In mid-August, BaMidbar piloted a new program, “Launch Month,” which ran from August 18th to September 15th. Launch Month is an immersive, cohort-based experience that helps Jewish young adults overcome personal hurdles and get on their feet as prepared and confident adults. Using the outdoors as our medium and our clinical model as our lens, students learned and practiced skills to help ease the transition from adolescence to adulthood. As the experience unfolded, we saw the strength of the community environment and the value of a group of individuals at the same stage in life facing similar challenges. During each week of Launch Month, BaMidbar’s programming was guided by overarching themes.
During the first week of Launch Month, students focused on the theme of kavanah , intentions, goal setting, and autonomy in the wilderness. Students engaged in backcountry skill-building that strengthened their self-efficacy, through a 3-day masa (backcountry excursion). They journeyed to Twin Oaks Farm, outside of Boulder, CO, for a day of equine therapy, and began to set goals in individual therapy sessions with Clinical Director Nick Magle Haberek.
During the first week of Launch Month, students also shared their personal narratives. There is a text in the Zohar ( Zohar Va’era , 2:25b) that tells us, when the Jews were in Egypt, they lost the ability to express their own stories. During that time, the Jewish people were literally slaves to another person’s narrative. When the Jewish people left Egypt, they spent 40 years in the midbar. The word midbar translates to wilderness, but there is a second meaning that comes from the same Hebrew root – דבר – to speak. The Jewish people went into the midbar to find their voice, create a fresh identity, and write their new narrative as a free nation. While at BaMidbar, we want students to have the chance to write their own narrative – to redefine how they view themselves, reevaluate their capabilities, and rediscover their vision for a brighter tomorrow. In Week 1, students begin this process by formally sharing their Personal Narratives with the group.
During the second week of Launch Month, students explored concepts of yirah , fear and awe. Yirah, often translated as fear, can also be interpreted as awe. Students explored fear and awe in the context of a safe environment and supportive community, while challenging themselves physically on a masa (backcountry excursion) in Rocky Mountain National Park. Students also learned fundamentals of nonviolent communication (NVC), and they explored concepts of community while building an eruv – a ritual enclosure (made of twine) – for a Shabbat spent in the backcountry.
Through the lens of kesher , connection, Launch Month students spent the third week of the program exploring the multifaceted nature of their relationships with themselves and the people around them. How can we love ourselves? How can we develop and maintain caring and compassionate relationships with others? What does it mean to be independent and interdependent, to ask for help and give help in a group environment? Students also learned somatic awareness skills, and embarked on solo experiences. BaMidbar solos consist of 24 hours of solitude, each student having their own campsite spread out around our basecamp property. During this time, students are responsible for their shelter, fire-making, and cooking meals. Solos are an experience with incredible potential for students to reflect on their journey and see what physical, emotional, and mental challenges arise for them while in solitude. The week culminated with a joy-filled Shabbat, celebrated at the Ramah in the Rockies basecamp.
During the final week of Launch Month, students synthesized lessons learned through their experience thus far, and explored how they would bring those lessons into their home community. They explored the role of community in their time at BaMidbar and in their life outside the program. They learned strategies for building and sustaining positive social support networks when they return home and they designed transition plans to aid in their journey onwards from the program. The program culminated with a final day of climbing facilitated by Clinical Director Nick Magle Haberek, where students overcame fears, reached new heights, and challenged themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
As our first cohort of Launch Month participants are transitioning back to their homes, we would like to share with you some of their reflections of Launch Month.
“My experience at BaMidbar was amazing. Let me just say this was one of the best months of my life. I learned so much about myself!”
“The other students were lovely and enabled me to find more social connection than I have in a long time. I feel more hopeful and confident in my ability to connect with other people and work as a team. I also feel more confident in my ability to learn skills which at first seem very difficult. I feel more resilient after all the positive things I experienced.”
“[My therapist] was great. I really felt he heard me and met me where I was. “
“The balance between professionalism and camaraderie [of staff] was great!”
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Bamidbar Wilderness Therapy is a program of Ramah in the Rockies.