Monthly Archives: April 2013

Israel and Israelis

After months of anticipation, I arrived in a slightly damp and chilly Israel for the annual training of summer shlichim (Israeli counselors) and the annual training of Union for Reform Judaism Israel Educators. I arrived a few days early with a busy schedule in mind:  Shabbat with a former Israeli co-counselor who is like family, observance of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

While I was in Israel, I saw a number of things. I ate all of my favorite foods. I watched a ridiculous and humorous McDonald’s commercial while watching TV with my “family.”I swayed with thousands of people in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square) to commemorate the somber memorials of Yom HaZikaron. I sang, danced, and shouted with glee with thousands more in downtown Jerusalem on the very next night, Yom HaAtzmaut.

The transition from Zikaron to Atzmaut, tempered by the horrifying news of a pigua (terrorist attack) in Boston, really struck me. How can you be so sad, mourning thousands of Israel’s fallen in the very place where Rabin was assassinated, and then, in just one day, transition into singing and dancing outside of City Hall in Jerusalem?

The answer came at the Israeli staff seminar. The delegations from the different camps, chosen from a large applicant pool, are excited to teach about Israel. They have stories, histories, interests, and life experiences that are uniquely their own. Uniquely Israeli, but also uniquely individual. Each person is different. And just like they each bring their own experience, they also represent the full life and times of Israel. They remembered their own family members and friends on Yom HaZikaron, celebrated their country on Yom HaAtzmaut, and talked about how to share their stories with their campers over the course of the summer. Memory and joy for the whole country and people of Israel is important. So too is the ability of each shaliach/shlicha to share those memories and those joys with their campers this summer.

The answer is that the transition from Zikaron to Atzmaut became MY transition, too. Because I’ve lived in Israel, loved in Israel, eaten in Israel, commemorated in Israel, and learned in, from and about Israel, those stories and transitions are mine, too.

Israel is for all of us at Jewish summer camp. My hope is that those memories and joys will become the memories and joys of the campers who receive them this summer.

Posted on April 30, 2013

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Model Lessons

According to Jewish Law it’s the practice to refrain from getting married between Passover and Shavuot – until Lag B’Omer (Shulchan Aruch 493:1). It is recorded that this custom serves as a memorial for the students of Rabbi AkivaTanna of the middle of the 2nd century, who perished during this period of time. Their deaths came to an end (or at least a break) on Lag B’Omer. But, why did the students of Rabbi Akiva die? And why would we mourn their death by refraining from getting married?

We can start to answer these questions by looking at the Gemara in Yevamot. There we learn:

Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbata to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: “All of them died between Passover and Shavuot.”  (Yevamot 62b)

0579_110811-FJC_x46It seems strange that Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did “not treat each other with respect.” Rabbi Akiva taught that “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is the great underlying principle in the entire Torah (Torat Kehonim 4:12 and Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4). It would be surprising that even just one student of this great Tanna did not learn such a basic lesson. So what is the additional significance of the quantity of students who died?

It might be helpful to learn some more about who Rabbi Akiva was as a teacher. Despite his humble beginnings as a shepherd, Rabbi Akiva became a tremendous scholar. And while he had a tremendous effect on Jewish life, he was not without flaws. We learn in the Gemara that during the 24 years in which he accumulated these 24,000 students he did not see his wife once (Ketubot 62b-63a). There is no doubt that Rabbi Akiva loved his wife Rachel dearly. He gave his wife credit for all of the Torah they learned during his time away from her. When his students first met his wife he told them explicitly that they were all indebted to her. But here is the issue: while living apart from his wife for all of those years, Rabbi Akiva did not show his students the daily habits of respect. How were his students to learn how to treat each other with respect if Rabbi Akiva did not model this for them?

On Lag B’Omer we should take a moment and try to learn the lesson that evaded Rabbi Akiva’s students. How should we treat each other with respect? It is clearly not enough to just talk about it. If we want to teach respect, we need to model it.

It is in light of this that we see the real power of Jewish camp as an educational institution. As the adage goes, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” In school we are told a lot of things, but in camp the staff members model the most important lessons. And on the highest level we are all asked to get involved in creating the community.

Posted on April 28, 2013

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Deep-ish Thoughts on Play

0158_120808-FJC_x_xHi Readers! Modern-day life keeps replacing playing time with “teaching time,” as if the two are at odds. But in the book, “The Ordeal of Change,” philosopher Eric Hoffer notes:

“Men never philosophize or tinker more freely than when they know that their speculation or tinkering leads to no weighty results. We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the remarkable fact that many inventions had their birth as toys. In the Occident the first machines were mechanical toys, and such crucial instruments as the telescope and microscope were first conceived as playthings. Almost all civilizations display a singular ingenuity in toy making…

On the whole it seems to be true that the creative periods in history were buoyant and even frivolous. One thinks of the lightheartedness of Perclean Athens, the Renaissance, the Elizabethan Age, and the age of the Enlightenment. Mr. Nehru tells us that in India ‘during every period when her civilization bloomed, we find an intense joy in life and nature and a
pleasure in the art of living….’ ”

Hi. Lenore here again: It’s cool to think about play leading to “real” results, including joy and telescopes.  So, as I suggest in my book, if you think your kids might be slightly over-scheduled, consider letting them drop an activity. And then, when the days grow warm and long and delicious, consider letting them go to camp, rather than summer school. Be prepared for lightheartedness (and maybe even breakthroughs) all around.

Posted on April 25, 2013

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Fear Factor: Broccoli

One of the most life-changing lessons a child can learn at camp is how to overcome fears.  Whether your camper is afraid of the lake, is worried about making friends, or can’t stand the thought of being near bugs, a nonthreatening camp environment allows kids to independently push the boundaries of their comfort levels in order to have new and exciting experiences. As a parent, you may revel in your child’s growth over the summer, yet you may simultaneously wonder why he refuses to partake in any new experiences at home for the other 10 months of the year.  This is sometimes most true at the dinner table. For example, perhaps last summer your 5th grader came home loving salad with carrots, but now you can’t seem to get her to even taste cooked carrots.   The reason for this may be relatively simple – over the summer your camper is in a foreign environment, is highly impressionable and is eager to please both counselors and bunkmates.  At home, your child may be more focused on being adversarial and may not be as willing to explore areas outside of his/her comfort zone.

racheWhile you can’t replicate the adventuresome camp atmosphere at home, there are definitely things that you can do to get your camper to try new and interesting foods that will support her health. Check out some of the following tips and try the AMAZING roasted vegetable recipe below (it will turn any veggie-hater into a veggie LOVER). By the time your child is packing his bags for camp, he may have even overcome his fear of broccoli!

1. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and TRY again
A child could hate something today but LOVE it a year from today. This is because children’s taste buds are constantly developing and changing, so keep trying! Also, keep in mind that there could be a lot of reasons that your child may not like the new food she just tried. Maybe she’s not in the mood for it, maybe she doesn’t like the way it was cooked, maybe the sauce is too spicy, or maybe she would like brown basmati rice but doesn’t like brown jasmine rice.
2. Don’t battle over food
The more you fight with your kids about food, the more they will fight back. Try not to battle with them about eating just two more string beans or another bite of chicken. If you’re more laid back, you will create an environment in which your children can explore on their own terms.
3. Don’t hide vegetables
If all you’re doing is hiding some spinach in a brownie, you’re not teaching your children to love vegetables for what they are; rather, you’re teaching them that vegetables are disgusting and need to be hidden!
4. Lead by example
If you don’t try new foods and new ways of cooking old foods, your children will never try new things either. You may surprise yourself by what you like!
5. Highlight the food you are trying to get your kids to like
If you want your child to start liking spinach, don’t just steam some frozen spinach. Buy fresh spinach from the farmer’s market and sauté it with olive oil and garlic and top it with a bit of your child’s favorite cheese.
For amazing roasted vegetables:
Toss any combination of cut up broccoli, asparagus, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, string beans, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, or beets with a small amount of olive oil, coarse salt and black pepper. Place on a large metal cookie sheet (not glass or foil!) and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until veggies are browned, caramelized and delicious!

Posted on April 23, 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

Finding My Camp

0014_110811-FJC_x46My first summer home was Camp Edward Isaacs (aka Eddie I) in Holmes, NY.  I started going there because my two older cousins had been going there for years and were starting to work there.  I had been waiting for years and I was finally old enough to go as well. I spent my first summer there in 2007 and loved it; I could not wait for next summer! By the time June of 2008 came around I was in for another great summer. I was so happy to see my best friends, or summer sisters, one of which I could never live without.  After another great experience, it was time to go home. This is when the bad news came. The camp had closed down. I was devastated. Where was I going to go? How was I going to stay connected to my best friends?

A few months later, the Camp Eddie I directors held a get together where they invited representatives from numerous other Jewish camps to talk to all the campers and parents about trying to find a new summer home. As we went around, my mom came across the camp that my cousins’ cousins went to and loved. After a lot of discussion, my mom and I decided that I would try out this camp. That summer I went and had fun but I didn’t consider the place to be right as a new summer home for me – it just wasn’t what I was looking for. I was unsettled and I still didn’t know where I wanted to be. Then I was talking to the same cousins who I went to Eddie I with, and they said they were now working at a camp they really enjoyed called Camp Laurelwood. I figured that if they were happy there, I probably would be too.

It looked really nice and fun online and in the pamphlet and I was really interested to go. It turns out we actually took the Camp Laurelwood pamphlet home with us from the camp get together too! It also turns out that one of my best friends from Eddie I went there and loved it. So I had my mom sign me up. I was really happy to know I would have so many people there already that loved it. I got there and met so many great people. I have had three amazing summers so far and am looking forward to more! I would never have had so much fun without the amazing people I met at this amazing place. My friend from Eddie I and I have become extremely close over the five summers we have spent together and I’m glad to call her one of my best friends. If I had never gone to Laurelwood I would never had wonderful memories with amazing friends.

Posted on April 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

From Tears to Transformation

Rebecca Leibowitz works at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

It is my first summer at camp. I am 5 inches taller, 50 pounds heavier and 8 years older than the other first-timers in my cabin. I am not embarrassed by this because I am a Jewish camp late-bloomer, recruited by a college boyfriend to come work as a counselor at “the best camp ever.”

The decision to work at camp for the first time is not easy; my other summer option is an internship with an advocacy organization in Washington. DC – a real résumé building opportunity to pursue politics in the nation’s capital. To me, this makes sense for my future career. Camp, I assume, would just be another year away from the “real world.”

But, I am 19, and of course, I follow a boy to camp. The entire week of staff orientation, as I stand paralyzed with anxiety on the sidelines, watching Israeli dance choreographers and work-wheel enthusiasts prepare for the campers’ arrival, the only thing I am sure of is that I have made the wrong choice.

Just when I am certain that I can’t feel any more insecure, on the morning of the campers’ arrival, my boyfriend and I end our relationship, leaving me to fend for myself in a very foreign environment. I spend the next few days crying and doubting myself. I can hardly move my body, let alone lead my campers through ropes course and song sessions. My campers know camp rituals, legends, and ghost stories. I feel inadequate, as I try desperately to connect with the other staff who already have a lifetime of memories and inside jokes between them.

RLI have no choice, if only to save myself from further self-pity, to throw myself into the art of being the best camp counselor ever. Late bloomer I might be, but in this pivotal moment I am hell-bent on proving my worth to the camp community, to my campers, and most importantly, to myself. I quickly find footing through the structure of the camp schedule. I fear free time so I fill it with creative games and luckily my campers and fellow staff members welcome me into the camp community. The ultimate reward comes when the camp director personally invites me to stay for the next session. I accept on the spot.

That summer changed my life.

When I returned to college in the fall, I was transformed, filled with a new confidence. I continued to seek out as many Jewish leadership and programming opportunities as possible, wanting to continue to feel like I was in that same welcoming, ego-boosting, camp environment. I became the student president of the Hillel on campus and put all of the skills I developed at camp to work: time management, innovative programming, running meetings, and public speaking.

In my current role as a Senior Program Manager at Foundation for Jewish Camp, I get to work with camp professionals every day, developing and implementing programs geared to enhancing the business of camp.  I feel I have hit the career jackpot!

RL2I am a Jewish day school alumnus, Israel trip participant, and former youth group member.  While all of these experiences play a significant role in my commitment to Jewish communal life, it was working at camp that transformed me into a Jewish leader. As a 19 year-old, Jewish summer camp created an environment where I thrived despite a dramatic teenage situation.  My craving for the professional learning laboratory of camp brought me back for five more summers. Every leadership or professional role I have held alongside and after my time at camp has been influenced by the management and problem solving skills as well as confidence-building tools that I learned there. And as an added bonus, today, my best friends are camp people.

It is conventional wisdom that Camp Works. FJC has been a forerunner in the research that proves the long term impact on camp for campers, who are more likely to delve into Jewish ritual after a significant summer camp experience. What is less measured is how camp fosters personal and professional development opportunities for camp staff. Whether it is a young adult’s first or 19th summer, camp has the power of building strong Jewish identity, creating communal bonds, and creating powerful professionals. Personally, even though I didn’t have the opportunity to be a Jewish camper, I am grateful that I got my second chance as a young adult, and encourage others to do the same.

Posted on April 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

Independence Thinking

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

Unlike many parents who send their children to overnight camp, I have seen many camps.  As the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I spend my summers on the road visiting various types of Jewish camps across North America. This summer my wife and I are sending our eldest child on his first overnight camping experience. Despite all of my experience, I have anxiety about sending our child away. Just like every other parent, there is no doubt that part of this anxiety is the irrational fear of sending our baby away. But, there is another part of this anxiety which is realizing that while he will always be our baby, when he returns he will have grown up so much. At camp he will experience being included in a community of his own. There he will make deep friendships of his own design. There he will make his own connections to his heritage. There he will have a new sense of independence. And all of this will happen because we will not be there. We have chosen a camp that has role models who manifest our family’s highest values, but in the end he will need to buy into these values for himself. The trick seems to be in the fact that these role models are not telling him who to be, but rather inspiring him to make choices based on their profound example.

aviIt is interesting to reflect on the fact that many of the camps that we all send our children to are not so new. Actually, many of them got their start in the late 1940’s or 1950’s. This was a profound period of growth for institutions in the North American Jewish community as it was in the newly founded State of Israel. This is not coincidental. After the cataclysm of the Holocaust we needed a place to call our own.  Both Israel and camps speak to a renaissance of Jewish life. In so much of history we found ourselves defined by those around us. In a land or a camp of our own we found, and continue to find, a unique opportunity to define ourselves on our own terms.

This week we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. Israel is an amazing place and I am excited to introduce my children to our homeland. It represents the hope of two thousand years. But for now I am excited for our 9-year-old getting his first taste of independence at camp.

Posted on April 15, 2013

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Summer Lovin’ – Tamara & Neal

Camp and summer romances go hand in hand, and once in a while those early relationships actually go the distance.  We’re rounding up some great stories of young love that blossomed into real life marriage and delivering them to you in a monthly series called Summer Lovin’.


photo (3)When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We met on staff at UAHC (now URJ) Camp Swig in Saratoga, CA the summer of 1987. Tamara was the CIT girls’ advisor and Neal was a counselor. We met during staff week.

Was it love right away? What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
Love right away, no, but we connected pretty early into the summer.  It was a summer romance which ended when we left camp and headed back to college in separate cities.  But…just over eight years later, in fall 1995, we reconnected through our jobs. Neal had just relocated to Los Angeles working for NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) as a recruiter for youth Israel programs.  Tamara was in her first job post grad school as Director of Education at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, CA. Neal had to make calls to rabbis and educators to set up group meetings with synagogue teens and their parents. His call to Tamara (whom he knew as Tammy back in the day) went something like the following: “Is this the same Tamara Lawson who used to be known as Tammy at Camp Swig?” And, well, the rest is history. We set up a time in December for Neal to meet with the TBT confirmation families and after the meeting the two of us hung out. By late January 1996 we were dating and, in June, upon Tamara’s return from Camp Swig (where she served on faculty during staff week and for the start of camp) Neal proposed while walking to baggage claim(!) at LAX airport!

tam and neal (3)Will you send your kids to your camp?
Already do!!!  Our kids (ages 12, 10 and 7) attend URJ Camp Kalsman in Arlington, WA, and we serve on faculty. Yes, we travel to the Seattle area (Neal’s hometown) for camp. Our kids love going to Camp Kalsman with their cousins and we love that camp is still a part of our lives!


Tamara and Neal Schuster were married in May 1997.  Tamara received her MAJE/MAJCS at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and currently serves as Director of Admissions at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA), a community day school.  Neal graduated from the HUC-JIR rabbinic program in Los Angeles and currently serves as Senior Jewish Educator at University of Kansas Hillel.  They live in Overland Park, KS with their three kids.

Posted on April 12, 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

You’re A Camp Director?

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

When I tell people that I’m a camp director, they often ask me what I do “the rest of the year.” I respond that I spend my time recruiting campers and staff, planning programs, raising money, and preparing for the summer. I also work closely with our board and, especially as we work towards an expansion, spend what feels like an inordinate amount of time thinking about engineering, septic systems, and township approvals.

110707.CampJRF.-427While all of this is true, I’ve begun to think about changing my answer. I’m thinking about telling people that during the rest of the year, I reap the benefits of what we have sown over the summer. Why the change? Because in both happy moments and more challenging ones over just the past few weeks alone, I have been blessed to see just how true this is.

First, there were the campers and staff members who, when the father of their long-time camp friends passed away, came from far and wide to sit by their sides, lead shiva minyanim, and comfort them during this challenging time. Then there was the rabbi who, when mentioning important people to him during a speech, talked of the two other rabbis with whom he spends a week on our faculty each summer, noting that they are, for him, the “camp friends” he didn’t have in childhood. At our annual spring teen retreat, there was the graduating high school senior who, with tears in his eyes, told younger participants that the thousands of dollars he has spent and the thousands of miles he has flown over the years were far more than “worth it” for the experiences he has had and the deep friendships he has made. And there was his friend who, bringing tears to my eyes, talked about the ways in which he has become more comfortable in his own skin since he first arrived at camp as an anxious ten year old and how, when he isn’t always able to remember how far he’s come, his camp friends step up to remind him.

A counselor once stood up during an orientation session and asked how and when we will know if the work we do has an impact. I responded that, in fifteen years, we’ll be able to see the myriad ways in which the camp experience is reflected in the good work our campers are doing and in the good lives they are leading. The staff member looked shocked and a bit disappointed; he wanted faster and more quantifiable results. But the work we are doing is about quality, not quantity. And it’s about the long view, not just about what happens today. It’s true what they say: camp works. It works not only in creating committed Jews but in creating bonds and connections that help make better people.

So, what do I do during the rest of the year? Forget all of the planning and fundraising and logistics and details … I sit back and revel in the ways in which our joyful and welcoming Jewish youth community transforms lives. And then I jump back into the work – excited, energized, and blessed to be part of making this happen for yet another summer.

Posted on April 9, 2013

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April Director’s Corner

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

There are two things that I am most proud of in my career as a Jewish camp director. The first is that I have never had a camper go home early due to homesickness.  We have several strategies to work with kids, we create deep partnerships with parents and we use a non-cookie cutter approach to every situation. We match this with extremely well trained staff that are supported by higher level professionals. Every summer we help kids in their most difficult times and we take pride in helping them gain the independence that comes with making it through a homesick summer.

Camp_Ramah_0376_IMG_9695Camp is all about kids and a blog about homesickness is right in the wheelhouse of the Director’s Corner. However, it is the second thing that I am most proud of that will take center stage today. I take an immense amount of pride in the fact that I have never turned a family away from a Jewish summer camp experience for financial reasons. I philosophically believe that it is my responsibility to help families make the best choice about their children’s Jewish summer camp experience. I serve as an advocate for Jewish summer camps first and then help parents make an informed choice about enrolling their child in Beber Camp. This is one of the most impactful Jewish decisions that they will make for their children and a real fit is critical to unlocking the magic of a summer at camp. Once a parent has identified a true fit, it is my responsibility to make sure that their child has access to that experience.

As camp directors, we have several resources at our disposal to help parents make sure that camp is a reality regardless of their financial situations. We have excellent confidential processes for determining financial need, we have access to outside scholarship support, we raise funds internally through annual campaigns and we work out payment plans to spread out costs. Each family is different, and much like working with our campers during the summer, there is no cookie cutter method to a successful financial aid process. Finances can be a difficult topic and many of our families have negative feelings about the process based on previous experiences with other organizations. We approach the financial support relationship with the same level of customer service that we do when we are recruiting campers and working with kids during the summer. The strong partnership that we create during this process serves as the bedrock of a relationship that will play out over the next several years.

Camp is one of the best values available in the Jewish community and while there is massive return on investment, the absolute cost of a summer is still high.  We don’t view the Jewish camp experience as a luxury, and since we want parents to share this philosophy, it is incumbent on us to make camp a financial reality for all families. That said, every camp that is committed to this philosophy needs to raise significant dollars to deliver year in and year out. If you have a passion for strengthening Jewish identity and positive youth outcomes, donate to the scholarship program at your camp alma mater. If you didn’t go to camp as a kid, but realize the inherent value in the experience, support your local Jewish summer camp. If you believe in camp, but didn’t go as a child and don’t live anywhere near a Jewish summer camp office, call the Foundation for Jewish Camp. I am sure that they will be happy to help you get started in supporting the field of Jewish camp.

Every dollar counts and you can be sure that your donation will positively impact a camper’s life this summer. I was a camper who received scholarship money and my passionate belief that camp should be affordable for all families stems from this fact. Due to the generosity of the Jewish community, I was given an experience that profoundly impacted me and led me to become a Jewish camp director. So, please consider a gift to a Jewish summer camp, as you never know how far your donation just may go.

Posted on April 8, 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