Olam Chesed

Session 3, Day 18

Ranch Camp is a place rich with tradition, many of which are songs that are sung on all different occasions. One of the most treasured songs is Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game,” the melody and dance immediately familiar to anyone who has spent a session here. This song, usually present at every closing campfire, was especially meaningful to the community today. As the song tells the story of a young boy moving through the circles of his life, another circle of Ranch Camp has come to a close.

It’s been nearly two months since the front gate first swung open to accept the first session of campers for the summer. These months have been full of perfect moments, each day a living entity in the minds of those who experienced them, each hour full of meaning, each minute another opportunity to learn, grow, and thrive.

Now, the last session of campers is getting ready to leave, and not long after them, the staff will as well. Soon, the camp will be empty, and though other groups will be able to take advantage of the beautiful property throughout the year, an essential element of camp will be missing.

But this is not yet the case. The community awoke this morning with excitement and energy to begin the day, the last full day of camp. After the customary walk-in breakfast of Shabbat, the camp gathered in the North Village commons to begin Saturday services. The weather was warm and sunny, a welcome respite from the recent storms, and spirits were high as everyone filed down the stone-lined pathway to Eddie’s corner. The services were some of the most energetic we’ve had yet, spirituality nearly tangible in the air as the entire camp’s voice rose in prayer together for the last time.

It is another Ranch Camp tradition to call up certain groups of people to read the blessing over the Torah during that part of the service. The last reading today was an especially important reading, as it contained the Sh’ma and the V’ahavta. The entire camp stood to read the blessing together, arms around each other and twined around the benches so that everyone was connected. It was another perfect moment, everyone held together physically and spiritually, the knowledge that we stand not just as a community, but as a family, at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

The majority of the day was dedicated to packing, each cabin working together to help out friends and clean the bunks for the next group that will come through the property. As night began to fall, everyone joined once more together by the campfire. The setting sun left the air feeling cold, but hearts were warm as the camp cozied around the fire, snuggled in sleeping bags and blankets. The heat of the fire pushed the chill from everyone’s minds as songs were sung, stories told, and slideshows watched. The open sky faded to black as the community reminisced about the weeks past and the family that was built around the experiences. Everyone, from the newest campers to the longest-standing staff members, has grown in ways that they never thought possible, their responsibility to their community at the forefront of their minds, the hope that they can change the world for the better budding in their hearts.

It won’t be long until morning, when the campers will gather the last of their belongings, and the camp will gather in the commons to say goodbye, together as a group one last time. Everyone will board the buses, and return to their lives outside of camp. But gathered around the campfire, that time seemed so far away. Arms around each other, circled tightly around the fire, the words “Olam Chesed” drifted up from everyone’s lips. At that moment, that song was not just a song, but a promise. It was a promise to their friends and their family, to their community, to Ranch Camp, and themselves. A promise to take what was learned at Ranch Camp and teach it to the rest of the world, to apply it to the rest of their lives, and to exist as their best selves no matter where they go.

Even the most fortunate only get to spend a few weeks at Ranch Camp, a few weeks to have those life-changing experiences. But if everyone takes what they do here and bring it with them when they leave, the Ranch Camp spirit will live on even when camp is not in session, and this indescribable community will encompass its members all over the world – and that is the most any of us could hope for.

Units at Ranch Camp

Session 3, Day 13

It’s no secret that Ranch Camp is a special place. It’s a community of family and support, made up of people from so many different backgrounds and walks of life. It’s a safe place for campers to explore their identity, Jewish or otherwise, and learn about different cultures in an encouraging and accepting environment. While spending so much time in this incredible community, it can be easy to forget that the community, though vastly important, isn’t the only thing that makes Ranch Camp so special.

Many campers’ lives during the school year, fulfilling as they may be, are man-made. With televisions and smart phones, cars and school buses, flashing lights and electronic music, they are surrounded by the technology of the advancing world. For some, the time they’ve spent at Ranch Camp is the longest they’ve had to step away from this environment and into the natural world. Though we still rely on the luxuries of electricity and running water, the landscape is sculpted by the surrounding nature. It’s a unique and fascinating experience to live in a place where you might see a deer a few yards from your cabin when stepping out in the early morning, or to feel water evaporating off your shoulders in warm rays of sunlight as you walk back from a shower.

After these last few rainy afternoons, the clear blue sky and gentle breeze were more than welcome. Each cabin made their way to degel, the morning circle, sneakers sinking into the damp dirt and sand, the sweet smell of wet grass mingling with the delicious scent of breakfast potatoes drifting down from the Chad. This morning’s verse of Shiga’on was especially energetic, voices ringing throughout the Inner 40.

Once breakfast was finished, everyone threw themselves into the morning’s activities with gusto. Some groups took the trek down to the ropes course, the view of the surrounding forest stunning from the top of the zip tower. Others strapped on helmets for a bike ride through the Outer 400, the wheels kicking up fresh dirt on the natural trails. Still others took a dip in the pool, flexed their archery skills, mounted horses, or practiced Israeli dance, the songs of which reverberated around camp, adding a joyful soundtrack to the day.

The Chad reverberated with cheers during lunch, the ruach (or spirit) of the camp soaring through the roof. This was followed by Menucha and then two daily chugs, giving the kids more freedom of choice than usual. After the last few afternoons inside, the chugs were, literally and figuratively, a breath of fresh air.

As the sun began to lower in the sky, the pink and orange clouds a Colorado staple, the camp split up into the three different units: Chalutzim, Metapsim, and Toshavim. Usually, the evening program is a camp-wide activity. Tonight was an exception, as each unit ran their own program, each vastly different but similar in that they fostered teamwork, creativity, and a feeling of support within the unit.

By the time the sun had completed its descent past the horizon, the programs had come to a close and campers were tucked in their beds, tuckered out from the full day. Each and every camper had experienced camp to the fullest, learning and growing, stretching their comfort zones, trying new things, and having a blast throughout. Some may say it’s not possible for anything to be perfect – but perfect is the only word that can describe days like these.

Candy Land

Session 3, Day 12

Each day at Ranch Camp is an amazing and memorable day – even the days that do not go exactly as planned. Every so often, especially later in the summer, the skies will open up and a rainstorm will put outdoor plans on hold. Today was one of those days, but this did not put a damper on the spirit and energy of the camp, as everyone adapted quickly and were able to engage in entertaining and meaningful activities despite the torrent outside.

Though the morning was run as usual, clouds covered the sky by the afternoon, and by the end of menucha a drizzle had begun. Instead of regular planned chugs, each unit met in a different area of camp to take the extra time to finish up what they had begun during the evening program the night before. This evening program, a new one this summer, was made even more meaningful by the experience the campers had on Israel Day. Feeling more connected and in tune with the country, each unit gathered together to make care packages to send to Israeli children who are staying in bomb shelters. The campers sent materials for games as well as handwritten instructions for creative ways to pass the time, and each package included notes from the campers wishing them luck and safety.

After their packages were complete, the camp spend the time indoors hanging out with each other, making friendship bracelets, reading books, playing games, and getting to know the kids in other cabins and units. Once the rain had let up and it was safe to do so, everyone went back to their cabins to relax until dinner, now only about half an hour away – though the afternoon plan had been quickly switched around, it didn’t stop everyone from having fun, and the time had flown by quickly.

By dinnertime, the storm had passed, and everyone was itching for something active to do after a satisfying but sedentary day. Luckily, the evening program was Candyland, a brand new, never before seen by Ranch Camp, scavenger-hunt-board-game-competition extravaganza! Each cabin worked as a team to roll a die six times, with the goal of getting each number once in order to collect the largest variety of candy. Depending on which number was rolled, the cabins ran around camp to collect their candy. But this candy was not for eating – after a set amount of time, the camp gathered back in the Chad, and used their collected sweets to build the best candy castle they could!

Though the staff work hard to plan out an engaging, exciting session, some of these plans can be overshadowed by unpredictable events – in this case, usually weather. This is why rainy-day plans are always in the camp’s collective back pocket, ensuring that no matter the situation, everyone will continue to experience the incredible opportunities that Ranch Camp provides.

Shabbat Shalom Ranch Camp!

Session 3, Day 11

The sunset tonight marked the ending of the second Shabbat of the session, what would in other sessions be the last Shabbat – but, as one of the many upsides of a longer session, the Session 3 campers get to experience three Shabbat celebrations at camp. No matter how many Shabbats anyone may have the chance to experience, it’s immediately obvious that this time at camp is like no other. With each Shabbat, the camp community grows stronger, and the songs and prayers become more meaningful.

This week’s Shabbat celebrations began Friday evening, as the entire camp gathered in the South Village commons before filtering down to the pavilions for services. The services here are spirited and lively, keeping the kids engaged and making sure they know what is going on. Services this week began with a dance lead by the Chalutzim unit to a popular Israeli song, to wake everyone up and instill energy into the rest of the service. With hand motions, clapping, dances, and the opportunity for campers to help lead prayers onstage, there was never a dull moment.

As the hour began to wind down, the community moved together to the Chad for a traditional Ranch Camp Shabbat dinner – soup, vegetables, chicken, and of course, babka (or chocolate challah) for dessert. Full and satisfied, the camp moved locations once again, the last time for the night, to the basketball court. Israeli dancing, or rikkud, is one of the most anticipated parts of Friday evenings. As the sun set over the camp, the spotlights kept the court bright, and as the rest of the property quieted into night, the camp’s voice rose as one for a last song circle.

Saturday, to continue the night before, is usually a more relaxed day at camp, with a lot of cabin time and an extended Menucha to rest and store energy for the rest of the week. After a late wake-up and walk in breakfast (the food, bagels and lox, another tradition), the camp gathered in Eddie’s Corner for morning services. These, too, are very interactive, with another dance to start the day, campers onstage to present the prayers and act out this week’s Torah portion, and a game at the end to help campers learn more about Israel.

After a restful day and a beautiful Havdalah service to separate Shabbat from the rest of the week, campers and staff alike felt content, joyful, and satisfied, ready to begin the second week of Session 3, ready to spend the next week in a place of family and community.


Session 3, Day 8

One of the most important things at Ranch Camp, something that can send a camper’s summer from good to fantastic, is the dynamic of each specific cabin. While each staff member works hard to ensure that the campers know that their cabin is their family, they’re not the only ones with the power to set the tone. Each cabin family consists of campers, staff and SITs, or Staff in Training.

The SIT program at Ranch Camp is one of the most unique programs offered here. Not quite old enough to be staff, but old enough and responsible enough to take on more challenges than the average camper, many camps struggle to figure out what exactly to do with kids entering their junior year of high school. In the past few years, the SIT program has evolved to fit their specific needs, prepare them for the demands of being staff, and give them an environment in which they can become the best versions of themselves.

One such change, implemented only last year, is that the SIT sessions don’t line up exactly with the 3 regular camp sessions. Session A begins halfway through Session 1 and ends at the end of Session 2, and Session B begins halfway through Session 2 and ends at the end of Session 3. This has multiple benefits, such as preparing the prospective staff members for being away from home for a longer period of time – the most beneficial of these being that, for the first half week of their stay, SITs don’t live in cabins with campers. The time is used instead as a sort of training week, showing them the ropes of camp and giving them valuable tools they can implement when working with children. When they do move into cabins, SITs are more prepared to be an active part of the group.

SITs are an important part of camp for the campers as well. Though staff members are the first line of support, it can be exciting and refreshing for campers to be around an authority figure who is closer to their own age, and who can relate to them in a different way. They can also bridge the age gap between staff and campers, bringing the entire cabin closer as a unit.

However, it’s important to remember that SITs are still campers, and though they have responsibilities, they have their fair share in the fun of camp as well. With onegs (or evening activities), group bonding activities, and other programs, SITs get the best of being staff and the best of being campers. They also get the opportunity to shadow a specialist during the morning activities, so that they can bring their passions to camp as well.

Though SITs live in cabins and go to activities, their unique status at camp can leave them feeling separated from the rest of the community. To remedy this, another exciting change has been added to the SIT program this year – a SIT Mentor, or “Sentor,” program. Each SIT is paired with a staff member that is neither in their specialty or their cabin, a mentor who can help with situations with an objective perspective, provide advice or solutions, or even just lend a listening ear. These last few nights, SITs and staff mentors have had the chance to introduce themselves and get to know each other for the first time.

There are many things at camp that keep people coming back year after year, new programs and activities to look forward to, trips to go on, and the advancement through the three units. The SIT program is one of those things, a valuable experience for those enrolled in the program and an exciting goal for those who are continuing their Ranch Camp experience.


Yom Israel!

Session 1, Day 7

It has now been a week since the first day of Session 3. Seven days in which Ranch Camp has already become a home to many, and cemented its place in the hearts of those who are returning. In only those seven days, the bonds between campers have been created quickly and strongly, and kids have grown in ways they may never have expected.

In any other session, the kids’ time at camp would be halfway over. This is what makes Session 3 so special, the thing that sets it apart from the others – instead of two weeks, the kids stay at camp for 19 days. Though an extra five days may not seem like much, it allows for a much wider array of programming and activities that the other sessions, though special in their own right, don’t have time for. This was especially apparent today, as this was the first special program day of the session – Israel Day!

During Sessions 1 and 2, the Israel Day festivities took place only in the afternoon. This session, Israel Day was, as the name should suggest, a full-day affair. After a breakfast of shakshuka and pita, the campers willingly put their usual daily activities on hold to travel around to different stations, designed to help the kids learn about and connect to the country that seems to some so distant. Throughout the morning, campers participated in activities that taught them about the language, geography, and culture of Israel. They played games, won competitions, flexed their artistic muscles, and even got a chance to make their own pita.

Lunch was just as exciting as breakfast – tahini chicken, another new food that was surprisingly popular. Feeling full and refreshed, the camp was excited to jump into the afternoon’s activity – not the regularly scheduled chugs, but a camp-wide game. A combination of Mission Impossible and Ranch Camp Idol, it was reminiscent of some popular evening programs, but with an Israeli twist. Cabins worked together to find the Israeli counselors hiding around the campus. Once located, they dressed them up in funny costumes, and then took some time to choreograph a dance to a song. However, these were not just any songs, but songs that are popular in Israeli, another way to help kids connect to the foreign culture. The dances were incredible, each group’s unique, a display of their own personalities.

But Israel Day was not yet over. With spirits high from the performances, the campers retreated to their cabins to prepare for the shuk. Each cabin created their own product to sell at the traditional Israeli market, ranging from friendship bracelets to hot chocolate, hair braiding to paper pet adoption.

This is one of the more popular evening programs, and once there, it’s easy to see why. With their monopoly-money shekels, each camper was able to choose what they wanted to buy. Not only did they get a taste of financial responsibility and the opportunity to choose what they spent their money on, they also got to see the effects of their hard work as campers from other cabins came to their table in excitement.

It was a full day, filled with activity and fun, and everyone fell asleep quickly, worn out but with smiles on their faces. Israel Day is always fun, but the fun is only a part of what makes it so important. It is a day to help kids and staff alike connect with a country that is such an important thing in the lives of many Jews, but something that can be difficult to relate to in such a political climate. At camp, kids can ask questions and learn about Israel without judgement, and focus on the culture, geography, and history of the country in an environment of acceptance and support.

Nefesh Mountain

Session 3, Day 5

For many campers, as it has been in other sessions as well, the evening programs are the most memorable of Ranch Camp activities. Though most of the programs are the same from one session to the next, the people involved (especially the campers) make each individual program as different as night and day. Even the campers who have been here for years can count on every night being a new experience.

These past two nights have been no exception – in fact, they may have been the most unique and exciting evening programs of the summer.

Tonight’s evening program was Ranch Camp Idol. It’s a rainy day program, not used every session, but always in programming’s back pocket in case of inclement weather. This, however, does not mean that it’s not as exciting as the other evening programs. After dinner, the camp split up into cabin groups to choreograph dances to songs of their choice before meeting in the Mo to perform them.

Ranch Camp Idol is such a special activity in part because the majority of the night is created by the campers. The dances they create exemplify the ways they have learned and grown in just these few days, working together to support their fellow campers and using their creativity to think outside the box. This show was particularly special. Each cabin’s performance was evidence of their connections to each other, and the support that the kids had for each other without prompting from staff was inspiring.

On the day before, Saturday, Ranch Camp was honored to welcome the band Nefesh Mountain into the community, a Jewish bluegrass group from New York. They first lent their musical talent to Havadalah, the closing ceremony of Shabbat, making the ceremony stand out from weeks past. The camp then migrated to the Pavilions, where the band put on a concert to be remembered.

This particular kind of music was new to some, and the younger kids particularly were unsure of what to expect. It did not take long for the uncertainty to vanish, as the group was welcoming and inviting, engaging campers of all ages and ensuring that everyone was enjoying themselves. As the music rose to a crescendo, the entire Ranch Camp family danced together, close to the stage and on it, not just a concert but a celebration of Judaism, community, and especially family. It was a perfect moment, a feeling that transcends words, full of the knowledge that this group of people is not only connected by a common location, but by the values and human connection that makes our family whole.


Opening Campfire

Session 3, Day 2

The days at Ranch Camp start early, the mornings bright and full of energy. By 7:45, everyone is awake and ready to start the day, and gathered together in the commons for degel. The morning circle may be named for the raising of the flags, but is full of so much more. Besides both the American and Israeli national anthems, we sing the prayer “Modeh Ani” to welcome our souls back into our bodies, and “Shiga’on” to learn new Hebrew words every day.

After some rousing songs and a filling breakfast, the camp was bursting with the energy needed to start the day. The two older units – Metapsim and Toshavim – gathered in the commons to split up into their activity groups. Instead of spending all day with their cabins, the activity groups give campers the opportunity to branch out and make friends with kids in other cabins and units.

As the groups dispersed, shouts of joy and excited chatter could be heard all around camp. From the pool to teva, arts and crafts to mountain biking, ropes course to Israeli dancing, everyone was glad to finally get into the activities they’ve been looking forward to all year.

With everyone having so much fun, the time passed quickly, and lunch and Menucha came and went in the blink of an eye. Feeling refreshed, the camp gathered once again in the commons – not to break into activity groups, but to split up for chugs!

For many campers, chugs, or free activities, are the best parts of the day. Instead of following a schedule, they get to do the things that they are passionate and excited about. Usually, one of the chugs changes every day, while the other chug is a week-long activity. Today was slightly different, as the upcoming Shabbat would interrupt a week-long chug. Instead, we had two daily chugs, encouraging campers to explore the things that make camp exciting to them.

The day slowly began to wind down, the sun inching lower in the sky – but there was one last thing to do before bedtime: opening campfire.

The entire camp found seats on the logs around the campfire, the flame keeping the area bright as the sky grew dark. The bonds between campers, both new and old, were strengthened by the songs, stories, and s’mores that were shared. When the time came for everyone to go to bed, the campers walked away a little taller than they had come, fortified by the community they found themselves a part of. They fell asleep quickly, knowing they are in a place of belonging, and looking forward to seeing where their second family will take them.

The Last First Day

Session 3, Day 1

It has been many weeks since the metal gate that marks the entrance to JCC Ranch Camp swung open for the first time, welcoming in the Session 1 campers to officially begin the summer. Today, that gate opened once more, bringing in the campers for Session 3 – the last group of campers for the year.

The day began bright and early, not yet at Ranch Camp but at the Denver Jewish Day School. The green field filled with campers, staff, and families as everyone began to arrive, checking their children in, meeting some of their counselors and cabin mates, and gathering in a circle to open the session. For the first time, many of the Session 3 kids were together in one place. The new community sang a few songs and heard a few words before bidding their parents a “see you later” and boarding the buses to Ranch Camp.

Excitement rose as the buses drew closer to the property, chatters of anticipation floating up and down the aisles as the houses and stores seen through the windows were replaced with barns and fields of horses and cows. Before they knew it, the kids were off the bus once again, descending the stairs and through a human-made tunnel as greetings and choruses of the JCC Welcome Song met their ears.

Once off the buses, each cabin met the few campers who were driven directly to camp, everyone finally together. Everyone took some time to move their belongings into their cabins, unpack, and get to know each other before gathering in the Chad for lunch.

The rest of the day was just as action-packed as the morning. As they traveled around the camp, cabins took the swim test, learned about the Mir’pa’a, tried on boots at the corral, and got their cabin photos taken. While these are all necessary for success at camp, the most important times were those between the scheduled stations. All over camp, campers could be found playing group games and getting to know each other, already forming the bonds that will stay with them for the rest of the session and beyond.

After such a full day, everyone was ready for dinner, the first-night meal a new tradition: spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread. Satisfied and happy, the camp gathered together in the commons once more for the day. This time, there were no introductions or explanations – instead, it was the beginning of the first of many evening programs!

Like the first nights of sessions 1 and 2, the program was Bombardier. As campers raced across campus to answer the trivia questions, they had many opportunities to strengthen the bonds they had made earlier in the day, working together to answer the questions and to solve the team-building exercises assigned to them by the “medics” after being tagged by a Bombardier.

As campers retired to their bunks for the first of many nights, a silence once again fell over the camp. Though it is impossible to predict the future, everyone went to bed with a feeling in their gut, a premonition about the session to come. It was a feeling of optimism and hope, of joy and community, of anticipation and excitement. It was the knowledge that this session is going to be one of the best yet.

Coming to a Close

Session 2, Day 11

In the last few days, campers have been having the times of their lives, first at Maccabiah, then Israel Day, and then the Fourth of July. In the coming days, campers will get to experience the second Ranch Camp Shabbat of the session. All of these things are full of fun, new experiences, and opportunities to learn and grow. However, this left today as the only “normal” day left in Session 2.

After the last action-filled days, everyone was happy to settle back into routine. Campers split up into their tracks for one of the last times, with Outdoor Adventure ready to go mountain biking, field sports ready for some soccer scrimmages, and Arts and Culture ready to put the finishing touches on the musical.

Lunch and menucha came and went quickly, and soon kids were back with their cabin for their daily cabin activity. This is the time of day when the campers get a taste of what sessions 1 and 3 would be like, traveling with their cabin instead of their tracks and experiencing activities that are not encompassed by their specific interests. Cabins spread across camp to play some sports, do some Israeli dancing, try archery, sing songs in music, explore teva, and go on hikes.

As the camp gathered once again in the Chad for dinner, storm clouds began to roll over the property, something that’s fairly common here in the latter half of the summer. Luckily, everyone’s used to this, and the cancellation of the planned evening program was barely a ripple in the pond. It took no time at all for the camp to pull out a rainy day program – Ranch Camp Idol!

After dinner, each cabin had half an hour to prepare a dance to a song of their choice. Once the time was up, everyone flocked to the Mo to watch each group perform. Programs like these are always the most memorable, as the majority of the night is not designed by the staff, but by the campers themselves. It’s always a treat to get to see what the kids come up with, each cabin unique and entertaining.

As campers went to bed, the atmosphere of camp seemed to have changed. Camp is coming to an end, and there is a certain sadness associated with that – but there is also satisfaction of all they have been able to accomplish, at everything they have done to learn and grow, and happiness at knowing that they have gained a second home that will stay with them the rest of their lives.