football camp!
A New Masa
It is not just Brady who is looking for new heights. After a year of being cooped up inside, so many in our kehillah kedosha (holy community) are eager for new adventures. After a chance online meeting with Sir Richard Branson, our newest masa (excursion) was born. As it turns out, his space company, Virgin Intergalactic (NYSE: SPCE), was looking for a PR opportunity that showcased its desire to become an “every person’s” space company. In the hopes of justifying their wild valuation in the public markets, the corporation wanted to launch a group of teenagers into suborbital flight to prove the efficacy of their SpaceShipTwo aircraft. With their hangars just a few hours south of our ranch on the Colorado/ New Mexico border, we signed up! What better way to show off our own commitment to addressing the urgent demands of the climate crisis than burning untold quantities of fossil fuels and participating in a new space race!?
Given the details involved in space flight, there is little room for error in our schedule: chalutzim will leave our ranch on the Tuesday, of the masa-week of each b-session, for the drive to New Mexico. They will spend a day camping on the desert plains alongside the runway. After another day of training in emergency procedures and fitting of flight suits, they will lift off on Thursday for the journey of a lifetime. Virgin Galactic has further agreed to help with our travel needs, ferrying campers from California and New York to Colorado in future summers.
A year ago, around Purim, America was waking up to the reality of a burgeoning pandemic. Unfortunately, the line between science and fiction was blurred for too long, leading to untold suffering and hardship, putting deep strains on the physical and mental health of so many in our community and costing over 500,000 lives. We had considered forgoing our Purim update this year since the past 12 months would have once seemed outlandish enough. Yet, here we are: able to reflect, to hope, and to plan. Know that while almost nothing in the above update is true, our commitment to running a safe program, guided by passion, values and science, remains as real as ever.
With a call going out on our emergency walkie-talkie channel, in early morning hours of August 7, 2017, I awoke to the horrifying news that our main lodge was on fire, billowing flames that could easily start a massive forest fire! With flames shooting three stories high, and heat that could be felt from hundreds of feet away, we faced what I thought was going to be the biggest leadership challenge of my career as a camp director of Ramah in the Rockies.
As a community, we had trained for this moment when we had held fire drills every other week. Much went according to plan including, summoning the fire and sheriff’s department, who arrived within an hour to save the surrounding trees and to shepherd us all to safety.
What we had not planned for, however, was the following hours, days and weeks when we needed to keep our community together and informed about how we would continue camp at an alternate site, cooperate with all investigations and eventually rebuild our ranch over the following years. The tone we set with our staff during our first 4:30am meeting, with the building still smoldering in the distance, was the same we followed throughout the evacuation, relocation and rebuilding process: be transparent with everyone regardless of where the facts lead, listen to people’s ideas and emphasize our collective responsibility in creating our destiny.
It is for this reason that two weeks ago we were one of the first Jewish Overnight camps to release the draft of our 2021 operations plan. No one knows where the pandemic will be in the late Spring when we usually open camp. No one knows what precautions we will be required to implement. Nor can we sit around and just hope for the best. Rather, we must begin to plan, knowing that by understanding scenarios we will be ready to adjust as facts become clear.
The COVID-19 crisis does not have the same level of urgency as a fire, but the lessons learned during that emergency have influenced how we have communicated throughout this pandemic. From our first communications in the Spring of 2020, which indicated the unlikelihood of us operating in the summer, to giving definitive dates for informing our community of our plans and defining the process by which we were making decisions, we were able to build further trust with our community.
For those of us running Jewish institutions it is imperative that we continue to be transparent with our community; we must continue to communicate what metrics we are following, to whom we are turning for advice and why we are deciding one thing and not the other. In a typical year, the early winter is the time of year that many families begin to think about camping plans for the next summer. Indeed, for overnight camps like Ramah in the Rockies, we usually end the year about 75% of our way towards our summer camper enrollment. We know that this winter will be different than most, and parents will be making decisions much later into the Spring. Our hope is that by being transparent and engaging with our families throughout, even more will entrust us with the awesome responsibility of accepting care of their children amidst an ongoing pandemic.
After each communication last spring, we held open town hall meetings, and received numerous emails and phone calls with questions and suggestions. When we did make the decision to close for the 2020 season, many families decided to donate part of their tuition to camp in large part because we had been forthcoming with our existential reality and how we hoped to find a path forward.
If there was an enduring lesson from that scary experience in 2017 it is that transparency keeps a community together in challenging times and builds trust between all parties who can work together to envision a better future. Now, with the COVID pandemic enveloping us into the 2021 camping season, we are moving forward with this same principle.
Along with releasing our draft plan, we included a form for our community to ask questions or to make comments/ suggestions. We held our first town hall meeting with parents, campers, staff and donors on November 30, 2020 and heard even more feedback. Over the coming weeks our year-round team and our COVID taskforce will review all comments and determine what needs to change in the plan. We intend to update the draft plan, monthly through the Spring based on changing data, scientific understanding and best practices.
As we set into the winter month, families are facing months of unknowns. Will their children stay in virtual school, or return to in person learning? When will they next see grandparents and cousins? What will the summer look like? No one has all the answers.
Stanford Economist, Paul Romer, stated in 2004, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” None of us would ever wish upon ourselves a fire or a pandemic. When emergencies arise, however, it is an opportunity for us, as leaders, to not only get past the immediate crisis, but to build a community that is stronger, more transparent, and more cohesive than it was before the emergency arose.
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.png00Chatinoverhttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngChatinover2020-12-10 15:21:012020-12-10 15:21:02Crisis Management – Plan for the Unknown
Ramah in the Rockies will open its doors during summer 2021 for in-person programming. With your partnership, we remain steadfast in our commitment to create a safe operating environment for both campers and staff, while continuing to deliver on our mission to create a laboratory for joyful Jewish living and learning. Since early July 2020, a dedicated and well-qualified group of lay leaders and staff have been following the science, evaluating camps that did operate during summer 2020, and researching best practices to ensure we can deliver on this commitment.
Before a typical summer we prepare for a variety of scenarios. Scenario planning is key to running a safe community. We are taking a similar approach to preparing for kayitz 2021; we are considering a multitude of scenarios and coming up with plans for each.Our Roadmap to Summer 2021 is the first step in this scenario planning, and we are excited to share it with our community.
This document is dynamic, posted on our website, for all to see our latest thinking and plans. You will see a 6 word version (Keep COVID out. Contain COVID spread), a two minute overview, and the full ten minute read version. This document is NOT our final operations manual for 2021. Rather is a snapshot of our thinking if we were to open camp next month, based on what we know now. In it, we outline our core assumptions and various operating procedures, including sections about community structure, health & safety, travel, program, food service, facility, and communication strategies.
Please visit ramahoutdoors.org/covid-19 to read our Roadmap. On the same page, you will see a form inviting you to share feedback and questions. We will be holding a town hall meeting on Monday, November 30th at 7pm MST to answer your questions and hear additional feedback. You will also see the link to register for the Zoom call on that page.
Finally, we appreciate your trust and your patience. Ten months ago we could not have imagined the possibility of a ‘canceled summer’ let alone the notion that this pandemic will impact this coming camp season too. As we turn towards the Winter months, we sit here imagining the feeling of opening day in summer 2021. We imagine giving our chalutzim a joyfully Jewish experience next summer, and we all know that what our kids need and deserve most of all right now is camp! Please do not hesitate to reach out, connect with us if you have any questions or just to say hi too.
With gratitude, Rabbi Eliav, Julia, and the Ramah in the Rockies team
As most of our Colorado families return to school this week, it is hard to believe that Summer 2020 has come to a close. We are so grateful to everyone who has joined us virtually to bring our Kehillah Kedosha together – from the nearly 100 Chalutzim who joined us for virtual camp, to the faces we saw at Kabbalat Shabbat, and the families that shared how much simcha our Ramah music or challah recipe brought to their homes.
Today, we turn the page and focus our attention towards the “next normal,”– reopening our camp for the 2021 season and ensuring that we have the resources to make this happen!
We plan to operate our camp in person in kayitz 2021 with the same unique blend of outdoor education, open-air environmental living, and joyful Jewish expression that has been the hallmark of our community.
Registration for 2021 will open on September 1st. All campers who enroll before October 31 will receive a limited edition Ramah in the Rockies hoodie sweatshirt. If you rolled over your child’s tuition from 2020 to 2021, then of course they will receive a hoodie too! You can see our 2021 Dates & Rates on our website. We are freezing tuition at our 2020 Rates!
None of us know what our world will look like in 2021. We have convened a planning group of experts in public health, medicine, education, and risk assessment to examine trends and data and to advise our board and staff on the safest way to reopen camp in-person next summer. This group will base its recommendations on the latest science, government regulations and best practices implemented across the Ramah movement, the broader summer camp community, and schools that are reopening for in-person activities.
As we plan for the summer over the next ten months, we make the following promises to you:
Full transparency and regular communications. While we plan for a full reopening next summer, we are also realistic and know that this pandemic is rapidly evolving. We know we will have to adapt aspects of our program based on new information. We will keep you informed of any decisions that will materially affect the camp experience. We are also happy to speak via phone, video or email. Just be in touch.
Full Refunds. All deposits and tuition will be 100% refundable for ANY REASON until March 1, 2021. Entrusting your child to us is an awesome responsibility that we do not take for granted. We are in relationship with each family who registers for camp, and want to ensure that money is not a driving factor.
Additional Assistance. In the eleven years our camp has been in operation, we have never turned away a child who applies before March 1 for financial reasons. We know that many of our families are struggling financially due to the economic instability of the past few months. We are committed to raising additional scholarship dollars to ensure that we can help support any Jewish child who would like to come to our camp.
The health and safety of our community is always our #1 concern. We will not make any decisions that would imperil the health of our campers, staff, or families.
A THANK YOU. . . We have been blown away by the love we felt from our community this summer. Over 100 campers participated in our virtual programs, and were joined by over 25 tzevet members who took the leap with them. Over 175 families (or 57%) donated portions of their 2020 tuition to camp and 115 families (or 42%) rolled over their tuition to next summer. Many donors have already invested in our “Next Normal” campaign too. Thank you to all who have already come along on our journey.
Two Requests Over the coming months, we hope that you will help us pivot to the Next Normal. Here’s how you can help:
For those who know families that would benefit from sending their children to Ramah in the Rockies, please tell them about our community and encourage them to be in touch. If you would like to host a virtual information session, we will help arrange logistics. We are continuing with our refer-a-friend program this year too. Word of mouth is our best recruitment strategy.
For those in the position to help us financially, we welcome any and all support. We have a long journey ahead. We continue to take on financial risk as we prepare our camp for next summer but are confident that with the help of our dedicated community, we will emerge stronger at the end of the trail.
Thank you for believing in our mission and we look forward to continuing this journey together.
The Ramah in the Rockies Team
Rabbi Eliav Bock, Executive Director Julia Chatinover, Assistant Director Gil Rosenthal, Board Chair
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Our-Path-Campaign-UPDATE-e1597099317945.png11301400Chatinoverhttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngChatinover2020-08-28 11:20:342020-08-28 11:20:35The Path to the Next Normal
This year, as we prepare for our seders, we are thinking about numbers. We are thinking of the traditional Passover numbers – the eight days of Passover, four cups of wine, three matzot, and one Elijah’s cup. We are also thinking about the tragic numbers linked to the pandemic we are all living through – the number of people who have fallen ill with COVID-19, those who have recovered, and those who have tragically succumbed to the disease. We are thinking about the millions who are now unemployed and the devastating economic toll this virus is taking on families, businesses, and non-profits alike. With this in mind, we offer the following look inside our organization as we prepare for our 11th kayitz and the possibility that we will need to alter our summer plans based on the trajectory of the virus.
Ramah in the Rockies by the Numbers:
Cost of opening our expanded Waster Water Treatment plant in 2020 – bringing our total to $1.6 million spent on our existing waste-water infrastructure for the chava.
Need-based financial assistance awarded – thank you to our generous donors.
Gallons of drinking water available in our year-round water storage tank at any one time.
Number of chalutzim and tzevet who call our kehillahkedosha home each summer.
Days until Kayitz 2020 is scheduled to begin!
JOLI chalutzim registered for 2020 – our most ever!
Number of chalutzim who will receive their 5th-year shirts this kayitz.
Number of different states from which chalutzim are coming in 2020.
New masa tents purchased.
Days until we will make an announcement about our summer schedule
Ta’am Ramah (Taste of Ramah) chalutzim currently registered for 2020.
Horses under contract to come to camp – from two different herds!
Beds in our new Mirpa’ah (Health & Wellness Center).
New bikes purchased for Ilanot & Metaylim chalutzim.
Stalls in the new bathrooms across from the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall).
The number of raised beds to be built in our kitchen’s new garden.
New Mercaz Gan-Teva (Garden and Nature Center opening this kayitz).
Dogs currently planning to be with us at camp for the whole summer. Help us “adopt” a calm, kid-friendly camp dog this summer!
I write this email having just returned from a week of winter camping on the chava (ranch) where the Ramah year-round team met to work on some preparations for Kayitz 2020. We are having a fantastically snowy winter (30 feet and counting), which we hope will make for a very wet and green spring. With camp right around the corner, we are pleased to finally be able to announce a few major changes to our camp program.
Exciting Changes to our Masa Program.
Let’s face it – for many kids, Ramah in the Rockies is too rustic! We hear from so many parents that they love the values of Ramah in the Rockies, but wish their children were more pampered. This summer we are pleased to announce our very first glamping masa (backcountry excursions). Inspired by the five days our senior staff recently spent in Tulum, Mexico in an overpriced yurt – where warm bathing water was brought to our doors each morning and our days were filled with yoga and fine vegetarian raw meals – we decided that we need to expose our chalutzim (campers) to this sort of luxury camping. After some research, we partnered with a private outdoors camping company called Less Rocky: Rockies Camping Inc. (LRRC). LRRC has designed an incredibly unique glamping experience for our campers: chalutzim will experience the magic of the Rocky Mountains during the day, and enjoy the comfort of high-count Egyptian cotton sheets by night!
On our masa’ot this summer, chalutzim will be treated to long meals, featuring some of the best vegan food available West of the Mississippi. One of the most significant reasons for partnering with this specific backcountry company, beyond the array of LRRC’s dietary options, was their beverage service. Each masa group will have a company employee who will carry 45 liters of crisp Fiji water insulated by a top-of-the-line YETI cooler backpack. Breakfast will include a variety of cold brew coffee options, while at lunch and dinner chalutzim can choose from two types of kombucha and San Pellegrino.
After Kayitz 2019, we heard that a particular source of contention for our campers was the uncomfortable camping mats they slept on during masa. Well, at the request of our camp kehillah kedosha (holy community), we have made sure that LRRC provides individual memory foam cots that sit at least 18 inches off the ground to everyone on masa.
In addition to the food and sleeping arrangements, the company has assured us that every desire or need our campers may have during masa will be met. No requests will be declined. For Kayitz 2020, our hope is that chalutzim realize that to experience nature means to find a place that costs more than a five-star hotel where one has the views and smells of the great outdoors without having to deal with the annoying elements like dirt, rain, or bugs.
Unveiling Our New Chadar Ochel and New Food Options!
For ten summers, we focused our attention on serving sustainable and healthy food. This kayitz, however, we have decided that while the healthy diet was fun in theory, in reality, our chalutzim and tzevet (staff) just want pizza, hamburgers, and diet soda. And so, I am excited to share our new camp motto – “Frozen is the new fresh.”
While we will continue to cook meals in our main kitchen, we have decided to outfit our new Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall) with a bank of microwaves and three glassdoor freezers. This new addition will house a wide selection of packaged and pre-cooked dinners imported from a Brooklyn kosher food distributor. Campers will be welcome to leave their seats at any point of a meal, take a pre-packaged meal and warm it up for themselves. We want our campers to realize that they can have whatever they want whenever they want it.
We are also excited to announce a new special day at camp, Yom Fleish (Meat Day). Yom Fleish will be once a session (i.e. once every two weeks), and we will serve meat, and only meat, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We are so excited to spend this day teaching our chalutzim that their actions will have absolutely no effect on the environment. Our educational goal is to provide them with the foundational understanding that no matter what they do in the world, it is not possible to make any change, so we might as well just live life and let someone else worry about the big issues (like climate change).
Our Newest Chug Option!
Since the beginning of time, humans have wondered what it would feel like for a person to fly through the air. Well, thanks to innovative fabrics, it is now possible with commercial flight wingsuits! We have watched each year as the sport of BASEjumping has taken off around the globe. For the past two years, we have worked with our licensing agencies, in both Jefferson County and the State of Colorado, to become the first summer camp in the world to offer children the opportunity to fly.
Before Kayitz 2020 we will receive our first-ever shipment of Ramah flight wingsuits. Our Ramah wingsuits weigh under 20 pounds apiece and can withstand speeds of over 200 MPH. BASEjumping, or as it will be called at camp “Alef Beis Jumping” or just “Beis,” will be offered to all of our chalutzim as a chug (elective) option.Campers who choose Beis, will hike up Prospector Mountain on the backside of our property – it is the perfect cliff for a long-running start. Chalutzim will perform deep-dives off the edge and land safely in Ramah valley. Campers who successfully complete jumping from Prospector will have the opportunity to do four more jumps from different mountain tops throughout Pike National Forest.
We have arrived at the halfway point of the Hebrew month of Adar, and as such, Purim has undoubtedly brought out our sillier side. It is with this, that we hope we can share many more laughs with you throughout the year(s) to come! We cannot wait to welcome your children back to the chava in less than 100 days and we will have more updates coming soon.
Chag Purim same’ach! Happy Purim!
– Rabbi Eliav
(P.S. Yes, 99% of what is written above is a joke.)
Ask any of our chalutzim (campers) and they will tell you that Ramah in the Rockies is an exceptionally green place. While many are simply drawn to camp’s natural greenery, as a camp, we are as equally proud of our “green” initiatives. We make a strong effort to limit our impact on the environment and utilize sustainable options whenever possible. Over our ten years on the chava (ranch) we have maintained a mostly vegetarian diet, we use reusable silverware, much of our schedule is dictated by the sun, and our camp structures have been built to maximize sunlight. All that being said, there’s another side to how Ramah in the Rockies “goes green” on a day-to-day basis. Instead of being green, one practice is a little more “brown” – that’s right, we are talking about food decomposition!
While in the “real world,” garbage and recyclables are simply tossed into their respective receptacles, Ramah in the Rockies has needed to handle our garbage disposal and recycling with a slightly different approach. Situated at just over 8,000 feet and more than 45 minutes from the closest gas station, bringing our trash and recyclables down the mountain regularly would not only be a timely endeavor, but it would also be a costly one.
Enter Hadar Zeigerson – Ramah in the Rockies’ Sustainability Educator & Compost/Waste Manager for Kayitz 2019…
After trying different composting methods over the first few years at camp, this summer, with Hadar’s help, Rockies elected to continue with our venture in “bokashi.” In comparison to regular composting, the bokashi method of food decomposition, which originates in Japan, is quicker, less labor-intensive, it can better handle camp’s high elevation, and (as a true bonus) it does not attract bears!
We spoke to Hadar, who broke down the entire bokashi process from start to finish. At the end of every meal at camp, food waste is deposited into buckets in our chadar ochel (dining hall). Twice a day Hadar loads up “Lil Blue” – camp’s beloved baby blue pickup truck – and drives the filled buckets over to our bokashi shipping container.
There, the waste is emptied out into one of our fifteen 55-gallon barrels, and then the “real fun” begins. During a normal week at camp, we can fill anywhere from three to five buckets for bokashi processing. After a pinch or two of our bacteria-rich natural decomposing agent, the barrels are then sealed. As a byproduct of this process, a liquid is created known as “bokashi juice.” The bokashi juice needs to be drained manually, which as Hadar explained, “If you don’t drain the juice, the bokashi becomes ‘puke-kashi!’” In other words, when you do not drain the bokashi regularly, the bokashi rots, leaving terrible smelling mush. Bokashi that is monitored is equally as mushy, but it has a less-intense fermented smell, “kind of like pickles or kombucha.”
At the end of this two-to-three-week anaerobic process, the waste material inside our bokashi buckets is ready for the last stage of decomposition and is prepared to be repurposed. The contents of the buckets are buried about a foot underground and a month later our leftover granola, discarded banana peels, and used coffee grounds have all transformed into nutrient-rich soil that can be used anywhere at camp.
Hadar’s impact goes beyond just handling our food waste. This past kayitz, Hadar created infographics on several environmental and sustainability topics. These informative graphics could be found in nearly every bathroom stall at camp, allowing chalutzim and tzevet (staff) alike to learn about the business of camp’s waste-management while taking care of their own “personal business.”
While keeping our camp sustainable (and bear-free) is of high importance for Camp Ramah in the Rockies, the lessons of waste-management and sustainability reach far beyond the chava. This kayitz we wanted to provide our chalutzim with more than just information. It was important to give them the opportunity to actively express how learning about sustainability and living green made them feel.
This was best displayed during last summer’s chalutzim-led demonstrations when campers learned about “holy protest” with Rosh Omanut (Head of Art) Yoshua Hooper. The lessons primarily focused on humanity’s impact on the planet and how we impact the wildlife living near camp. A prime example of this “values-to-actions” mentality was seen during the first week of camp, a few days before Hadar was hired. Camp was not yet ready to begin composting, and so our chalutzim protested, demanding that Ramah take responsibility and start composting. We hired Hadar soon after and the rest was history.
All in all, waste-management and sustainability are at the core of Ramah in the Rockies’ midot (values). At our camp we not only show kavod (respect) for each other and ourselves, but also for the planet on which we live. Everyone who has a meal with our community knows that at the end of the meal we prepare our food leftovers to be repurposed. Additionally, leave-no-trace is one of camp’s principal ideologies when it comes to day-to-day life. Everyone buys into the “Ramah in the Rockies way.” We all separate our food-waste at the end of meals, we all have reusable water bottles, and we use bear-proof trash cans. Our entire kehila kedosha (holy community) plays an integral role in the size of the footprint that Ramah in the Rockies leaves behind on the natural world every summer.
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Screen-Shot-2020-02-10-at-6.34.06-PM.png16302454Ethan Weghttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngEthan Weg2020-02-10 16:43:462020-02-10 16:43:46Giving New Life to Our Food-Waste
By Moss Herberholz, Director of Inclusion Kayitz 2019
It’s Friday night at camp, and the singing after Shabbat dinner has begun. Chalutzim (campers), tzevet (staff) and orchim (guests) all stand up and move toward the center of the room enthusiastically to join in the celebration. As I watch from a table nearby, two young chalutzim come up to me and ask if they can have some earplugs. I pull two pairs out of my pocket and hand a pair to each of the chalutzim. Reminding them that they are reusable, I pull two pairs out of my pocket and hand a pair to each of the chalutzim. A few minutes later I have joined the gathering in the middle of the chadar ochel (dining room) and a tzevet member taps me on the shoulder, asking if there are any noise-reducing headphones left. I grab her a pair of headphones and mention to her that chalutzim have priority, so I may need to reclaim them from her later.
This past summer in my role as the Director of Inclusion, I worked to expand what our inclusion program looks like, with the goal of providing extra support to campers who need it. One way I did this was by making personal sound-reduction equipment available to everyone at camp during meals, shira (singing), and other large group gatherings.
Meals at Ramah in the Rockies can be noisy; chalutzim and tzevet members engage with each other, reviewing the highlights of the day and talking about upcoming programming, All of this combines with the acoustics of our chadar ochel to make for a dissonance of sound. Although this level of sound is tolerable for many chalutzim and tzevet members, there are plenty of people whose dining experience is disrupted by the chorus of excited voices.
Any chalutz or tzevet member who will benefit from earplugs or noise-reducing headphones only needs to ask and they shall receive. Chalutzim are able to ask their madrichim (counselors) or any member of our camper care or support teams for ear protection and they will get it.
We saw many chalutzim and tzevet members wearing their reusable earplugs or rocking a pair of noise-reducing headphones. With smiles on their faces and their ears protected, they enjoyed their meals and the company of those around them. Allowing them to socialize and get the fuel they need for a successful day at camp, all without getting overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the chadar ochel.
This accommodation, originally intended for specific chalutzim who needed additional support, has become a helpful resource for all of the chalutzim and tzevet in our community. By advertising this option to everyone, we have allowed anyone who needs, and may not have known how to previously ask, to easily get the support they require to be comfortable. What was once a resource reserved for a small number of individuals is now available to everyone. We, at Ramah in the Rockies, look forward to exploring more ways in which we can improve the camp experience and expand what it means to effectively support everyone in our kehilah kedosha (holy community).
Chag Chanukkah Same’ach from Ramah in the Rockies!
Without the chalutzim (campers) camp would be meaningless – each and every one of them is a light in our community. Every summer, our amazing tzevet (staff) work tirelessly to ensure that every chalutz and chalutzah have incredible and lifechanging experiences at Ramah in the Rockies. And so, in celebration of Chanukkah, we wanted to spotlight some of the individuals that keep the “lights” of Ramah in the Rockies “burning bright” for 8 amazing weeks every summer.
Ben Toronto, Canada Metaylim Madrich
Last summer was my fifth summer at camp, and my first as tzevet! I worked as a Metaylim (5th and 6th graders) madrich (counselor) and as an assistant to the Rosh Edah (Head of age group). I got to hangout with the kids all day, take them to their activities, run programs, and plan zman edah (age-group specific programming).
My favorite aspect of camp is kabbalat Shabbat, when the whole camp comes together having showered after a long week of activities, ready to sing and celebrate a change of pace from the normal week. I also love when the chalutzim come back from masa excited to share their adventures with me, and you can really see how much they have changed and grown from the experience.
Lihi Tel Aviv, Israel Inclusion Specialist
Last summer was my first at camp, and I worked on the Inclusion Team. I heard about camp through the Jewish Agency for Israel. I used to work at a day camp in Israel and I love working with kids, so I was excited by the adventure of summer camp in America.
Day-to-day I would roam around camp, making sure our inclusion campers are engaging with other campers and having a great time at their activities. My job was to give our campers the best summer possible. I didn’t have my own ohel (tent) of campers, so the first time I had my own group was on the rafting and biking masa. During the masa I got to really speak with the campers and get to know them. When they returned to base camp, the campers did a night activity where they created skits about their trips. I was so excited when they called me over to be a part of it. It made me feel like I really made connections with them.
The views were my favorite part of camp. The stars at night are so bright, the clouds are insane, and the mountains are so beautiful – especially the ones that are still covered with snow!
Edson Puebla, Mexico Kitchen Prep Cook
I worked in the kitchen helping to prepare the food. The first week was hard, but it became much easier to help with the food because I know what I’m doing. During meals, I enjoyed talking to the kids when they come up to the windows for refills. They would all say “thank you,” and I really appreciated that.
I wanted to come to camp to interact with kids, so I’ve started giving kids Spanish lessons on Tuesdays. I have loved getting to meet so many new people.
I really enjoyed the nature and the view of the mountains. I loved taking walks with my friends at night and stargazing. Living in the tents was an adventure in itself and something new.
Avital Teaneck, NJ Metaylim Madricha
I ended up working at camp because I went to Ramah in the Rockies as a camper in 2016 for my JOLI year. After I went to camp in 2016, and understood how lucky I was to be part of such a unique community in an incredibly beautiful place, I knew I wanted to come back to work there. Shuli Bolton was the person who originally told me about Ramah in the Rockies, and we both ended up doing JOLI, and then working on tzevet together for the past 2 summers.
My favorite part about camp is having the opportunity to constantly explore my Jewish identity while being immersed in nature. I feel most connected to Judaism and my spirituality at camp, specifically during kabbalat Shabbat because I am surrounded by the mountains, the greenery, and an accepting and supportive kehillah (community).
Daniel Budapest, Hungry Kitchen Dishwasher
I found Ramah in the Rockies through the Camp Leaders Program [a program that matches potential staff members across the globe with camps in the United States.] I wanted to see the beauty of Colorado, and I knew someone who worked here in the past and they told me great things about this camp.
As Kitchen Dishwasher, I worked both day shifts and night shifts. during these shifts, all of the kitchen staff listened to music together and always helped each other out.
The part of camp I enjoyed most was the community – both inside and outside of the kitchen. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, and everyone trusts each other, which is different than what I experience in Hungary. I really enjoyed the fun atmosphere of camp community.
David Milwaukee, WI TzevetOfanayim/Solelim Madrich
This past summer was the second year that I worked at Ramah in the Rockies, and my fifth year overall. I have worked the past two summers as a Solelim (7th and 8th graders) madrich and ofanayim (biking) staff.
Between 4th and 7th grade I stayed at home during the summer, and I would listen to my brother rave about his summer adventures at Ramah in the Rockies. Finally, in 8th grade I went second session for two weeks and fell head-over-heels in love with camp. Following my JOLI summer in 2016, I knew that I wanted to be a part of tzevet, as I was so excited to help develop the kehillah that had shaped me into a Jewish leader.
My favorite part of camp is masa’ot. I live my life by the guiding principle my JOLI Rosh taught me: “To grow, you have to embrace the discomfort and put yourself in your ‘stretch zone’. The stretch zone may be uncomfortable and scary, but you will come out as an improved, more resilient individual.” Masa’ot are incredibly special opportunities for chalutzim to enter their own ‘stretch zones’ and accomplish goals that might seem impossible outside of the context of a masa. I know that I’ve grown to be the leader that I am today because of the 10+ masa’ot I’ve participated in and led over my five fulfilling years at camp.
And finally, while I live far away from camp during the academic year, I consider Ramah Rockies as my second home which I always look forward to visiting.
Sarah Clearwater, FL Sayarim Madricha
I ended up working at camp because I was working at BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy. While working at BaMidbar, they had a brief pause in their programming (they are back now and offering amazing programs!) and was graciously offered a job at Ramah in the Rockies for the second session last summer.
I loved living in the amazingly beautiful wilderness and experiencing Shabbat in the camp community. My favorite part of camp is being a part of an enriching Jewish community in a beautiful, wild setting. It was deeply rewarding to be able to support campers’ connection to each other, Judaism and the natural world.
Nic Olympia, WA Tzevet Ofanayim
Ramah in the Rockies places a premium on hiring people who bring real expertise in outdoor education and adventure. As such, they will often recruit outdoor professionals from outside the Jewish community, and that’s how I came to be a part of the Ramah community in 2015.
Ramah in the Rockies places a premium on hiring people who bring real expertise in outdoor education and adventure. As such, they will often recruit outdoor professionals from outside the Jewish community, and that’s how I came to be a part of the Ramah community in 2015.
Although I am not a religious person, I find that the emphasis on creating a holy community where young people can focus on developing their relationship with their Judaism to be my favorite part of Ramah. Even as a non-Jewish member of tzevet I have been generously welcomed into the community and I am grateful for the connections that have been offered to me. Many Ramah alumni consider ROA to be a second “home”, and I am one of them.
Join our staff for Kayitz 2020 and learn more about working at Ramah in the Rockies here
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/1Ben.png800800Ethan Weghttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngEthan Weg2019-12-22 23:00:592020-08-27 22:50:07Our Tzevet Keep the Lights of Ramah in the Rockies Burning
*The following blog post was originally given as a speech during the Ramah in the Rockies 10-Year celebration in Denver, CO on December 7th, 2019.
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. I distinctly remember conversations from the 1990s about a new Ramah camp in Colorado. I waited. Dreamed. Looked forward to the day I’d get to be a camper there. Ramah runs deep in my family – my great grandfather helped found Ramah in the Poconos, where my mom was a camper and staff member. Camp Ramah was this magical place I’d heard stories about. So I eagerly listened anytime someone at synagogue would talk about the Ramah in Colorado that was opening someday.
Without Ramah in Colorado, I followed my brother to a Jewish overnight camp in Northern Arizona. Seeking a more robust Jewish experience, I asked to go to Ramah. For seven summers, Ramah Darom was my home. I wouldn’t change those summers for anything – except for maybe to have been able to be at Ramah in Colorado, or “Rugged Ramah” as Rabbi Eliav referred to it back in 2009 in comparison to my beloved “Spa Ramah.”
If you’re good at math, you’ll notice I just said 2009. A year before camp officially opened in 2010. I’m forever grateful for the chance to have joined Rabbi Eliav for a week of pilot programming designed for prospective staff. If you think camp is rugged now, you should have seen it for 2009. We slept in literal camping tents on the ground. Cooked all our own meals on camping stoves. And enjoyed the luxury of the nearby compostable toilets, a cherished legacy of the Girl Scouts camp. We also dreamed about what could be the next summer. About how to make camp really come to life. About the values. Goals. Culture. Educational priorities. Programs. About Shabbat and shmirat ha’goof (morning physical warmups) and masa (backcountry excursions).
And in 2010, it happened. Being on founding staff was the opportunity of a lifetime. Really, it was like a summer-long masa. Which is to say, when we get together, we like to trade stories: That time we had a single day off the entire summer. That time our campers tried to take razors and shaving cream on a backpacking trip. That time when campers cooked their own dinners at base camp. (We thought it was a good teachable moment?)
It’s impossible to remember every detail, but it’s easy to remember the feelings.
Of purpose and responsibility: Without our own childhood connection to camp, staff signed on because of a belief in what Ramah Outdoor Adventure stood for. Because ROA’s values were – are – our values. We understood the responsibility at our feet – that the culture we set would matter. We hoped it would last. And we jumped in.
Of connection and community: With other staff, and with campers. The shabbat-o-grams and innovative tefilot. The masa families, ohel (tent) families, perek (activity period) families, and an entire kehillah kedosha (holy community) that embraced us as we showed up as our full selves. That held us as we adventured, explored, stargazed, prayed, danced, sang, played. All-day. Every day.
Of growth: Forged by the daily – sometimes hourly – opportunity to challenge ourselves. To try new things. To fail, and try again, and accomplish things never before dreamed of. To support each other in these pursuits. A new climbing pitch. A big hill on a bike. The first time we led a prayer. A new food we cooked. A new knot we learned and got to use in the backcountry.
And so much fun. The inside jokes and late-night stories. The early morning runs. The made-up games like Ultimate Soccer and Capiscular Avengers. The camp song’s unofficial lyrics. The Shabbat everything.
I remember getting our paychecks that first summer – on the porch of the old lodge – after campers had left and being surprised. I had forgotten this was technically my summer job. I can promise you, for staff, camp is so much more than a job. And for chalutzim (campers), it’s so much more than “just camp.”
I was back on staff in 2011 and 2012. Of course, there’s nothing like those earliest years. Still, there’s something equally as special. And that’s having a front-row seat to watching camp grow.
In 2018 I had the privilege of joining the board. Camp has grown – in numbers of campers and staff, in activities offered, and even in infrastructure. It’s grown because today’s campers and staff have embraced the idea that we all felt so deeply that first summer: Ramah in the Rockies is a place you can make yours.
That idea has made the past 10 years but a dream. We’ve been so lucky to have an entire community dreaming with us – and making it happen. Making Ramah in the Rockies yours. So, yes, I’ve been deputized to remind you that every donation you’ve made matters. I’m biased – and proud – that former staff, most of us who are not yet 30, have raised several thousand dollars in just the past month in honor of this momentous occasion – and all that’s still to come.
All that’s still to come is the real reason to celebrate. Because there is such a bright future for this camp and for the generations who will get to experience it. That’s why Ramah in the Rockies is participating, along with many other organizations, in a Grinspoon Foundation program called Live On Life and Legacy. It is a way to leave a gift behind to camp to ensure that campers can continue to benefit from the rich experiences camp provides for years to come. It’s a “challenge by choice,” as we say at Ramah in the Rockies. I hope you choose to join me.
I’ll close with these words I wrote in an email to Rabbi Eliav and our pioneering staff after the 2009 week of pilot programming:
“I have a confession to make. I’m an activist. I believe in social change and am very passionate about a lot of various causes and movements. And while I like the environment and care about it… I’d be lying if I told you it was one of my priorities when it comes to social change and progressing our society…. Well, that was me before ROA. Post-ROA Risa told her mom, ‘It’s bad for the environment,’ more times than I can count in the past few days as I was shopping for things for my [college] dorm room. I like to think that even though I’m older than the campers we’ll be welcoming next summer the same shift in mindset can and will occur. My perspective changed this much in just a week. Imagine the power a month will have. Love the Earth, Risa”
It’s not just about the environment, of course. Ramah in the Rockies was the first place I went backpacking, the first place I lifted the Torah in hagbah, and the first place I came out. That’s the trifecta of self-actualization that’s possible at a place like Ramah in the Rockies. We all have the chance to live into ourselves, even if everyone’s new frontier(s) are different.
Today we know the power of a month. Better even, we know the power of 10 years.
A todah rabah to everyone who made these past 10 years possible – with a deeply personal thanks to Rabbi Eliav and the 2010 kehillah, from my chalutzim (hey Ohel Carmel!) to the tzevet (staff) I’m so proud to have had as my friends and partners.
*Insert Wet Hot American Summer 10-Year Reunion quote here*
If you would actually like to see the clip from “Wet Hot American Summer,” you can click here.
As we approach the end of 2019, we, the Ramah in the Rockies community, have a lot to be thankful for. With this in mind, we wanted to share a reflection from this past summer written by JOLI chalutza (camper), Cameron Fields, who took the time to not only share her experiences at camp, but also offer her gratitude.
“This past summer at Ramah in the Rockies was undeniably one of the best summers of my life. That is a major statement to say, but I do not say this loosely. This summer has definitely changed me as a person, friend, and as a leader in both my everyday life, and in the Jewish community. When I boarded the plane the morning of camp, a bunch of emotions surrounded me. Mostly, I was excited for this summer – the summer I had been dreaming about all year long. There was a little bit of fear inside of me, but once our van pulled through the metal gates of camp, all of that changed.
From the second I was in the JOLI huddle with the rest of the ‘JOLIers,’ everything just felt right. The group felt so close already, and with the first couple of days that feeling proved to be true. From being Wilderness First Aid certified, to having our first Shabbat together, we all became so close within four days that when it was time split into two groups to depart on masa (backcountry excursions), I was a bit reluctant to do so. But, masa changed me, and I will be forever impacted from just a five day, twenty-eight-mile trip. So many life-changing events occurred within those twenty-eight miles.
Through masa we faced many challenges, but as a team of seven leaders we overcame them. From having to hike off-trail down a mountain with the sun setting behind us, to crossing ten rivers within a mile, or hiking up what seemed like a never-ending hill, my group and I completed our masa with our heads held high, because we did it! This was, without a doubt, the hardest masa I have ever been on, but also the best, and the kesharim (connections)I made with my group will last a lifetime!
As amazing as these events were, my time at camp just continued to get better. A highlight of JOLI for me was Yom Sport. I was the captain of Kachol, the blue team, (go Mayim!) and it was one of the best experiences I had the whole summer! I was able to lead my fellow chalutzim in one of their favorite days of the summer and really make it something special for them. I think Yom Sport taught me what being a Jewish outdoor leader is all about. I was able to lead campers, help them when they needed an extra hand, learn new things about myself and what a leader should be, all while having fun with my fellow JOLIers.
As my summer at Ramah in the Rockiescame to a close, it felt unreal to be leaving camp. As I hugged my ‘Jamily’ at havdallah, I sobbed like I never had before. I was extremely sad that I had to leave them in two days, and I was also really upset to have to leave this kehillah kedosha (holy community) knowing I wouldn’t return as a chalutzah. I did, however, know that I would be back as a madricha (counselor)!
This summer taught me so many new things, whether that was through Wilderness First Aid, or on masa, while I was captain on Yom Sport, while I was a counselor-in-training for chalutzim in Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) and Ta’am Ramah (our ‘Taste of Ramah’ program for 2nd to 4th graders), or just hanging around base camp. This summer has impacted me for the better, and definitely changed my life forever. So thank you Ramah in the Rockies for making me who I am today! Thank you for teaching me new things, and thank you for giving me the best summer of my life!”
Cameron Fields 11th Grade Ocean Township, NJ
We thank all of our camp families for their support, all of our tzevet (staff) for their hard work and dedication, and, of course, all of our chalutzim for spending each summer opening themselves up to all of the experiences that Ramah in the Rockies has to offer.
Over the past six weeks we heard from hundreds of parents, chalutzim (campers), and tzevet (staff) about their experiences at Ramah in the Rockies during Kayitz 2019. We asked for honest feedback and thank everyone for sharing so that we may learn about what went well and where we need to improve. Below are some of the highlights from Kayitz 2019, and some of the areas for growth going forward into our 11th summer.
Two Thumbs Up: Successes of Kayitz 2019
Our new camp schedule was widely celebrated. We moved breakfast earlier, added a fifth program time, and switched Nikayon (cleaning time) to after lunch. Lunch and dinner times were shortened, which ensured that our younger campers ended their days close to 8:00 PM. The Kibbutz and Kfar tent areas were quieter on most nights than in years past, giving chalutzim better nights of sleep because campers were going to bed earlier. While there were some unintended consequences as part of this new schedule – for example, some chalutzim only had a 45-minute biking activity, which was way too short – overall it was a welcome change to Ramah in the Rockies. Additionally, our new Sunday Yom Meyuchad (special day) schedule was well received. Chalutzim liked the ability to choose their Sunday activities, and they took full advantage of the opportunities for larger edah (age group) and camp-wide programs as well.
We know that Jewish summer camp works best as an educational enterprise when children are making deep and lasting connections not just between themselves, but also with their madrichim (counselors). This past summer, we placed a greater emphasis on facilitating these connections and provided more opportunities for group bonding. In general, we heard that chalutzim felt closer connections to others – both chalutzim and tzevet – in their ohelim (tents) than in years past.
AsJewisheducators,it is awesome to hear the sheer number of people, tzevet and chalutzim, who said that Shabbat is their favorite time at camp. We pride ourselves on providing young people a space where they can both live in concert with nature and the world around them, and have joyful Jewish experiences. As we have heard following our previous summers, a highlight for many of our chalutzim has been the ruach (spirit) of shira (singing) and rikkud (dancing) during Shabbat. Although both happen during our regular weekly programming, during Shabbat these activities are especially meaningful. So much so, that often hear that these experiences continue to resonate with campers weeks and even months after leaving the chava (ranch). In addition to adjusting our Shabbat schedule, we added more Shabbat afternoon options, and changed a number of tunes in tefillah (prayers). All of these were welcome enhancements, and, as one nine year old told us, “I wish every day at camp could be Shabbat.”
Mixed Reviews: Where we Have the Opportunity to Grow
We continue to pursue a better balance between allowing chalutzim to be independent at camp and keeping our parents and families in the loop about their daily and weekly activities. We received overwhelmingly positive responses to our weekly Friday emails. Yet, there was also a desire to hear more, especially about our younger chalutzim and their activities during the week. You also appreciated the twice-weekly photo uploads, but asked that we instead have more group snapshots over individual portrait ones. For next year, we plan to implement a system that will allow madrichim of our younger edot to regularly update parents, at least once every session, via written communication with specific updates on their child(ren). That being said, we continue to encourage parents to email or call us directly with questions about their children. If you do not receive an answer within 24 hours, then we are not living up to our commitment, and ask that you escalate your request to Rabbi Eliav, Julia Chatinover, and/or Stacy Wasserman. We also know that letters continue to take too long to reach you at home. While we cannot solve USPS issues, we plan to add our own dated stamp to letters placed in our outgoing mailbox so parents can see when a letter leaves camp.
The cornerstone of what makes Ramah in the Rockies unique is our masa (backcountry excursion) program. It is a time for chalutzim to challenge themselves, form deep connections with each other, and gain a new appreciation for nature and the environment around them. It is also a time to learn how to be safe in the backcountry, how to step up and lead, and how to encourage others in times of adversity. You told us that the masa experience is not uniform, and that we need to work on improving the areas that we do control, such as gear, programmatic expectations, and logistics and route planning.
Over the next few months, we will examine all of our masa systems and programs in an effort to further refine what has worked and implement solutions for what has not worked. We plan to invest in new gear to ensure that there is enough for every group and that our chalutzim all have the correct sized packs. We will evaluate the training for our trip leaders and make sure that they are prepared to implement the educational goals of our masa’ot. We are fortunate that we have a very strong safety record from which we can build, and while this is laudable, it is certainly not something we take for granted. Regardless of how we improve the masa experience, safety will always be our number one concern.
We received more positive feedback on our food – its quality, quantity, and variety than in any previous year. That being said, we continued to struggle to deliver a consistent product throughout the second session. For a variety of reasons, we changed our menu midway through the summer and while our first session chalutzim gave our food rave reviews, the same was not the case during the second session. As we look towards next summer, we will take a critical look at our menus and ensuring that we are offering balanced meals throughout the summer, including enough traditional and alternative protein options. Additionally, some families were voiced concerns about our kitchen running out of food at various meals and we want to reassure you of our commitment to not run out of the main course at any meal throughout the summer. We plan to continue providing robust salad bars at lunch and dinner and breakfast bars in the morning. We will also be continuing our efforts in moving towards a “less seasoning, more sauce” philosophy, where campers can choose the flavors they would like to add to their meals, rather than have food that is too spicy or seasoned. While we will continue to serve meat weekly (except for the first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av), we also hope to add additional non-soy plant-based protein meals such as Beyond Meat, which was recently certified kosher. We also hope to refocus on our camp values by utilizing locally sourced produce and products as much as possible. For our masa menu options, we will continue to tweak our new food system to ensure that all trips have enough food, regardless of the length of trip or the number of people on the trip.
Thank you for being a part of our kehillah kedoshah (holy community) and for taking the time to share your feedback with us so that we may continue to improve. 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.
https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/IMG_4130-XL.jpg6821024Ethan Weghttps://www.ramahoutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/LOGO-300x167.pngEthan Weg2019-10-18 13:11:272019-10-18 13:11:27We Asked. You Shared. We Listened.
During our ten summers on the chava (ranch), Ramah in the Rockies has been the site of hail and wind storms, a fire, and even a helicopter landing, but now, after Kayitz 2019, we can also say that we have hosted peace talks.
As a camp and a community, we place a great deal of value on individual identity and self expression. Outside of camp, many chalutzim (campers) do not have the opportunity to physically build things and take calculated risks. At camp, they are not only allowed but encouraged, to explore and test their creative boundaries. These values can easily be seen in one of camp’s guiding principles, “challenge by choice.” As a result, many chalutzim have been naturally drawn to the construction of, and gameplay surrounding, what we at camp call “tree-forts.”
While Ramah in the Rockies strongly encourages free play and independent pursuits, sometimes conflict arises that requires a helping hand. This kayitz, the tree-forts were extremely popular, and when conflict did arise within the gameplay our tzevet (staff) was prepared to help ease the tension.
In one such situation, Jacob Chatinover from Camper Care cleverly helped chalutzim establish some basic ground rules within the realm of tree-fort building instead of merely policing a conflict between two fort “nations.” Jacob was able to successfully facilitate, “the Camp Jacob Accords,” allowing all of our tree-fort-building chalutzim to continue in the fun and creativity of tree-fort building.
During the Camp Jacob Accords, topics discussed and voted on included the guidelines for inter-tree-fort trading, the establishment of a “neutral zone” and a “non-aggression pact,” and the continued use of the “Zetley Border” – a fallen nearby tree that had been introduced as a border with the help of tzevet member David Zetley earlier in the summer. Additionally, a new rule was instituted known as the “Tourism Rule,” which allowed for chalutzim and tzevet to visit tree-forts, providing they identified themselves as a “tourist.”
Looking back on the Camp Jacob Accords, the Tourism Rule stands out for Jacob, not only because of its progressive and forward-thinking take on the situation, but also because of how it connects to the upcoming holiday of Sukkot.
An integral part of Sukkot is the experience of shared personal and communal spaces. As the Talmud explains, “All of Israel are fit to live in one sukkah,” Sukkot 27B. Many scholars take from this that it would be appropriate for every Jew in the world to dwell in one sukkah, and from this we learn that every individual sukkah is part of the “larger Jewish collective sukkah.” This idea, of a shared space, seems especially relevant considering the conflict Jacob helped settle.
On an even deeper level, the value of “challenge by choice,” which every chalutz and chalutzah experiences at camp, can also be linked to the celebration of Sukkot. Just as Ramah allows campers the space to explore and create, so too does Sukkot provide children and adults the opportunity to take a risk-sharing in the vulnerability of constructing a temporary structure that is exposed to the elements.
Wishing you a Sukkot filled with joy, vulnerability, and healthy risks.
We kicked off the final full week of the Kayitz (Summer) 2019 with Yom Sport. Everyone in camp was decked-out in kachol (blue), adom (red), or yarok (green), and the atmosphere on the chava (ranch) shifted to intense competition and fun which progressed throughout the day. The day was filled with a lot of sweat and a lot of smiles. Following a win by kevutzah (team) kachol, things at camp again shifted to anticipation as a majority of chalutzim (pioneers/campers) prepared for their masa’ot (backcountry excursions).
While masa weeks at basecamp are relatively quiet, this masa week we welcomed our Ta’am Ramah (2nd to 4th graders), “taste of Ramah” program, to the chava for four days, where they briefly experienced what being chalutzim at Ramah in the Rockies is like. They all had a wonderful time and we are looking forward to welcoming them back here at camp next summer for a full two or four weeks.
Personally, my favorite part of masa week is Friday mornings. The excitement for this morning is more and more palpable as the week progresses, reaching its peak as the stream of white 12-passenger vans return to the chava. As each masa unloads their van, I have a first-row seat to one of the greatest spectacles Ramah in the Rockies has to offer – huge smiles, loud laughter, joyful reunions, and, of course, epic masa stories. This morning was no different, and this round of masa’ot featured some awesome experiences that I would like to share.
In particular, what makes our second round of masa’ot so special is that our JOLI (11th and 12th graders) chalutzim begin their final transition from campers to CIT (Counselor In Training). After JOLI chalutzim had a chance to learn with current tzevet (staff) in the Moadon Tzevet (Staff Lounge), they were split up amongst the edot (age groups), and put everything they have worked on throughout this kayitz to the test with actual hands-on experience.
The JOLI chalutzim who worked with Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) were treated to one of Ramah in the Rockies best (and most awesome) kept secrets – the twice-a-kayitz “Rocktion” (rock auction). Tzevet members, JOLI, and Ta’am Ramah all dressed up in their finest attire and perused their options before the bidding began. Once rocks were purchased, Ilanot chalutzim had the opportunity to trade in their profits for prizes like an ice cream party with Rabbi Eliav or being RoshEdah (age group Unit Head) for a day.
On masa, Metaylim (5th and 6th graders) left our ranch for three days, with gear on their backs. For many, this was the first time that they had experienced a multi-day hike. While all of our masa’ot were within 15 miles of our camp, most reached the peaks of local mountains which provided unforgettable vistas of Pike National Forest. Additionally, a highlight for many of the chalutzim, was learning about wild vegetation and actually getting to snack on some wild raspberries, strawberries, and onions.
Solelim (7th and 8th graders) had incredible masa experiences to share from all their masa’ot, including omanut (Art), tipus (climbing), and backpacking. All three of the Solelim masa’ot went significantly challenging hikes, but ever group said it was worth it in the end as every day included at least one beautiful vista. Our Bogrim (9th graders) chalutzim chose between kayaking and a dual tipus (climbing) and ofanayim (biking) masa. Many of the Bogrim chalutzim on kayaking masa had never been kayaking before, and despite being a little hesitant at first, everyone had an amazing time.
As the second oldest edah, Sayarim (10th graders) got to choose from four different masa’ot – chava (farming), tipus (climbing), ofanayim (biking), and a challenging backpacking masa. Some highlights from these masa’ot included chava masa’s new best friends– goats, a “bottomless” cooler of food and snacks in the back of ofanayim masa’s bike-truck, and the special guest who accompanied backpacking masa – Ash, one of our tzevet’s dogs.
As we pack away our gear, shower, and put on our finest white outfits, everyone is excited about our final Shabbat together. As a result of the gathering clouds, we will be moving our tefillot to the Ohel Mo’ed, where the sound is incredible, and where we will be safe from rain. We have so many more peulot (activities), games, and conversations to be had before we say goodbye to our chalutzim, and we will be in full “camp mode” until Tuesday afternoon. Tonight, as we gather in our pre-Shabbat circle, I will address our community urging them to take the values that permeate our kehillahkedosha (holy community) home with them and integrate them into their own families and communities. In this week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses gathering the Israelites for a final retelling of our national narrative. Similarly, on our final Shabbat together this summer, we will all be crafting our own masa and camp stories, and weaving them into a narrative that can be shared with our friends and family for weeks, months, and years to come.
We look forward to seeing our chalutzim back on the chava again in the Kayitz of 2020!
As we finish the second full week of Session 2, I have enjoyed watching the rhythm of camp life kick in as our chalutzim (campers/pioneers) have had days of exciting “regularly” scheduled activities. As they skip to chugim (activities), and enjoy a variety of tefillot (prayer) options each morning, I see them building kesharim (connections) jumping into new and challenging experiences.
On Sunday, chalutzim chose from a variety of special sessions organized by our tzevet (staff). Choices included ofanayim (biking), mining for stones on Givat Ilanot, a hill overlooking camp, playing a camp-wide game of Embassy (ask your child about the complicated rules!), and a shechita (kosher preparation of meat) demonstration for our older chalutzim. JOLI (11th and 12th graders) spent the day in Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training with Cliff Stockton, who also trains our tzevet Wilderness First Responders (WFRs). Luckily, JOLI didn’t need to use their new medical training on their hike up the fourteener Mount Bierstadt! The group camped out the night before their ascent at the base of the mountain, and woke up at 5:30 AM to make it up and down the mountain before the afternoon rain swept through the mountainside.
On Sunday evening JOLI and Sayarim (10th graders) participated in a “simulation of exile.” The peulah (activity) began when madrichim (counselors) escorted their chalutzim out from their ohelim (tents) and brought them to another area of camp. Once the chalutzim settled into the new space, the madrichim then changed chalutzim’s names to be “less Jewish,” put out the fire JOLI and Sayarim had built to cook on, and forced them to again move to another location. Throughout program they learned about different times in history when Jewish communities were forced to leave their homes. In Ramah Valley, at the conclusion of the peulah, after some marshmallows, hugs, and a campfire, the group processed the experience, and both edot (age groups) then slept out under the stars.
Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) and Metaylim (5th and 6th graders) had special programming to mark the end of Session 2A, as we said goodbye to some of our chalutzim. Ilanot held a bingo night in the Chadar Ochel (dining room). Everyone walked with “aching” backs dressed up like the elderly – complete with white unibrows, walking sticks, and clothing stuffed undershirts. Midway through the rousing rounds of bingo, a “special” snack of mushy food was even served.
For peulat erev (evening activity) one night, Metaylim held a mock bar mitzvah party in Ohel Shachar for their madrich Jarred, complete with backstories for all costumed characters involved – “Jarred,” the bar mitzvah boy, “Rachele,” the mother, “Giardina,” the grandmother, and “Moishe,” the best friend. The group danced the hora and played games like Coke & Pepsi. And finally, as the sun faded behind the mountains, the group had a “candle lighting ceremony” with paper printouts of candles.
On Wednesday, we said farewell to our two-week chalutzim and were equally excited to meet our new friends who arrived for Session 2B, who quickly unpacked their bags and jumped right into our special programming for Yom Yisrael (Israel Day). Our Chadar Ochel was decked out in Israel flags, and Israeli tunes blared over the speakers. In a departure from our usual scheduled camp meals, our Israeli tzevet served falafel, hummus, Israeli salad, and pita. Individual edot led Israel-focused activities throughout the day. Bogrim (9th graders) analyzed bumper stickers in Israel as a way of exploring different aspects of Israeli identity. The camp-wide peulat erev was a tour of our “Israel Museum,” which included exhibits about Israeli arts, politics, and a special display of photos of our Israeli tzevet from when they served in the military.
While our chalutzim have been filling up their days in their chugim including tipus (climbing), susim (horses), chetz v’keshet (archery), and omanut (arts), our peulot erev have been the highlight for many campers. Solelim (7th and 8th graders) had an “Iron Chef” cake-pop making competition in the mitbach (kitchen). On Thursday, after aruchat erev (dinner), our chava (farm) team constructed a “Farmer’s Market” for Solelim, Bogrim, Sayarim, and JOLI. Booths were set up with food grown at camp, including crackers and goat cheese made from milk from our goats, kombucha, pickles from the farm, and banana bread. Other highlights from the peulah include Rosh omanut’s (Head of the arts program, Hooper) booth of herbs and spices, and Summer Assistant Director, Achinoam Aldouby, dressing like a witch and giving out apples to chalutzim – all while speaking Hebrew of course!The “Farmer’s Market” was a ton of fun, and provided our whole kehilah (community) with a lot of laughs and memories. What a celebration to end the week and lead us into Shabbat!
As we head into our last two weeks of Kayitz (Summer) 2019, there are still so many more memories to be made! Ahead of us still lies, the arrival of our Ta’am Ramah (2nd to 4th graders) “taste of Ramah” program, the JOLI counselor-in-training (CIT) week, our final masa’ot (backcountry excursions), and everyoneis eagerly anticipating Yom Sport coming up this Sunday.
While our schedule is always packed with programming that is both fun and educational, it is still the unplanned moments of smicha (joy) and kesharim (connections) that make me smile most. It is seeing people walking into the Chadar Ochel and break out into song and dance as they set the tables. It is watching the chalutzim hanging out and playing games in Ohel Koby (our game tent), and it is seeing madrichim and chalutzim walking to-and-from chugim and meals engaged in conversation. These less-structured moments are often the most transformative at camp, and the ones that, coupled with our formal programming, come together to create the magic that is Ramah in the Rockies.
As I conclude this email, we are wrapping up our formal peulot for Friday, and everyone is getting into their best white Shabbat attire. We hope to be davening in the Pardes Tefillah tonight, but based on our almost daily late afternoon showers, we will wait until the last minute to make that decision. Either way, along with our giant post of photos from today, we will post pictures Monday evening, which will include photos from both Shabbat and Yom Sport!
As our session 2 kehillah (community) has settled into life on chava, it has been such a joy to get to know and learn from all of your children this past week. While it has been a quiet week at basecamp due to our masa’ot, today I was delighted to watch the stream of our white vans enter through the front gate, each filled with excited chalutzim returning to camp, eager to share their stories.
But let me start at the beginning of the week. On Sunday, we took a break from our usual programming. While our chalutzim and tzevet (staff) that were participating in the Fast of Tammuz had limmudim (learning sessions) throughout the day, our other chalutzim had a choice of participating in a wide variety of activities, including fishing at nearby Cheesman Reservoir, learning about Israel from our Israeli tzevet (staff), making glass mosaics at Beit HaYitzeirah (the Art Pavilion), and playing capture the flag in Ramah Valley.
Usually aruchat erev (dinner) lasts about an hour, but on Sunday camp experienced a major storm and as a safety precaution the whole camp stayed in the ohel ochel (dining room) for an extra two hours! Halfway through dinner, we felt a rumble through the canvas walls, and the sky opened up, demonstrating the truly spectacular power of nature and Hashem. Rain and hail fell like waterfalls, and white flashes of lightning filled the sky. I took this opportunity to lead our kehillah kedosha (holy community) in two brachot (blessings), as all of camp is rarely in the same location during a thunder and lightning. The first bracha on hearing thunder (a blessing that praises God’s power and might), and the second bracha on seeing lightning (a blessing that celebrates God as The creator).
As we kept warm and dry inside the ohel (tent), we passed the time by cleaning up our plates and tables as usual, and then took part in an epic session of rikud (dancing). Then, with members of our kehillah linked arm in arm, Michael Harlow, our RacazShira (Camp Song Leader and Music Coordinator) brought out his guitar and led the camp in more shirim (songs). Our voices, contained only by the four walls of ohel, drowned out the thunder. The simcha (joy) I felt in that room was inspiring. I was impressed to see our chalutzim making the best of a less-than ideal situation.
The next morning, camp was quiet as the older chalutzim left on their masa’ot, and all of our trails and streams became the domain of our youngest edot (age groups), Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) and Metaylim (5th and 6th graders). Both edot went horseback riding with our susim (horse staff) tzevet, spent time on the archery range with our chetz v’keshet (archery) tzevet,and in the afternoon Ilanot went on a masa to the aquatics center while Metaylim went whitewater rafting.
Solelim (7th and 8th graders) spent their week on a variety of masa’ot including omanut (art), chetz v’keshet (archery), rafting/ofanayim (biking), chava (farming), and backpacking. Some highlights from the masa’ot include playing with goats, making homemade pizza with fresh-picked herbs, gorgeous sunrise hikes, and intense (and in tents) card games during some lengthy storms.
Bogrim (9th graders) set out on two different trips – a backpacking masa to Great Sand Dunes National Park and the other a kayaking masa. For Bogrim masa’ot, many chalutzim had opportunities to face their fears. Whether it was fear of heights or fear of flipping over in their kayak, everyone embraced the Ramah in the Rockies mantra of “Challenge by Choice,” and they all had an incredible time!
Not to be outdone by the adventures had by our younger edot, all of Sayarim (10th graders) went on challenging backpacking masa’ot. Some of these chalutzim not only had to deal with minor hailstorms, but also hat-stealing marmots (think large squirrel, but cuter). Unfortunately, the marmots bested our chalutzim, as some of them did have their hats taken for good.
Finally, JOLI (11th and 12th graders), our oldest edah, split into two groups, both spending their week in Carson National Forest in New Mexico, marking only the second time that Ramah in the Rockies has had a masa cross state lines! The highlight of this masa was, without a doubt, the incredible 360-degree views encountered at the top of several peaks.
Last Shabbat, Assistant Director Julia Chatinover gave a d’var torah on the power of kesharim (connections), and encouraged our chalutzim to go into their individual masa’ot with the active intention of creating kesharim. Our chalutzim did not disappoint! The kesharim that they formed between each other, nature, and within themselves flooded out (no pun intended) as they returned to the chava. It could be seen and heard through their smiles and laughter as they rejoined camp. They shed their mud-encrusted hiking boots, washed their sweat-soaked hair, and prepared their minds and bodies to join the rest of the kehilah kedosha in the Pardes Tefillah for the beginning of Shabbat.
After a “stormy” start, our kehillah spent this week embarking on individual and group masa’ot to return home to a peaceful Shabbat where we can reflect and come together. I am continuously reminded of the power of nature, both at basecamp and bamidbar (in the wilderness), to make memories and friendships that last a lifetime. I am excited for the week to come at Machaneh Ramah as we continue to build our kehillah.
Session 2 of our 10th year at Ramah in the Rockies has officially arrived! The hot July day did not dampen the excitement felt by all as we welcomed our chalutzim (pioneers/campers)to the chava (ranch). Returning chalutzim happily reunited with friends and tzevet (staff) from past years, and new campers quickly experienced the warmth of camp’s kehillah (community) as they danced and sang with their madrichim (counselors).
At our welcome medurah (bonfire) Thursday night, Michael Harlow, our Racaz Shira (Camp Song Leader and Music Coordinator) taught our chalutzim some of this summer’s new camp songs, and he went over a few classics from past summers to make sure that everyone was on the same page. Before bed, each ohel (tent) spent time creating an ohel brit – a communal contract outlining expectations by which they should treat each other. By nightfall, chalutzim eagerly fell into their beds after a long day of travel and excitement, getting some much needed rest before we jumped right into regular base camp activities Friday morning.
This session I can’t wait to see our four midot (values) continue to play a central role in the experience of camp and in the hearts of our chalutzim.
Machaneh (camp) is a community, and the kesharim (connections) we make with each other have the potential to make a real impact on the lives of our chalutzim. I have full confidence that they will make many kesharim with each other, with tzevet, and with Judaism, both intellectually and spiritually.
Tzmicha ishit (personal growth), is a goal that is realized every single day of camp. Chalutzim have the opportunity to challenge themselves in regular base camp activities, whether it be making it up a particularly grueling hill on a mountain bike, volunteering to lead tefillah (prayer), or learning to work as a team on the Migrash Cadorsol (basketball court). Masa (backcountry excursions) weeks provide even more of a chance to grow as the chalutzim tackle the unique experience of being in the backcountry. We want our chalutzim to stretch beyond the limits they have previously set for themselves, and take pride in their accomplishments.
Simcha (joy), is so prevalent throughout camp. I have already seen chalutzim eagerly running to their chugim (electives), singing at the top of their lungs during musical tefillah , and jumping around during pre-dinner rikkud (dance). I know this joyous atmosphere will continue to permeate the chava over the next four weeks.
Lastly, we hope to cultivate a culture of kavod (respect) at camp – for others, for ourselves, and for the environment. This midah plays out in so many ways here at camp, including mindfulness of what we put into our bodies, the words we use to speak to each other, and the way we take advantage of what the earth has to offer us.
Right now, the normal hustle and bustle of camp is beginning to subside as everyone prepares for Shabbat. Our bathhouses are full and everyone is changing into their finest white clothing. Chalutzim and tzevet alike are eagerly anticipating dancing in our Pardes Tefillah, and welcoming in Shabbat with our ruach-filled (spirited) Ramah in the Rockies style Kabbalat Shabbat service.
I am so inspired by the kehillah kedoshah (holy community) that I experience at camp each summer, and this summer is no different. I cannot wait to gather with the entire machaneh, as we raise our voices to welcome the first of many wonderful Shabbatot here at camp this kayitz (summer).