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Outdoors camps connect kids to Judaism and wilderness

It's quite possible that God tried to talk to Moses in the city,” Rabbi Jamie Korngold, author of God in the Wilderness and founder of Boulder-based Adventure Rabbi, said in a 2010 interview with Reform Judaism Online. “But with all the distractions of everyday life — the noise of the marketplace, the dust from the caravans, and his friends saying hello as he passed by — JCC Ranch Camp Moses didn’t notice God’s call.”

So every summer, Adventure Rabbi and other organizations combine Judaism and outdoors camps to take kids into the wilderness to learn more about their faith, their world and themselves.

This summer Rabbi Evon Yakar and Adventure Rabbi staff will lead 10 teens into the wilderness for a twoweek expedition that aims to help teens develop stewardship, learn backcountry skills and explore what it means to be a Jewish teenager.

“This expedition will give teens the opportunity to have a deep wilderness experience in areas that are not well traveled,” Korngold tells Boulder Weekly. “Teens will study what Judaism teaches them about the environment and what it means to be a good steward while honing their wilderness, camping and leadership skills.”

The expedition also seeks to help make Judaism applicable to young adults during the turmoil that often accompanies the teenage years and help them apply lessons learned through Judaism and time in the woods to the decisions they will need to make in their daily lives. These dual connections, to the woods and to their faith, helps keep kids afloat through their teen years.

“If every kid had the chance to go backpacking for a couple of weeks — even once — it would be doing us all a great service,” Yakar says.

Many adults of the Jewish faith say that the weeks they spent at a Jewish camp every summer as kids were where they enjoyed some of the most profound experiences of their childhood, says Rabbi Eliav Bock, camp director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure. Bock explains that these individuals attribute their strong connection to Judaism to their camp experiences, where they made lifelong friends and developed a true sense of community.

“There are so many great options for camp, but a camp like ours, where a rabbi is running the place, provides a valuable form of Jewish education,” Bock says.

“We build a community, and campers come back year after year, so we are able to push beyond many boundaries.”

Ramah Outdoor Adventure campers learn skills like climbing and horseback riding, while the highly trained and passionate staff infuses Jewish values, texts and traditions into everything they do, Bock says. For example, Bock explains that while learning to climb, campers not only develop technical skills, but also study the Jewish texts that relate to climbing. And their equestrian program teaches campers not only how to ride and care for horses, but also that animals have a Shabbat too. Campers rotate getting up early to care for the horses on Shabbat before they begin their own.

“We introduce values that are important to everyone. We just do it Judaically,” says Miriam Shwartz, camp director of JCC Ranch Camp, a Jewish camp known nationally for its equestrian program. “We essentially are a valuebased camp, here to serve the community and connect kids to nature while they enjoy time on a ranch.”

And that sense of responsibility, community and place will be key in grounding their sense of self — and, because the camps are open to kids of any faith, are available to anyone who chooses to pursue them in that setting.

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