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Ramah in the Rockies grand opening is Sunday, June 13
June 7, 2010 by Leora Kimmel

Rabbi Bock takes Ramah Outdoor Adventure climbing, rafting, hiking 

Andrea Jacobs

Rabbi Eliav Bock

Rabbi Eliav Bock

RABBI Eliav Bock, director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure camp, blows into the IJN like an uncorked genie about to grant his first wish.

But instead of prestige or pots of gold, he dispenses visions of Jewish camping in the rugged Rocky Mountains.

Ramah Outdoor Adventure’s inaugural season starts June 16 at Ramah in the Rockies’ 360-acre site near Deckers, Colo.

The three sessions, which accommodate male and female students entering the sixth through 10th grades, vary in length from one month, two weeks and one week.

Base camp activities — horseback riding, biking, wilderness survival, orienteering, wilderness arts and crafts, rock climbing —  leave little room for idle conversation or sedentary pleasures.

“You either need to be in shape, or ready to get in shape if you come here,” says Bock.

“This is definitely not a camp for kids who want to sit around and chit chat.”

Most summer camps “cater to the ADD bunch,” he says. “You spend 40 minutes here, 40 minutes there. At Ramah, each activity lasts for an hour and a quarter, with 15 minutes in between.

“But no one’s rushing from one thing to another. After all, these kids are in the mountains. I always tell parents that when you hike for several days, you can spend three hours lying on your back just looking at the clouds.

“I love it when these kids stop to watch an animal or look at a flower. We want them to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.”

Campers also will depart base camp on regular intervals to spend five uninterrupted days rafting, biking, rock climbing, hiking or horseback riding.

Cut off from standard amenities, they will pitch their own tents and cook their own meals.

No matter what’s smoking on that fire, you can bet it will be kosher.

“We’re the only kosher shomer Shabbos outdoor adventure camp in the country,” says Bock.

Ramah Outdoor Adventure accepts kids from all denominational streams. The majority are Conservative and at least 10% are Orthodox.

Members of the Renewal, Reconstructionist and Reform movements also dip their toes in Ramah’s educational and recreational waters.

“Everything we do at camp is done in a Jewish context,” Bock says. “The day begins with tefillot (prayers). Blessings are recited at every meal. We sing Hebrew songs.

“For example, we teach the kids how to water, groom and saddle their horses — all the necessities. But we also study the laws of caring for animals in the Talmud.”

The staff, comprised of Jewish educators, fuses Jewish texts with strenuous pursuits.

“For example, during rock climbing we study texts about scaling mountains to reach great heights,” says Bock, who was ordained from JTS in May, 2009.

“And here we are, trying to reach higher and higher.”

To date, 150 campers have signed up for Ramah Outdoor Adventure.

None have been turned away due to financial limitations.

“This has always been one of our goals,” says Bock. “And thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, we’ve met it.”

Sarah Shulman, a winning triathlon competitor now studying for the rabbinate at American Jewish University, is the camp’s assistant director. Tamra Dollin is the project manager.

BOCK, who grew up in Newton, Mass., and attended an Orthodox Jewish day school, preferred spending rustic summers at a kosher Boy Scout camp to the traditional Jewish setting.

While working as a counselor at Camp Ramah in high school, he began formulating an idea that would incorporate Jewish values with a more adventuresome camp experience.

After college, Bock put his idyllic intentions on hold to become an equities trader on Wall Street — an antithetical yet heart-pounding occupation.

“There are times I miss Wall Street,” Bock says.

“Like when the Dow dropped 1,000 points in a matter of minutes.

“Sometimes I go to sleep thinking, ‘If I could have only been on that floor!’ But day to day, I don’t miss it.”

When he entered the fast and furious profession, he promised himself that “the moment I became jaded by the money, I would leave.”

During his Wall Street tenure, Bock continued tutoring kids in Jewish education and worked at summer camps.

“That was the part of me that was really missing,” he says.

Bock eventually took a six-month leave of absence from Wall Street to interview people about their careers.

“I talked to teachers, lawyers, accountants, entrepreneurs,” Bock says, “and I never met a single person who actually felt he earned enough money. Not one.

“I realized that no matter how much money I made, it was never going to be enough — and that the happiest people were doing something they truly loved.”

After a half-decade as an equities trader, Bock turned his back on Wall Street and initiated the largest transaction of his life — helping kids explore their Jewish identity via “an intense, and intentional” camp community.

Two years ago, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, announced plans to launch five Jewish specialty camps in the US.

Bock submitted a proposal for an outdoor adventure camp in the Rockies.

His gamble proved successful.

Just a few weeks away from actualizing his dream, Bock’s enthusiasm jumps and jabs like a pumped-up pugilist before the big fight.

IN addition to pushing  endurance to the limit and educating Jewish minds, Bock says that Ramah Outdoor Adventure will also elevate Jewish souls.

“Being in nature is inherently spiritual,” he says. “There is no more powerful place to find G-d.

“Take a sunset. If you introduce Heschel’s concept of radical amazement while watching a sunset, kids get it. If you introduce Kaplan’s idea of experiencing G-d in community, kids get it.

“And if you talk about Martin Buber’s I and Thou when they really look at a tree for the first time and realize that life exists on the bark of that tree, kids totally, totally get it.”

Bock, who is married to Dina Danon and the father of 3 1/2-month-old Matan Danon Bock, recognizes that sending a child to camp in a belt-tightening economy often falls under discretionary spending.

“Like everything, it’s a choice,” he says. “We have so many priorities: Jewish education, synagogue membership, BBYO, NCSY, trips to Israel.

“You need to ask yourself, what leaves the most lasting memories on your child?”

If the campers he has instructed during his endless summers are any indication, Jewish camp is a gift that keeps on giving.

“It’s easy to be spiritual when you’re surrounded by nature,” he admits. “The hard part is translating the experience into our daily lives, or when we’re praying inside the four walls of a synagogue.”

A single sunset recollected in tranquility — or the memory of finishing a seemingly impossible feat — can bring it all back, Bock believes.

“The thing I like most is when a kid goes into the outdoors for the first time and says, ‘I can’t possibly do this,’” he smiles. “By the second day, it’s a little less painful. By the fourth day, he’s leading the others. I’ve seen this countless, countless times.

“I’ve met people I taught at camp 10 or 15 years ago, and they still talk about it as one of the most formative experiences of their lives.”