Adventure Camp Head: From Equities To Eco
Tue, 01/11/2011
Associate Editor
Robert Eliav Block, director of the Ramah Outdoor Adventures camp.
Robert Eliav Block, director of the Ramah Outdoor Adventures camp.

A decade ago, Rabbi Eliav Bock spent long days on the trading floors of Lower Manhattan. Now, a typical day is more likely to include rock climbing, horseback riding and mountain biking in the Colorado Rockies. A longtime Boy Scout and camp counselor, Rabbi Bock, 33, is the director of the Conservative movement’s Ramah Outdoor Adventures, one of five camps to open last summer with support from the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Specialty Camp Incubator Project.

With the mission of providing “outstanding outdoors experiences that teach Jewish values and leadership skills,” the camp, located 90 minutes outside of Denver, attracted 120 “chalutzim” from 17 states, Israel and Canada last summer. Enrollment is expected to double this summer.

Q. Tell us about your journey from equities trader to rabbi/camp director.

A: I grew up in a pretty observant household in Boston and started working at Ramah camps in 11th grade, [continuing to do so for 10 more summers, including several as an outdoor adventure leader]. I loved business and always thought I would be a professional philanthropist. ... I was doing fairly well [as a trader] and making a fair amount of money, but the summer after 9/11, I took a leave of absence to work at camp. I came alive there in a way I couldn’t on the trading floor. ... When I thought about what I was most passionate about, it came down to being in Jewish education. While I was working I’d always tutored a few kids [in preparation for bar/bat mitzvah] and I realized I got more enjoyment from that one hour of tutoring than I did from the trading. So I wound up in rabbinical school [at the Jewish Theological Seminary].

 

Were there any surprises during the camp’s inaugural summer?

I was pleasantly surprised by how the kids of all ages hung out together as a group. Also, there were kids who would be popular in the “real world” and others who were not as “socially advanced,” but they all got to be friends: even if one kid is popular and the other is not, they’re developing a trust when they’re climbing together that carries over later when they’re hanging out at the picnic table. ... For the entire summer there were just two disciplinary issues [one case of bullying, one of a kid making inappropriate comments and both easily resolved]. ... The joke at our camp was that guard duty was so easy: I don’t know of a single kid who snuck out of bunk at night. Once a girl was out on the steps [after curfew] and it turned out she was practicing her leyning [Torah chanting] for the next morning.

 

With all the wilderness activities, were there any injuries?

Thank God, we were very blessed. We had tons of scrapes and bruises, but no serious injuries. Soccer, basketball and biking are actually the most dangerous activities! ... In the camping world we talk a lot about perceived risk versus actual risk. Rock climbing is very high perceived risk, but minimal actual risk because we double-check everything, use helmets, have backups ... Is it possible for something to happen? Absolutely, but because we take all these precautions, even though it looks unbelievably scary, the actual risk is lower than playing basketball.

 

Any changes on the agendafor this year?

We are expanding our offerings at base camp and are looking to create a tiered system [of achievement] similar to what the Boy Scouts do with merit badges. We’re also expanding our gardening program — we just added a food educator and we’ll be talking about how the food we eat fits in with the broader mission [environmental sustainability, healthfulness etc.] of the camp. And we’re adding two extra excursion options — whitewater rafting and kayaking — for the older campers.

 

Your 10-month-old son Matan and wife Dina [a doctoral candidate in Jewish history at Stanford University] live with you at camp. Is the whole family outdoorsy?

My wife is more indoorsy. I would never in a million years hire her to be an outdoor leader at the camp!