In its simplest form, Passover is a holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom. During the seder we do things that indicate how we were slaves in the land of Egypt and also how now we are free. For instance, we eat matzah (the bread of affliction) and bitter herbs to signify our slavery, yet we eat them while reclining during a lavish and festive meal that is a privilege of our freedom. From this we can learn that while we should remember our people’s past as if it was our own, we should not become so mired in their despair that we forget our wonderful, thriving lives.
This lesson of experiencing the pain of our ancestors without taking on too much of their pain applies perfectly to how we eat on Passover. Most of us only tolerate matzah, and we make matzah kugel, matzah pizza, and matzah lasagna because that’s what we’ve always made…and we’re supposed to eat a lot of matzah, right? Well, not necessarily.
Although it can be fine to include matzah in some things over the holiday, we don’t necessarily have to overly oppress ourselves with its dry texture and flavorless taste (or the tummy troubles that result in the over-consumption of matzah). We can look at the Passover food guidelines as an opportunity to recognize the oppression of the Israelites (by not using certain items) to come up with new, interesting foods to eat. Instead of matzah meal cookies, try some flourless chocolate and walnut cookies (recipes are everywhere). Instead of matzah kugel, why not try a sweet potato soufflé? Instead of matzah pizza, try eggplant parmesan (breaded with ground walnuts and almonds). And instead of matzah brie or Passover cereal for breakfast, try the idea below for an amazing hot breakfast quinoa (like steel cut oats, but better!).
If you and your kids need more clarity on how to simultaneously experience freedom and slavery in your Passover food, just look to camp. Counselors and staff members know that one of the most amazing and challenging parts of camp is coming up with creative and interesting programming under the constraints of rules, schedules, resources and space. Often, the most innovative and fun programs at camp are borne under those constraints, and it is in that space that we can learn the most about slavery and freedom and how to dance between the two. Perhaps as you sit over your bowl of hot quinoa with your kids you can discuss the essence of this interesting aspect of both camp and Passover- that often it is in the times of our greatest oppression or constraints that we are able to break through and come up with new, innovative, and freeing (and delicious!) ideas.
3 cups 1% milk
1 cup quinoa
¼ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup mixed dried fruit and nuts
- Bring milk to a boil over medium high heat- be careful not to let it boil over!
- Add the quinoa the salt, stir once, cover and turn the heat down to very low.
- Simmer about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed, then stir in the remaining ingredients and re-cover for 1 minute.
- Serve hot or put in refrigerator for up to 1 week and reheat.
We come together for Passover to celebrate our ongoing liberation from slavery. During the seder we will speak at length about the exodus from Egypt, but how did we, the descendants of Jacob, get there? Before we ask how did we end up as slaves we need to ask how did we end up in Egypt?
This story starts with Joseph and his brothers. Annoyed by his being different, they sell him into slavery. Through a turn of events Joseph ends up in a position of power in Egypt. Forced by the famine in the land of Canaan, his brothers unwittingly come before Joseph seeking sustenance. Sitting before them, he is faced with a choice as to whether or not he will keep his identity closeted. The text reads:
Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, “Cause every man to go out from me.” And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he gave his voice in tears; and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard” (Genesis 45:1-2).
When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, his voice knows no limits, and everyone in Egypt finds out about his identity. Through Joseph’s coming-out they were all witness to the unfolding of God’s plan. What started off as a family tragedy was transformed into a divine national comedy.
In modern times we can hear resonance of the Passover cry for justice in the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He wrote that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963). I believe that we can hear a corollary to this in the sound of Joseph’s tears. There is an inextricable connection between personal and national revelation. While Moses led us out of Egypt we were not truly free until we experienced God’s revelation at Sinai. Joseph’s personal revelation to his brothers was a precursor to God’s coming out to the nation at Sinai. While we need to seek justice for everyone, we should rise to the challenge of realizing that we will not understand the collective revelation until we are all free to express all of who we are as individuals.
A few months ago I went to a benefit hosted by Camp Ramah in the Poconos, the camp at which I grew up. There were some people there who I had not seen for 20 years. Stepping into that room it was as if we were all back at camp. One hug later it was as if no time had passed. We were family. For a moment there I had a sense of what Joseph and his brothers must have felt so many years ago. Camp avails us of the opportunity to expand our idea of family. There in the presence of our camp family we can give voice to hidden parts of ourselves. There we can start to articulate what we aspire to become in our lives. How can we provide our children with that safe place to reveal all of who they are and who they might become?
At your seder, as the Jewish world sits as equals sharing food, I hope that more of us find safe space to share ourselves with the collective. May you have a very revealing and meaningful Passover.
When you’re the parent of a child with autism, you’re always bracing yourself for the endless string of theories headed in your direction. They come from health care professionals, the media, family, friends and, my personal favourite, complete strangers. One woman we barely know keeps asking my wife, Cynthia, for a sample of my son Jonah’s urine so she can run her own tests on it.
The good news about all this is it helps you develop a thick skin, though never quite thick enough. I figured out pretty soon on this journey through what is sometimes called Autismland that the reason theories about autism are so plentiful is directly related to the fact that no one really knows anything definitive about it. In my experience, that includes mental health professionals who are, when it comes to matters of the brain, only guessing.
And the guessing persists. As do the studies generating all those theories. The latest trend in studies has put the emphasis on the ability of parents to cope with the challenges of autism on a day-to-day basis. Researchers seem determined to prove, every few months or so by my count, that there is a connection between raising a child with autism or other special needs and higher levels of stress as well as greater financial and marital challenges. Of course, whenever Cynthia and I hear about the latest results of one of these so-called “well-being” studies we roll our eyes and say pretty much in unison: “No kidding.”
“They could just ask any of us if we’re stressed,” Cynthia invariably adds. “They’d save all that money on research and they could use it to take us all out for dinner and drinks, lots of drinks.”
Or, in our case, they could buy us time to be more organized. In last month’s blog, I confessed we were behind in registering Jonah for summer camp. We’re still behind. That’s because chaos – missed deadlines, unmet obligations, double-booked appointments – has become the rule in our house. I would write a to-do list of all the things yet to be done, but frankly who has the time? or the confidence that it won’t get lost in the clutter?
As defined by WhatIs.com, chaos, with reference to chaos theory is, “an apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws or rules.” In other words, laws or rules you’ll never predict or figure out. But parents of special needs kids know that already. We have learned to expect the unexpected. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed every day is just part of that. Of course, there’s an advantage to living in a state of chaos. You’re hardly ever bored. Now, if I could just remember where I put that summer camp registration form.
Let’s be clear. I can make any conversation into a conversation about art. Especially when it comes to the Torah and art at camp. Parah Adumah? Let’s talk about the color red! Miriam leading the people in celebration? Kikar dancing! Moses with two tablets? Sculpture! But really, those are stretches. That’s what makes Vayakhel-Pekudei so exciting for me. It’s not just easy to make a connection between the story and “art,” it’s explicit.
We read about the nomination of Betzalel and Oholiav to design the Mishkan and lead it’s construction. And the Torah goes into great detail about the materials used (acacia wood, dolphin skin, crimson wool, etc.). So here I could talk about the different materials our campers get to create with in the art room and the wood shop: clay, mojpoj, paint, pine wood, woodstains, etc. And the Torah talks about the skill of the lead designers, how their talents are divinely inspired. Here I could talk about kavanah, and how every piece of art made at camp, from a 11 year old camper’s painting to a 16 year old camper’s original song, is done with Jewish content in mind, with a sense of Jewish intention behind the art. And of course, the Torah talks about portability – this is not going to be a permanent fixed structure. That is an easy bridge to the art work at camp being ephemeral, meaningful in the moment as a memory, and then lost to a blank canvas, which resets for the next session, the next summer, the next camper with an idea for expression.
But those things are not what makes this parsha so clearly about art at camp. In Chapter 36, Verses 1-7, we see that Bezalel and Oholiav were overwhelmed by the amount of things Israelites brought to contribute to the project. People brought their gold, their wood, their fabrics. They all wanted to be a part of what was happening, they all wanted ownership. And THAT is what Jewish summer camp’s philosophy of artistic creation is really all about. You go see group of campers perform Beauty and the Beast, and you’ll notice: the younger campers standing up with grey cardboard ovals on their heads, performing as ‘spoons’ in “Be Our Guest”; a 14 year old camper on violin, a special needs camper on drums, and a member of Sports staff playing the saxophone in the orchestra; the oldest campers running the tech booth. The list goes on and on. At Jewish summer camp, like our Israelite ancestors before us, we take communal ownership of our art. To me, this way of creating art is what I’ve always known from camp, it feels natural. In Vayakhel-Pekudei, the Torah tells us it’s genetic.
A camp is just a camp, but MY CAMP IS THE BEST THING EVER.
It doesn’t have the same ring, but you get the idea.
[Colemanites] get together during the year. The Clergy Advisory Board gathers to talk education and development. The Olim Fellows meet to learn about social justice, Reform Judaism, and to explore other camps in the URJ family. Cornerstone Fellows gather to learn how to make great programming even better with camps from all over North America, and brainstorming how to impact their work at Coleman when gathering in “Camproom.” Retreats. NFTY. Facebook. Instagram. Camp Shabbat. Bar/Bat Mitzvah weekends. Shabbat dinners. The emails – so many emails.
[Coleman] people find time to see [Coleman] people.
At the end of February, a collection of Coleman people met in Atlanta for two days. This form of Coleman reunion was targeted and focused. Like last year’s MasheJew meeting, we were developing curriculum. This year, we did some editing of the units from last year, and added in two more units. We also did a series of Tefillah workshops that could fill an entire summer of Kavannah (our name for our counselor- and programmer-led programming), come from my work at camp and at The Davis Academy (#NADIV) and will be one of my sessions when I serve on Cornerstone Faculty in May. We’re working on developing a program called “Hot ShoTz” (ShoTz is the abbreviation in Hebrew used to describe a service leader) which will teach people in our camp community leadership skills and service-leading methodology, allowing them to step up, and to shine in a new light.
It was a long 25 hours, Shabbat-long in length, but stuffed with beautiful, holy work. Faculty clergy, programmers, unit heads, our Rosh Mishlachat (Head of the Israeli Delegation), one of camp’s specialist coordinators, and year-round staff collaborated on all-camp programming, on Tefillah, and on unit specific work.
We’re not done with the work. There will be more emails. There will be teaching and learning and a summer of experimenting with new, exciting programming. And I’m thankful to know that there are so many people who are working toward another amazing summer of programming. This is the good that comes from thinking about camp all day, every day.
And if you want to be a Hot ShoTz, Coleman staff, you know where to find me.
Where [Coleman/ite] = [Your Camp’s Name/people]
Jewish overnight camp is about so much more than campfires and color war. At camp, kids get the chance to explore who they are—and who they want to become—in an active, inspiring, fun-filled environment. (Marshmallows included.) But paying for camp can be difficult. We get it—we are parents too.
We have some easy ways to make the dream of overnight summer camp a reality for your child. We can even help you find the perfect camp—no matter what your background, you will find a place your child will have fun, be comfortable, learn more about themselves, and explore their Jewish identity.
If your family lives in the northeast, check out BunkConnect, a new program that offers introductory rates at 40-60% off to first time campers. Finding out if you qualify is quick and confidential—answer six questions at BunkConnect.org. Then start browsing for the right summer experience for your child for this summer! The website will connect you right to the camp director to learn more about the experience.
One Happy Camper
BunkConnect doesn’t work for your family? One Happy Camper offers first time campers up to $1000 off. With over 155 Jewish camps on Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Find a Camp tool – search out the perfect one. You can narrow down your search by choosing preferred session length, specialty activities, denomination, and more. Once you choose a camp visit OneHappyCamper.org to see if you are eligible for a need-blind grant.
While you are on our website, visit our scholarship database. Don’t forget to talk to your synagogue, local federation, JCC or other Jewish organizations. Many have scholarships available to make summers at Jewish camp a reality
At Jewish camp, ruach (spirit) is part of every activity—from dancing to hitting a home run—allowing campers to explore their connection to Judaism in a meaningful way while having the summer of their lives. Clearly, we are a little passionate about this. You will see the difference in your child the minute they return home. The impact of overnight Jewish camp is immediate. At camp, kids hang out with amazing role models, who inspire confidence and independence, guiding your child to hone their skills, build self-esteem, and discover interests and talents they never knew they had.
We can’t wait for your child to have the summer of a lifetime. (And you get a bit of a break from the logistics of the daily grind, not bad…)
As I think back on the past 20-some-odd summers at camp, there are probably about a dozen programs that I remember—really remember. I think back on them not only in that I can remember what we did or what we created, but I remember how they felt: the moment of insight, the powerful conversation, the unique energy that was created through the experience.
Tuesday night was one of those programs. Except instead of being at camp, this program happened at a convention of rabbis. But I think that it’s no coincidence that nearly all of the rabbis that participated in this particular program were camp rabbis. Experiential education is so much a part of our thinking that we can’t help but create these moments for ourselves—and use those moments to live out the values that are inherent in the Jewish camp experience.
Tuesday night, I was one of about 53 rabbis who shaved my head. On stage. In front of the rest of the convention. And on livestream.
And like the programs from various summers that I remember, it was a night that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It was an experience that really changed me—more than just my hair.
Not only that, it was an experience that enabled me—and the other participants, as well as everyone who supported us—the chance to change the world, and to use the values that we preach and teach.
It was a little over 4 months ago that we became the 36 Rabbis Who Shave for the Brave. But the story really started in June of 2012, when Superman Sam Sommer, son of Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, was first diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. While Sam’s life ended with his death in December, Sam’s story has continued (and will continue) for a whole lot longer than the 8 years during which he lived.
Through sharing and reading about the experience of Sam and his family, so many of us have realized so much. Seeing their pain, struggle, and grief, we have understood reality in a different way. Seeing that reality, we’ve learned about the devastating facts about pediatric cancer: Only 4% of federal funds for cancer research goes to childhood cancers; 13,500 children each year are diagnosed with cancer; 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year — treatments that, because of the need for more research for childhood cancer, are out of date and dangerous; and every day, in America, 7 children die of cancer.
Because of what we’ve come to understand, we realized we needed to take action. And so, we joined Sam’s parents in a campaign for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that provides funding for childhood cancer research. We started with the goal of raising $180,000—the week of Sam’s funeral we surpassed that; we’ve increased our goal a few times now and have raised (as of this writing) $574,724. Our current goal is $613,000—I’m not the only one who hopes (and believes) we will surpass that goal…and the next.
Which brings us to Tuesday night, when we shaved our heads as the culmination of this experience. And really, it was a lot like camp. We even made t-shirts. First, we took a ton of pictures. Next, we had a service of healing—praying and singing through tears, as a community. Then, we had an intense, transformative experience—as we took action on an issue we feel is important, and stood in solidarity with our friends—with more tears and much laughter. Then, we put our arms around each other and sang Shehecheyanu.Then, we took more pictures. Finally, we stayed up way too late, talking about the experience we had just shared.
At camp, we talk about Jewish teachable moments. This experience has been a Jewish teachable couple of months. We’ve used our experience and our actions in order to teach others—raising awareness and inspiring others towards action. At camp, we learn that every individual makes a difference. Looking at the donations, most of the shavers and volunteers have raised small amounts; more people participated in this project by donating money—at least according to my own experience, most of those donations are small donations; even more people participated by telling our story, and telling Sam’s story, and helping inspire others—and inspire us.
I am a camp rabbi for many reasons. One of those reasons is that camp gives me experiences like this one. Another is that the things I learn at camp translate to the rest of my year. Another is that I know how much of a difference a really good program can make.
And so, if your rabbi has a new—and much shorter—haircut this summer. Ask them about it—they have a story to tell.
Rabbi Elisa Koppel is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, TX. Her experience with Jewish camp started at age 10 at her first summer at Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, PA and continues each summer (currently as visiting faculty at Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, TX). To support her effort on 36 Rabbis, click here. Follow her on twitter at @rabbiisa and check out her personal blog, Off the REKord.
Last week, the Foundation for Jewish Camp hosted our biennial conference, Leaders Assembly, in New Jersey. The topic of inclusion was high on the agenda and I engaged in so many invigorating conversations with colleagues about the topic and what each camp hopes to achieve within their own camp communities. Alexis Kashar, a civil rights and special education attorney, spoke to attendees about how growing up deaf impacted her access to the Jewish community. I was particularly struck by Alexis’ description of the effect that living in a home with a family with two parents and a sibling who were all deaf had on her sister who is hearing. Because synagogue life and supplemental school were inaccessible to the family, her sister was never introduced into it. Alexis stressed to us how inclusion has a ”ripple effect” and can profoundly affect the lives of the family of the person with disability.
Just one day after the close of the conference, I read the report that had just been released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing that the escalating numbers of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis continued to rise. According to the report, one in 68 children are now believed to be diagnosed with ASD, a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It reaffirmed for me the important work that our camps can do to engage children with disabilities and their families and continuing to evolve in order to embrace them in the best way possible.
People with ASD are common and prevalent members of any group of youth or adults. The drive towards inclusion is recognition of the new normal in our lives. In the past, specialists were sought to address the particular needs of individuals who “didn’t fit,” in a hope to “help them succeed.” But the numbers tell us that this is not a fringe issue. As camps continue to accept more and more children with a variety of disabilities, I hope that staff training focused on caring for children with disabilities will be offered to all staff so that everyone can better understand and interact seamlessly with a variety of capabilities and needs. Sports specialists, swim instructors, and other recreational specialists will likely be challenged to use techniques that will engage children who are not naturally drawn to activities such as sports and who need to be coached differently in order to acquire certain skills. Visual directions, visual schedules, sensory considerations and flexibility in choice of activities will likely become a part of necessary accommodations so that camp programs can become naturally inclusive. I can say that in all of the conversations and sessions in which I participated in at Leaders Assembly last week, I was happy to see that the field of Jewish camping is moving toward a more inclusive society where all campers will be able to experience success.
by Rabbi Jason Miller
New Brunswick, NJ – As Jewish camp leaders once again convened at Leaders Assembly, the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s biennial conference here in New Brunswick, there was a lot of networking taking place – both in person and via social media. The dozens of ad hoc camp reunions taking place in the hallways of the hotel also materialized into an exchange of best practices for these Jewish camp professionals. The hot topic this year was the use of technology, both in the back office of the camp operations and front and center for campers, their parents and alumni.
What role all of this new technology plays for the Jewish summer camp industry was hashed out in breakout sessions at the camp confab in what were termed “Hot Topics” and also discussed in the “Shuk” where the companies that provide this new technology were camped out. “Do you keep your camper registrations and medical forms in the cloud?”, “Who manages your alumni Facebook page?”, “Have you started Instagram or Pinterest accounts,” and “Which online service do you use for staff background checks” were just some of the questions overheard at the conference.
While many don’t typically associate high tech with the camp world, which for generations was thought of as a low tech industry, there’s no question that camps have come to depend on the latest support applications in the technology world to run their camps efficiently, effectively and safely in the 21st century. After all, while one of the core missions of the overnight summer camp experience may continue to be allowing our youth to unplug from their electronic gadgets for several weeks each summer, the camps charged with that mission must be run like businesses. And that means using the best technology to manage everything from security, registration, financials and medical information to social network engagement, summertime communication and alumni relations.
In one “Hot Topic” session, Sacha Litman, the founder of Measuring Success, demonstrated the importance of using “Big Data” to help camps with their year-round engagement efforts. Big corporations, he explained, have been using “Big Data” for many years and in 2014 summer camps need to utilize the same data tools to acquire new campers and maintain existing relationships with both current staff and the valuable alumni who are now positioned to donate and send their children or grandchildren to the camp. These data measuring tools have been available to camps for years, but most didn’t know how to put that data to good use for philanthropic or camper recruitment and retainment purposes. Litman’s plea that camps focus on engaging their campers twelve months a year rather than in the traditional camp recruitment season was a theme echoed throughout the 3-day conference, which ended Tuesday afternoon.
Read the rest of this article on eJewish Philanthropy.
One of the greatest things that kids learn at camp is how to do things for themselves, from scratch. Campers learn how to build a fire, make a pottery bowl, shoot a basket, pitch a tent, and maybe even to tie tzittzit on a tallit. By creating something from nothing kids are better able to understand what goes into a final product and how something works. They are able to better appreciate the final product because they had a hand in making it possible. In the hustle and bustle of the school year we often forgo the experience of creating items from scratch for the easier path of ready-made items. Pre-tied shoelaces, pre-made meals, and most likely a fire that starts with an electric starter on the stove make our lives easier, but we miss out on the novelty of enjoying something we have created from nothing.
When it comes to stocking your pantry with snack foods, you can (and often should) take the easy road of buying pre-made foods, but every once in a while it can be such a valuable experience to take the time with your kids to make some favorite snack foods. Kids often don’t give much thought to the type of flour used to make their favorite crackers or whether or not there are preservatives in their favorite candy (there probably are), so making these foods from scratch gives them an opportunity to engage with their foods in a new way and gives you an opportunity to get some healthy “grow food” in their bodies.
There is a Jewish concept that there are certain mitzvot (commandments) that we are unable to appoint someone else to perform in our place; we must do them for ourselves. This is quite similar to why it can be so valuable to create handmade, homemade item. When we engage with our food and our surroundings in an organic, hands-on, ground-up sort of way we see everything in a whole new light. Check out this recipe for homemade cheese crackers to begin to open yourself up to a whole new world of from-the-pantry snacking!
Homemade Cheese Crackers
Makes about 30 crackers
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cups whole grain spelt flour or while whole wheat flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk, plus more for brushing
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Combine the cheese, butter, flours, onion or garlic powder, salt and 2 tablespoons of milk into the bowl of a food processor or mixer. Pulse or mix until the dough forms a ball.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface. Roll it out until it is a square about 1/8 of an inch thick (or a bit thinner).
- Brush the dough with additional milk.
- Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into 30 squares. Using a toothpick, prick a hole in the center of each square.
- Place the squares on the baking sheets, leaving about ½ an inch between crackers
- Bake about 15 minutes until the crackers are just slightly brown around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.