(Denver) – A generous gift from Colorado resident Francine Lavin Weaver has funded the first kosher retreat center in the Rocky Mountains, as part of Camp Ramah in the Rockies. Ramah announced the opening of the new Beit Kesher Retreat Center, which was dedicated on August 3, 2014 with a festive opening ceremony at the camp.
“The retreat center was designed to host overnight events for both Jewish and community groups during shoulder season when camp is not in session,” says Rabbi Eliav Bock, Executive Director of Ramah in the Rockies.
“As the only kosher retreat center in the Rocky Mountains we expect that the retreat center will draw more attention the Ramah in the Rockies overnight summer camp and its programs.”
Funder Francine Lavin Weaver was honored at the opening event and spoke about her vision for the retreat center.
So now my friends, we have a beginning of this vision. We have a building that is available to synagogue boards, to youth groups, to Havarot, and National innovative non-profits such as Hazon. We have Beit Kesher, to build positive Jewish connections to the environment, the camp, and to each other.”
Beit Kesher translates to “House of Connection.”
The Beit Kesher Retreat Center offers comfortable living quarters in a mountain setting and spacious conference meeting spaces. The facility can accommodate up to 25 overnight guests, offering 12 modern guest rooms, each with a private bath including a shower and flushing toilet.
Ramah in the Rockies is located approximately two hours outside of Denver, Colorado set in the Rocky Mountains on 360 pastoral acres and enrolls campers from 8-17 years of age. The camp was established five years ago as one of the first camp incubator projects of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation. The camp is also the first specialty camp within the Ramah camping network (the camping movement of Conservative Judaism).
The camp offers a wide range of outdoor adventure programs, teaches environmental stewardship and immersive Jewish living. The camp has 392 campers this summer, coming from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds, from 27 US states, Canada, Israel, The Netherlands, and Mexico. Ramah in the Rockies also offers a Tikvah program for campers with special needs, and the Jewish Outdoor Leadership Initiative (JOLI), a teen leadership program for entering 10th graders, who gain expertise and skills in outdoor adventure and in building Jewish community.
The camp is in the midst of a capital expansion in order to build facilities that can accommodate its rapidly-growing camper community. For more information visit www.ramahoutdoors.org or email Development Director, Sandra Alexander at email@example.com Ramah in the Rockies is now accepting reservations for retreat dates beginning in May of 2015.
Complete text of Francine Weaver’s remarks:
Thank everyone for coming.
And all the contractors who participated in this project – excavators, stone masons, framers, roofers, electricians, plumbers, drywallers, finish carpenters, cabinet installers, carpet layers and many more.
Most importantly – Tammy Dollin and Rabbi Eliav Bock. Without their persistence, and friendship, this building would not have been built.
My family, members of my Havarah, and my partner, Cantor Elliott Magalnick
It is one thing to see plans on paper. It is another thing to then see pictures. Finally, It is the best to actually walk the building, to be in it. After my tour this morning, I now can associate the building with new initiatives, new people, new experiences. In a few weeks, I will join the first ever “adult camp” here at Ramah of the Rockies. I will spend a few days living in Beit Kesher as an adult camper. I, and others, will build memories to take home with us of our experiences here in the mountains. We will build relationships and connections.
This is the first year that the staff has been able to use the building, and this is the first summer that Camp Ramah of the Rockies has had a wonderful dwelling place to host Rabbis and others from all over the U.S. and Israel to be Shabbat guests and teachers.
Again, Thank you to all who had anything to do with planning, and building this wonderful building.
The name of the building Beit Kesher translates to “House of Connection.”
Why did I choose to name it Beit Kesher? What am I hoping will transpire in the building? Well folks, it is my vision – and many of yours, I hope, to have a Jewish Retreat Center in the Rockies. When my family was growing up, our synagogue had annual family retreats in the Fall. There was nowhere to hold these retreats. Our synagogue community had to rent space from Christian and other groups that had a facility in which to hold them. This was all well and good, but lots of planning had to occur to educate our hosts as to our food needs and other issues that we as a Jewish group required.
Later, as my own family grew, I was involved as a lay leader in my synagogue in Boulder. I went and spent a week at Camp Ramah in Ojai , CA in the middle of a rainy February. I was with a group of other conservative lay leaders at the time that were there for “Torah Boot Camp”. We came from many different congregations across the country. By the end of the week, we had learned how to chant Torah and Haftorah Trope, and give Divrei Torah. We had also made a bunch of new friends from all over the country with whom we could consult on a listserve with questions that came up in our smallish congregations.
Some years later, I had the opportunity to visit my daughter Becca at Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center in upstate Connecticut, and at Kayam a Jewish Communal Farm at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in the Maryland countryside outside of Baltimore. Becca was a fellow in both of these places and lived at the centers for several months in each place, eventually pursuing her chosen field of sustainable agriculture and Jewish outdoor education. These experiences proved to be transformative on many levels. I learned of other Ramah camps that function year round as Retreat Centers. They provide exceptional experiences to families, adults, elders, and communities in Jewish living, and learning. They provide a wonderful venue for these people to craft their own Jewish experiences and meet others who share their curiosity and enthusiasm for our culture and religion.
These experiences stirred and inspired me to ask the question at the time: Why is there no Ramah in the Rockies ? Now there is a Ramah in the Rockies! and subsequently, why is there no Jewish Retreat Center in the Rockies? And now . . . !
How can we utilize this camp more than just in the summertime? Could we build incrementally so that the Camp doesn’t look like a hotel? Could we blend in the buildings with the environment, and open it up from April 15 – October 15th?
So now my friends, we have the beginning of this vision. We have a building that is available to synagogue Boards, to youth groups, to Havarot, National innovative Non-Profits such as Hazon, and others to use for this purpose. We have Beit Kesher, to build positive Jewish connections to the environment, the camp and to each other.
So, I charge you – those that are here with me today and those who are not, to step up, to use Beit Kesher, and to think about joining me in this heartfelt effort to expand on this Retreat Center concept. Maybe the next building, will resemble this one in size. Maybe it will be financed cooperatively by an entire Chavarah? Maybe there is an individual out there who wants to honor his/her parents or grandparents, or someone who wants to leave their name on the next building for their own grandchildren to see.
I would like to end today with a quote from Martin Buber, a well know Jewish philosopher:
Where is the place of God’s glory?
Where is the dwelling of God?
This is the question with which the Rabbi of Kotzk surprised a number of learned Jews who happened to be visiting him.
They laughed at him: “What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world full of God’s glory?”
Then he answered his own question:
God dwells wherever people let God in.”
Francine….what a great project in which to sink your resources and personal effort. The Rockies are such an attraction and now with the possibility of extending it to people who are observant and to whom a Kosher retreat is essential. I've already sent copies of this article to many people I know who have wanted to come to this neck of the woods but have not had a facility to accommodate their religious needs.
Suggestion: How about offering a PASSOVER retreat? I'll bet this place would fill up within minutes as well as High Holiday retreats. If not now….someday soon.
Many thanks to you Francine and your collaborators for the vision. This is a phenomenal addition to all the wonders of the Rocky Mountain Region!!