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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 Rosh Edah (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 kehillah kedosha (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!

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

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 everyone is 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!

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

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 Racaz Shira (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.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock 

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). 

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

We kicked off the final week of Session 1 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) yarok, things at camp again shifted to anticipation as a majority of chalutzim (pioneers/campers) prepared for their masa’ot.

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 JOLIchalutzim 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 (summer) 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). JOLI, tzevet members, and Ta’am Ramah all dressed up in their finest attire and purused 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 Rosh Edah (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.

Solelim (7th and 8th graders) had incredible masa experiences to share from all their masa’ot, including: omanut (Art), ofanayim (biking), tipus (climbing), and backpacking. The Solelim omanut masa ate s’mores at the American Continental Divide, saw a double rainbow, and the cherry on top of it all – saw a moose taking an early morning dip in a lake. One masa also went on Ramah in the Rockies’ first ever fly fishing masa. While the group caught several fish, unfortunately, no one caught fish large enough to cook in the evening, which was going to be an option for dinner for those who wanted. Our Bogrim (9th graders) chalutzim chose from an array of masa’ot as well, including: farm masa, backpacking masa, kayaking masa, and the first ever tipus (climbing) and ofanayim (biking) masa. The group that went on this masa had an amazing time that included a tough multi-pitch climb and a cheese fondue birthday celebration for one of their chalutzim.        

In preparation for their JOLI summer, when they will return as CITs and help to lead their first masa’ot, our Sayarim (10th graders) went on challenging backpacking masa’ot. These masa’ot are the best way to hone backcountry wilderness skills. Besides running into some moose and elk, Sayarim chose to challenge themselves on masa while partaking in individual, six-hour, solo wilderness experiences. These solo exercises serve as the culmination of the Camp Ramah in the Rockies experience for our oldest chalutzim before they return as CITs the following summer.  

As we pack away our gear, shower, and put on our finest white outfits, everyone is excited about our final Shabbat together. 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 Monday afternoon. Tonight, as we gather in our pre-Shabbat circle, I will address our community urging them to take the values that permeate our kehillah kedosha (holy community) home with them, and integrate them into their own families and communities.  

We look forward to seeing our chalutzim back on the chavain the Kayitz of 2020!

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

As we wrap up the third week of Session 1, I sense that the simcha (joy) of our chalutzim (pioneers/campers) is as strong as ever! I can’t help but smile when I see them eagerly running to their chugim (activities), singing at the top of their lungs during musical tefillah (prayer), and jumping around during pre-dinner rikkud (dance).

This week we said, “le’hitraot!” (“see you later!”) to our Session 1A chalutzim as they returned home following an action-packed, growth-oriented two weeks. While we will miss their contribution to our kehillah (community), we also gave a warm welcome to our Session 1B chalutzim as they arrived to camp. Arriving on Tuesday, they jumped right into basecamp activities and preparing for the upcoming masa’ot (backcountry excursions).

This week was full of exciting and memorable peulot erev (evening activities). Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders) prepped for their upcoming Harry Potter Day with a relaxed movie night. Metaylim (5th and 6th graders) competed between ohelim (tents) in minute-to-win-it activities and excitedly made welcome signs for arriving new campers. Solelim (7th and 8th graders) had a tie-dye night and learned the 1978 Israeli Eurovision song, “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” in preparation for camp’s edah (age group) against edah sing-off, Kol Edah. Bogrim (9th graders) spent a peulat erev around the medurah (campfire) playing guitar, singing, and eating s’mores. Sayarim (10th graders) played bar and bat mitzvah games with Bogrim, which evolved into their own “Saya-rave.” They also did a community mapping activity in which they used natural resources to construct a physical map of camp.

This week JOLI (11th and 12th graders) had a chance to intimately experience one of Ramah in the Rockies’ core values, tzmicha ishit (personal growth), or as we like to say at camp, “challenge by choice.” JOLI chalutzim laced up their hiking boots and tackled Mount Bierstadt, a peak of over 14,000 feet! They also began CIT training, preparing to work with tzevet (staff) to run omanut (art), lead ofanayim (biking), attend activities with the younger edot (age groups), and more!

As we do each week, we had Israeli-themed activities throughout camp, including a blue and white contest at dinner, a Shulchan Ivrit (Hebrew only table) at lunch, and some Israeli tunes added to our always-growing song repertoire. We also had a terrific 4th of July celebration here at camp yesterday. Throughout the day, we danced and sang American folk songs. We said the prayer for our country, recited blessings in Hebrew, English, and Spanish, and also spoke about the values that make America the country it is. We ended the day with a 4th of July bar-b-que.

In true Ramah in the Rockies style, the weather has been keeping us on our toes! This week the chalutzim have been donning hats, slathering on sunscreen, and refilling water bottles as the sun shines strong in the mornings. By late afternoon, the sky sometimes darkens as the chava (ranch) has often been washed with much-welcomed rain, cooling off camp in time for a good night’s sleep. An added benefit of the weather patterns has been that the flowers this year are more vibrant than ever. Many chalutzim have noticed the bluish purple columbine flowers that have bloomed for the first time in recent memory. Our Ramah Valley is awash with hues of purple and orange mixed with the vibrant green of the grass.

There is something about the hours leading up to Shabbat that brings a palpable energy to the chava. I feel the buzz and excitement of chalutzim as they wash off the sweat and dirt that marks a successful day here at camp, and prepare to refocus their minds and hearts to the change of pace that Shabbat brings. 

Next week the chalutzim will go off on various masa’ot and take on the outdoor adventures that makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. For now, the approaching calm of Shabbat awaits us. 

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Eliav Bock

As I write this, our chalutzim (campers/ pioneers) are returning from their masa’ot. There is a shrill of excited gabbing and laughter emanating from our packout area as vans unload and chalutzim arrive back into camp. The weather here at the chava(ranch) is finally beginning to resemble summer, and our chalutzim are shedding their jackets and knit hats for t-shirts and bucket hats.

Our youngest edah, Ilanot (3rd and 4th graders), spent their masa week visiting the local aquatic center, camping under the stars in Ramah Valley, and hiking Prospector, a local peak. Metaylim campers (5th and 6th graders) enjoyed their own campout in Ramah Valley after an exciting whitewater rafting trip on the Arkansas River. They returned from their rafting trip raving about the incredible white water, undeterred by the mountain runoff that kept river temperatures in the 40s and rapids at the maximum intensity permitted for their age group. During tefillot (prayers) throughout the week, they also worked on personalizing their siddurim (prayer books).

Solelim (7th and 8th graders) spent their week on a variety of masa’ot including omanut (art), chetz v’keshet (archery), rafting/ofanayim (biking), and backpacking. I heard from the omanut masaa bout their tasty food, and the archery masa about using compound bows at the nearby Scouts BSA camp plus the miles of epic uphill and downhill runs on their two-day journey back to camp. Bogrim (9th graders) had two different backpacking trips – Great Sand Dunes National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, and kayaking and tipus (climbing) for their masa’ot options. Although we changed the routes of both hiking trips late last week because of snow, both groups still got to hike through the white stuff and had to adjust their route during the week because of the poor (summer) trail conditions.

Not to be outdone by the adventures had by our younger edot, Sayarim (10th graders) went on their masa’ot according to their megamot (majors).They continued to develop their basecamp skills on masa for backpacking, tipus, and ofanayim. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke to some Sayarim chalutzim in the chadar ochel (dining tent) as they were discussing how their masa group could have made an aruchat tzohorayim (lunch) that was far superior to our “normal” camp lunch. They explained to me that one of their masa tzevet was a master at cooking in the backcountry and taught the group all kinds of tips and tricks they could use to make some seriously elegant outdoor meals.

JOLI (11th and 12th graders), our oldest edah, split into two groups, both spending their week in Carson National Forest in New Mexico, marking the first time that Ramah in the Rockies has had a masa cross state lines! Unique to this masa was the variety of terrain encountered – from desert to dense forest to wide open meadows. And, yes, there was still lots of snow, even in June!

With most of camp relatively quiet, our remaining tzevet (staff) had several opportunities to partake in their own programming, including, new for this kayitz – Spanish 101, led by our Mexicantzevet who are part of the national Camp Leaders program.

As we enter our second Shabbat with chalutzim, I am so excited to finally return to rikkud (dancing) and Kabbalat Shabbat in our Pardes Tefillah after an almost two-year break. Last week, we were hunkered down and bundled in jackets and hats in our Ohel Moed where the energy was palpable and the rain coming down. Last year we experimented with moving Friday night services to Ramah Valley, one of the most beautiful places in camp, but the logistics of moving everyone out there and the lack of shade made it challenging most weeks. Tonight we return to our original Friday night location, which many consider to be their inspirational place of prayer at Ramah.

Finally, an anecdote. Just yesterday, during lunch with one of our new nurses, she mentioned how much and how quickly she felt herself a part of our community compared to her previous sleepaway camp experiences. Every kayitz sees new faces join returning ones, and every summer they are welcomed with open arms. The comment by our nurse speaks to one of the things that makes me proud to be director of Ramah in the Rockies – welcoming new faces not just into our community, but embracing them as part of our kehillah kedoshah (holy community) so that they call our chava home. We are so lucky to have over 300 people calling our chava home this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Eliav Bock

Our 10th year at Ramah in the Rockies is officially a-go! The rain that greeted our chalutzim (pioneers/campers) as they arrived at the ranch on Tuesday had little effect on the joy of opening day. Returning chalutzim happily reunited with friends and tzevet (staff) from past years, and new campers quickly experienced the warmth of camp’s kehillah(community).

Getting off the van's on the first day!

While the rain made it impossible to have a welcome medurah (bonfire), it gave the chalutzim an opportunity to bond with everyone in their ohelim (tents). Each ohel spent time before bed 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.

Wednesday morning, camp was in full swing! Ilanot (rising 3rd and 4th graders) went biking and climbing, and were assigned a Bogrim (rising 9th graders) buddy who they will get to know through shared Shabbat meals and other activities. Metayalim (rising 5th and 6th graders) created their own tefillah (prayer) journals in which they can reflect on the Shacharit (morning) prayers. Solelim (rising 7th and 8th graders) jumped right into picking their masa’ot (backcountry excursions) as well as their chugim(electives) which include: chavah (farm), ofanayim (biking), susim (horseback riding), and more! Bogrim took in the picturesque landscape of Ramah Valley as they created an edah (age group) banner with paint balloons. Lastly, Sayarim (rising 10th graders) hiked up Givat Ilanot (Ilanot Hill), while JOLI (rising 11th and 12th graders) spent the day in a wilderness first aid training course to prepare them for medical situations in the backcountry.

New and old camp friends

If there is one word to describe the atmosphere at camp, it would be “simcha” (joy). Since the first night, we have been dancing in the chadar ochel (dining room) before every meal, having incredible shira (singing) sessions, and enjoying the spirit felt throughout camp. I have loved walking through the ohalim areas listening to the chatter of the chalutzim and watching the constant games of ping-pong, foosball, and spike ball.

Shira in the ohel ochel

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 best white outfits. Chalutzim and tzevet alike are eagerly anticipating dancing in our Pardes Tefillah and welcoming in Shabbat with our ruach-filled, Ramah in the Rockies style Kaballat Shabbat service (although the weather might make us move our services undercover into the Ohel Moed).  

I am so inspired by our kehillah kedoshah (holy community) that I experience at camp each summer, and this summer is no different. I cannot wait to gather with all of our machaneh (camp), as we raise our voices to welcome the first of many wonderful Shabbatot here on the ranch.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Eliav Bock

Shavua tov! Our staff Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course feels as if it happened months ago, Shavuot has come and gone, our Shavuah Hachanah (Week of Preparation) is ending, and all of our staff are eagerly awaiting their chalutzim (pioneers/campers). Our tzevet (staff) have just celebrated their second Shabbat at camp, and while things have been incredibly enjoyable, we are missing the most important people – our chalutzim.

Thankfully, within about 24 hours, our first chalutzim arrive! After months of planning, our 10th kayitz at Ramah in the Rockies will officially begin. We are looking forward to a summer filled with adventure, personal growth, and loads of fun. New for this summer are some updates to our property including adding campsites for ohel (tent) overnights, adjusting our daily schedule, and bringing the biking and masa (excursion) programs into the center of camp. The tzevet we have assembled this summer is our best yet, and I am thrilled for them to become teachers and role models for your children.

Things at Ramah in the Rockies have changed quite a bit since our inaugural summer when we had nine tents, eight showers, and a toilet trailer. Every year since has brought new challenges and opportunities, and this summer is no different. As we put the final touches on our preparations for this season, I would like to share how grateful I am for the opportunity to guide and support this amazing kehillah kedoshah (holy community) that we have nurtured over the last ten years. Thank you for choosing to send your children to Ramah in the Rockies.

As our chalutzim arrive, our focus turns to providing an incredible, fun, and safe experience for all of them. Please feel free to email or call with any questions, and know that we will continue to communicate via email, social media, and phone as needed.

I look forward to greeting your children on the chavah (ranch) this summer.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Eliav Bock
Camp Director

Dani Wallace, 2019 Director of Camper Care, with her Ilanot chalutzim in 2016
Dani Wallace, 2019 Director of Camper Care,
with her Ilanot chalutzim in 2016

Kayitz 2019 is a few short weeks away, and I could not be more excited to welcome your children to the Ramah in the Rockies ranch! My name is Dani Wallace and I am so pleased to introduce myself as the Director of Camper Care. After beginning my journey at camp in 2016 as the Rosh Edah (Unit Head) for Ilanot (rising 3rd & 4th graders), I returned to work for Ramah year-round as the Communications Coordinator – better known as the person who posted those much-anticipated photo updates! As a Jewish summer camp veteran of more than a decade, I am a firm believer in the unique magic of overnight camp.

That being said, camp can also be challenging! While some of these challenges may be physical, like summiting one of Colorado’s famous 14,000 ft. peaks, others are emotional. Learning how to share a living space, cope with homesickness, and adjust to a new environment can be stressful. To help you help your camper,  here are my Top 5 Tips & Tricks to ensure successful summer experiences for our chalutzim:

1 – Talk About Camp Early & Often

Start talking about camp now, if you haven’t already begun! These conversations can be a chance to unpack anxieties, foster excitement, and prepare your child for a meaningful summer experience. While reassuring your child that they will have a great time is important, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that the first few days might be a little tough until they get used to the rhythms of camp. Be sure to let them know that these emotions are normal, and you are sure they can handle it. Remind them also that their counselors are there to help and support them! Acknowledging fears and concerns ahead of time affords you and your child the opportunity to brainstorm coping strategies before camp even begins. First time campers might find that practicing sleeping away from home with a sleepover or two is helpful.

2 – Include Campers in the Preparation Process

Ensuring that your camper feels prepared is a great way to ease the pre-summer jitters! Utilize our online packing list to make sure your camper has everything they need to succeed. For some campers, being involved in the shopping and/or packing process can help calm nerves, so hand over that sharpie and let them help label their belongings, or go for walks together to make sure their hiking boots are fully broken in!

3 – Nip Homesickness in the Bud

The transition from home to camp can be a big adjustment, and many campers experience homesickness as they settle in. Printing out a few photographs of family and friends, packing a special stuffed animal to squeeze when they miss home, or including a prewritten “for when you feel homesick” letter are all useful strategies that can ease your child’s mind. If your child is particularly nervous, send a letter or one-way email that is awaiting their arrival to be read, or include a note in luggage for them to discover when unpacking! Additionally, including some pre-addressed and stamped envelopes in their suitcase makes writing home quick and easy.

4- Help Us Help Your Camper!

Myself, along with the rest of the camper care, and our leadership team here at Ramah in the Rockies are your partners in the success of your child’s summer! If your camper has a particular challenge that might impact their experience, it is best addressed before camp starts. If we know about potential problems in advance, we are able to strategize together and set your child up for success. If there is any information that was not included on your initial application that might help us facilitate the best summer possible for your camper, please contact Julia Chatinover, juliac@ramahoutdoors.org.

5 – Research Reassures

The unknown can be daunting, but familiarizing your child with Ramah in the Rockies before they pack their bags can make the transition to camp less intimidating! On our website you and your camper can watch videos, click through photos, learn about the daily schedule, and get an idea of what to expect upon their arrival to our beautiful chava (ranch). If you have any questions or concerns feel free to reach out to Rabbi Eliav, eliavb@ramahoutdoors.org or Julia Chatinover, juliac@ramahoutdoors.org.

I am looking forward to sharing a summer of fun, friendship, and adventure with all of our amazing chalutzim (campers)!

B’simcha,

Dani Wallace

Director of Camper Care


Today marks 65 days until we welcome our first chalutzim (campers) to the chava (ranch).  Just as we reflect on the various numbers mentioned during the seder – 3 matzot, 4 sons, and 10 plagues – I want to share some of the key numbers we think about as we prepare for summer.   

Happy Passover from Ramah in the Rockies
Chag Sameach! Happy Passover!

27,000 Gallons of clean drinking water available at any moment in our four above-ground tanks

6,065   Gallons of wastewater influent flowing daily into our system (Ever wonder how much is from showers versus flushing toilets?)

363      Campers currently registered for Kayitz 2019

105      Staff members working at camp this summer

104      Campers coming to Ramah in the Rockies for the first time!

70        Masa’ot (excursions) going out over four masa weeks (or 17-18masa’ot per week!!!)

40        New mountain bikes ordered

35        More campers we hope to enroll before opening day

20        Israeli mishlachat (emissary) staff joining our mishpacha (family)

18        Hens laying eggs at camp this summer

12        12-passenger vans on site at any one time during the summer

9.1       Acre feet of water owned by Ramah in the Rockies, of which we use .22 annually.  (Under the laws governing water use in the west, we need to build a pond by 2024 to access the unused amount or lose almost all of it.)

3          New primitive campsites being built

2          Dogs of camp living with us this summer – Welcome, Murphy and DovBer!

1          Camper coming from each of these states this summer:  Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, and Alabama

!!!חג שמח

– Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies Team

Focusing on קשרים – Connections

Chalutzim and Tzevet dancing in our Chadar Ochel

As we shared in our last Off-Season Insights blog, Summer 2019 has a number of program updates as a result of the feedback from our parents, tzevet, and chalutzim.   Year after year, we hear about the power of relationships our chalutzim develop while on their masa’ot, how important the friendships made each summer are, and the role our madrichim (counselors) play in being positive influencers.  Yet, we also learn that some chalutzim occasionally struggle to develop these strong relationships with all the excitement and activity going on in base camp programs.

Our addition of Ohel Koby last summer gave our chalutzim a new space in which to grow friendships.  Whether over games of ping pong, foosball, or cards, campers engaged with each other and found ways to make connections both within and across all our edot.

Continuing this trend, we are putting an additional emphasis this year on the relationships developed within our ohel and edah communities.  A former member of our tzevet, Sky Yardeni, brought the idea of “radical tzchokim” (laughter) as an important tool in group bonding.  In an effort to help facilitate radical tzchokim in all our edot, we are planning specific bonding programs for all this summer. 

These classic camp activities will give our campers the chance to bond through both laughter and silliness as edot and within their ohelim.  Some of the activities our chalutzim will enjoy include tie dying, backcountry pizza making, carnival nights, and capture the flag!  We hope these classic activities will complement the wonderful adventure experiences our chalutzim already have, while giving all a chance to relax and laugh at the end of the day.

As with all our programs and activities at camp, we reflect on how these changes align with our core values of kavod (respect), simcha (joy), s’micha ishit (personal growth), and k’sharim (connections), and we hope these opportunities for edot to develop k’sharim through simcha will permeate through the whole camp experience.

We look forward to seeing our chalutzim connect and laugh together and want to know, what activities do you want to see for edah and ohel bonding? 

A Purim Letter from Rabbi Eliav

Rabbi Eliav Bock

I write this letter having just returned from our ranch where we enjoyed the opportunity to meet as a leadership team and go over some changes we are implementing for this summer. As we look forward to opening our tenth summer, we want to ensure that our program remains successful for the next ten decades to come. We know that change is always hard, but are very excited to introduce these improvements to our camp.

CAMP TV

Being a screen-free environment simply does not make sense in today’s wired world! Our campers and parents rely on screens of all types to communicate with each other and too many of both our staff and camper populations have withdrawal-like symptoms when camp starts. Seeking a solution to this problem, we were delighted to learn of the new cable channel launching this summer called Camp TV. Executives from this channel were searching for five camps to pilot their reality TV program and, of course, we signed the contract!Over the past month, Camp TV has installed cameras and microphones throughout our chava (ranch) so that crews can televise our children at all times. All conversations (other than those in the bathroom or showers) will be recorded and beamed to parents (and producers) in real time. This way, our parents will know what is happening with their child(ren) at camp without ever having to ask our camper care team to check in on them or reading any of our weekly emails. Producers are bound to put together the events of the summer in an amazingly compelling narrative.But, we did not want to stop there. We also wanted our campers to get in on the

The new scene in the Chadar Ochel

action, and this summer we are issuing smart phones to each so that they can communicate in real time with those at home. No longer will meals be marked by animated conversations across tabletops. Campers will keep a steady view of their screens and text/Whatsapp/Instagram (whatever) with those who are not present.

A Loon internet balloon

Clearly, the lack of high-speed internet is an issue in making all of this technological change come together. Here, too, we have found a solution by working with our friends at Alphabet (Google’s parent company). Their moonshot company, Loon, is putting balloons in the air to beam high-speed internet to the masses. While their focus is linking the African continent, we convinced them that campers at Colorado summer camps are in even greater need of high-speed internet. We have agreed to serve as their trial case in North America and expect to have their balloons floating above our camp beaming a high-speed signal to all.

FREE SOLOING

We pride ourselves in running one of the most amazing rock climbing programs in the Jewish summer camp movement, teaching it on both an artificial bouldering wall and a real granite cliff. To ensure that safety always comes first, we purchase top-level gear and maintain impeccable logs. A few years ago we made this video to highlight our “hard core” program, anchored by our climbing program. But for our chalutzim (campers) and climbers, ropes always seem to get in the way.This summer, our climbing program moves to the next level. Alex Honnold introduced the world to Free Soloing in his Oscar-winning documentary, Free Solo. For those who missed it, Alex spent about four hours  

Alex Honnold in Free Solo

climbing a 3,000 foot cliff with no ropes and, at one point, dangling 2,500 feet above the ground while holding a grip the size of a matchbox. Ever since seeing this, we have wondered whether our Challenge by Choice mantra means that we are inspiring the next Alex Honnold and what we can do to prepare them for this experience?! We know that we need to be more HARD CORE! This summer, therefore, we are proud to announce the country’s first free solo program! Working closely with two of our certifying agencies, the American Camp Association (ACA) and the Colorado Department of Human Services, we have devised a system whereby we will take campers with the most rudimentary climbing ability and put them directly on a granite slab. Brain researchers have told us that by changing a child’s amygdala (the part of the brain that creates the “fight or flight” response) at a young age, an entire generation of free soloists may be nurtured. Under the careful guidance of our lead rock climbers, campers will climb up a vertical surface of 1,000 feet or more with no ropes. By starting this process with our youngest campers, we believe we can train our kids to overcome their inherent fear of falling.The Free Soloing program will absolutely make our camp stand out, and is one step along the way to creating the next generation of Jewish

On a climbing masa.

daredevils. Future growth of this initiative will include wing suit jumping (where campers jump off cliffs with wings attached), hang gliding, bungee jumping, and possibly even a winter expedition to K2. (Everest is too easy, and WAY too commercialized at this point and we know that K2 will provide our community with a real challenge.)Like all masa’ot (excursion) activities at Ramah, parents will be asked to sign a waiver.

ADDED CALORIES

Our chalutzim burn thousands of calories each day! In addition to the three meals and two snacks we currently serve, we are concerned that our campers are not getting the needed calories to see them through the day. We thought of adding more protein-based nutrients (meat, tofu, etc.), and perhaps even more fruits and vegetables, but then looked at our society out there in the “real world”. This made us realize that we were ignoring all those empty calories our campers rely upon in their regular lives. Seeking a solution to this problem, our culinary staff and nutritionist recently went on a group outing to some of the local grocery stores to view their products and the answer hit us like a ton of bricks! We need more candy, soda, and sugary drinks! We reached out to the American Beverage Association, and they were happy to help sponsor our latest project. At each meal (especially breakfast), we will now serve a curated line of products made by the Coca Cola Company, 

Our new beverage selection.

including Coke, Sprite, and Fanta. For those who want a non-fizzy alternative, we expect to have Hi-C and Capri-Sun available also. Plus, we plan to install candy machines throughout camp. We are excited to work with a local Boulder company to make sure that the sugar provided in these products gives the illusion of being healthy by adding organic food coloring. We know that our efforts are successful if children are bouncing off the walls after meals and have so much built up energy that they yell while racing pell-mell from one peulah (activity) to another. We realize that bed time might become a challenge, but have heard that a cup of warm milk, with plenty of natural sugar to rot their teeth, helps calm things down. So starting this summer, in the evening outside the bathhouses, our rashei edah (unit heads) will give out hand-crafted cups of steamed milk to anyone needing it to unwind. Our success is the added trips to the dentist for our campers.

CONCLUSION

We know that change can be challenging and that some will wonder whether these improvements will affect our camp community and the values that we have nurtured since our founding. Only time will tell. But for now, know that it is Purim and we wish everyone a VERY HAPPY PURIM, ONE FILLED WITH LAUGHTER AND NONSENSE! (And a real camp update will be forthcoming next week.)
– Rabbi Eliav and the entire Ramah in the Rockies team

February 25th, 2019

Below is a note from Moss Herberholz, our Director of Inclusion, regarding the expansion of our vocational education program. To learn more about this program, visit the Program page on our website!


Moss Herberholz, Director of Inclusion

As we expand our vocational education program, we hope to provide Jewish young adults with special needs an opportunity to receive job training, learn life skills, improve social skills, and engage in Jewish learning with peers, all while enjoying time in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

We hope that expanding our program will allow our inclusion campers to continue being a part of our kehilah kedoshah (holy community) even after they have aged out of our inclusion program. Unlike our neurotypical campers, who we often welcome back as staff members, up until now this kind of opportunity has been inaccessible to many of our inclusion campers.

We also hope that expanding our program will open our kehilah kedoshah (holy community) to new faces. We are excited to provide the opportunity to spend an extended period of time living and engaging in meaningful work while in an outdoor environment to Jewish young adults who were not campers at Ramah in the Rockies.

This past summer it was a joy to watch our returning vocational educational participant as he pushed passed his comfort level and grew. He spent the summer effectively and independently completing tasks in pack-out and on the farm. In pack-out he helped prepare food and other materials for masa’ot (backpacking trips). On the farm he took care of the animals, helped cultivate crops, and independently lead campers in activities for the first time. It is my hope to see many more vocational education participants learning and growing just as this vocational education participant continues to do.


Douglas Wolf, our Business Manager, will be leaving Ramah in the Rockies at the end of February to pursue new challenges and to spend time with his family full time in Chicago. Thank you, Douglas, for all you have done for Ramah in the Rockies!

Rabbi Eliav Bock
Rabbi Eliav Bock

It was the winter of 2009 and I had recently been hired to be the Founding Director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, when I met Douglas Wolf at a gathering in Denver. A Ramah alum, with a passion for the outdoors, biking, and all things Ramah, he offered his help, as a volunteer, to do whatever was needed to launch our new Camp Ramah in Colorado. In the late summer of that year, after he and his family had returned from a four-day family camp experience at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch, I again ran into him one night at Home Depot while trying to load a picnic table into my sedan. He offered to drive it home for me in his SUV. I thanked him and mentioned that I was looking to hire someone to help with some administrative tasks, wondering whether he knew of anyone looking. The next day, I received the call that changed my life, his life, and the trajectory of our camp forever. Douglas said that if I was willing to hire someone with no formal staff experience, who had been out of the full time labor force for 6+ years as a primary caregiver, but was eager for his next adventure, then he was the person I wanted.

As a partner in starting Ramah Outdoor Adventure, Douglas did whatever was needed to make camp a success. In the off-season, he helped with recruiting, hiring, and registration. He figured out which state licenses were needed to operate a child-care facility, how to respond to emergencies, and the logistics of getting both campers and staff to camp. There was never a task from which Douglas shied away.

I will never forget that first summer when Douglas came to camp for a month with his kids in tow, both too young to be campers yet. They each had walkie-talkies with them so that they could communicate with their dad while he was at work, allowing them to run around the ranch unattended. In that first year, we did not have running water at the sinks outside our dining hall, instead using hand pumped portable sinks. One of our many issues was not having anyone whose responsibility it was to fill and empty the sinks. Enter Douglas! He took it upon himself, sometimes radioing his kids for help, to pull the plugs on the sinks, allowing them to drain on the ground, and then refilling them with water.

After our first summer, Douglas and I began to formalize our organizational structure. He took over all business and operational functions, effectively becoming business manager (although he spent a few weeks as Assistant Director and then Associate Director before we settled on business manager). In this role, he has helped grow and sustain Ramah in the Rockies from our ragtag group in 2009 to a more formal, but equally passionate, team in 2019. Douglas has overseen our accounting, liaising with our eight(!) licensing agencies, while continuing to maintain an excellent attitude and appreciation for how his behind-the-scenes work affects hundreds of young people each summer. All the while he insists that no task is below him and that he will help with whatever is needed to make camp a success. A Friday night this past summer suddenly comes to mind, when in the middle of Shabbat dinner the toilet trailer clogged; it was Douglas who donned his Wellies, took a deep inhale and ventured into the muck with gloves and plunger in hand.

Douglas never seeks the spotlight. Indeed many of our campers probably do not know who he is or what he does for camp. But the rest of us know how Douglas has been the invisible force keeping us moving forward and ensuring that money is collected, bills are paid, and camp remains safe.

After our 2018 season, Douglas told me he was looking to retire, and asked how he could do so without jeopardizing the future of the organization that he had helped build. His heart remains with Ramah in the Rockies, but physically, he needed to move on. We agreed that he would remain with us through the end of February, which would allow for a seamless transition to the person following in his footsteps. Over the past few months, we reworked our organizational chart, better integrating our BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy program into our year round team, and relooking at how we operate our summer camp. Douglas has remained a vital part of our team, though we know that in a few short weeks he will begin a much more relaxing, probably slower paced, adventure. (Indeed, two people will replacing what Douglas accomplished alone; Matt Levitt will be taking over as COO and Avram Pachter as Director of Operations).

As Douglas’s tenure with Ramah in the Rockies comes to an end, I know that I speak for the 1000+ families and the 800+ staff who have been part of our community and whose lives have been made better by Ramah in saying THANK YOU!! While I, personally, have received many accolades for the successes of our camp, I know that without Douglas guiding us, Ramah in the Rockies would not be where it is today as the premier Jewish outdoor adventure camp in the country.

Douglas, I will miss working with you each day. The energy, system, and vision you bring and have brought to our organization have made me a better director and our camp a better community. THANK YOU!

Below is a note that Douglas wrote about his impending transition.

With gratitude,
Rabbi Eliav Bock


Douglas Wolf
Douglas Wolf

Dear Ramah Community
As many of you have heard, my adventure as the Business Manager for Ramah in the Rockies is drawing to a close. I have chosen to leave Ramah at the end of February and will transfer my responsibilities into the capable hands of Matt, Sandra and Avram. I am very proud to have helped successfully bring Ramah camping to the Rocky Mountains and am confident about the direction and future of Ramah in the Rockies and BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy. 

My primary goal has been to help build Ramah in the Rockies into a thriving Jewish camp, and along the way I have been fortunate to work with committed, engaged colleagues who have made the journey special. I would like to thank the year-round staff for their incredible energy and work, and the board of directors for their leadership and support over the years. We would not be where we are without everyone on this team. And I would like to particularly acknowledge Rabbi Eliav for his partnership since he and I first began working together in 2009 to make this dream a reality. 

My family has literally grown up with Ramah in the Rockies. When camp opened, my sons Ben and David were staff kids, too young to be among the first Chalutzim. My wife Jennifer was camp’s first medical director. Ben is now touring colleges and David is eager to return for Sayarim, his 8th summer as a camper. 

I am looking forward to new challenges and to being in Chicago full time with my family. I will continue to support Ramah as a parent and BaMidbar board member. From the moment the first campers arrived in 2010 until today, I always knew that we were and are part of something very special. It has been my privilege to have played a part in building this kehillah kedoshah (holy community), over the past 10 years. Thank you. 

If you would like to keep in touch after my time with Ramah please email douglasramah@gmail.com

Best wishes, Douglas

Morah Nehamah Liebowitz, the late Torah commentator, is said to have hated the concept of Mother’s Day; she thought it crazy that we would take one day to be nice to mothers— according to her, every day should be a celebration of mothers! When thinking about Tu B’Shevat, what has become Judaism’s annual version of Earth Day, I sometimes feel the same as Morah Liebowitz. 

Ilanot campers planting plants in our greenhouse.
Ilanot Chalutzim planting in our greenhouse.

Tu B’Shevat began as a fringe Kabalistic tradition celebrated by mystics. In the past few decades, through a number of Jewish communal initiatives, it has become a mainstream holiday; a time for all of us to take meaningful actions to incorporate Jewish environmental values into our lives.  And let’s be clear, it’s a good thing that the Jewish community has days like Tu B’Shevat where we can think about how our actions affect the environment. But, to echo Morah Liebowitz, one day is not enough! 

For us to fully commit ourselves to changing the way in which we interact with the natural world, we are going to need more than a day to make these changes. We are going to need to see how our lives, most of which are lived in urban environments, affect the natural world around us.

At Ramah in the Rockies, our community comes together each summer to spend ten weeks living consciously with nature, although our campers rotate in and out every two to four weeks.  Yes, we use many of the modern conveniences found in our urban lives – electricity, fossil fuels, and satellite phones. Yet, at the same time, we go out of our way to be intentional about our relationship with the natural world.  Our campers live in bunks with no power. We use a method of fermenting garbage, called Bokashi, for most food scraps that are composted for our garden. We pre-heat our shower water using the sun’s rays.

Most importantly, each camper spends time during camp experiencing nature up close. There is no better way to appreciate the great outdoors, than to surround oneself with the phenomena of our living world. On a multi-day backpacking trip, campers view incredible vistas, drink in the warmth of sun on their faces, and encounter the thirty-degree temperature swings common in the Rockies in July. We often see our younger campers playing with rocks, sticks, and dirt, and building forts using fallen branches. 

Illanot Campers looking at Ponderosa pine tree
Ponderosa pine trees smell like butterscotch!

An activity I love to lead is part of our morning t’fillah, where we take ten minutes for campers to stop, explore a single tree, and its surrounding area. I ask the campers to hug, smell, and stare at the tree. I ask them to reach down to the ground and grab a handful of dirt, smelling, feeling, and sometimes even tasting it. We do this as part of our morning prayers, because it helps raise our awareness of just how alive the world around us is, and how magnificent and complicated nature can be. We do this as part of our t’fillot because, as a Jewish educator, I believe our Torah has a role in answering many of the issues facing our people and society.

I see Ramah in the Rockies serving as a lab for young people to develop a Jewish love and appreciation for the natural world around us, creating a society living in concert with nature and helping it continue sustaining human life for the next ten thousand years – answering an acute challenge of our time. Having our campers and staff translate their summer experiences into lifetime engagements with others working to protect, grow, and sustain our living world, that is our goal.

-Rabbi Eliav

Our NEW Daily Schedule!

Metaylim campers learning in greenhouse
Metaylim Chalutzim experiencing our greenhouse

The most common question heard by summer camp professionals is:  What do you do during the rest of the year?  And, while we like to joke that we twiddle our thumbs and wait for June, the truth is that our nine months of “off season” are full and busy.  Lots of planning goes into making camp the fun, magical, kehillah kedoshah we create each summer, including camper recruitment, program planning, masa permitting, and staff hiring.  We are eager to give you a glimpse into our winter office through a series of upcoming blog posts. 

As mentioned, one aspect of our off-season revolves around program development.  We examine the previous summer: what worked really well, what was a flop, and what could use some revision.  Each year, right after the summer has ended, we read through hundreds of pages of feedback collected from our chalutzim, parents, and tzevet.  Our annual “You Shared, We Listened” email delivers the results of what we have learned and explains how we are moving forward towards the following summer.

For Kayitz 2019, we are excited to share our new daily schedule, which you can view here.  Three highlights from this are – breakfast before tefillah, an extra daily perek, and a scheduled afternoon snack time. Our hope for these changes is to provide our campers the opportunities for more active engagement in tefillot and to experience either more base camp activities or dive deeper into their favorites. 

Program changes like these seem simple and straightforward, but there are many factors which impact the flow of a day at camp.  Some of our considerations are:

  • Is there enough time to prepare breakfast without requiring our kitchen staff to wake up exceptionally early?
  • What do our mumchim (specialists) need time-wise within a perek to allow our chalutzim to really dive into an activity?  If we adjust the length or number of prakim during the day, does this allow us to offer more double prakim to our older chalutzim?
  • How does switching breakfast and tefillah first thing in the morning impact nikayon (cleaning)? 
  • When should each edah (age group) have their z’man edah (edah-based learning time)? 

We are eager to try out this new schedule with our 2019 chalutzim and tzevet, and appreciate your feedback in helping us to continually improve our program!  If you would like to learn more about our new schedule or other program changes, give us a call or an email – we are always happy to discuss.  

-Rabbi Eliav and Julia

Tonight at our Seder tables, we will sing Dayenu: “It would have been enough.” The simple reading of this part of the Hagadah is that it really would have been enough just to leave Egypt, or just to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. However, the reality is that without each event outlined in the Hagadah, we would not be the Jewish people we are today.

So, what do we mean by Dayenu?  Dayenu reminds us that numerous events, actions, and people contributed to our journey to the Holy Land. Furthermore, Dayenu insists that we cannot just be grateful for the end result – we must also pause, understand, and express gratitude for each individual step along the way.

Ramah in the Rockies has come so far since our opening season, and we are so grateful for the community that has helped us get to where we are today. Over the last nine summers, we have grown from 120 chalutzim (campers) and 33 tzevet (staff) to a community of over 500 people. It is you, our extended community, who have helped us spread the word about the magic of Jewish summer camp, and we are so excited to announce that in Summer 2018 we will be welcoming more than 100 new chalutzim to Ramah in the Rockies!

From summer to summer we have improved and expanded our program using the feedback shared by camp families, and with the resources provided by our generous donors.  Every year, our tzevet give their all to our machane (camp), forming connections with their chalutzim and facilitating the programs and masa’ot (backcountry excursions) that become lifelong memories. The Ramah in the Rockies ranch has become a second home to many, and we are so proud and thankful for the progress we have made together.

Dayenu reminds us that change happens gradually over time.  Each summer, it is the little actions that have the greatest impact, bringing us closer to being a kind of “Holy Land,”  – a place where every individual feels welcomed and empowered! Though we cannot know what Ramah in the Rockies will look like ten, twenty, or fifty years from today, we feel confident that our trajectory of growth and improvement will pave the way for a bright future. We are grateful for the new traditions we have yet to establish, the buildings yet to be constructed, and for the chalutzim and tzevet yet to walk through our doors.

To our chalutzim, families, donors, and tzevet, we say ‘Dayenu.’  Dayenu that we are in the place we are today, and Dayenu that we will be in an even better place in the future.

Wishing you a Passover filled with gratitude,

Julia Snyder
Program Director

 

Author Julia Turnbow (left) and Program Director Julia Snyder (right) at the conference

When I attended camp as a chalutza (camper), it never crossed my mind that my counselors spent time outside of the summer thinking about their role at Ramah in the Rockies and how they can grow to be better leaders and role models. My first summer as tzevet (staff), however, has lifted a curtain for me, letting me in on the behind-the-scenes preparation that makes camp so great each summer.

I recently had the privilege of attending the Bert B. Weinstein Leadership Training Conference, a National Ramah staff training seminar that takes place each winter in California. From acting out camper care scenarios and working through challenging situations to discussing what makes inclusion programs successful, our cohort focused on how we can make the Ramah experience thoughtful, intentional, and fun for our chalutzim!

In our bunk dynamics session, I played the role of a counselor observing a group of chalutzim. In the scenario we were assigned, one of the campers was a camp veteran who had trouble making new friends in the bunk, one was shy, another was a social butterfly, and the last was excited and entirely new to camp. After paying attention to the interactions, we created a sociogram – a diagram our campers’ relationships with one another – in order to better understand the group dynamic. The exercise was a wonderful practice in being an attentive and involved madricha (counselor).

Our session on inclusion touched upon the deeper values that underlie the difference between meaningful inclusion and tolerance. Throughout the discussion, inclusion staff from across the country wrestled with this distinction. We concluded that tolerance views differences as inherently problematic; issues to be dealt with quietly. Meaningful inclusion, on the other hand, values each individual for what they can offer, and understands differences in personal limitations. As madrichim, the way we treat all our chalutzim should embody our shared Jewish value that each person is created b’tzelem elohim – in the image of God.

At the beginning of the conference, Rabbi Ed Feinstein told the story of the prayer Ma Tovu. He explained that when Balaam was hired to curse the people of Israel, he climbed to the top of a nearby hill overlooking the Israelites’ tents. From that vantage point, he was unable to see the challenges that were taking place on the ground, and was instead overcome with awe as he gazed upon the community the Israelites had created. When he finally opened his mouth to say the curse, he spoke a blessing instead.

From a place of perspective, Balaam was able to experience his environment in a new way – appreciating the big picture without getting distracted by the details. Similarly, at camp, it can be easy to get distracted by the details and lose sight of why our machane (camp) is so special.

Participating in the Bert B. Weinstein Leadership Conference has given me the tools I need to return to Ramah in the Rockies as the best counselor I can be. Next summer, I will remain aware of the dynamics of my bunk and how they are impacting the chalutzim. I will understand what meaningful inclusion looks like and why it’s so important. And most importantly, I will remember to seek places of perspective, from which I can appreciate the beauty of our community.

Campers on Masa posing

Author Julia Turnbow (left) and campers head out on masa (backcountry excursion)

By Julia Turnbow

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

Yaakov Dermer Posing
Name: 
Yaakov Dermer

Job at Camp: Rosh Chuggim (Head of Activities)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 1

Favorite Camp Activity: Singing around the medurah (campfire)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Our Hanukkah Highlights series is an opportunity for tzevet (staff) from every corner of our community to share their favorite camp memories! For every day of Hanukkah we will be featuring a different staff member and a different wonderful story about what makes Ramah in the Rockies so special. 

Tamar Moss climbing rocks


Name: 
Tamar Moss

Job at Camp: Base Camp Intern

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 7

Favorite Camp Activity: Rock Climbing

Occupation: Student at Brandeis University studying Environmental Studies

 

This past summer, two other counselors and I had the opportunity to lead a group of Metayalim (5th and 6th graders) campers on a backpacking trip along the Goose Creek Trail. The route snakes through the beautiful Lost Creek Wilderness and involves summiting a few small mountains, but I was especially excited for this masa (backcountry excursion) for another reason – this was a route I had previously hiked as a camper just a few summers before.

I was back at Ramah in the Rockies as a base camp intern, my first summer on staff, and had the opportunity to experience one of my favorite trails as a madricha (counselor) instead of as a chalutza (camper). As we packed up our gear, I wondered what the next few days would bring. Would I be able to facilitate amazing masa memories for my campers the way my counselors had for me?

On our first afternoon out on the trail it immediately started to rain, and we were all a little bit cold and miserable. We decided it would be a good idea to stop for the night, even though there wasn’t a stream big enough to use as a water source right near our campsite. We helped the campers set up tarps and they changed into dry clothes as we cooked dinner.

After dinner, another counselor and I collected empty water bottles and hiked a down the mountain to get water from a bigger stream. As I trudged back up the mountain, my backpack heavy with full water bottles, I remember thinking that the first day of our masa had been more frustrating than fun. All I wanted was for our group to get some rest and start fresh in the morning. I hoped the kids were winding down and going to sleep.

As I got closer to the campsite, however, I was surprised to hear bursts of laughter and giggles. The kids, who I had presumed were cold, damp, and probably grumpy, were just the opposite! Huddled together in their sleeping bags under a dripping tarp, morale was high and they had been busy inventing a new game.

This game was sort of like a competition between two teams, where someone came up with a topic, and each team composed a satirical advertisement or skit about it. Then a panel of judges voted on which performance they liked best. The chalutzim continued to play this game throughout the rest of the masa. Every time we took a break and were ready to get back on the trail, they would beg for time to play just one more round.

I realized that while I had been busy worrying about making masa fun and memorable for the chalutzim, they had been busy creating their own fun! This experience taught me that sometimes being a great counselor isn’t about planning the best activities or being in control. Sometimes being a great counselor is about encouraging your campers to be creative and silly, and empowering their leadership by being an enthusiastic participant in the games they create themselves.

It was really special to watch these chalutzim come together over something that made them all laugh – to see every single one of them included and participating. I hope that someday those campers will be on staff themselves, having grown up at Ramah in the Rockies the way I did. And I hope that when they lead their first masa, they remember their hike along the Goose Creek Trail in 2017 and realize that as long as they give their campers space to be goofy and creative, the fun will find them!