August 17, 2021
Another summer at Ramah in the Rockies has come to an end.
Kayitz 2021 will go into the history books as the first ever held on this ranch amidst a global pandemic. Everyone who came made sacrifices to be here; families self-isolated and campers took PCR tests in the weeks before camp. Staff agreed to remain on the property and in the surrounding mountains for over nine consecutive weeks, only once venturing into town on an organized day off. We built a number of temporary dwellings and spent considerable funds on COVID-related upgrades. Campers adjusted to a new schedule and program changes, with social distancing between cohorts and masking the norm. COVID screening became a new Sunday morning ritual. And yet, despite all of these changes, the summer ran more smoothly than we could have ever imagined. After over a year of isolation and disruption, campers and staff were joyously living together in community. Like past summers, new peaks were climbed and new trails were blazed, but this year, it was perhaps the interpersonal connections,friendships, and time spent together that made this summer especially sweet for all.
Many of us have been on-site since May 30, and it is impossible to capture here all that has transpired over the past ten weeks. Instead, I share the following highlights to give you a taste of our amazing 2021 season.
Masa’ot (Backcountry Excursions)
A sound that never grows old is that of groups returning from their masa’ot cheering and singing. Every other Friday, groups roll into camp on bikes, in vans, and on foot, with each group having had their own unique experience. Many chalutzim huddled under tarps during powerful storms, scraped themselves on rocks and branches while attempting difficult trails, and had to be cajoled out of their tents in the early morning hours when temperatures were in the upper 40s at higher elevations. These same chalutzim experienced the joy of reaching the top of a peak, have a new understanding of what it means to work as a team, and have confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles. They enjoyed the deep sense of accomplishment that can only be achieved through intense experiences in the outdoors. In total, we sent out 70 masa’ot this summer, as far away as Rocky Mountain National Park and as close as the corners of our ranch. For those of us who remained back at camp, we vicariously experienced these masa’ot through the stories of our madrichim and chalutzim. It is masa that makes our camp unique.
Shabbat in Community
Most of us arrived at camp after having spent months living in a socially-distanced fashion. Few had attended in-person celebrations or services in over fifteen months. While Shabbat is a special time at camp every year, this summer, it was even more powerful to gather together in our Pardes Tefilah for Kabbalat Shabbat. The fact that we wore masks when singing and twice danced in a rainstorm did not dampen our collective spirit. Shabbat was a time for us to reflect on what had happened in the previous week and to set goals for the week ahead. Havdalah, which we moved to our main road, had a festive atmosphere as we set up a sound system on the steps of our new wellness center, with each edah (age group) standing in its own circle, followed by a raucous dance party with hundreds of people dancing to Israeli music. Most weeks, we had fire-spinning (poi) first by our own tzevet member, Akiva Jackson, and then by chalutzim who had learned the skill during the previous week in his circus chug (class). While all parties eventually come to and end, the dances from this year’s havdalah will hopefully stay with us for months to come.
When the book is written about this summer, it will go down as one of our strongest in years. Our tzevet simply went above and beyond to provide an incredible experience for our chalutzim. Because we needed to have strict cohorts in the initial days of each session, chalutzim spent more time than ever getting to know their madrichim and fellow ohel-mates. Chalutzim from Ilanot through Bogrim experienced all their chugim together with their ohel, which allowed additional opportunities for the groups to bond. A huge highlight was the ohel-based masa’ot during our ‘A’ sessions, in which every ohel went backpacking together as a group. This allowed ohalim to experience all the magic of masa together and to see each other grow in the backcountry.
From the youngest chalutz to the oldest tzevet member, we fostered a wonderfully supportive environment at camp this summer. So many chalutzim commented to me over the past eight weeks just how nice and genuine everyone was at camp. This is perhaps one of the greatest hallmarks of our unique community: we are a place that respects differences and celebrates diversity within our Jewish community. We are, and will always be, a place of radical inclusion for all Jewish youth.
The final day of camp is bittersweet. It is sweet because so much planning and work goes into making each day of the summer a success, and when it is over, there are immense feelings of satisfaction. It is sad, however, because it is hard to see a season end. I sit here overflowing with gratitude to all who enabled us to operate this summer – donors who believed in our mission and provided the resources for us to purchase whatever was needed to run camp; parents who entrusted their children to us even though there were so many unknowns; chalutzim who joined our community and challenged themselves each day, physically, spiritually and intellectually; and the staff who agreed to live in our bubble for over two months and worked for countless hours to ensure that camp was a fun, safe and nurturing place. In a few hours, I too return to the “real world,” uncertain of what this year will bring. What I do know is that the past ten weeks have run more smoothly and been more impactful than anything I could have imagined back in early May after our final pre-camp Zoom meeting. I leave our ranch feeling grateful for our time together, and hopeful about our future.
Thank you for helping us have an incredible summer!
Shana Tova-R’ Eliav