Chalutzim, Metapsim, and Toshavim

Session 1, Day 4

With so many activities for each cabin to do, and exciting new “Chugim” (or free choice activities) offered each afternoon, no two days at Ranch Camp are exactly the same. The schedule, however, remains constant, with Chugim after lunch, cabin activities before, and degel, the morning circle, before breakfast to open up the day.

Today’s degel was especially full of energy. After Modeh Ani, the entire camp joined in a call and repeat song, then another round of Shiga’on, learning even more Hebrew words – today, “mazleg” (fork) and “agvaniot” (tomatoes) were added to the words we learned yesterday. Those words also happened to be the names of each unit at camp – “Chalutzim” meaning explorers, for the minis and youngest campers; “Metapsim” meaning climbers, for the 5th and 6th graders, and “Toshavim” meaning dwellers, for the 7th and 8th graders.

The names of each unit represent a mountain – while the youngest campers are at the base of the mountain, exploring a new environment for the first time, the oldest campers have settled on the top, and now think of camp as their second home. The ages between, hiking up the mountain, are often somewhere in the middle. The most important part is that we all live on the same mountain together. Metapsim support the Chalutzim in beginning their climb (or first session at camp), and give them the encouragement they need to continue, while Toshavim foster the sense of community that is felt by so many at Ranch Camp, making sure that everyone is included.

This relationship between the separate units was evident with the start of the day, as the different cabins met in the commons to break into separate groups for the morning’s activities. Though in the past cabins have traveled to activities together, Ranch Camp has implemented that campers will get to experience camp this year with the company of those in their same unit. In only a few days of activities, campers have branched out more than they ever have before, bonding with different ages and genders instead of just their own. After having a great day, campers are able to go back to their cabin and share their different experiences with their cabin mates.

After lunch and “menucha” (an hour of rest to get out of the sun), chugim began. Though free activities had been run on Friday, the chugim were a new experience to many, and one that is unique to Ranch Camp – many Jewish summer camps don’t give the option to choose activities. Of the two chugim, one changes every day, giving the campers an opportunity to try everything from identifying flowers in the Outer 400 (the wooded area that borders camp) to mixing cookie dough for that night’s dessert.

The other chug is a week-long activity. Kids spend a week creating their own board games, competing in mini-Olympics, or even acting in a musical. Every day, the campers get to know their community better, as chugim are not split up by cabin or unit, and knowing that they are in a safe and supportive environment gives the kids the courage to step out of their comfort zones and choose activities that are new to them.

The rest of the week stands on the horizon, and with it comes possibility. As the activities continue and new Chugim are introduced, each camper will learn, grow, and thrive with the knowledge that their counselors, friends, units, and community all have their back.


Shabbat Shalom Ranch Camp!

Session 1, Days 2-3

Time moves differently here at Ranch Camp. While the rest of the world speeds along, each moment just a precursor to the next, we take the time to appreciate each minute we are here. Living in the moment is not just a goal, but a reality – and this is especially true during Shabbat.

Friday morning started bright and early, the campers wide awake and eager to start their first full day at camp. Degel (Hebrew for “flag,” what we call the morning circle before breakfast) foreshadowed the fantastic energy that was to come with the rest of the day. We sang Modeh Ani to welcome our souls back into our bodies, and then the song Shiga’on (or “crazy”) to learn some new Hebrew words.

Like the day before, the morning was filled with activities, but the afternoon brought the start of Shabbat. Services and Friday night dinner are a little less structured than the rest of the week, which can be difficult to navigate without help. But nobody was without help this week, as the returning campers took their new friends under their wing, making sure that they were comfortable and enjoying this special time at camp.

After the morning activities and lunch, Shabbat prep began. As the first half of the day had been spent covered in sweat, sunscreen, and dirt, it was a welcome change to be able to clean up and don nicer clothes than is customary for camp. Some time was spent gathered in South Village, taking pictures and catching up with friends, before moving down into the pavilions for services.

Many times during services, and a few more times during dinner, the voices of the entire camp joined together in song. Here, it doesn’t matter if you sing off key, or if you have the wrong rhythm – the spirit and meaning behind our voices is what makes the sound so beautiful. In those moments, which villages they lived in or which age group they were a part of had no effect on the campers – they were only members of the Ranch Camp family, not divided in any way.

Full from the amazing Shabbat dinner – brisket, noodle soup, and vegetables – the camp flooded out of the Chad and to the basketball court for some rikkud, or Israeli dance. The camp followed along with the dances, some new songs and others that have been part of Ranch Camp tradition for years. The large streetlight kept the court bright after the sun had gone down, providing a circle of light for one last song session before bed.

The day had been long, and campers fell asleep quickly, worn out but satisfied and looking forward to a relaxed Saturday – especially a late wake up and walk in breakfast of lox and bagels, another camp tradition.

Saturdays at camp are notably different from the rest of the week. Instead of jumping from one activity to the next, we take time to reflect on ourselves and the week ahead, and to appreciate the beauty of the nature that surrounds us. Services in the morning, and free activities in the afternoon (and, of course, chocolate canteen), allow the campers to get used to the rhythm of camp and spend more time getting to know each other without the usual hustle and bustle of the rest of the week.

As the Sabbath came to a close, the camp gathered one last time at the basketball court for Havdalah, holding hands and spiraling in to sit in a circle with the people who are quickly becoming a family. The blessings over the wine (or, in our case, grape juice) and spices employ all five of the senses, and everyone became quiet as they tuned in to the world around them, the smell of pine trees and dirt carried by the soft breeze whistling through the branches.

The final portion of Havdalah summed up the entire day perfectly, as some returning campers stood up to tell the camp why they chose to return again. Second year camper Grayson, from Cabin 4, voiced what everyone was feeling: “I came back to Ranch Camp because the community is very strong, and it doesn’t take long to make a lot of really good friends.”

It couldn’t have been said better. Tomorrow brings the first regular weekday at camp, a day that will be packed full of action and experiences – experiences that will give each and every camper an opportunity to learn, grow, and have fun, supported as they are by the Ranch Camp community.

Welcome to the Ranch Camp Family

Session 1, Day 1

Today was a day of transition. As the school year comes to a close, the summer begins, long awaited by many. Returning campers have grown a year since we last saw them, physically taller but wiser as well. New campers ease into the unfamiliar environment, supported by their Madrichim and cabin mates, the atmosphere of inclusion and camaraderie evident before the campers even loaded the buses.

Whether a camper is returning for their eighth year or just discovering their new home away from home, each and every one is excited. Though the morning at camp began silently, the air nearly buzzed with energy as, after a ride that seemed to take years, the gate swung open, the crunch of gravel was heard under the tires of the cars and buses, and this session’s campers arrived at JCC Ranch Camp.

After a lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup (the customary first meal of the session, a Ranch Camp tradition), the newly formed cabins traveled together around the camp, getting their bearings and learning the ropes while getting to know each other as well. Though the sun started to hide behind the clouds in the afternoon, the kids’ contagious energy was not abated by the hint of stormy weather. Shouts of cheer and excited greetings could be heard all across the property as the cabins played icebreaker games, joined in a rousing session of gaga, visited the health center, got their cabin pictures taken, and tried on boots at the corral.

Dinner was loud, as it should be at camp, a hundred different voices echoing off the walls and high ceilings of the Chad (the camp’s dining hall, short for chadar o’chel). Meals are so different here than they are at school cafeterias, an environment where creativity is encouraged and kids can try new foods without having to worry about whether or not they will leave feeling full – after tonight’s meal of spaghetti and garlic bread, everyone was satisfied.

Once dinner was cleaned up and everyone had a chance to change into warmer clothes, the evening program began. Tonight’s program was Bombardier, a mix between a trivia challenge and a race. Cabins competed to answer the most questions, while running between question stations and trying to avoid getting “bopped” by a Bombardier. Every cabin that got tagged – which was most – had to shout for a medic, and then solve a team building puzzle to continue the game. Kids got to learn about camp and get to know each other while burning off some energy before bedtime.

Camp quieted with the sunset. As exhausted but content campers said goodnight to their cabins and climbed into their beds, another silence settled over the camp – but this silence was different than the one in the morning. This silence is full, the presence of the campers tangible in the air. The people who make camp the special place it has been for so many years are back. Ranch Camp’s source of positive energy, that unique energy that many miss during the school year, is here again and raring to go. Already, it’s obvious that Ranch Camp 2018 will be one of the best years yet.

The summer has finally begun.