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

Yaakov Dermer Posing
Name: 
Yaakov Dermer

Job at Camp: Rosh Chuggim (Head of Activities)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 1

Favorite Camp Activity: Singing around the medurah (campfire)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Tamar Moss climbing rocks


Name: 
Tamar Moss

Job at Camp: Base Camp Intern

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 7

Favorite Camp Activity: Rock Climbing

Occupation: Student at Brandeis University studying Environmental Studies

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Yuval Sharabi riding a horse


Name: 
Yuval Sharabi

Job at Camp: Tzevet Susim (Horse Staff)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 4

Favorite Camp Activity: Horseback Riding, of course!

Occupation: Therapeutic Horseback Riding Guide

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Name: 
Eliana Willis

Job at Camp: Bogrim Rosh Edah (Unit Head)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

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

Occupation: Jewish Engagement Coordinator at BaMidbar Wilderness Therapy

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Name: Ryan “Lunch Pail” Fleischer

Job at Camp: Ilanot Madrich

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 6

Favorite Camp Activity: Mountain Biking

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

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

Tonight was the Annual Ilanot Rocktion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elana
Name: 
Elana Schrager

Job at Camp: Bogrim Yoetzet (Camper Care Staff)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Backpacking – anywhere, anytime!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s the way it should be.

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

Isaac Rosen Climbing rocks

Name: Isaac Rosen

Job at Camp: Solelim Madrich, Climbing Staff, & Masa Leader

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 5

Favorite Camp Activity: Rock Climbing

Occupation: Student at Tufts University studying English and Film & Media Studies

 

For as long as I can remember, my biggest fear has been lightning. If I was ever outdoors with even the threat of a storm on the horizon, I would tense up and figure out how, where, and when I would be able to get inside. I knew how to tell how far away a strike was, and which indoor and outdoor locations are the safest hideouts in case of an emergency. Needless to say, a deep-rooted fear of lightning and five summers in the Colorado Rocky Mountains set me up for some interesting situations.

Fast forward to the first time I ever lead a backpacking masa (backcountry excursion). Though I had participated in numerous masa’ot throughout my time as a camper at Ramah in the Rockies, I still felt as nervous as I did excited, stepping into this new leadership role for the first time. I spent the next few days exploring Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness with a group of 13 and 14 year old chalutzim (campers). Everything was going according to plan until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

*FLASH*

I instinctually start counting in my head. “One…Two…Thr – ”

*BOOM*

Less than a mile away.

The clouds overhead still looked light – far from the ominous dark gray of the typical Colorado thunderheads – and yet the thunder roared before I could even take a breath. The calm, pale sky had misled us, urging us to push onward toward the top of the saddle we had to pass, and now the lightning was much too close for comfort. If it had been five years earlier I would have been shaking in my hiking boots, closing my eyes, and hauling tuchus down the mountain towards safety. Even as an adult, I felt the familiar childhood terror creep into my mind. This time, however, I knew that I couldn’t let fear stand in the way of being the leader my campers needed me to be.

I looked at the faces of those middle schoolers behind me, and in that moment, I realized that I couldn’t be the shaky, whimpering kid anymore. It was my turn to become one of the level-headed role models that I had looked up to and trusted to protect me during my masa’ot as a camper.

I kept my cool, instructed everyone to turn around, and we quickly headed for lower ground. We found a small grove of aspen trees, all of which were evenly sized but weren’t the tallest trees in the vicinity I knew this would be the safest place to wait out the lightning storm; we had gone over lighting protocal time and time again during staff week and throughout the Wilderness First Responder training course that masa leaders participate in.

Together we sat down on our backpacks and assumed “lightning position,” watching the flashes of the lightning, listening for the crashes of the thunder, counting the seconds between them all, and waiting patiently for the storm to pass.

From that point forward the trip went smoothly, and the lighting storm became just another story for my campers to eagerly share with their friends when we returned triumphantly to base camp just in time for Shabbat that Friday. But for me, the memory of that storm is so much more than just another exciting masa story. In that moment, crouching in the aspen grove with those kids, I suddenly understood that the counselors I had looked up to as a chalutz all those summer ago were not super-human. They were ordinary people – people just like me – who rose to the occasion because they knew their campers were depending on them.

This is what makes masa’ot  at Ramah in the Rockies so special – for both the chalutzim and for their counselors. On these excursions into the unknown, we all have the opportunity to face our fears, overcome challenges, and emerge on the other side knowing that we are capable of more than we ever imagined.

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

Name: Danit Cohen

Job at Camp: JOLI Madricha (Counselor)

Summers at Ramah in the Rockies: 3

Favorite Camp Activity: Mountain Biking in Buffalo Creek

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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


Natural EnvironmentCamper in Nature

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


Ongoing Support Camper and Counselor

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

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

TWO THUMBS UP

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

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

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

MIXED REVIEWS
(WHERE WE NEED MORE EMPHASIS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CONCLUSION

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Ramah in the Rockies Team

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Rachel Blau

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campers with arms around each other

Written by Abby Gavens, Director of Inclusion

This week we had the honor of welcoming Noga Korem, who is “racing as a privateer,” and Dan Craven, of the professional Israeli Road cycling team, to the chava (ranch)! The duo came to our machane (camp) to visit, teach, and enjoy the beauty of the chava (ranch) through Melinda Goldrich, longtime Ramahnik, supporter of Ramah in the Rockies. She recalls the way she got involved with this team, saying, “the Colorado pro challenge came through Aspen two years ago, that was the first year of the team, and I was asked to gather some members of the Jewish community to be supportive of the team and cheer them on.” Since then, she has built a relationship with the team and has familiarized them with the Colorado Jewish community.

International biking superstar Noga Korem was so excited to get to spend some time in our little corner of the Rocky Mountains. “It’s a really really nice place.” She said. “I love it. I feel sorry I wasn’t here when I was their age.” This morning, Bogrim Advancing Biking had the opportunity to take a double perek (period) lesson from the bike team members, where they learned how to steer, brake, pedal, and stand up on mountain bikes more effectively. “It was a lot of fun.” Noga says, “It looked like the kids really enjoyed it. They loved riding and they loved learning new things.” This wasn’t her first time teaching kids biking. Back in Israel, Noga teaches girls cycling and works with them to hone their skills.

Dan has also really enjoyed his experience at camp. “I only started racing my bike when I got to university because it took me that long to find it,” he told me. “And here are these kids who are being exposed to all of these things; it’s really amazing.” In regards to the culture of the camp, Dan has a real appreciation. “They’re up in the mountains; you don’t see a single kid walking around with a cell phone. We need more of that.”

Raz Paul, Rosh Ofanayim (biking) here at camp, was thrilled that they came to visit, saying, “it’s awesome to see Noga jump and do tricks on the bikes. Every time she goes to a competition or anything, the Israeli Facebook goes crazy. She’s one of the best in the world in downhill biking.” Indeed, being Israeli himself, Raz has a special appreciation for Dan, Noga, and their accomplishments, and he aims to spread his enthusiasm throughout the camp community. Raz is also especially glad that they will get to spend time teaching all of the different edot (age groups), saying, “they are joining all our perakim…one perek of each edah. They taught us some bike skills, how to properly stand on the bikes, how to turn, how to jump safely. The kids love them.”

Indeed, our chalutzim (campers) found the experience of learning from, talking to, and riding with professional cyclists to be invaluable. Yonah, 14, found their instruction to be tremendously helpful, and is hoping to utilize the skills they taught him on future mountain biking masa’ot (backcountry excursions).  He explained, “I learned in general how to go down single tracks and bike better.” A highlight for Yonah was getting the opportunity to follow Noga down a single track and witnessing a world class athlete in action. “It was really cool, she’s so good,” Yonah said, with awe and admiration written on his face. For a kid from New York City who looks forward to mountain biking here at camp every summer, it was truly a once in the lifetime opportunity.

Israeli Cyclists with Campers

Masa 2016
Mushon Samuels, Tikvah Summer Director

For chalutzim (campers) at Ramah in the Rockies, the masa (outing) is an integral part of camp. This summer, our Tikvah campers spent three days and two nights at Chatfield State Park, a very well-organized site with all of the necessary facilities for our campers, including showers, toilets, lake, playground, etc.  

After setting camp up, our group headed over to the lake and took a stroll along the beach. When we returned to ourcampsite, we cooked a delicious meal of veggie burgers accompanied with roasted sweet potatoes and onions. We played some games by the campfire and headed to bed early. The following morning, we hiked along the dam overlooking the lake and then went swimming. After lunch, we met up with Amber, one of the park’s rangers, and she taught us about the wildlife in the park. She showed us skulls, skins, and furs of the different animals. Then Amber took us to clean the beach of the lake as part of our service project. We concluded with a scavenger hunt along one of the park trails. That night, we had a Mexican fiesta, complete with salsa, chips, guacamole, rice, and beans. Each of our campers enjoyed a different part of their masa experience. The facts that we had such an organized site and that our vans had all of the food and games needed to keep our campers occupied and entertained made it very easy! 

Other than some rainy moments, our campers had a great time. All agreed it was a positive experience and that they would happily do it again! 

Howard Blas, director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, was very impressed when he learned details of our masa during a recent visit to Ramah in the Rockies. “I have been taking Tikvah campers on masa (we call it “Etgar”) for the past fifteen years at Ramah New England. Many Tikvah programs don’t have such camping trips. I thought our one-night, two-day hiking, canoeing, and rafting trip was impressive. But, wow! The Rockies’  three-day masa is amazing!” 

This blog is being reposted in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

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

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

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

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

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

A Place to Be Yourself, The Place to Take on Life’s AdventureSONY DSC

The Ramah Rockies Experience 

 Rabbi Scott Bolton, Congregation Or Zarua, New York City

Writing from the beautiful Rockies, Basecamp


I believe that we need to find the right places for growing, reflecting, experiencing joy and awe. At every stage of our lives, we must find it for ourselves, and parents, to be good guides for their children, have to search out those environments. Finding a place, school, camp, or synagogue that encompasses them all is a challenge. What an incredible privilege to be able to become part of this sacred community at Ramah Rockies where I can see that everyone is in explorer mode and committed to the core values of community, individual growth, joy and honoring one another.

From this Rabbi’s perspective, when a camp is filled with people who are little like angels you have to share the blessings. Let me call out to fellow parents, Jewish community members and those wanting to contribute to the lives of children as camp staff – this is an inspiring Jewish place to be for two, four or eight weeks! Everyone here is accepted for who they are, what they stand for and how they express their Judaism, yet the commitment to community and finding common ground places everyone in a trust relationship. SONY DSC

With those trust relationships built through sacred attachments, the adventures themselves into the wilderness, up boulders, through forests, down paths both excite individual campers and create an understanding about teamwork and responsibility important both for summer adventures and for all of life.

At about 9,800 feet above sea level, at a trailhead, I saw a group of teens take on leadership under the careful supervision of dedicated adventure counselors. The gave each of the young leaders a different job and had them carefully sort out, equitably, all the extra equipment they would need to camp over five days and reach more than 12,500 feet above the tree lines. Their initiation into the ways of survival and skills for staying safe, and their celebrating Shabbat together got them ready for that journey. The leaders of the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Initiative (JOLI) empowered those teens from around the world, of one Jewish family, to each find their own inner strength and to create a team that could literally and figuratively realize new heights! JOLI bolton masa bierstadt

I am seeing that when those of all backgrounds, of one family, come to make magic here at Ramah Rockies there is a buzz and a peace all at the same time. There are physical heights and spiritual heights to ascend. Few places in my travels have inspired such an electricity as well as a sense of acceptance, potential growth and Jewish spirit. 

I know I am in the right place for these weeks I will be here! Hineini! “I am here,” as our ancestors responded to God when asked if they were ready for the next chapter. 

 

To register for Ramah in the Rockies today, please click this link. Register Now!

We sent this email out yesterday to all of our camp families. 

 

Dear Camp Families and Friends,

We hope the school year has started off well for you. With the opening of our Summer, 2017 registration, we have some updates to share also.

SurveysValues

We are enjoying reading the survey responses so far received and will be publishing results once we finish compiling them all.  If you have not yet completed our survey and would like to give us the gift of feedback on your summer experience with us, please click here.  Your responses to our surveys help us shape our program updates and changes for next summer.


Midah Tile Project

Throughout the summer, we told our campers about the new Midah Murals we will be creating around camp, using their artwork to fashion mosaics around their summer experiences. If you have not yet created a tile as a part of our Tile Project, it’s not too late to submit one! If you chose to create digital artwork, you can send that to us via email at arip@ramahoutdoors.org.  Please read the full instructions on how to participate at ramahout.s466.sureserver.com/tileproject.

Registration and Program Updatesisrael

Registration for Kayitz 2017 has been open for a month now and we already have a number of registered campers. If you want to receive your super comfy Ramah fleece, please register before October 31st!  While we still have room in all sessions and all bunks, we do expect to begin filling some by the end of September. To register now, please click here.

While we are using this time immediately after camp to still fully evaluate our 2016 program, we want to let you know about a few upcoming changes that might affect your registration choices. We hope these modifications for 2017 will improve the Ramah in the Rockies’ experience for all of our chalutzim (campers).


IMG_79322-Week vs 4-Week Programs

Traditionally when our campers have arrived for their sessions, whether attending for two or four weeks, all of our older campers would spend over an hour “leveling” into (choosing) their electives at camp. While this is useful for our four-week campers, we realized that our two-week campers were passing over an hour choosing activities in which they would participate for a total of three hours in the following days at base camp.  Additionally, our four week campers were not able to experience the full programmatic arc of our speciality programs because there were often two week campers transitioning either in or out of their activities.

To improve this system, we are making the following change for our 2017 programs:  our two week campers (all ages) will travel to our different activities in camp as members of “mishpachot” (families).  This will give our new and returning campers the opportunity to experience all that base camp has to offer in their two weeks with us. We think this will enable our two-week campers opportunities to do more activities while also creating a more communal feeling among our four-week campers.

dancingTwo and four week campers in our older age groups will continue to live in different, but adjacent, tents.  Our rising 3/4th grade campers will continue to live in mixed tents, while most of our rising 5/6th grade campers will live in separate tents, unless our registration numbers warrant otherwise (likely in our August session).

Please note that our six-week campers will spend their four-week session as four-week campers and their two-week session with the different activities.

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to reach out to Rabbi Eliav Bock or Julia Snyder, and we will be glad to answer your questions about these improvements to our program.

JOLI

The goal of our JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute) program is to create future Jewish outdoor leaders. As such, the program is designed to push participants physically, spiritually, and mentally to take on new challenges and find new areas of growth.  While our JOLI program is incredibly rewarding for those who complete it, it is not suitable for all rising 11th/12th graders.

For a number of years, we have required JOLI applicants new to our community to have an interview and complete essay questions.  Because of this
process, these individuals have often been the best prepared because they fully understand the challenges that they are going to undertake while participating in JOLI.  For our 2017 season, we will expand this intake procedure to include our
Bogrim graduates wanting to join the JOLI program.  

For those who have applied or will be applying to JOLI 2017, we will be sending information about interviews and essay questions, and will begin the interviewing process in early October.  In the meantime, anyone who registers for JOLI 2017 will have a spot saved for them, but no one will be confirmed until after we decide, together, whether JOLI is a good fit for each applicant.  (Don’t worry, anyone who registers prior to October 31, whether or not s/he has gone through the interview process will still receive a free Ramah in the Rockies fleece).

To read more about the program, please visit https://www.ramahoutdoors.org/about/joli/

TikvahTikvah

We are currently re-evaluating our Tikvah program to figure out the best model for our camp and our participants.
We invite all of our current and potential Tikvah families to discuss their child and what type of program is the right fit for them with our former Tikvah Director, Elyssa Hammerman (
elyssah@ramahoutdoors.org).  Rabbi Eliav will be convening a group of stakeholders  in the coming weeks to discuss the future trajectory of this program.  If you would like to be part of this group, please be in touch with him directly.

Financial Aid

In an effort to move the process of need-based financial aid along more efficiently, we are starting the application process three months earlier this year. Requests for financial aid are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.  Families are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.  If you have any questions, please visit ramahout.s466.sureserver.com/scholarships or email Douglas Wolf at douglasw@ramahoutdoors.org.

Reflecting on Session 1: 

Monday, July 7, 2016

I am sitting on the porch of the dining hall in the late afternoon watching a late afternoon rain. dancingTo my left is a very wet Givat Ilanot. The shadow of Sheeprock (a local climbing mountain), the slick basketball court, and the cool breeze seem like the perfect way to wrap up, the final day of Session I.  This morning our entire camp was buzzing at 6:15 am with last minute packing after most chalutzim (campers) had slept out under the stars with their edot (age group) in various places throughout camp.  Now, our staff is off: hiking, relaxing, and savoring the many amazing moments from Session I.  Most of our chalutzim have already arrived home or are en route and the airport staff are getting the final campers on their flights.   All is quiet on the ranch.

How does one sum up four weeks in the mountains? Four weeks of friendships, four weeks of laughs, four weeks of scrapes and boo boos, four weeks of intense Jewish living, four weeks of camp.  Well, while no email can capture a whole month of highs and lows, I hope these three vignettes will offer a glimpse into our community for those who were not fortunate enough to physically be here
for the duration

We Reached Capacity!

Back in 2008, when a group of us drew up the plans to create a rusticoutdoor adventure camp we set a goal to grow our cHAVDALLAHommunity to 200 campers and 110+ staff at any one time.  From a communal standpoint we thought this was the perfect number to allow for a critical mass in all our age groups.  From a business standpoint, the conventional wisdom is that a camp needs to have this capacity to be economically sustainable.  Thanks to the generosity of our amazing donors, at the close of last summer, we were able to finish our wastewater system ($440,000), build a second bathhouse ($420,000), and complete our three final tents ($75,000) which allowed us to reach our targeted capacity.  And with this growth, we expanded beyond our single dining tent and, for the first time ever, we split our community between our newer dining tent and our older chadar ochel (dining hall).  While we began meals together with our food tours andcommunal brachot (blessings) eating in two chadrei ochel allowed the younger campers and older campers to eat and sing at their own paces and also to tailor cheers and announcements to each group.  Up in the kfar/kibbutz areas (where the tents are located), we have had a few summers of overcrowding in our single bathhouse.  But with our new second bathhouse this summer, we finally had appropriate sanitation for all our chalutzim.  Also this summer, our Kehillah Kedosha (holy community) began to feel more like a small village a-buzz with various activities rather than just a large family with multiple services happening each morning.  Every programming space was occupied during Peulot Shabbat, and enough gaga, basketball, and ultimate frisbee happened during free time to keep everyone busy.

Advanced Biking and Mountaineering

This session, we had our largest group of Bogrim (9/10th) grade campers.  Because so many of our Bogrimmountaineering2 chalutzim were returning for their 4th or 5th years, we knew that we had to improve our older camper program and make it more challenging.  And so, this year we unveiled two new advanced programs: biking and mountaineering.  Working with a local trail building company and the Oreg Foundation, we built a mile long advanced bike trail complete with table-top jumps, banked turns, and a small technical climb.  Our goal was was to create a place on our ranch where chalutzim can practice some technical biking skills before heading out to the world class terrain at Buffalo Peak.  Indeed, last week the Bogrim bikers actually left camp on Monday, biked to Buffalo Creek (up a huge vertical climb) where they spent time riding the single tracks before biking back along the backroads to camp on Friday. Given its terrific reputation, the advanced biking trail was in use throughout the past two weeks by those going on the biking masa as well as those who just wanted to do some more difficult terrain.mountaineering1

In addition to advanced biking, this session we ran our first ever mountaineering group. In this activity, chalutzim spent four mornings climbing at local crags improving their technical skills. Then, last week, on their masa they headed to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Sangre de Cristos mountains where they had a chance to tackle some pretty technical and difficult peaks.  All who completed the masa said it was one of the best they had ever experienced here at Ramah in the Rockies and certainly one of the hardest.

Ilanot Rocked!

While we were working to improve our older camper experiences, we also spent considerable time in the offseason revamping and hiring appropriately trained counselors for our youngest campers, those in Ilanot (rising 3/4th graders).  We hired staff who specifically wanted to work with this age group. mountaineering3 We brought back the Ilanot Masawhere they slept out under the stars and spent a day hiking on Prospector Mountain. And we had a myriad of age-appropriate camp activities for them like our Rocktion (Rock-Auction), carnival, and some horse trail rides.  This session, our Ilanot program was sold out, and indeed on Wednesday, for the first time, we have two male tents for this age group.  A personal highlight for me is watching the Ilanot campers become more comfortable with the birkat hamazon (grace after meals), camp wide Israeli dancing, and Friday night services.  The first few times we do these each session, many of our Ilanot chalutzim have a look of puzzlement on their faces.  By the end of the session, most were participating fully at whatever level they could.  Whereas at the beginning of the session, our Ilanot chalutzim are literally just trying to figure out their way around our ranch, by the end, they are full members of our community, leading cheers, prayers, and giggling at their own inside jokes.  This session, our Ilanot program was terrific, and we certainly hope that this is just the beginning of a long camp career for most of the participants.

boys

Soon after sending this email, I will be going off line for 16 hours, hopefully to sleep, hang out with my family, and mentally prepare for the next session.  Camp is a rollercoaster, and while we certainly had some down moments this session (like the suspected Norovirus outbreak), so much of the past few weeks were spent in states of total jubilation.  We had untold moments of higher highs where we were truly living out our mission statement which demands that we be a place that nurtures the character development of Jewish youth by providing them a space to challenge themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

While we are delighted to have had such a terrific first session we know that half of the 480 chalutzim who will pass through our gates this summer have not yet arrived.  We are basking in the success that was our first session and gearing up for an equally, if not more, impactful second session.

We sent out a feedback survey to all of our camper families via email. If you would like to share feedback, please email us at eliavb@ramahoutdoors.org!


This is the second installment in a series of blogs from our camp staff. Each of the staff were asked how their area of camp (rock climbing, archery, horseback riding, etc) and Judaism was linked for them, and how they have brought the two together in their lives.

Matt Levitt

matt atop mtn w sunGazing out of my college dorm window towards the yellow and orange leaves blanketing the beautiful Indiana University campus each fall, a few ideas swirling around in my head, I decided this would be my last “available” summer.  A double major in Political Science and Arabic, soon I would need a summer internship with the state department, if my dream to work in Middle Eastern policy was to be realized post-graduation.  

After some online digging, I found a new camp, a Ramah specialty camp, was scheduled to open in the heart of the Rocky Mountain during the summer of 2010. Intrigued by this idea, I contacted Rabbi Eliav to see if any positions remained. Luckily, he had several available positions and I found myself on the inaugural Tzevet [staff] in the summer of 2010 as a rock climbing instructor and madrich [counselor].

While much of the ground work for the educational program was put in place by Rabbi Eliav, Sarah Shulman (Former Ramah in the Rockies Assistant Director and now the Director of the new Camp Ramah in Northern California), and several others before our arrival, it was clear that my entrepreneurial spirit would thrive here. During our first summer I developed a rock climbing curriculum asking the essential question, how can the ancient texts of the Jews relate to the modern day rock climber?

Part of the program at Ramah Outdoor Adventure includes a five day backcountry excursion for our oldest chaluztim [campers]. One such trip culminated with a 5 a.m. climb up one of the most beautiful rock faces in the Lost Creek Wilderness.  We woke up to the campers’ groans of an early morning, but soon after a little oatmeal and some hot tea, our group was ready to depart for our last day of climbing before heading back to camp for Shabbat. Several hours later, our group reached the top of our climb and sat atop a beautiful vista overlooking the entire Lost Creek Wilderness.

Atop that beautiful vista, we decided to engage our chalutzim [campers] in a discussion about Moses’ journey as a biblical climber. By the end of our discussion, our chalutzim [campers] had come to the conclusion that Moses acted as the “belayer” or safety, Joshua played the role of the “climber”, the explorer of new land, and God secured us as the “rope” and “gear”, linking the two through rope and safety.

It was in that moment, sitting atop that breathtaking cliff, I realized the true beauty of experiential Jewish education and the mission of Ramah Outdoor Adventure. Seeing the campers engage in Judaism that way, relating our past traditions to today, changed my life.

When I returned back to Indiana University, I changed my major to Jewish Studies and Education. Now I work for Ramah Outdoor Adventure at Ramah in the Rockies year round, continuing to follow my passion of experiential Jewish education, a passion developed here in the heart of the Rocky Mountains during our very first summer.

 

This is the first installment in a series of blogs from our base camp staff. Each of the staff were asked how their area of camp (rock climbing, archery, horseback riding, etc) and Judaism was linked for them, and how they have brought the two together in their lives.

Shira Rosenblum

Shira on our

Shira on our “3-D” archery range with one of our hanging targets.

“What makes an archery class Jewish?” Whenever someone asks me this question, I reflect on how I have combined two integral aspects of my identity. When I became a competitive archer at Brandeis University, I convinced my teammates to compete on Sundays so as not to interfere with my Shabbat observance. For a while, this was the only connection between my newly acquired love of archery and my lifelong passion for Judaism.

Everything changed when I joined the archery staff at ROA in the summer before rabbinical school four years ago. I was excited to develop Jewish content for each archery lesson in keeping with camp’s core values. However, I didn’t want to focus on bible characters/stories about archery. I looked for additional Jewish sources and worked backwards from the archery skills as well.

For example, the first session of any archery class must cover range safety. I selected the Jewish value of refraining from lashon hara (gossip or evil speech) to accompany that first class. I devised activities which would help the chalutzim (campers) understand how the value related to archery. After the activity, I made sure to reinforce the lesson: once we release our arrows from the bow, we have little control over where they land and are unable to repair the damage caused by their sharp points after removing them from the targets. So too with our words! Once we say something, we have no control over how far our message will spread and who we may hurt in the process. Additionally, we may apologize but we can never fully take back the pain caused by harmful speech.

I love the challenge of incorporating Jewish values into my archery lessons and am grateful to ROA for sparking this interest in me. I have since expanded this project to other educational settings and have conferred archery certification to seven different camp counselors at ROA and elsewhere. I look forward to seeing the role archery will play in my rabbinate going forward!

Shira is a Rabbinical Student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a longtime Ramah archery instructor. 

You Spoke, We Listened

Rabbi Eliav Bock

Eliav headshot

The better part of the past eight weeks or so since leaving the chava (ranch) have been spent reaching out to you, our camper families, to gather your thoughts about us and our camp program this last summer.  We did this by personally calling or emailing each of our over 350 camper families.  We also sought your input via an anonymous survey, which was administered by a third party foundation.  But we didn’t stop there.  We also asked all 90+ staff members for their perspectives as part of their exit interviews at the end of the summer.  And then we requested them to complete a similar survey as well.  

We heard from many of you and cannot thank you enough for your time and responses to our questions.  Now that we have had time to review and evaluate it all, here is what we have learned and our plans for the future.

(I apologize for the length, but firmly believe in sharing as openly with you as you have with us.)

 

TWO THUMBS UP:

Our Community

The geographic and religious diversity of our camp population enhances the warm and nonjudgmental community that we create each summer.  Many of our chalutzim (campers) have “never felt so welcomed”, never felt so accepted for who they are, and “never [felt] so able to pursue [their] own passions without fear of being judged by others.”  There is an overall feeling among those who responded that most people at camp share the same values as they or their children do.

Our Outdoor Programming

While there were a few masaot (excursions) that did not go as planned, this part of the program continues to be the most memorable and impactful aspect of camp.  Our chalutzim who participated in multi-day experiences felt challenged and returned to camp with a great sense of accomplishment. Equally as important as the venues was the peer-to-peer bonding that took place.

Although the weather at the start of summer put a damper on some base camp activities, we received many compliments on the excellent balance between program quality and content, skills instruction, and fun factor.  There were no complaints that our chalutzim had biked, climbed, or rode too much.  (In fact, many would have liked more opportunities to do these.) And while there was high praise for the equipment used at camp, there were also times when there were more chalutzim wanting to participate than the equipment could accommodate at a single time.

Our Quality Staff

Many parents commented, and many of our older chalutzim noticed, that not only was our staff older than they had expected but also how eager and motivated they were to be working at camp and with the campers. While there were some critiques of missed follow-ups, a few poor choices made by staff, and some less-than-ideal counselor pairings, the overall consensus was one of a stellar team running a safe, educational, and inspiring summer for their children.

From the staff side, 100% stated that they were working there to advance the camp’s mission. Nationally, only 80% of Jewish summer camp staff members answer this affirmatively.

MIXED REVIEWS (& WHERE WE CAN IMPROVE)

Our Food

Overall, we received the most comments about the food at camp.  Some loved it, others wanted more meat, some wanted nuts, and others wished for more menu variety.  Our food program is an integral part of our camp’s mission.  At the same time, we know that little else matters if our chalutzim are hungry or wondering about the menu for the next meal.  During the off season we continue to refine our menus, replacing less popular choices with new options, integrating more mainstream plant-based proteins, and improving our between-meal snack variety.  This past summer we learned that while some campers were aware of readily available snacks, many of our younger campers did not know that they could grab something from the Ohel Ochel (dining tent) whenever they were hungry.

Improving our communication to campers about snacks is an easily accomplished goal.  Other menu challenges, particularly meat availability, have multiple variables involved.  Each year, a farm family in upstate New York raises free-range (organic) chickens for our summer needs.  We made the switch to free-range chickens in 2012  after receiving negative feedback about serving factory farmed meat that did not fit in with the values we are living by as a community. In 2015, however,  due to the unusually colder winter and spring in the northeast, the chickens were not of eating size and not schechted (ritually slaughtered) until late June, delaying meat on the camp menu until early July.

Acquiring additional organic chicken and meat from other sources and making it more often would answer that need, but would ignore the reality of our available facilities.  Quite simply, we do not have a suitable meat kitchen at camp.  Until we are able to build a new, $3+ million dining hall/commercial kitchen, we do what we are able which means that our only method to cook meat is on an open grill.  And while we use the main kitchen to keep things warm (double wrapped in the dairy warmers) and to prepare parve side dishes, meat meals require us to shut down most of the regular kitchen and cover it in plastic for much of the day resulting in simplified dishes served for breakfast and lunch on those days.

While the shortage of meat/chicken is not readily fixed, we continue to offer eggs at most breakfasts and include protein options during the week as part of the salad bar.  Meanwhile we continue to review our menus with a nutritionist to ensure that our community’s nutritional needs are met.  We realize that this situation is not ideal, but hope our clarity helps explain why our meat situation is the way it is.

Our Younger Camper Experiences

Each year we continue to grow our camp programs for all our edot (groups), however, this summer it was clear that our younger campers needed us to rework their schedule to accommodate more of the popular base camp activities and incorporate additional outdoor adventure experiences particularly for our Ilanot chalutzim.  The wet start to the summer did not help their adventure opportunities!

To address these issues, starting kayitz (summer) 2016, we are:

  •  Forgoing most day trips, which will enable our younger campers to participate in more base camp activities including horseback riding, mountain biking, and rock climbing.
  •  Conducting more outdoor-based overnight experiences that are age-appropriate to take advantage of our ranch and surrounding national forest, leading to an increased appreciation for all nature has to offer.
  •  Ensuring that any additional equipment needed for our youngest campers are available BEFORE any campers arrive.
  •  Aspiring higher in each of our program areas, ensuring that our younger campers are learning the basic skills needed as foundations for their progress in the current summer and future seasons.

Our Interpersonal Connections

Jewish summer camp works as an educational medium in large part because campers develop close, personal connections with their counselors and friends.  This summer we noticed that, especially among our two-week participants, these connections did not take root as we hoped they would.  For many of these chalutzim they had fun activities but not emotionally memorable experiences.  Although we have had four-week campers in tents with mixed 2-week and 4-week campers, the transition of saying goodbye to one set of friends and welcoming another proved more difficult than in years past.

Moving forward, we will improve our staff training to ensure that social connections are being made within the ohelim (tents) and require counselors to complete regular socio-grams to aid them in identifying and encouraging healthy group dynamics.  We will also encourage more  activities that foster positive early connections and adapt our scheduling to include more bunk-specific bonding activities are all being worked into the programming vision for summer.  Our goal is for each ohel, when they are in base camp, to have a minimum of one peulat erev (evening activity) just to themselves and then other activities with the broader edah (age group) or entire camp.  Plus we will be adding more ohel time on Shabbat before havdallah.

Two-week programming will continue to be available to our edot through their Bogrim summer for 2016.  However, we are evaluating the feasibility of requiring our Bogrim chalutzim to register for four weeks starting with the 2017 season.  While we continue to believe that it is possible to create memorable and impactful experiences for our younger campers within two weeks, independent research has proved that longer sessions result in greater impact, deeper relationships, and additional personal growth.  For our older chalutzim we may need to make this change to fully realize the outcomes we strive to achieve in our program.

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

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