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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shana Tova!

One of our stated goals at Ramah Outdoor Adventure is to “lift the veil” on the food we eat at camp. After our second summer, I see this goal as a work in progress, something that will take a few more seasons to fully achieve. With the addition of a “food educator” we accomplished far more of this goal this summer than in 2010, and know that we will continue to make strides in future years. It is important to emphasize that we do not preach about what to eat, but rather that we should be informed about what we are putting into our bodies, and why we (as a camp and as individuals) make certain decisions about our food.

For today’s blog post, I want to share a write up that Yael Greenberg, our food educator, wrote after her masa with a group of Sollelim (7/8th grade) chalutzim back in July. Yael has written a follow up letter to parents of Sollelim campers that I will share early next week on this blog.

July 31, 2011. Written by Yael Greenberg

I’ve had four encounters with ritual Jewish slaughter, or shechita, each of which was a uniquely moving experience. The first was on the edge of a field at the Kayam Farm in Resterstown, Maryland and led me to the conclusion that the “eco” part of “eco-kashrut” stands on its own as a value in our tradition and should not be conflated with the laws of kosher food. The second was when I joined a group of families from Denver in their venture to procure chicken they really trusted. We spent a full day on a farm about an hour from their homes and stood in the scorching heat processing fifty chickens. Fifty is a lot of chickens. But just five days later, at the Center for Eco-Judaism just outside Pueblo, Colorado, I came to appreciate that no matter how many animals are being slaughtered, whether it be fifty or five hundred or just one, Judaism demands a deep, internal understanding of the fact that we take animal life to sustain ourselves.

The fourth shechita was just the other day, back at the Center for Eco-Judaism. But this time I was there as more than just a guest exploring my own values and religious ethics. In my charge were nine twelve- and thirteen-year old campers from Ramah Outdoor Adventure, out on a four-day excursion to this ranch that was so different from the one we had just left behind. Over the course of the trip, the campers learned firsthand what it takes to put food on the table. They weeded, they turned soil, they fertilized, they mucked, they watched sheep herded for breeding. They were tired after ten minutes in the sun, and their eyes grew wide at the thought of facing farm work every day. But when they took their noses away from the grind, they marvelled in the unique little pleasures of life on the ranch. They strolled the fields, picking a carrot here, a sweet pea there, and sampling the offerings of the land. They gleefully ran around the chicken coop, learning to catch chickens and collect eggs, crowing with delight when they caught the fastest bird and got her to perch on someone’s head.

When I first suggested watching a chicken slaughter, I figured the campers would run away screaming, but they didn’t. All but two wanted to watch, even once I offered an alternative activity and emphasized that this was not something for the ambivalent. A number of the campers were filled with gusto and excitement at first, but as the shechita drew nearer, the atmosphere changed. One camper who told me excitedly that he was going to take a video of the event changed his mind and asked one of his friends with a camera if she was sure it was such a good idea to record. The campers caught the chicken themselves, and then spent a long while talking with the shochet, Rabbi Robert, sitting in a circle with the chicken, bringing it into their circle of energy and beginning to comprehend what it meant to take an animal life.

I’d say that reactions to the shechita were nothing short of astounding, but I’d never taken a group of tweenagers to watch their first animal slaughter before. I will say that I was highly impressed. Not only did each camper form his or her own unique opinion on what it means to take an animal life, but they also applied what they saw to their own day-to-day realities and then shared their thoughts with their peers during today’s Limmud period. Though not all of them plan on changing their eating habits, they made the connections between what they saw on the farm and what they see on their dinner plates, and not one of them will look at a piece of chicken quite the same way again. Which was exactly the point. A world of vegetarians is not an attainable dream, nor do I think it’s a noble aspiration. But I do think there can be a world of informed meat eaters, and it’s already getting started — one Ramah camper at a time.

It is official.  The summer 2011 season has come to an end.  The gear bins have been sealed, the tents closed down and all the kitchen equipment stored for the off season.  All that is left are lots of memories and good stories.   If we were in camp, the chadar ohel would be ringing with the sound of the entire camp singing “shabbos is coming we are so happy, we’re going to sing and shout out loud.” Instead, we are all welcoming Shabbat back in our homes; probably devoid of the service projects, Israeli dancing and massive challah baking (up to 75 challots) that were part of our Friday afternoon rituals at camp.

Our second year was a resounding success.  We welcomed over 250 campers and staff to the Ramah in the Rockies ranch.  We lead over 30 extended massaot (excursions) and numerous shorter trips.  We rode bikes, and we rode horses.  We climbed mountains and rappelled down cliffs.  We planted our own vegetables and harvested our own food.   We laughed, and we cried.  We sat in quiet meditation and we sang songs with intense passion.

While 2011 is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share three vignettes with you that capture the spirit of our community this past summer.

#1 Returning from Masa.  A new tradition was solidified this year.  As each Masa (excursion) returned to camp, they marched back to the gear shed singing a song from their trip, or chanting their masa cheer.  (Last month I wrote about a biking masa’s return).  Those of us who remained at base camp would come out of the office as we heard their voices to welcome back the returning chalutzim (campers).  One of the most memorable returns of any group was group of metayalimers (entering 5/6th grade) who had gone on a day trip to our neighbor’s buffalo ranch to feed the buffalo.  On their way back, they found a large mud puddle, and rather than walk around it, apparently began a competition of who could become the muddiest.  After the first puddle, they found a second and then a third, and thus began a game of mud painting, and mud sliding.  They eventually ran the final mile to camp, covered in thick brown mud, almost as if they had just been hanging out at the Dead Sea.  Rather than returning upset to be so dirty, these 10 & 11 year olds were “hooting” and “hollering” and squealing with delight about their expedition.  Each bragged about how they were muddier than the next.  This type of uninhibited play could only happen at camp!

#2  Bo Bo Bo Boker Tov:  Each morning, these are the words that begin Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  This summer, Dan AKA “Juice-Boxx” [note the double X], Gabi AKA “G-baby,” and Or, AKA Or, took the lead on leading the Bo Bo Bo Boker Tov cheer when they were at base camp.  They would meet at the picnic table at 5:58 or 6:58, depending on the day, and begin chanting.  All of us at camp became so used to this chant that we stopped setting our own alarm clocks as their voices would echo off the valley walls.  Last Thursday, “G-baby” had already left to go back to school, and Juice Boxx & Or were on a Masa.  As a result: the rest of the camp overslept, because no one set an alarm!  Eventually people began to wake on their own, and once we realized why everyone had overslept we all had a good laugh.  The irony of our community is that we are in a gorgeous natural setting, and often just listen to the sounds of nature around us, such as during meditative teffilot or during solos on our massaot.  But much of the time at base camp, there is a constant din of cheering, whether it is chalutzim cheering on their friends in the duathlon, chanting edah cheers in the chadar ohel or at 6:00am during camp wake up!  As a tribute to our Bo-Bo Boker tov wake ups, all the staff gathered on the picnic table on our final full day of programming and gave a collective cheer. No one slept in that day!

#3 Increased environmental awareness:  At our core, Ramah Outdoor Adventure is a community dedicated to living intentional Jewish lives with a heightened sense of our natural environment.  It is for this reason that we focus so much on the food we eat, on our water consumption and on how our decisions impact the broader world around us. (Watch this video by our metayalimers on this topic)  Last Sunday we had a final barbeque during lunch to finish off the final 40 pounds of meat that we had left in our freezer.  As we always do when we have our occasional barbeque meals, we placed disposable plates and cups on the serving tables (we have no meat dishwasher, and therefore are not able to use reusable tableware at meat meals).  But when it came time to serve the meat, I noticed that most of the chalutzim were holding cut out pieces of cardboard, in place of disposable plates.  I am still not sure whom, but someone apparently had gone to the kitchen, taken a few of the boxes they had placed outside for recycling and began cutting small “card board” plates.  Instead of rejecting these primitive plates, the chalutzim chose to use them in lieu of the disposables that the camp provided.  In this way they were making a powerful statement that even if we were serving a meal that had a huge impact on the natural environment (our meat is sadly, NOT organic or local and creates about 4 times the amount of garbage as a typical meal at Ramah Outdoor Adventure), they were going to do whatever they could in their own power to make the meal a little more environmentally friendly.  We have put all the paper goods back into storage instead of the local landfill.  Just like the previous groups who came through this summer, there were many chalutzim who third session asked whether next summer we could try to serve local and/or organic meat and make the meal far less wasteful of natural resources.

As we draw the curtain on the 2011 season, please know that we are already counting down the days until the opening of camp in 2012.  We are expanding our program and expect up to 150 chalutzim at camp at any one time.  (See our current dates and rates here, and register here—though know that we expect to add additional programs for younger children AND adults).  We already have a number of families who have registered their children for next year.   Thank you to everyone who made our second season such a success.  We would not be able to be building this camp without the support of parents, chalutzim, donors and volunteers.  We look forward to many more successful summers together.

A week ago, the idea of running a camper program geared towards younger campers was but a dream.  I am happy to report that five days into session III the dream has become a reality and I now know that the Ramah Outdoor Adventure program works for younger campers as well as it does for older campers.  This session, 50 campers are spending time at the chava (ranch).  Half are entering grades 3-6 and half are entering grades 7 & 8.  While we could have enrolled more campers for the session, we decided to cap this session at seven tents in total in order to allow us to focus our resources on providing excellent programming for these younger campers.

So how have we adjusted our program to suit the needs of these campers?

#1 Alternate schedule:  During the rest of the summer we wake up at 6:00am and end our program between 8:00 and 8:30.  This session we have moved wakeup until 7:00am in order to allow for extra sleep and end our program by 8:00pm.  While we had thought that our younger campers would need the extra time to sleep as it turns out, many our campers wake much earlier and many even leave their tents to hang out outside until 7:00am.  We have decided to keep this “later” wake up in place because at this point in the summer our staff greatly appreciate the extra hour of sleep, and for those children who do sleep until 7:00, they are able to have more fulfilling days.

#2  Reimagining goals of program:  At Ramah Outdoor Adventure we pride ourselves on teaching in depth skills to our older chalutzim.  It is for this reason that we ask all chalutzim entering grade 7-10 to choose specific activities at base camp on which to focus.  No one in grades 7-10 comes to camp and tries all that we have to offer on our ranch.  For our younger kids, we look at our educational program differently.  This session, every chalutz entering grade 3-6 will have the opportunity to try almost every activity we have at base camp.  Because they are being exposed to each activity, they only spend an hour and ten minutes during this short session in any given area.  As a result, the goal of the activity is less about learning in depth skills, and more about having a fun experience that they might want to build upon in a future summer.  This session our older campers (those entering grades 7 & 8) are continuing with the more skills based learning model that we used the first six weeks of the summer.

#3 Greater emphases on song and dance:  Compared to last year, our teffilot (prayers) throughout the summer have been much improved.  This session, Rabbi Ranon Teller (AKA Rabbi “T”), has joined us as our Rosh Teffilah.  Rather than assign him the task of overseeing all of the Teffilot at camp, I asked Rabbi “T” to focus his energies on creating lively services for the youngest two groups of campers.  Rabbi “T” has put together an age appropriate siddur, he has infused the service with fun stories and easy to sing songs.  Teffilot for our youngest campers have become a time for song and dance.  In addition, during the session, each group will meet with Rabbi T a few times outside of the formal prayer time to learn new Hebrew songs.  We are testing this format of having formal time for learning song and dance with the hopes of rolling it out to the entire camp next year.  While Rabbi T has focused his energies on the youngest two groups, our sollelim campers (entering 7 &8) have had a chance to experience the best of the teffilot that we developed and ran over the past six weeks.  These have included a learners minyan, a musical teffilah and tomorrow, a sunrise hike followed by teffilah and breakfast overlooking  a scenic vista.

#4 Perhaps our most important asset this session that has made our first five days such a success is an extra dose of patience.  Especially for our staff members who just spent six weeks working with older high school students, making the transition to working with younger campers has taken a great deal of intentionality.  They have had to remember that younger campers often take longer to do basic tasks such as brushing teeth, getting dressed or even clearing the tables in the chadar ohel (dining hall).  During our intersession, we worked with our counselors to help them understand how an 8 year old is developmentally very different than a 15 year old.  Each is able to engage with our core values in their own way, but the demands placed on a counselor of a younger camper are very different from those placed on the counselor of an older camper.

#5 Age appropriate Masa program.  As I write, our youngest campers are all sleeping outside under tents and tarps.  As everyone at Ramah Outdoor Adventure knows, our masa program is one of the gems of this camp.  Each camper has the opportunity to head out into the back country for an excursion.  Because of the size of our youngest campers and the limited amount of time available in this session, it is not realistic to send them out for a multi-day experience.  (While we did send our 5/6th graders on a three day hike in session II, this was only after they had had three weeks of preparation on our ranch for this excursion).  Instead our youngest campers wore day packs for a hike today and a sunrise hike tomorrow.  In between they are sleeping at the back of our property so that they get the feeling of sleeping out under the stars, but do not have to carry their gear a great distance.  Before they return to camp, they will all have eaten at least two meals around a camp fire of food that they will have prepared themselves.  Of course, our oldest campers this session (7&8) are heading out on an abbreviated masa from Wednesday through Friday.

In the camp world, they say that one day of camp is the equivalent of 3 days of life in the real world.  This certainly seems to be the case this session, as we are only 5 days into our session, but it seems as though we have been together for weeks.  Friendships are being made, inside jokes are being created, and new memories are being formed by all!

Please note: throughout this blog post there are many hyper links.  Each one refers to a Youtube video

Our session II chalutzim have left the chava(ranch).  Our Madrichim are in the midst of preparing for our session III chalutzim who will be arriving in less than 48 hours.  Beds are being moved, bikes are being fixed and the dining hall is being scrubbed.  And just like that we have drawn the curtain on our largest session ever at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

The past four weeks have surpassed our wildest expectations.  We biked, climbed, fed buffalo, witnessed fantastic rainbows, crossed snowy mountain passes and bathed in refreshing Colorado streams.  We laughed and we cried, we hugged and we played.   We shared scrumptious meals around the camp fire and nicely set Shabbat tables in the dining hall.  We learned, and we taught.  And perhaps most importantly we all grew spiritually, emotionally and physically through our month together at our alpine ranch.

As we bring session II to a close, I wanted to share three vignettes from the past month that capture the spirit of what transpired here. I have embedded youtube clips throughout.

#1 Returning from bike masa:  One of the highlights of each session at Ramah Outdoor Adventure is watching the chalutzim return from their masaot (excursions).  These chalutzim enter camp after having been away for a few days; they are excited, dirty and full of wonderful stories.  We had three bike massaot return to camp this session, and each time the bikers assembled at the top of the hill on the far side of our pasture.  They road down the access road coming to a skidding stop in front of the chadar ohel (dining hall) where they began singing the cheer they wrote while on masa, and then launching into our trademark “Shabbos is coming, we’re so happy” song. The energy these riders brought with them each time they returned was palpable.  Most had ridden well over 100 miles up rocky mountain roads and down steep windy paths.  All had experienced moments where they thought they could not ride another foot and moments where they felt like they were on top of the world.  As they road into camp, they brought these intense emotions with them.

#2  Yom Sport:  If I had to describe the day in one word, I would just say WOW!  Year after year, yom sport is always one of the highlights of the summer at any Ramah camp.  It is hard to pinpoint why children of all ages get so excited about this day of playful competition.  From our “yom sport break out” where an olive and a grape debated which one was more important to Jews (check out our session II slide show for a clip), to the actual sports competitions during the day to the singing of the teams’ original songs, all who participated in Yom sport had a spectacular time.  Yom sport is one of the loudest days in camp, not only because this year a helicopter landed in the middle of it (bringing some honored guests), but also because when chalutzim are not playing games they can be found walking between activities cheering loudly or standing on the sidelines yelling for their teammates.  This year’s yom sport featured a long relay race that included almost every camp activity area on our ranch culminating in a fire building contest where the screaming and cheering reached a near ear popping decibel.  I think all can agree that we also witnessed one of the more exceptional “original songs” composed by the yarok (green) team captain, Ethan A.  At our closing campfire last night, the entire camp joined in the singing of this upbeat song.  It truly became one of the theme songs of the session.

#3 Our Final Havdallah

At camp, we place a special emphasis on our Havdallah ceremony.  We form a giant circle with the entire camp and have a chance to give “shout outs” or reflections from the week that passed.  We then move into singing havdallah and a series of other songs together.  Perhaps more so than any other time at camp, at Havdallah one really feels the sense of community present on our ranch.

This past week, we asked a few chalutzim from each edah (age group) to speak for a few minutes about what camp meant to them.   Each spoke in age appropriate way about some aspect of the summer and some memory that they are taking with them.  The commonality between all their speeches was that this is a place where kids can come to challenge themselves, live amongst friends in a supportive environment and connect to a larger community.  Most of us were in tears by the end of havdallah as we looked around at the faces of the people whom only weeks earlier we barely knew and now had shared such intense experiences.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  And our second session has now drawn to a close.  We will miss each and every chalutz/a who walked through our gate.  We are left now with only memories, pictures and transformed selves from our time together.  As we transition to third session all of us staff members know that we will be even better counselors in session III and form an even tighter community because of the experiences we had with our first two sessions of chalutzim.

Luckily camp opens in 46 weeks.  Stay tuned for Tuesday’s email about registering for our 2012 camping season.


P.S.  An additional MUST see video is this one by our metayalim chalutzim on the importance of recycling:

Written by two of our JOLI participants:

To begin, I want you to think through an average day in your life. And
now I would like to exemplify the following: in an average day, most
of your time is spent talking with or doing things with other people.
Most of the things we say are for the benefit of others, and would be
left unsaid if there were no one else to hear it. Our mannerisms, ways
of speech and courtesies are all based on the fact that this world is
build on the principle of cohesion between people. Please, thank you,
eye contact, reassuring phrases, they all arose because people spend
so much time together and realized that it was better than being
Read more

Written by Elyssa Brown

JOLI — the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute — returned from our
12-day backpacking masa to the Indian Peaks Wilderness area: happy and
healthy, with countless bug bites and new leadership skills to show
from our adventure.

Our first five days were spent learning how to survive and thrive as
an expedition group in the wilderness. Rain (and even hail!) turned
everyone into tarp set up experts by the end of the second day.
Chalutzim learned basic map and compass use, how to select appropriate
camp and cooking sites, how to hang bear bags, and how to cook some
stellar backcountry meals. Each day, two chalutzim were appointed as
“Leaders of the Day.” They would work together to lead t’fillah, pack
up camp in the morning, navigate sometimes challenging terrain, make
decisions on trail, and keep the group motivated. Every evening, we
would debrief the day all together and give feedback to the Leaders of
the Day.

We spent Shabbat at a designated campsite, and JOLI madrich Matt
brought up clean clothing, pre-cooked camp food, and other treats to
make the day special. We took solar showers and spent quality time
bonding as a group. It felt wonderful to be clean, and we prayed in a
grove of trees beside a river. In our free time, we packed in a few
good games of soccer and ultimate frisbee.

On Sunday morning, we set off on the second half of our journey.
Having covered the basics in week one, we could do more in-depth
map-reading and navigation, including several days of off-trail
travel. Chalutzim were divided into cook/clean/bear-bag teams, and
some chefs prepared delectably elaborate meals: favorites included
chili, Chinese noodles, “soup bombs,” cinnamon buns, scrambled
brownies, and “Kivi cake.”

Toward the end, each JOLI participant took part in a 10-hour “solo.”
Placed away from all other masa members, the chalutzim had a chance to
reflect meaningfully on their journey thus far. Over the next few
nights, they shared their writings and thoughts with the rest of the

Some assorted highlights of the trip included crossing the Continental
Divide (repeatedly!), a wonderful campfire, a singing session under a
tarp during a rainstorm, sliding down a snowfield with a rope and
harness set-up, and just spending 12 days together in the wilderness.

This coming week, JOLI members are being trained and certified in
Wilderness First Aid (WFA). Afterward, several are serving as
co-leaders on a backpacking trip for Metaylim (the 5th/6th graders).
Others are using their skills to plan and lead all components of a
JOLI trip to the Garden of the Gods area, which will include a day of
rock climbing.

It’s bound to be an exciting last week together!

Excerpts of student reflections to come!

After another wet evening, the sun is again shining brightly.  We began our morning with rocking musical teffilah with the entire camp gathered in our new Pardes Teffilah.  Although it was relatively warm this morning, we had 45 minutes of physical exercise before breakfast where we played tag, kick the can, and ran running drills.  As I type this letter we have chalutzim (pioneers/campers) who are shooting targets at the archery range, riding horses on the trail, cooking around a campfire, climbing cliff, doing art projects and so much more. Read more

Our Session I chalutzim have been gone for only a few hours, and our incredible staff have begun their first well-deserved day off of the season.  Sitting here in Starbucks down in Woodland Park, I have only the warmest memories from the past two weeks.    Leading up to the beginning of Session I, many on our staff were anxious about our second season at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  Could we repeat the magic we created in 2010?  Would the new chalutzim (pioneers/ campers) bond with the returning campers?  Would the new programs we have added this year be as successful as the ones we began last year?  Would our new staff work well with our returning staff?  Would our attempt to differentiate between different edot (age groups) succeed?  Would a two week session, at the beginning of the summer, provide an emotionally moving experience for our chalutzim?  These were just some of the questions racing through our minds in the weeks leading up to the opening of the 2011 season.

Read more

Please read to the end for housekeeping matters.

This morning was our warmest morning thus far this summer.  While most of us woke up after sunrise and put on our fleeces and long pants, we did so out of habit and not necessity, as the temperature hovered in the 60s until the sun rose above the hilltop.  The warm morning was a perfect way to transition into our week of masaot (excursions).  At 7:30, our first group of Bogrim chalutzim (9/10th grade) boarded their bus to go kayaking on the Arkansas River and hiking in Great Sand Dunes National Park.   An hour later, another group headed out for a five day climbing trip on a magnificent rock face, about one hour from camp.  This afternoon, our Metayalim chalutzim (5/6th grade) leave for an overnight where they will be mining for quartz in a local quartz seam and feeding buffalo at our neighbor’s ranch.  Tomorrow morning, our Sollelim chalutzim (7/8th grade) head out for four days of hiking and rafting or biking.

Lest you think that camp will be quiet this week, last night 50 campers and staff from Ramah in the Poconos arrived at camp.  They will be participating in four days of activities here on the Ramah in the Rockies ranch.

All in all, this is certain to be an amazing week at Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

The past few days at camp have been challenging, inspirational and memorable.  Since the second day of camp, our horses have been working about eight hours a day taking chalutzim on trail rides around the ranch.  Our bikers have explored many of the trails in camp, including some with considerable inclines.  Our advanced climbers have spent hours scaling cliffs 100s of feet high, including one who did a multi-pitch climb yesterday; while our beginner climbers have learned the basics of belay technique and the basics of climbing on real rock faces.  One of the most popular additions to our program this summer is the new 18 “hole” FROLF (frisbee golf) course designed by a former Ramah in New England Ultimate star, Nadav.  Nadav spent all of staff week constructing a course that takes 2-3 days to complete and circles much of the back of our property.  In addition to allowing for some terrific FROLF, our course enables our chalutzim to explore areas of the ranch that they might not otherwise see.

While our physical activities have been amazing, we had an incredibly inspirational Shabbat as well.  On Friday evening, we gathered in our new amphitheatre, called the Pardes Tefillah (Prayer Grove), for dancing and davening.  As usual, we sang Kabbalat Shabbat with a guitar and drums before lighting the Shabbat candles.  Our dinner, consisting of fish, beans and rice, was followed by some of the most incredible singing and dancing that any of us have ever heard or seen at Ramah.  Shabbat proceeded as planned, with time for collective prayer and learning, as well as lots of free time, when chalutzim napped, played kickball and also hung around to chat with each other.  At 9:15 pm we all gathered in front of the  Chadar Ohel (dining hall) for our first havdallah of the season.  For the first 10 minutes, chalutzim took turns giving “shout outs” to each other as a way to publicly thank others in the group who had either helped them out in the initial days of camp, or with whom they had shared a meaningful moment.  It was incredible to see how, after only five days together as a community, we had already come so close to each other and were able to share our inner feelings.

With over a week left in our camp program, I can only imagine how this second week will change our chalutzim and bring them even closer together.  While I savor each day here at the Chava (ranch), I cannot wait for next Shabbat when we will again gather in our pardes tefillah, having had six additional days of intense outdoor experiences and meaningful interpersonal bonding.

Now for a few housekeeping matters:

#1 Please note that due to the higher than usual water level in the Arkansas River our rafting company will not take any clients under the age of 12.  Therefore, we have had to cancel our metayalim (entering 5/6) rafting trip indefinitely for this session.  We were informed of this yesterday, and are still searching for an alternate activity for this Thursday.

#2 For those who are still having issues seeing our pictures, please know that they are kept on a new website.  Due to numerous complaints last year, we ARE NOT using the UltraCamp site for pictures.  Please contact us directly for a link to the photos.

The hour is late so this will be a very brief note.  As our first day of kayitz 2011 comes to an end, I am sitting here in the office with a large smile on my face.  Over 50 campers arrived this afternoon.  Once at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch, our campers participated in typical first day activities including medical checks, camp tours and ice breakers.  This evening we had a camp wide opening camp fire which featured skits by members of the various tents.  We ended the evening by making  smores.

Tomorrow morning, we are waking up at 6:00am for teffilot (prayers) followed by shmirat hagoof (physical exercise).   After breakfast we begin regular programming.

While our campers arrived only hours ago, our staff has been here for over a week preparing for the summer.  If it were not close to midnight, I would write much more about our staff (and certainly hope to do so at a future point), but suffice it to say that this group of 20 and 30 something’s is one of the most incredible camp staffs I have ever seen assembled in one place.   To begin with, they are enormously qualified: our head climber has been a professional mountain guide for close to 10 years leading trips in Israel, Jordan and Europe; our archery instructor placed 9th in the NCAA and 23rd in the US Olympic trials; our head equestrian has been working in summer camps for close to 20 years and is assisted by a young woman studying to be a equine vet.  In addition to their resumes, our staff have exhibited an amazing amount of passion: our song sessions usually turn into spontaneous dance parties; our teffilot (prayers) have been moving and inspirational; and our staff constantly return to our core values when planning the programming for the chalutzim (campers).  Time and again, this past week, I have taken a step back and watched our staff step up and take on new leadership roles.  I know that our success this summer will be because of the energy they will put into making sure that every chalutz/a who comes through our doors has the most incredible few weeks of their lives.

By the morning, we hope that our pictures will have finished uploading.  Please remember that you can access our photos online through the link sent to all our families last week.  If you are not a camper family, please email info[at] and we will send you the link (due to privacy issues we are not posting it on this blog).

Please know that during the summer we are available to speak by phone at 303 261 8214.  However, since we check email far more regularly than our voicemail messages, if you need a quick answer, please email us directly.

Shavuot is typically called the “Dairy Holiday” as there is a custom not to eat meat on the chag.  And as we prepare for Shavuot we have also been preparing for a major dairy influx at camp.

Throughout the off season we have been reaching out to local food producers and asking them to support our program through discounted pricing or outright donations.  Recently, we received a commitment for a large donation of dairy to our food program.  Aurora Organic Dairy, a local Colorado milk producer, has offered us a pallet of fresh organic milk.  This dairy provides private label milk for companies all over Colorado.  They typically do not work with individual organizations like Ramah, as they mainly sell milk by the pallet.  Yet Aurora Organic Dairy agreed to make this donation on one condition: we must pick up a full pallet of milk — 480 half gallon containers — at one time!

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Part I: Maintaining a positive community

How do we maintain a close‑knit camp community where we all know each other but where there are no cliques, even as we grow enrollment by 75% in one year?  This is an issue we are dealing with in the off‑season as we gear up for our second summer with chalutzim (pioneers/campers) at Ramah Outdoor Adventure and our inaugural summer for the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Institute.

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MARCH, 2011

Ever wonder what it takes to build a ‘green’ camp from the ground up?  What does it mean to build in an environmentally sustainable way?  How do you minimize your impact on the land while building a facility to comfortably house hundreds of campers and staff every year?  In what way can the physical buildings reinforce the educational values being practiced at camp?

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This was printed last week in the newsletter.  In case you missed it, I am reprinting it here:

by Rabbi Eliav Bock

Last year, while recruiting our first cohort of campers to the county’s only Kosher outdoor adventure camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventure, someone forwarded me a funny video titled Jews Don’t Camp (see above). While clearly intended as some light humor, there is an element of truth in this video. American Jews, as a whole, are not known for their rustic “outdoors-y” nature. Although we are a people whose ancient texts and traditions emerged from an agrarian society, most American Jews live in urban settings with minimal daily contact with the broader natural world. And worse, perhaps, is the fact that our children are constantly connected to technology. What parent among us does not regret that?

The holiday of Tu B’Shvat is intended to make us stop and consider our relationship to the earth. At a Tu B’shvat seder, we sit with friends, sing songs about nature, eat special fruits that represent an element within nature, drink hues of wine that represents the changing seasons and discuss how we can protect our natural environment. In recent years, with the rising awareness of humanity’s deleterious impact on the natural world, Tu B’shvat sedarim seem to be ever more popular.

And while celebrating this holiday is a good start, as a camp director, I know that we can take the lessons of Tu B’shvat and apply them to our summer camp lives. At Ramah Outdoor Adventure, we have created a program with the specific goal of reconnecting our youth with the natural world around them. We have made environmental living an integral part of the summer program. From waking up with the sun, to living in a technology free zone with limited electricity, to eating sustainable food at meals, our goal at camp is to spend a few weeks living intentionally in the natural world.

Our program seeks to engage campers in environmental programming. This might be an exploration through the surrounding forest to search for mushrooms or a specific type of tree. It might be a discussion about our own carbon footprint each time we fly to camp or drive three hours to go on a four day hike. But other times our environmental education is embedded within the broader camp program. For example, by spending extended time camping in the backcountry, our campers are able to gain a deeper appreciation about how to use nature for their own good while also leaving it undisturbed for other humans and animals to enjoy. Similarly, by adjusting our internal clocks to wake up at sunrise and go to sleep when dark, campers not only gain an appreciation for living according to the natural rhythms of the day, but they also see that one can survive in a world without electricity.

Throughout, we never lose sight of the fact that Jewish camp works as an educational enterprise because it creates a model community disconnected from the “real world.” Educators have been using camp to impart the importance of living in a deeply connected Jewish community for over 100 years. Because of this, countless campers have spent ten months of the year yearning to return to their camp community. As research now shows, immersive Jewish experiences at camp are a good predictor for life-long engagement in Jewish life. Ramah has long recognized the fact that in every activity and circumstance – and now in the daily routine of Ramah’s first specialty camp – the emphasis on Jewish life and learning remains a critical ingredient. Our environmental learning and outdoor experiences would not be nearly as impactful without grounding in Jewish text learning and the context of Jewish tradition and ritual.

At Ramah Outdoor Adventure, we build upon the success of Jewish camping by creating an immersive Jewish community with an additional layer which makes us unique in the North American Jewish camping world. We have created a program that places equal emphasis on how our community relates to the natural world around us. This means we engage our campers in the choices of food we eat; we spend days at a time sleeping on the ground in tents and under tarps; we walk around at night guided only by moonlight; and we perform weekly service projects to beautify our ranch and to take care of the natural landscape around us. In addition to having our own working garden on the ranch, we contract with a local organic farm to source much of our food. Our older campers have a chance to spend five days living with the farmers and cultivating the land, and return to camp with boxes of fresh produce for us to eat the following week.

We do not want camp’s lessons to remain behind in the Rocky Mountains when campers go home. Rather, we want our campers to return to their regular lives not only with a deeper sense of their own Jewish identity but also with a deeper commitment to protecting and preserving the natural world around us. By marking Tu B’shvat within their home communities, they and we are reminded, as winter wanes, of the imperative to engage more deeply with the natural world and live Jewish lives imbued with wonder at the beauty, bounty, and fragility of the natural world.

Rabbi Eliav Bock is the Director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure

One of the goals of our program at  Ramah Outdoor Adventure is to serve sustainable food.  This means we take into account how our food affects: our health, our environment and our financial bottom line.  One of the areas on which  we are working during the off season and are committed to improving in the summer of 2011 is making our food decisions  more transparent to our chalutzim (campers).   We have already hired  returning counselor Yael Greenberg as our food counselor for the summer.  In addition to being a counselor, Yael’s specialty area this summer will be working to include food education throughout of program.

Yael has begun keeping a blog documenting her experiences.  Currently she is trying to find a place to buy  “fair trade” bananas.   Below is copy of her first post.  If you would like to follow her  on this journey to buy fair trade bananas , please do so on her blog:


First, a short disclaimer:  These first few posts are going to be a little bit disingenuous because I’m going to go day-by-day, but in fact the story started Sunday and it’s now Tuesday.  But trust me, a recap up until this point would be no fun at all and would miss most of the point.

So what’s going on here?  What is this all about?  How did it start?

It started with a phone call mid-morning on Sunday, December 26.  Before hitting the after-Christmas sales downtown, I had a conversation with the director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, where I will be returning to work this summer as the food educator.  Since this is a relatively new camp and there has never been a food educator before, I am designing the position and the food education curriculum pretty much from scratch.  I’m going to draw a lot on existing material, but I really need to figure out what it is that I want to impart to the campers and how to go about doing that.  Before this point I had already decided that my position as food educator should entitle me to at least some say over what gets ordered for the kitchen, so I had tried to get in touch with a company that does fair trade stuff to see what it would look like to order chocolate.  Their email address doesn’t work and their offices are closed for the holiday, so that project is tabled for the time being.  But after I got off the phone with the director I got to thinking, and one thing led to another and I decided that there should be fair trade bananas at camp this summer.  See here for an explanation of why fair trade and why specifically bananas.

My explorations thus far have been guided by a series of questions, the first being Where does one buy fair trade bananas? I know where to get them for breakfast, but I don’t know where to buy them in Colorado, and I certainly don’t know how to get them delivered to the doorstep of a ranch somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  So I went on the TransFairUSA website and got a listing of where to buy fair trade-certified goods in the state of Colorado.  I got a list of 119 results, 38 of which indicated that they sold fair trade produce.  The phone calls began.

My first four calls were to Sam’s Clubs, none of which carried them.  Most of the people I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about (they thought Fair Trade was a brand), but the conversation was interesting, if unhelpful.  The guy at Sam’s Club in Arvada told me that they used to carry them, but they weren’t doing as well as conventional bananas.  People just didn’t want to pay the extra fifty cents for the fair trade, so they went back to selling just Dole.  My next call was to Vitamin Cottage in Lafayette who told me that they do sometimes carry fair trade bananas, but that no, they don’t deliver, and I would have to call back the following day to speak to a manager for more information.  I had similar results at two Whole Foods branches (Whole Foods also does not deliver), but from those phone calls I learned to ask for the produce manager in future conversations.  Not only does that streamline things, but when you ask to speak with a manager–especially one in a specific department–you sound really impressive and like you’re someone who knows exactly what she wants.  Which I guess I am.  Anyhow, the most interesting call of the day was to Holly at Love Your Mother, LLC.  Holly runs a small produce business, and she told me that unfortunately she does not sell fair trade bananas because she has been unable to get them cleared for importation, mostly, it seems, because of the minuscule size of her business.  Despite her inability to sell me bananas, Holly told me she would do a bit of research for me and get back to me.

By the end of Sunday the fire was really lit under my rear.  I stopped making phone calls because somehow it got to be 8:30 PM ET, so I was getting Sam’s Club security instead of the actual store.  Seemed like time to close up shop for the day.  But by this time I had a new mission.  Forget actually getting my hands on fair trade bananas for camp.  I mean, that’s still the ideal, but I had just begun to unearth a rich, deep mine of teachable moments.  My new goal was slightly different.  In my own words (excerpt from an email I sent to the camp director at 11 PM Sunday):

I’m not asking you (yet) if we can have them; right now I’m a lot more interested in the process than the outcome.  What’s exciting for me is trying to get fair trade bananas at camp.  It’s fascinating.  I might not even get to the point where I can ask if they are a financial possibility because there may be limiting factors way farther back in the system than camp director that prevent Ramah Outdoor Adventure from having ethically-produced bananas.  Just think, if it’s this difficult for an organization that’s committed to sustainability to get them, and it’s requiring the legwork of an individually motivated person, how ENORMOUS must the conventional banana industry be, and how huge the hurdles must be to do this elsewhere?  What I really want is for the campers to have an insight into this whole thing.  If we end up having fair trade bananas I want campers to know how they get to camp, and if we don’t, I want them to know why not.

And there was night, and there was dawn; Day 1.

The oil in the Menorah was supposed to last for one day, but it lasted for eight.  Our registration goal was to be 20% full by Chanukah and we are closing in 45% of capacity!  Is it a miracle? I prefer to think about it as testament to the incredible job that our staff and campers did in helping us initiate the camp in 2010.

Kislev was an excellent month to work in the Ramah Outdoor Adventure office.  Each day we registered chalutzim for 2011 and we continued hiring our 2011 staff.  At this point, almost half of our 2010 staff has committed to return for another summer.   Our registered 2011 chalutzim include a mix of both new and returning campers.  This means that while there will be some wonderful reunions on the first day of each session, all the chalutzim who come to camp in 2011, will make new friends as we renew our community at our rustic Ramah in the Rockies ranch.

While summer is still seven months away, we are starting to count down the days.  We expect some of our tents to begin fillings by the end of December when the early bird discount ends. We will try to add capacity in the more popular edot, but will wait until the end of January to make these decisions.

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Thanks for Eytan Deener-Agus (2010 session I) and Mikaela Kaiser (2010 Session II) for their submissions to our story contest.  While neither won the grand prize, both wrote terrific stories that are reprinted below.
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We asked our chalutzim to write a short story about a moment they had at camp this summer.  Over the next few weeks we will be posting all these stories on this blog.  In the meantime, here are the two that won our contest.   Each of these campers will have the opportunity to tell their story at our gala event in Denver on December 12th.

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It is hard to believe that two months have passed since we closed our first season at our gorgeous ranch!  With the chagim behind us, we are now working fulltime on planning our second season.  As most chalutzim (pioneers/campers) from our 2010 season can attest, it truly was a magical experience at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch.  I think I speak for most of us when I say that the summer went off with far fewer glitches than we had expected!  Our staff and chalutzim truly seized the opportunity to make it one of the best summers they ever experienced.

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Amazing Stories from Camp

This summer at Etgar B’Ramah (Ramah Outdoor Adventure at Ramah in the Rockies) we didn’t have campers, we had chalutzim(pioneers). This spirit of building a new community and taking on challenges together has infused everything we do, such as working with teens to muck out petrified horse manure from a 120-year-old barn (and then had them beg to do more the next day)! I also witnessed chalutzim doggedly biking up hills and then immediately drop their bikes to cheer on their friends behind them.

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