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Machane on My Mind–A message from Camp Director, Rabbi Ethan Linden

Over the next few weeks, as we get closer to the start of kayitz (summer) 2018, I wanted to write a little bit about the upcoming season in order to highlight some of our new initiatives, and generally you give a sense of our thinking and approach to this summer. For today, I want to discuss our first and most important priority: the health and safety of our campers.  You are sending us your children, and you are trusting us to care for them. We take that trust seriously, and we are deeply engaged, every year, in improving our policies, procedures and training in the area of health and safety.  Here are a few things going on this summer:

Policy Change Regarding Nighttime Supervision

This summer, from the moment campers return to their bunks after evening activity, there will be one staff member inside every single bunk every single night. In the past, we have had one staff member cover two bunks, so this change doubles the amount of supervision during the nighttime hours. (The curfew for staff who are not in the bunks for that night has not changed.) Having spent time talking to other camps, to experts in the field, and having listening to our own staff and campers over the past two summers, I believe strongly that this change is an important step in our continual effort to provide effective and sensitive supervision for our campers. For our returning campers, this will be a change in their camp experience, so please share this new policy with your campers.  I am, of course, happy to discuss this policy with parents or kids as the summer approaches.

Security

We continue to evaluate and upgrade our security protocols on the basis of the assessment we conducted last year with the help of an outside security consultant. We have added additional security cameras, loudspeakers and roving private security personnel, most of whom are off-duty law enforcement officers. We have continued to build our strong relationships with Troop K, our local branch of the New York State Troopers, and we will once again be using One Call Now to alert our community in the event of an emergency. Our security training and procedures are under continual revision with the help of our consultants, and we will drill our staff during staff week using their guidance and expertise.

We are asking you to help us maintain our safe community. Please do not send packages to camp. (Note: this includes padded envelopes. We cannot accept anything larger than a letter without prior notification.) Like last summer, if your camper runs out of something and you need to send it to us, please contact Camper Care (campercare@ramahberkshires.org) to let us know it’s coming. In addition, we as (like last year) that you register in advance if you are planning to attend Yom Hachnasat Orchim (Visiting Day, July 15th).

Preventing Abuse and Harassment

Sometimes it seems like every day brings new disturbing revelations about institutions and individuals who have violated the trust of parents and children in the most terrible of ways.  We seek to prevent the abuse or harassment of any member of our community, including both campers and staff.  Our aim is simple: to make our Camp as safe as it can possibly be for everyone who steps onto our grounds. To that end, we have contracted with Sacred Spaces, an organization whose mission, in part, is to provide, “Jewish institutions with the professional services necessary to develop robust policies and training to prevent opportunities for abuse.”  We believe that our existing policies, procedures and training are quite good in this area already (our work is subject to several layers of oversight, including from the American Camping Association and the State of New York) but we also know that there is more to learn and more we can do.  We are proud to be the first summer camp in the country to work with Sacred Spaces to improve our efforts in this vital area. Child safety experts from Sacred Spaces will evaluate our written policies and training modules, and they will make a site visit to Camp this summer to evaluate our program in action. We look forward to working closely with Sacred Spaces as we continue to create a safe and caring community.

At The Forefront of Safety

Over the past few summers, in keeping our ongoing efforts to improve the health and safety of campers at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, we have been engaged in an ambitious project, under the direction of Dr. Cliff Nerwen and Dr. Phil Levy, to track head injuries that occur at Camp. (This effort coincided with a new set of head injury safety protocols and procedures that were put in place several summers ago and remain in force.) The goal was to better understand when and where head injuries at Camp occur so we could potentially make changes to reduce the incidence of injuries, and improve safety in camp. The results of that study have been very interesting, and, in fact, the resulting research was accepted for presentation at the recent conference of the prestigious Pediatric Academic Societies. We gleaned some interesting lessons from this study, including the fact that head injuries are equally distributed between girls and boys and that the two most common locations for a head injury are the sports fields (with no particular sport being more common) and in the bunks. This last piece of data, in fact, helped inform our decision (noted earlier in this email) to change our supervision policies in the evening.  We also found that the vast majority of head injuries at camp (over 90%) are mild, with the campers returning to regular activities within 24 hours. As medical science continues to advance in this area, we are proud to be doing important work to improve the safety of our campers, and, as the acceptance of our study by the PAS shows, we are thrilled that work we are doing may help improve camper safety far beyond our camp community.

Safety and security at Camp can be hard to talk about, because it sometimes means imagining the worst.  But it is important to me that you, our community of parents and guardians, understand the extent to which we take these issues seriously. We are continually evaluating our policies and procedures, and we are constantly working to be at the cutting edge of these vital areas.  Keeping children safe is the foundation of everything that we do, and we spent a lot time this year (as we do every year) checking that foundation and making improvements if we saw a need. I thank you for reading this lengthy message, and I invite you, as always, to contact me with any questions you may have.

I promise: my next email will be way more fun!

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Getting Psyched for Kayitz 2018!

As the weather (finally) warms up, I am constantly bombarded with people exclaiming their love of spring.  But I have to say, spring is not my favorite season. With the warmth, the rain, and the increasing amounts of green, comes a feeling of nervousness.  People are counting down to the end of the school year, counting up to the beginning of summer, and we all know what that means: CAMP. Ask any camp veteran and they will inevitably get a glazed over look in their eyes as they describe the ruach, the laughter, and the joy of camp.  But camp is not a place of pure, unadulterated joy. There are challenges. There are fears. Acknowledging these feelings of trepidation are important; they are also crucial to enabling a successful summer. While this is my first calendar year in the role as Breira Director at Ramah Berkshires, this is my 12th summer as a Ramah staff member.  I am all too familiar with the feelings of anxiety as the summer approaches.  

 

This year has been an amazing year for me to meet so many people.  Not only have I met members of the Ramah Berkshires community, but I have also had the amazing opportunity to meet other Tikvah Directors in the greater Ramah community.  I have been struck with how similar our feelings are as the summer creeps closer. Across the board there are always feelings of doubt and uncertainty. There’s a part of me who always wondered if it was just me who was feeling this.  Imagine my thrill when I realized I was not alone in my anxiety. Everyone always talks about how ecstatic, enthusiastic, and psyched they are about camp. I think it’s also important that we recognize the other feelings. Those feelings that we wish would just go away.  By recognizing and talking about these feelings, we can prepare for a more holistic camp experience. Camp not only gives us lifelong friends and pure joy, but also the skills to deal with challenging moments. So as we count up to the first day of camp, don’t forget to acknowledge all the emotions circling around us.  Ultimately, we need them all to make for a successful, invigorating, and fun Kayitz 2018.

 

Elizabeth Chipkin is the Director of Breira at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires

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2017 Survey Results!

To Our Camp Community,
At the close of last summer, we asked you to spend a few minutes thinking about the ways in which Camp was successful and not successful. I am happy to report that a large number of you responded to our request and filled out the Camper Satisfaction Survey administered by the Summation Research Group. We have done this survey for several years now and we always find the resulting data to be very useful as we plan for the next summer. I wanted to let you know what we heard from you this past summer, and give you a sense of how we are responding to your feedback.
Things You Liked
For the most part, you love Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. The vast majority of you told us that you would be likely or very likely to recommend Camp Ramah in the Berkshires to your friends and the vast majority of you were either satisfied for very satisfied with the summer overall. This is very gratifying to hear, though of course we strive to move those numbers as close to one hundred percent as we possibly can.
We were also happy to hear that our parents were far happier with our communication this summer than was the case in the past. Previous surveys had indicated that you were not satisfied with how Camp was communicating with you during the summer and we worked hard in 2017 to get better. Most people were happier with our pictures and our use of social media, and most of our parents who contacted Camp during the summer felt positively about the timeliness and professionalism of the responses they received. We recognize that we have more work to do in this vital area and we hope to build upon our success this summer.
Finally, you told us that you liked the social environment of Camp Ramah. You were happy—for the most part—with the relationships campers formed between themselves and with their staff. We were glad to hear this, because we want our camp to be a warm and welcoming place for everyone in our community, and you let us know that you like what you see. So do we, and we will keep working hard to make Camp Ramah in the Berkshires a place where every child and every staff member can feel that they have made deep, profound and lasting relationships.
Things You Liked Less
The surveys reveal something important and perhaps a little painful: you are not thrilled with the Jewish content of our program. What I find heartening about this is that the surveys do not express a desire for less Jewish content, but for betterJewish content. I agree. We need to rethink and revitalize everything from daily tefilot (prayer), to yahadut (Jewish learning), to how we talk about Israel, to the informal ways we express Jewish values and traditions over the course of the camp day. Needless to say, this not a one-summer project, but we are going to try a few things this summer to get started. We are going to spend more time thinking about daily prayer, to increase the range of options available for some campers, and to continue to improve upon the musical aspects of our services. Last summer, we experimented with having a “rabbi in residence” for our Al Ha-Gova (outdoor education) program whose job it was to find ways to weave Jewish learning into our programming more organically and informally. That effort will continue this year. This will be a summer of trying new things, of experimentation, of working to bring greater creativity and vitality to our Jewish educational mission. I can’t wait to hear what you think.
Finally, while our survey results improved across the board in 2017, we could not help noticing that our overall programming results did not improve at quite the same rate. Most of you are still generally happy with our programming, but the surveys told us that this is clearly an area where we could continue to improve. One thing you told us was that campers did not feel they were getting enough opportunities to take advantage of the myriad of amazing programming areas at Camp. In response, we are making some changes to our schedule to allow A-side campers to have an additional period each day of “clinic time.” This will give the campers more opportunity to do the arts, sports, outdoor education and other activities they love. In addition, we are adding a daily activity period on A-side that will take the form of a side-wide get-together with music, games and fun. On B-side, we are adjusting the double-period intensivi that we began last year to allow for great flexibility and more options for campers. Finally, in the months leading up to the summer we are focusing our efforts on improving programming for peulot erev (evening activities). We want our programming to be fun and exciting, allowing for a range of choices while giving campers time to dive deeply into one area if they choose. We heard from you that we are not there yet, and we’re working on it!
Thank you so much for being part of the conversation about Camp Ramah in Berkshires. I love hearing from you in calls, emails, and in-person conversation. I very much appreciate the willingness of so many of you to take part in our survey. I love hearing where we are doing well, and I love hearing about areas where we still have work to do. We are listening.
L’Shalom,
Rabbi Ethan Linden
Director
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Al Hagovah 2017

Over the past few summers Al Hagovah has engaged and challenged campers and staff members by connecting them to the natural world. We are committed to providing top-notch programming that allows participants to grow in all facets of their lives.                     

The Al Hagovah program now consists of four departments:

Tiyulim: These are multi-day outings, such as three-day backpacking excursions on the Appalachian Trail, three-day biking trips in the foothills of the Berkshires, two-day canoeing adventures on the Housatonic River, half-day waterfall hikes, and overnights on Ramah Mountain.

Teva: Campers elect to hone their skills in archery, outdoor cooking, animal care, nature crafts, fishing, mountain biking, and wilderness survival.

Farming: Farming skills are integrated with yahadut programming. We are very proud of our farm-to- table meals, during which campers and staff select food from the farm that become key ingredients for the meal they prepare together.

High Ropes: Campers work to complete the challenges of the rock wall, the high-ropes course, the low-ropes course, and real rock climbing on Ramah Mountain.

This summer, Al Hagovah became more robust due to new programs, upgrades to existing facilities, and the construction of new ones. We built two outdoor kitchens, one by igul alef and one at the farm, to enhance our outdoor cooking classes and farm-to-table program. We expanded our mountain bike trails on A and B sides, added a bike pump track, and created an authentic rock-climbing site on Ramah Mountain. The Ramah Mountain trail, was connected to the Appalachian Trail allowing for those

participating in the Etgar backpacking trips to hike continuously. Lastly, a new fishing program was developed and an animal care area, comprising of goats, pigs, sheep, turtles, bunnies, ducks, and chickens, was folded into the Teva program. 

It’s been a great season with wonderful Jewish outdoor experiences. As we end kayitz 2017 on a high note, we already have our sights set on Summer 2018. We trust that our program will continue to enrich the lives of all Ramahniks.

Seth Adelsberg, Rosh Al Hagova

 

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Al Hagovah’s Guide to Life

It all started in Gan. I really didn’t have much interest in hanging out with my contemporaries in the sandbox or walking around Machaneh Alef with my babysitter… so I would escape to The Shack (circa 1996) where I was warmly greeted by Seth Adelsberg and his founding team of outdoorsmen. There I learned about team building, adventure, wilderness Judaism, and Menschlichkeit. This early immersion experience was the foundation for what I call “the Al Hagovah way of life.” It is intentionality, it is teamwork, it is adventure, it is experiential education, and it is Judaism with a flare.

I have been involved with Ramah for my entire life. As a child of the Conservative Movement – Teaneck, Solomon Schechter, USY, CRB, and JTS – I can confidently say Ramah is the best part of  the Conservative Movement. Ramah is how I define my Judaism. It not only provides a summer experience, but more importantly, a lifelong, global community…and, for me, a lifelong partner, my wife, Danielle (Schindler) Segal!

Then, add the Al Hagovah Life. Leaving everything behind and going into the backcountry is one of the most powerful experiences a person can have. We all remember Bike Trip, Challenge, spelunking, bishulim, and in recent years the high ropes course. Whether these are fond or painful memories, every adventure undoubtedly led to personal growth. My most spiritual Jewish moments – from screaming the Sh’ma on the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains to discussing the existence of God with teenagers in the depths of a silent, pitch-black cave  – have occurred in the outdoors.

While leading limmud in the middle of a trail, I have heard some of the most remarkable and beautiful comments that would not have been said in a classroom or bunk. Many of my chanichim, ranging from Cochavim to Roshim, have stated that they “felt God” for the first time in the outdoors. Radical Amazement indeed!  These experiences provide both physical and mental, as well as religious and secular challenges from which we return changed.

 When you put these two components of life together, you really have the best of both worlds! CRB provides a strong Jewish setting and Al Hagovah helps you push your limits from internal exploration to outdoor adventure. The principles set forth by this dynamic duo  – our camp community and all things Al Hagovah  – continue to guide my life today.

Adi Segal (Gesher 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Al HaGovah – A More Robust Ramah Experience

What a privilege to be ‘Rav Govah!’ This is the first year that camp has a rabbi embedded in Al HaGovah. We continue to integrate Jewish role modeling into the experiential areas of camp, and we are already celebrating successes.

Let me share from a personal perspective-       

Weeks before campers arrived, I worked with Seth Adelsberg to imagine where Jewish spirit, content and language from our tradition could be integrated into trips, farming, bishulim, teva, ropes and the like.

During staff trainings on the Appalachian Trail, on day hikes, out in the woods for survival skills training, or getting the farm set for first session, I worked with staff members to help them access Jewish texts and concepts, or narratives from our history, to make connections between their activities and our tradition. We saw great planning unfold for the camper experience, especially when staff was ready to expand their own Jewish knowledge and adopt a ‘Jewish outdoor educator’ mindset, as they gained know-how to run their pe’ulot.

A great example of this coming to life was when one madrich was ready to take the liturgy of the morning blessings – “HaNotein L’ya-ef koach – who gives the tired strength” – and use it for a motivational spark on the trail. He now asks those with weary legs “Where does your strength come from?” – as chanichim ascend the heights of the Appalachian mountains.

The Jewish part of a tiyul needs to be more than an outdoor t’filah (though, also great!). The Yahadut at a bishul should not only be “remember to wear your kippah!” So much more is possible!

The leader, after having the group cut, chop and stoke the fire, says: “Look closely at the fire, concentrate on its beauty and power…what does it make you think about? Feel?” A chanich offers a question: “why don’t we cook anything over the candles we light for Shabbat?” A discussion ensues – “why do we light candles?” “What is it about fire that we use it for both cooking but to mark different celebrations?” While the Rocky Mountain Toast is cooking, conversation about our tradition is possible, among the fun, song, chatter, team-work, and meal preparation.

Add a source (introduce in a fun way, like having it as part of the menu…): The Baal Shem Tov (founder of Hasidism, spiritual movement of the 18th Century) teaches that the flames rising in a fire are there to remind us of both God’s presence and our potential to bring out our own power from what lies deep within, as long as we fan the flames. Guided properly this conversation and integration of our sources stitch outdoor experience and Yahadut together, while having a blast cooking at the igul!

Al HaGovah experiences build character and create unity among our staff and campers. The pe’ulot are perfect places to integrate even more – lessons that we know are essential to building deeper character and making Judaism relevant. To look at it midrashically, using the English word: recreation. Don’t think about it as just recreation, read it as RE-creation. When we are out hiking the trails, take time to contemplate the beauty, our existence, our role as Earth-keepers, thinking about how we want to grow, what we want to contribute to community, and finding motivation we are becoming the best people, the best Jews we can be.

Simply by inviting the presence of a rabbi within the program, and adding Jewish elements, but not forcing them, the Ramah staff and camper experience in Al HaGovah will continue to become more mission-based. More training will be necessary and an openness from staff nourished – and then the cool, able leaders of Al HaGovah will help bring out the best of our tradition through outdoor adventures, climbs, bike and canoe trips, archery, farming and all Al HaGovah has to offer.

From the Al HaGovah shack,

Rabbi Scott Bolton of Congregation of Or Zarua, who proudly served as Rav Al HaGovah this summer at Camp!

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Shorashim 2017–Week 7

Shabbat Shalom from Shorahsim 2017!

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Machon 2017–Week 7

Shabbat Shalom from Machon 2017!


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Cochavim 2017–Week 7

It’s hard to believe that we are wrapping up our last full week and that in a few short days we will be saying l’hitraot (until we see you again) to all of our chanichim (campers).

This past Sunday, we all came together as one campe for Rikkudiyah (dance festival). Cochavim had the opportunity to dance in front of the rest of the camp and at the end of the night we all came together for a big dance party!

All day Thursday we had a blast participating in Yom Sport! Each of our chanichim was placed on either K’vutzat Cachol (the Blue Team) or K’vutzat Katom (the Orange Team) and participated in a wide variety of peulot sport (sports activities) in addition to cheering on their teams throughout the day.

Last Shabbat, we read parshat Va’etchanan and one of the highlights of the day was reading the section of the portion that contains the Shema and V’ahavta. This Shabbat, we will be celebrating Shabbat Derech Ramah (the Way of Ramah) with all sorts of activities to show our chanichim how far they have come in just one kayitz (summer) here at Ramah.

It has been such a pleasure having all of your banim uvanot (boys and girls) this kayitz and I look forward to these last days together.

Have a wonderful Shabbat everyone!

Jake Greenberg, Rosh Cochavim

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Gesher 2017–Week 7

Gesher had a wonderful last full shavua of camp! On Sunday night, Gesher joined all of camp in the annual rikkudiah. Gesher had 2 dances – a group dance and a couples dance. We then danced the night away! On Monday, those who have been focusing on Al Hagova all summer, departed for their overnight, where they hiked and learned how to rock climb. On Thursday, Gesher participated and lead the camp in Yom Sport. The day was filled with a lot of ruach, fun, and friendly competition. On Friday, Gesher led a Machene Bet Sport tournament to raise money for tzedakah. With bittersweet tenderness, we are looking forward to our last Shabbat together where we will reflect on our many summers at camp and start to focus on our future connection to Camp.

Shabbat Shalom

Deb Pollack, Rosh Gesher

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