Monthly Archives: February 2013

Autism, Camp, and the Power of Friendship

Rabbi Isaac Saposnik is the director of Camp JRF in South Sterling, PA.

Two summers ago, I met David for the first time. Before he arrived in camp, we spoke with his parents about his Autism, how it might impact his experience at camp, and what their goals were for him – both during the summer and beyond. They were incredibly open and realistic, and we were upfront about what we could offer. And while we all hoped for the best, I must admit that I entered the summer with a bit of trepidation, worried that we might not be able to live up to all of our expectations.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

David jumped head first into the camp experience. He participated in all of the activities, loved the David-JRFfood, and always had a smile on his face. He shared his love of basketball and brought us the tradition of chocolate breakfast (with thanks to our friends at Camp JCA Shalom). A week or so into the session, I showed up in our teatron (theater) to hear David talk with fifty of his peers – our ninth and tenth graders – about autism. We knew his mitzvah project had been on the topic and that he had spoken about it in other places; he came into the summer wanting to share it with us.

Our campers are incredibly thoughtful, kind, and amazingly aware that everyone is different and has their own gifts to bring to the community. Even so, surrounded by a group of teens, I was worried that, after a great first week, David’s positive experience could end when he stepped up to the microphone. And then he began to speak … and you could feel the teens’ excitement. There was laughter at the right times, good and thoughtful questions, and, when he finished speaking, thunderous applause. As everyone got up to leave, I watched David giving high fives, smiles, and huge bear hugs to his friends.

Even David would tell you that kids with autism often have a hard time making friends. But in just three short weeks, he had made incredible friends. He kept in touch with them all year. Last summer, he counted down the minutes until his best friend, who is a year older than him, returned to camp from his trip to Israel. And he got a letter from a friend who had other plans for the summer and said the thing he would miss most about camp was David.

Jewish camp – with values like derekh eretz (character) and kehillah (community) – is powerful. Surrounded by their peers, kids build relationships that they couldn’t imagine at home. The power of camp is that it allows kids to truly become their best selves, no matter how hard that might seem the rest of the year. After this past summer, David’s mom sent us a note: “We are so happy that David has a place he can go and feel comfortable, make friends while being himself – Camp JRF is his home away from home. We believe his camp experience is preparing him in so many ways and we are grateful beyond words to you and your staff for giving him the opportunity.”

To tell you the truth, I’m grateful to her for giving us the opportunity. Learning from, laughing with, and just knowing David is truly a blessing. We are lucky to have him as part of our camp family.

(Autism Speaks recently debuted an animated short film of David’s speech. Directed by Matt Manning, one of the animators of Robot Chicken, you can watch it here.)

 

Posted on February 28, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Turning Challenge into Opportunity

Molly Hott is the director of 92Y Passport NYC, a Jewish overnight camp based in New York City focusing on fashion, film, music, culinary arts, and musical theater.

A Jewish 30-something from Long Island who doesn’t eat red meat or pork… how original?  This very same girl was brought up in the secular world of public school.  Attended a traditional/secular summer camp.  Graduated with a BS degree in Social Relations (yes that is real) from a liberal arts university (only to recognize this word ‘secular’ as an adult).  Is the director of a Jewish sleep away camp at 92Y in New York City… not all that typical.  Well that’s me, not your typical, but somewhat stereotypical Jew.

I have always considered myself and my Jewish upbringing as “traditionally and culturally Jewish.”  Temple nursery school followed by weekly Hebrew school, Shabbat dinner with the family, Bat Mitzvah at 13 – a real “Hott Party” – and then was strongly encouraged (aka forced) to continue on with Confirmation classes.  I thought of this all as Jewish social hour not Torah study, so it wasn’t all torture. What did I learn? I am still asking myself the same question.  Aleph, Bet, Vet- Aleph, Bet, Vet…What comes next?

I tend to do Judaism in a way that is most comfortable to me.  Feeling guilt, I attend synagogue on High Holy days.  Family meals to celebrate the “big” Jewish holidays like Rosh, Yom, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Passover. Yes I know Thanksgiving isn’t really a Jewish holiday but it is a time my family comes together, overeats, knocks back wine and revisits the memories that were at some point excruciatingly embarrassing – doesn’t that constitute a Jewish holiday?  Although with all these non-contributions to the Jewish community, I am 100% a Jew.

PassportThis ignorant Jew at 30 years old found herself on an interview for the position as director of a Jewish summer camp.  I knew I could easily sell myself for this, I am Jewish and I live camp.  I never cared to pay attention to the interests, beliefs, or practices of the Jewish community around me before.  But now with this incredible opportunity at a world renowned institution, why not try to care?! I was willingly, forcing myself into exploring Judaism, not Torah but Judaism. This exploration scared the “bleep” out of me but excited me all at the same time.  This was my challenge; learn about Judaism so I could develop the best Jewish sleep away camp program out there.  It wasn’t until becoming the camp director this progressive, pluralistic, Jewish summer camp that I opened myself up to the exploration of what any of this means to me.

I have turned this challenge into opportunity.  I have taken my stereotypical Jewish way of thinking and thrown it out the window.  I have pushed myself to have an open mind and freeing appreciation for Jewish learning in order to empower our Jewish community of teens and staff at Passport NYC to explore Judaism openly, comfortably, relevantly, progressively, pluralistically and in a way where Judaism is “cool.”  Opportunity has become my operative word.  This non-red meat or pork eating Jewish girl from Long Island welcomes you on the evolving Jewish journey from creation to continuation of one of the greatest Jewish summer camp programs out there today!

Posted on February 26, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

I’m Going to Be Alright

Qwynn Landfield is 15 years old, lives in Yorktown Heights, NY and has been attending Camp Laurelwood in North Madison, CT for seven summers.

I always look back on my camp memories as the happiest times of my life. I was eight years old when I first started going to Camp Laurelwood and I had mixed emotions about starting out. I was excited because I was going to a camp that I knew two of my cousins went to and loved. Not knowing anyone my age there made me nervous – I had never had an away from home experience before. I also had fear mixed in there: I was going to be two hours away from my parents and if I didn’t like it they would have to go through so much trouble to get me. Overall I was looking forward to this new experience despite my fears and nerves. I started packing for camp weeks before the big day and kept adding items everyday when I thought of possible scenarios. What if I lose these shorts? Better bring five more pairs! 

094_110813-FJC_xThe night before I left for camp, my stomach was in a knot with all my mixed expectations and emotions. Finally, the big day came and while I was going through a final checklist with my mom I said to myself, I’m going to be alright, this will be fun. The drive up to camp was the longest thing I have ever experienced; all I did was think about how nervous I was. When I got there I was so confused by everything that was going on around me. There were forms being filled out and people telling me where to find my bunk. I had to walk from the parking lot to bag drop off to the infirmary to my bunk, over here, over there, over everywhere. When I found my assigned bunk my counselor showed me to my bed and my parents helped me unpack. At this point I was so jittery because I didn’t know anyone and my parents were leaving soon. When it was time to hug my parents goodbye I started crying because I was going to be there without them and I didn’t know what was going to happen.

When all the parents were gone, my counselors had us all sit in a circle. We went around the circle saying our names and our favorite candy. Afterwards, when our bunk was walking to the mess hall, one of the girls and I got to talking, my nerves were crushed right there and then and everything started getting fun. I ended up sending letters home a week later saying I made a new best friend. I had some of the best times of my life that summer and found my summer home. I was so at home and always had the happiest smile on, they even put a picture of me on the cover of the camp promotional pamphlet! It was the best experience of my life to start out somewhere new and make friends with people I would end up calling my summer sisters.

Posted on February 25, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

When Separation Anxiety Goes Overboard

Lenore Skenazy is founder of the book and blog, “Free-Range Kids” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement.

This Wall Street Journal piece of mine about sending kids off to the first day of school applies to sending kids off to camp as well. Our hand-wringing, expert-consulting culture has managed to make saying goodbye into a much bigger and more traumatic event than it has to be, thanks to all sorts of over-the-top advice on how to help our kids adjust.

Maybe they’ll adjust as soon as we leave?

When Separation Anxiety Goes Overboard

As yellow buses start heading back to school, you might notice some of them being trailed by a little line of cars. Predators? Pervs?

Nope. Parents.

“I was talking to a bunch of parents and found out they all follow the bus for the first week or so,” one mother told me the other day. “I sat there thinking that I was a really bad mom because that thought had never even occurred to me!”

Although I am officially the World’s Worst Mom—I even have a TV show with that name—the thought had never occurred to me, either. But apparently it’s becoming par for the course as the line gradually blurs between shipping a child off to school and shipping a child off to ‘Nam.

“They can’t seem to let go,” says Natascha Santos, a school psychologist in Great Neck, N.Y., on Long Island—and she’s not talking about the kids. This could be because everywhere parents turn, the advice-o-sphere keeps harping on how incredibly hard they must work to ease their child’s incredibly harrowing adjustment to school.

“Practice how you will say goodbye,” urges one of the zillion or so websites featuring first-day-of-school tips.

“Goodbye!” Hmm. That just doesn’t seem very difficult to me. Maybe I’m heartless. In fact, I know I’m heartless, because I never bought a “Nesting Heart.” That’s a toy made by a company called Kimochis that is meant to “help ease the separation” when you drop your kid off at school.

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How does it work? “Your child can take the inner Heart to school and you can keep the outer heart at home,” says a Kimochis news release. “Create a playful ritual for separating the hearts at drop-off and putting your hearts back together at pickup. Reassure your child (and yourself!) that the Nesting Heart keeps you connected even when you are apart.”

Oh yes, how incredibly reassuring it must be as junior watches you—playfully!—break your heart in two. But at least this psycho-toy lays it on the line: Mommy is incomplete whenever she’s not with you, and you are incomplete without mommy. Got that? Now go have a great first day!

But who am I kidding? If you have followed any of the other parenting tips out there, that first day of school won’t really be your child’s first, because that would be too overwhelming. “Change can be scary,” says the website Care.com. “When possible, help to familiarize your child with a new school and teachers. Drive the bus route, tour the building or classroom, locate lockers and cubbies.” Heck, why not just move in for a few weeks in July?

Another site suggests that you have your child practice eating a sack lunch to make sure there are no last-minute snags. Still another tells you to have a picnic on the school playground, lest the sheer unfamiliarity of this particular patch of asphalt throw your child for a loop. But my favorite advice-nugget says to ask your child’s teacher for photos of the kids who will be in the class. “Then cut out and laminate each picture so your child can learn names and become comfortable with each new friend while playing in the comfort of home.”

Ye gads. Day one arrives and your child has already bonded with imaginary versions of real people. “Oh, so you’re Olivia,” she greets a new playmate, adding under her breath, “I saw what you did with Gumby.”

So now, with your loving help, your child has practiced eating lunch, broken your heart and detached herself from reality. But can she detach from you?

Not yet; not so fast. First, “Give your child a picture of you to keep in her supply box,” says another parenting site. “Write love notes in her snack bags.”

Television producer Jane Charlton actually tried that one year, to cheer up her daughter. “The notes said things like ‘Don’t forget we love you!’ and ‘Have a good time!’ I was trying to be nice,” Ms. Charlton told me in a phone chat. Unfortunately, this brought little comfort to her daughter. “She said that every time, just as she started to feel happy and get involved with something, she’d find a note and it would knock her right back.” Pretty soon the girl was bawling.

What an almost-perfect mom and an absolutely perfect reminder: When it’s time for your kids to go, let them.

Posted on February 24, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Purim: Blessing and Curse

Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Our oldest child has reached the age where he is eligible to go to overnight camp for the first time, and we have been giving a lot of thought as to when would be the right time for a child to leave home.  We know firsthand that camp is an amazing utopia where 24/7 joyous Judaism is the expectation, but it is normal to think about when the right age to expose our children to a new loving community outside their home and family is.

aviConversely, I’ve found we are not as thorough when it comes to judging when to expose our children to some other important life lessons and experiences.  Like many other children, my kids learned about the story of Esther in preparation for Purim.  A few years ago, when my eldest was in kindergarten, he shared with me what he had learned about this ancient holiday.  Haman’s punishment for attempting genocide was to walk behind Mordechai, who was riding on the royal horse, and pick up the poop.  He added with a smile that this was his favorite part of the story.

This year on Purim, like every other year, I will try to fulfill the commandment to mistake the blessing of Mordechai with the curse of Haman – the only day of the year on which we are commanded to not differentiate between good and evil.  But truthfully, while Purim is clearly a story of survival and joy, it is told against the backdrop of hate and anti-Semitism.  Unfortunately in our society, a presence of “evil” or hate is expected; Haman is a stock character in our history.  As the adage goes, “What is the definition of an anti-Semite? It is someone who hates Jews more than they are supposed to.”  It is astounding to realize that the expectation of anti-Semitism has made us fulfill the commandment of mixing up Mordechai and Haman all year-long.

I am thankful that my young son was not yet taught of Haman and his sons being put to death.  But, what is the right age to tell your child about the history and existence of anti-Semitism?  It is a curse to think that anti-Semitism is a normal part of our world.  It is a blessing to live in an environment like Jewish camp that loves you and cherishes and celebrates your identity.  It’s common to sit down to discuss the appropriate age to send one’s child to summer camp for the first time.  But if we are willing to put such thought into whether they are ready to enter a new community- a community that will provide them with love, independence, pride, skills, and fun- shouldn’t we give at least as much thought to when and how to expose our children to the reality of and presence of anti-Semitism in our history?

We live in a time of freedom, but we can never forget that this freedom comes at a price.  We need to make sure the confusion of Purim is the exception and not the rule.  It scares me to think that my children might grow up without strong memories of knowing a survivor of the Shoah, (Holocaust).  How will they understand the horrors of anti-Semitism without trivializing it?  We need to confront the idea of evil with our children beyond making bad people “pick up the poop.”

Posted on February 22, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

It’s Purim Time!

purimFJCWe are getting ready to celebrate one of our favorite holidays, Purim, this weekend!  Are you  preparing and need some inspiration, recipes, projects, costume ideas, and books?  Check out the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Purim Pinterest board for help.

FJC not only has boards for holidays but also camp projects at home, recipes, gear, packing ideas, books, movies, and more!

 

 

 

Posted on February 21, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Director’s Corner

Stefan Teodosic is the Executive Director of B’nai B’rith Beber Camp and the Perlman Conference Center in Mukwonago, Wisconsin.

Teodosic doesn’t sound like a Jewish last name and that is because of the simple fact that it isn’t.  My mother is Jewish (Rubin is her family name), my father is not and I grew up in a secular, intermarried home.  My parents got divorced when I was almost 9 and that is the summer that I went to Jewish summer camp for the first time.  I went to Camp Tamarack in Michigan and for a young child of a recent divorced intermarried couple, it was a perfect fit.  I began to connect to my Jewish identity, I had positive male role models, I gained self-esteem and I even picked up some new camp skills along the way.  Camp Tamarack made an indelible impression on me and it gave me an incredibly strong Jewish identity. My friends at home were Jewish, I joined BBYO and NFTY, I went on an Israel trip and I felt completely connected.  I stayed at camp for 15 summers as a camper, CIT, counselor and leadership staff member.  It was my life, it was my support system, it was where I felt safe and it was my second home.

stefan camper pic

I knew that I wanted to be a camp director when I was a 17 years old TSS (counselor in training) at Camp Tamarack.  When I was at camp, working with kids or in a specialty area, everything made sense.  I felt like Neo in The Matrix, where everything moved in slow motion and I could clearly see every event, while being able to contextualize it into the big picture goals of camp.  I went to the University of Michigan, where in my majority Jewish fraternity, I became friends with several kids from the East Coast who were quick to let me know that camp director was not a real job.  This notion crept into my head and even though I worked at camp throughout college, I started looking towards a future where camp was about wistful memories and sending my children to camp someday.  After college, I worked as a consultant and earned an MBA.  I moved to New York to begin my journey to become a Master of the Business Universe.  I took a job doing international strategy with American Express and camp became a wonderful part of the past that helped get me to where I was in life.

However, even as I was enjoying success in New York, I couldn’t shake camp from my mind.  I would frequently find myself thinking about Tamarack and wondering what it would mean to exchange corporate strategy for camp on my resume.  I even went as far as to help lead Tamarack TSS camping trips to Algonquin National Park on my vacation.  You can only imagine the looks of disbelief i got, when I told my co-workers how I was spending my time off.  They couldn’t believe that I would rather go camping with a bunch of kids than go on the high end vacations that they had planned.  I just shrugged it off, slung my backpack over my shoulder and headed back to Ortonville.

All of the philosophical camp-as-a-job conversations became very real for me on September 11th, 2001.  I was next to The World Trade Center when the first plane flew directly over my head and slammed into the North Tower.  By the end of that day, I began to think about my life and what was important to me.  By the end of the week, I was beginning to think about how to make major meaningful changes in my life.  By the end of the month, I was making my exit plan and by the end of the year, I had reached back into the Jewish camping world to really see about following my dream.  I was very lucky to connect with Camp Young Judaea Midwest and by March, I had moved to Chicago to become the new camp director.  That was 12 summers ago, with the past 8 summers spent as the Executive Director of Beber Camp and the Perlman Retreat Center.   I haven’t had a bad day during that time and I have been able to follow my dreams. I have had the opportunity to begin to repay everything I got out of my camp experience.  I am now married with my first daughter on the way and I am looking forward to raising my family in a Jewish camp environment.

Jewish summer camp is one of the most powerful experiences that we can provide to our children.  I am a prime example of how camp can impact a person if it’s done correctly.  It can take a kid from an intermarried family and make him a positively connected Jewish adult.  It can take a child of divorced parents and give him the foundation for being happily married with a child on the way.  It can make a highly successful career oriented businessman and drive him to return to a super meaningful life in the non-profit Jewish camping world.  Even as I am writing this blog entry, I am getting excited about the upcoming summer at Beber Camp.  That is how powerful Jewish camping can be when it’s done right.

That is me in a nutshell and now you have a bit of background on me, as I dive into a year of blogging for The Canteen.  I look forward to connecting with you over the next several months and sharing a year in the life of a camp director.  I hope to show you the amazing things that we are doing at Beber Camp and give you context to think about it in terms of your own experience.  From discussing excellent child care and unpacking world class programming to creating a supportive welcoming Jewish community and sharing camp stories, it’s going to be a fun ride.   Which is what camp is also all about at the end of the day.

Posted on February 20, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Plain Old Normal

Joel Yanofsky is a writer and author of “Bad Animals: A Father’s Accidental Education in Autism.”

The letter my son, Jonah, sent us from sleep-away camp last summer was pretty much what you’d expect from any kid getting used to his first few days and nights away from home. He told us about passing his swimming test and about the trouble he got into when he didn’t pay attention. He also complained about some of the meals. “The food here is good but it’s not great. Please take me to East Side Mario’s when I get back because I don’t like the pasta here,” he wrote. “I had the salad instead.”

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Of course, I recognize that this letter, including the fact that it has been proudly displayed on our refrigerator since August, couldn’t be more of a cliché. But then, my wife, Cynthia, and I live for clichés. We cherish the mundane, the average, the ordinary, all the things other parents take for granted. That’s because our son, who is 14 now, has autism.

He was diagnosed when he was almost four, labeled high-functioning. Over the last decade, we’ve learned to accept some of his differences and appreciate others. It’s what we have come to call The New Normal. Still, sometimes, it’s The Plain Old Normal we crave: like Jonah learning to swing on monkey bars a few years ago or celebrating his bar mitzvah last year.

The decision to send him to sleep-away camp for a week was a big step in The Plain Old Normal’s direction. Cynthia argued for it; I had my doubts. In part, because I never went to camp myself. My parents moved out of the city to the suburbs when I was five and they were convinced I was as close to nature there as I needed to be. Mostly, though, I was concerned that sleep-away camp was an environment where Jonah would not fit in, one that would spotlight his difficulties with being independent and making friends.

Fortunately, Cynthia, a camper all through her youth, won the argument. She saw Jonah’s week at Camp B’nai Brith, located in Lantier, Quebec, an hour north of Montreal, as an ordinary rite of passage. And while we did make some special accommodations with the cooperation of Camp B’nai Brith – like having a shadow accompany Jonah or having him stay for only a week – Jonah was, in the end, just another kid in a bunk full of kids missing home and having fun. He participated in the same things the other kids did – from Shabbat dinner to getting up, for a second or two, on water skis. He also turned out to be a popular bunkmate, celebrated for his skill at making fun of his counselors. If it took him a while to adjust to the food, that was, we realized, to be expected. If he now insists on going back to Camp B’nai Brith for two weeks this summer, well, that’s what I’d call perfectly normal.

Posted on February 19, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Campfire Classics at Home

Rachel Saks has an M.S. in Education and is a Registered Dietitian. She has taught cooking classes, developed and ran Healthy Living, a Camp Ramah program that combines nutrition education, mindful eating, cooking instruction and physical activity. Rachel is also the co-author of “Jewish American Food Culture.”

Many campers have been counting down the days to the first day of camp in 2013 since the last day of camp in 2012. By this point in the winter, you as parents have done countless trips to and from camp-friends’ homes, asked your child to end yet another endless phone call with a smoresbunk-mate, or heard the story of the hilarious counselor/silly evening activity/whipped cream fight/amazingly meaningful connection with that “special someone” four times too many.

One of the most powerful things about Jewish overnight camp is the relationships your children form with their peers and counselors.  They form these relationships not just because they spend so much time together, but because their Jewish heritage binds them.  The concept of Achdut is the idea that all Jews are naturally unified by a powerful historical bond and a unique relationship with God.  Perhaps Achdut is the reason why your camper forms connections easily, but without it on a daily basis, they may experience some serious camp-sickness.  Your camper misses camp, but what is there to do about the mid-winter “I miss everything about camp” blues?

Enter camp food.  I’m not talking about bug juice, rubbery grilled cheese and candy bars hidden in duffle bags.  Those “delicacies” aren’t the solution to any problem.  I’m talking about the food of campfire legends – ooey gooey s’mores, rocky mountain toast, weenies on a stick, and banana boats – and the convivial feelings of unity, camaraderie and closeness that the crackling flames, off-key singing and crisp summer evening air seem to eternally evoke.  This is where Achdut is at its strongest.  If your campers are missing their camp friends and missing the intense connections they formed at camp, why not bring all of that home?

A feast of (healthier versions of) campfire foods is the perfect excuse for you to foster some of those warm feelings of togetherness in your home with your kids, while at the same time hopefully curing them of some of their nagging camp-sickness.

Here’s what to do:  Print out a list of campfire sing-a-longs and find a few scary stories.  Clear the furniture out of your living room, cover the floor with blankets and pillows and tell your kids to change into their pajamas early.  If you have a fireplace, light it up (or just put on a video of a fireplace for the effect).  Now, head to the kitchen to cook up a few of the insanely delicious takes on campfire classics found below.  Your kids will go to bed happy, full of healthy food and warm from the memory that you will have just created with them.  You will feel a sense of Achdut, and who knows, tomorrow you may hear them telling their closest camp friend about their awesome campfire night they just had with their family.

Rocky Mountain Toast (or Egg in the Island or whatever other silly name your camp uses)
Serves 4

Ingredients
12 ounces baby spinach
4 slices whole wheat bread
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large organic eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions

1. Place spinach in a steamer basket over simmering water and steam 3-5 minutes, or until fully wilted.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, cut 1-inch holes out of the center of each slice of bread, using a small glass or a knife.
3. Heat butter in a large pan over medium heat.
4. Once the butter is bubbling, place the bread in the pan.  Cook 2-3 minutes, or until the bread is toasted.
5. Flip the bread and turn the heat to high.  Crack I egg into each hole, then top with shredded cheese and spinach.
6. Cook the eggs and bread another 2-3 minutes, or until the yolk is heated through, but not set.

(Vegetarian) Franks and Beans
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
12 ounces vegetarian sausages or hotdogs, preferably under 300 mg Sodium per serving
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 15-ounce cans low-sodium navy beans
1 15-ounce can low-sodium crushed tomatoes
½ cup water
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
1. Dice the onion and mince the garlic.
2. Slice the hotdogs into 1-inch slices.
3. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the hotdogs and garlic and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans.
6. Add the beans to the pan,  along with the remaining ingredients.
7. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
8. Cover and cook until the liquid has reduced by half, about 15 minutes.

Banana Boats
Serves 4

Ingredients
4 medium ripe (but not overripe) bananas
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons dried cherries
2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped pecans

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Leaving the peels on the bananas, cut a vertical slit down one side of each banana, leaving about ½ inch on either end.
3. Scoop out the top layer of the banana (about ¼ of the whole fruit).
4. Mix the remaining ingredients together and divide evenly between the bananas, stuffing the filling into the peel.
5. Wrap each banana in 2 layers of aluminum foil and place them on a baking sheet.
6. Bake 10 minutes, unwrap and enjoy!

Oeey Gooey S’mores
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 egg whites, divided
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons raw sugar
12 marshmallows
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
4. Add butter and work into flour with your fingertips until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture looks like sand.
5. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 egg white, the brown sugar, honey and vanilla.
6. Add the egg white mixture to the flour mixture and stir until a dough forms (it will be VERY sticky!)
7. Place half the dough on a well-floured surface and roll out into a 10-inch square.  Cut into 12 rectangles and transfer to one of the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.
8. Repeat step 7 with the other half of dough.
9. Brush the rectangles with the remaining egg white and sprinkle the raw sugar evenly on top.
10. Bake until dark brown, 12-14 minutes.
11. Let cool completely on the pan.
12. While the graham crackers are cool, toast the marshmallows on skewers over the stove just until they are browned, but not too melted.
13. Take 6 graham crackers and divide the chocolate chips evenly between them.
14. Top each graham cracker with 2 marshmallows and cover with another graham cracker.
16. Wrap in foil and bake 5 minutes, until ooey and goey!

Posted on February 15, 2013

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Hurry Up and Wait!

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Jon Adam Ross is a widely acclaimed theater artist, founding company member of Storahtelling and the Northwoods Ramah Theater Company. As a highly sought-after artist in residence, Jon leads workshops and facilitates the creation of theater using physical and emotional exploration of stories from ancient Jewish narratives.

Summer camps may seem to only be ‘open’ in the summer. But from September to May, the full time staff are thinking all about the next Summer season up at camp and how it can be an even more successful summer for our campers and staff than the one before. Of course, once the campers arrive, the camp community becomes one that dwells in the now; “Carpe Diem” is right up there with “Everyone’s a Winner at insert camp name here”. One of the luxuries of all the hours of thoughtful planning that happens before the summer is that, come June, there is room for everyone to just have fun and enjoy every moment at camp. Campers and their families do a lot of planning preparation as well, from shopping for toiletries to packing and repacking duffel bags to pre-stamping their pre-addressed envelopes in the hope for letters home. But recently, while sitting in synagogue reading my chumash (Torah), I found myself pondering all this preparation. It was a few weeks ago, Parshat Bo was being read in shul (synagogue)…

The Israelites are in a tough spot. Not only are they slaves in Egypt, but there’s this leader named Moses who keeps advising them to pack their bags and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And nine times now, the Israelites have been forced to play a frustrating game of red light/green light; after each of the plagues, Pharaoh has relented in the face of God’s wrath, and then instantly reversed himself. It’s hard to plan for the future when you don’t know when the future will come. The Israelites are forced to live constantly in the moment. So much so, that when they finally do get to escape after the tenth and final plague, they do not even have time to let their bread rise and we get an entire delicious week free of chametz. But I noticed an obscure pasuk (verse) that put all of this planning and living into perspective.

This month shall be unto you the beginning of months;
it shall be the first month of the year to you. (Shemot Chapt 12, Verse 2)

0915_120808-FJC_x_xIt seems that God recognizes that the back and forth of the ten plagues might have planted the seeds for anxiety within the Israelites. I know…shocking. My neuroses goes all the way back to the Israelites in Egypt!? And here, all this time, I thought I inherited my anxiety from my Grandpa Marshall. God chooses this moment to talk about the calendar. How this month of Nisan is now a ‘first month of the year’, a new and fresh start for a people desperately in need of a clean slate. I often felt it jarring to hear this story of Pesach (Passover) read aloud each winter, so many months before I celebrate the seders with my family. But now it makes perfect sense to me. We just experienced the turning of a new year in the Roman calendar. And here we are learning about not just a new year in the Jewish calendar, but a new start for our people as they take steps toward freedom.

One can imagine the Israelites finally packing their belongings, loading bags on the backs of their camels. Our people were packing for what would turn out to be a 40 year journey in bags that, no doubt weighed about the same as some of the duffels that accompany campers on their pilgrimage to their summer haven. And, just as in the face of a camper about to head up to camp for the first, or second, or last time as a camper, one can imagine these Israelites…with one eye on the packing, and one eye on the future. A future when planning takes a backseat to living. I know it’s only February…but it’s okay. You may start packing now.

Posted on February 14, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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