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Last week a study on the field of Jewish Outdoor and Environmental Education (JOFEE) was published by Hazon.  Ramah Outdoor Adventure at Ramah in the Rockies is one of the few groups engaged in this field that is based West of the Mississippi.  We are proud to be leading the way in helping youth link their Jewish identity with the natural world around them and glad to be having an impact on Jewish youth who join our community from around the country.

Here is a link to an oped written by Rabbi Eliav for The Jewish Week about the JOFEE study and Ramah’s role in the broader field.

http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/opinion/environmental-learning-why-liberal-rabbi-hopeful

For the past few years, we have had  a number of former chalutzim who have written about their time at Ramah Outdoor Adventure as part of their college admissions essays.  Over the next few weeks we will feature a few of these from our former chalutzim (and hopefully future tzevet members).  If you want your essay to be featured email us at info@ramahoutdoors.org.  This weeks essay was written by Michael Harlow (JOLI 2012):

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? 

The floor on the ohel ochel –the dining tent– sways and bounces on Friday night, as over 150 campers and counselors exuberantly sing and dance after the Sabbath meal. It’s a physical reminder of the incredible spirit that surrounds me.  I am smack in the middle of so much positive energy, Eytan on one side, Janine on the other, our arms around each other as together we lead the Hebrew songs.  I am completely at home here, part of a community of people who passionately share my interests and my values, at my home away from home, Camp Ramah in the Rockies.

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Written by: Elyssa Hammerman, Tikvah Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Richard and Eileen Greenberg cherish a strong commitment to creating Jewish community and preserving the environment. This commitment has led them to support the work of Ramah in the Rockies with their time and resources.

Richard devoted his professional career to preserving the environment, opening the Colorado office of the  United States Environmental Protection Agency as a senior enforcement attorney, and then entering the private sector.

The mission of the camp initially motivated the Greenbergs to support it; seeing that mission put into practice inspires them to stay involved. “It’s great to see kids from all over the country practicing their Judaism in an environment that encourages sustainability, environmental protection, and an intentional way of doing everything, including enjoying God’s creation,” Richard said.

The Greenbergs have donated both to the general fund for capital improvements and made specific donations to the equestrian program. Eileen’s parents, Sondra and Howard Bender, have been leaders in Maryland thoroughbred horse breeding for thirty years (Sondra passed away in February, 2012). The Greenbergs have provided funding to create an equestrian center in the Benders’ honor.

In addition to traditional horseback riding, Eileen is committed to helping camp develop more equestrian-facilitated learning, which she describes as “an experiential approach that creates a supportive learning environment for participants to learn about themselves, heal what has been broken, and re-connect to what has heart and meaning through interactive experiences with horses.” To this end, last summer Eileen brought to camp an equestrian-learning facilitator, who introduced the techniques of equine-guided learning to some of the horseback riding staff. In future summers she hopes to expand on this success.

Both Richard and Eileen have personal connections to Jewish summer camp: Growing up, Eileen attended Camp Ramblewood, a Jewish summer camp in Maryland, for six summers. Richard, meanwhile, worked as a “tripper” at Camp B’nai Brith in Starlake, Pennsylvania for four summers. Richard remembers his experience fondly. “It was great to lead these kids, most of whom had never been involved in real outdoor activity on overnight canoe trips,” he said. They passed this love of camp on to their (now adult) children, who attended Camp Shwayder in Idaho Springs, CO.

They have been active members of the Denver area Jewish community for many years, serving on the boards of HEA and The Colorado Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE-CO).

Richard devoted his professional career to preserving the environment, working as a senior enforcement attorney with the United States Environmental Protection Agency for many years.

The Greenbergs have been gratified to see how their support has helped camp to develop and are full of hope for Ramah in the Rockies/Ramah Outdoor Adventure’s future. “It’s remarkable how far the camp’s gone since it opened,” Richard said, but added, “We’re just seeing the beginnings of how the equestrian program can develop.” They urge other people to get involved and help create the camp they want to see.

(And as an update to this blog post, all of us at Camp Ramah want to wish the Greenbergs Mazal Tov on becoming grandparents last week to Jackson Joseph Greenberg– Their first grandchild!)

Check out an amazing video produced by the Greenbergs during their visit to Ramah Outdoor Adventure:

watch?v=hBVGT3e3Z2Y&feature=youtu.be

greenbergs

 

Throughout the off-season, we engage a number of parents in interesting “conversations” online about various aspects of our camp program.  This year, we thought it would be a good idea to publicize some of these email exchanges for our broader camp audience.  We will always remove names and any identifying factors.  We will make small edits to ensure anonymity and correct sentence flow, but otherwise we will publish them in their entirety.  We hope that this segment will be published whenever we feel that there is something worth sharing, and will shed a little light onto how we promote camp in the off-season and the intentionality that goes into making the summer season a success.

 

Parent’s letter:

 

“I do feel that making mincha optional sends a really weak message to the kids and is exactly the kind of thing the Conservative Movement in general suffers from. It’s important to us that he regulate himself to davening [praying] and we will ask him to attend mincha but with so many kids allowed to play instead it makes this a real uphill task for those who know their parents/Hashem [God] expect it. I wish these divisions between movements would disappear and mitzvot would simply be a given and not an option.”

 

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Check out our video, Mining at Ramah!

A group of chalutzim (campers) walk along a ditch, eyes glued to the ground. They call out eerily profound advice to each other. “You can’t be looking for it if you want to find it,” says one to the others.” “It doesn’t matter if it’s topaz or not, as long as you think it looks cool,” says a second. What has produced this level of wisdom in these chalutzim? Rock-hounding.

Rock-hounding (looking for rocks near the surface of the earth) is one of the most popular peulot (activities) at Ramah Outdoor Adventure. Rafi , 13, has done rock-hounding all three summers he’s been at camp. “You get to find cool rocks, learn what they are, and once you memorize the different kinds, you can tell other people what they found,” Rafi said.

Situated on the outskirts of the Pike’s Peak batholith, the region around Ramah Outdoor Adventure has a long history of mining. Since the 1850s, prospectors have come through looking for gold and silver. They found a little metal, but mostly they found topaz, a semi-precious gemstone, and quartz.

Rock-hounding is led by Juliana Kern, a fixture at camp since it opened. Rocks are in Juliana’s blood. Her mother was the only woman studying among 1000 men at the School of Mines in Golden, CO, in the late 1940s, and went on to work for the United States Geological Survey and as a photocrographist. She also taught mining to adults at the Denver Free University, where a young Juliana sat in on classes. Juliana’s brother owns a claim on Crystal Creek (also in Colorado) that has been mined for close to 120 years.

Juliana herself worked in nursing for many years, and as a grocery stocker, always continuing to collect rocks as a hobby. After she hurt her leg in 2003, she began looking for rocks more as a form of physical therapy. Now she enjoys sharing her passion for rocks and minerals with children. “I love kids, and I love it when they first find something and they’re so amazed at the beauty of it,” Kern said.

Rock-hounding also led Juliana to a spiritual experience. “Finding something beautiful in Utah is what brought me closer to Hashem,” she said. She tries to bring in religious teaching to her activities with campers. “I try to tell them about the perfect laws of nature that they talk about in the torah, that nothing is added or taken away from God’s creation, and how cool it is for God to have put something here for us to find billions of years later,” she said.

Finding shiny rocks is also a great chance to talk about the perils of materialism, according to Juliana. Campers often want to know how much their finds are worth, but Juliana says, “I tell them, ‘If you like it, it has a sentimental value that money can’t be placed on,’ and about how people place claims and get greedy and harass each other until it’s no fun anymore.” Campers can keep anything they find at camp except for Native American artifacts.

While intensive mining can be environmentally destructive, Kern says that the rock-hounding she does with campers has a minimal impact, and actually provides an opportunity to discuss environmental stewardship. “I teach them to only dig it up if they’re sure it’s there, and I try to foster that love of nature. I tell them that they’re visitors here, and it’s more the spider’s home than it is theirs.” In the hands of Kern, rock-hounding becomes an opportunity to teach Jewish values, environmental ethics and life-lessons. Not bad for digging in the dirt.

Ramah Outdoor Adventure has challah that has campers and counselors coming back for more every Shabbat! Recreate the ooey-gooey goodness for your own Shabbos table.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_2ceKteb3E

Robyn’s Challah Recipe (makes 3)
Ingredients
5c flour (½ whole wheat ½ white or high gluten)
½ c sugar
½ c oil
2-3c water
1tbs salt
1tbs yeast
optional cinnamon or other spices ~1tbs

Combine flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and optional spices in a large mixing bowl. Measure out water and oil, add water SLOWLY mixing with your hands…send some love! Only use as much water as you need (it will vary), keep dough fairly dry. Add oil slowly bringing the dough to a moist but NOT sticky consistency. Knead dough for a while adding flour oil and water as needed.
Place dough in a bowl about 3 times its size and cover with a warm moist cloth to rise. If its warm outside let it sit in the sun otherwise heat the oven just a little so it’s warm and let it rise there. After about 2 hours take dough out to braid, don’t forget to knead and punch it down some more. Don’t forget to take the challah sacrifice here. Feel free to add more spices at this point. Once challah is braided you can put oil with spices and or syrup/honey/agave on top. Mix the topping together before painting on challahs.
Set oven to 350F, let the challah rise on the stove top while the oven is warming. Cook for 20-45 minutes. The challahs should have a hollow sound when you tap the bottoms.
Shabbat Shalom!

The Results Are In!

Over the past six weeks, our year round team has contacted almost all of our 2013 parents to solicit feedback on our season that ended just two months ago.  In addition many families filled out the third party survey conducted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp.   We appreciate everyone who left their comments in our online survey, who answered our calls, and/or who responded to our messages via email or telephone.  We have incorporated all these comments into an action plan as we begin our planning for the 2014 season.  The results of the online survey can be found here and will be available for all to see on our website throughout the year.

Here are some of the takeaways from all the feedback our families have provided us.

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This Pesach, as we read the story of yetziat mitzrayim in synagogue and at Seders, conversation may turn, as it often does, to leadership. We may discuss Moses’ fear about taking on the mantle of leadership, Pharaoh’s pride that keeps him from protecting his people, or Aaron’s capitulation to the Israelites’ demands to build them an idol. Every summer at the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute (JOLI), a program of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, teenagers have the same discussions, relating these core Jewish stories to their own leadership styles in the wilderness.

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Sacred Environments: Teens Learn About Sukkot in the Wilderness.  By Nathaniel Eisen

You shall dwell in booths seven days; all citizens of Israel shall dwell in booths; so that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. –Leviticus 23:42-43

For many of us, building a sukkah is just a commemorative act. We may pick up our schach from a local Hillel or Chabad, rather than gathering it in the woods. We have a warm house to retreat into should the fall weather turn nasty. But when you are huddled beneath a millimeters-thick tarp during a hailstorm, you begin to appreciate how wonderful and frail shelter can be.

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Rabbi Marc Soloway, Rabbi of Bonei Shalom in Boulder, CO, wrote the following post for his synagogue bulletin.  We hope you enjoy reading.

Are you Ready for Jewish Holiday Summer Camp ?

By Rabbi Marc 

This summer I got to spend two whole weeks at “Ramah of the Rockies” as rabbi in residence at this amazing Jewish camp here in Colorado.  As I prepared to leave, I had a taste of the emotions of the two-week campers who were also getting ready to end their heightened summer experience; that intense sadness at having to leave the sacred place and the wonderful friendships cultivated there. 

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It has happened!

Another successful summer at Ramah Outdoor Adventure has come to an end.  All is quiet on the ranch.   The goats, chickens and duck have gone home; the alpacas and horses will be picked up shortly.  A few hours ago, we said goodbye to the last of our chalutzim (campers).  Our tzevet (staff) are packing away equipment, sweeping the ohalim (tents) and readying camp for the long nine months of hibernation.  Today is one of the hardest days of the summer.  There is no cheering in the Chadar Ochel (dining hall), there are no yelps of joy coming from the chalutzim biking down the single track, and there is no one hanging around the table in the middle of the kfar (tent village) playing cards during free time.

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In a few short months, we will open our fourth summer at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  And if this summer is anything like the first three, the key to our success will once again be the incredible group of passionate, dedicated and inspirational staff who come to the Ramah Ranch each summer to implement our innovative outdoor adventure program.

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At its core, the story of Chanukah is a story about the continuation of the Jewish people in a time when there was great pressure to assimilate into the secular society.  There were those who advocated complete assimilation into the Hellenistic society, and those who advocated complete disengagement from the secular world.  Ultimately, the answer was found somewhere in between.  Greek language, traditions and symbols influenced many aspects of the Jewish community in the 2nd century BCE, but the Jewish people as a whole continued to persevere and continued to flourish even while under the rule of foreign governments. Read more

We just added a new page to our website called BEING GREEN.  We were inspired to create this page after a conversation with Sybil Sanchez, Director of  COEJL.  She was musing  about the need for every Jewish organization to have a link on their website about ways in which they  are taking the enviroment into account in their programs.  We will continue to update this page in much greater detail over the coming months and years, but wanted to start somewhere.  To check out the new page, click here:  To read the content, without the fancy videos and pictures, scroll down:

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

In November of 2008, the Jim Joseph Foundation (JJF) and the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) made a big bet.  They awarded the National Ramah Commission (NRC) $1.1 million to create the first outdoor specialty camp in the country with an intensive Jewish focus.  Jewish children had been going in droves to numerous secular specialty camps. The JJF, FJC & NRC bet that if a Jewish camp could offer a high level of programming infused with Jewish texts, values and traditions and employ passionate young educators to serve as role models to the campers, then a Jewish Outdoor Adventure camp would not only survive, but actually thrive.  And thus Ramah Outdoor Adventure was born.

Four years ago, I sat in our first incubator camp session along with directors of four other Jewish specialty camps dreaming of what our camp would look like.  Based on the model of a business incubator, where businesses share resources and knowledge early on to create a new business, the FJC organized a four year program to help five new specialty camps come to market.  In that first meeting, the professionals running the camp incubator spoke to us about creating a 501(c)3, articulating a mission and list of values and conducting a SWOT analysis to figure out how we could compete in a crowded marketplace with 190+ other Jewish camps and hundreds of other excellent private camps.  Over the ensuing four years, we have continued to gather as a cohort in our incubator sessions five times per year.  We have moved from talking about camp as a theoretical idea to serving hundreds of young campers and staff each season.  We have moved from talking about our “theory of social change” to implementing programs where we are actually changing children’s lives.  We have moved from a group of 20 & 30 somethings with an idea about what an ideal camp could look like to a community with campers age 8-18, over 200 college/ graduate school age staff members and countless enthusiastic fans from parents to teachers to other camp professionals who are copying aspects of our program.

Last week in New York, the directors of all five incubator camps gathered for our final official incubator meeting to celebrate our collective success and welcome the directors of four new specialty camps who are setting out on their own journey to make their own camp dreams a reality.  Standing in the room with the other directors, the heads of our respective agencies and many members of the FJC team who have helped bring us to this point, I could not help but feel a sense of collective pride in the thousands of Jewish children who have attended our five camps, many of whom would not have gone to a Jewish camp without the introduction of these incubator camps to the broader Jewish Camp marketplace.

And as I sit here, four years later, I think the three most important lessons I have learned are as follows:

  1. Always stay true to your mission and values, even if it means losing some sales.  In the long term the dedication to our core values are what has made Ramah Outdoor Adventure such a special place and continues to guide each of our decisions about how we continue to improve our program.
  2. Hiring passionate, dedicated staff members who come to camp because of their love for the outdoors and their desire to advance our mission ensures the success of the program each summer.  Our facility is one of the most rustic in the Jewish camping world and few children come to camp for our basketball but I have no doubt that our staff is among the absolute top in the entire camping industry.
  3. Many children want to be challenged, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Ramah Outdoor Adventure is a place with a clear “aspirational arc” in each of our program areas.  At each stage of the program, campers are able to aspire to a new level.  Whether this is in the teffilah program where we offer different prayer options to different age groups, or the archery range, where we have a traditional range with round targets and a 3D range for more advanced shooters, or our masa program where younger campers go for day trips and short overnights and our older campers head out for 4-6 days on the trail, at each stage we celebrate where a camper is, and show him/her where s/he can continue going.

With days left in our super-early bird registration, we have more campers registered for camp today than at this point in any previous year.  In fact, we have more campers enrolled today than who came to camp in our opening summer only three years ago.  It truly has been a fantastic ride, and I know that we are only at the beginning of ensuring that Ramah Outdoor Adventure continues to be a place where Jewish children come to spend their summers for years to come!

This was sent out as an email to our parent body.  I am re-posting it on our blog, as many readers are not on our parent list.

At Ramah Outdoor Adventure, we are constantly striving to improve our camp program.  While we know that children and counselors have transformative experiences each summer, we understand that a successful program must constantly evolve.  Each summer we ask our current camper families to evaluate their child’s experience at camp using a third party survey.  We are pleased to share the results of these surveys with you at this link.

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This summer, we doubled the size of our JOLI (Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute) program for rising 11th and 12th graders.  From the feedback we have received thus far from the JOLI participants, it was a terrific success.  In the coming weeks we will share a few of the letters/ write ups we received about this program.  We are expanding our 2013 JOLI program to include up to 20 participants each session (we capped it at 11 last summer) and are expecting the program to fill.  JOLI participants will become certified in Wilderness First aid, have the option to apprentice in specialty areas at camp and have the option to go on  6 day massaot, and spend each shabbat in camp. The second masa, which is optional, is an extended adventure race that will require participants to use the skills obtained throughout their Ramah Outdoor Adventure experience to complete daily challenges that range from evacuating an “injured” hiker to navigating for a few miles off trail.  This past year, the six day JOLI adventure challenge was a highlight of the program!

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