My first summer at Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, when I was going into 4th grade, my mother promised me Capri Sun Juice pouches in my lunch every day the following year if I wrote every other day. Seemed like a great incentive before I left, but once I got to camp and realized rest hour was for playing jacks and cootie catchers, I didn’t really care about the silver pouch of fruit punch. I had lanyards to make and bunk-mates hair to braid (and let me tell you, both of those skills have made me a really cool mom!). I wrote about four letters that summer.
Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and now I struggle with getting letters from my own kids while they’re at camp. My nine-year-old is a great letter writer, but my older one – not so much. She sends me the names of her counselors weeks after I met them on visiting day and borrows check-off stationery from her friends. So how do we get our kids to write? Here are my suggestions…
- Create your own fill-ins. I send 2-3 Mad Lib-style letters for my kids to write home with the first few days of camp. This way, I get the info that I need to picture them having fun at camp. Who is in their bunk? Are they on a top bunk bed? Who sleeps on the bunk above, below, next to them? Where are their counselors from? What activities are new at camp this year? Did they check on each other? You get the gist. (I save the templates from year to year and just print a new batch for that summer.)
- Send pre-addressed envelopes. This year my little one asked me to take a stack of stationery, address the envelopes and put stickies on them so she knows how many letters she should write to each of her grandparents, aunts/uncles/cousins, and a few friends. Hmm, why didn’t I think of that!?
- Print pre-addressed labels. I create address labels for them to use so they not only have an idea of who they need to write to, but it’s easy for them to do so. I give them the amount of labels for how many letters each person is expecting.
- Make sample envelopes. Since letter writing is becoming a lost art, I put a sample envelope in with their stationery so they remember to include (and where to put) their return address and a stamp.
- Choose your stationery wisely. I’ve never met a stationery store I didn’t like, but the cutesy stationery isn’t always best. My nine-year-old has big loopy handwriting so standard fill-ins and postcards aren’t always the best. This year, we made personalized pads on VistaPrint. We have a few fun fold-overs from years past, but this way she gets something fun and the room she needs to tell her stories.
- Keep it together. I try and send my kids’ stationery organized in a plastic sleeve from Staples. One goes with a lapdesk, my other with a big storage clipboard. I also include some fun pens – sparkly, smelly, twisty – as incentive to write. It all comes home as a big mess but at least that shows they’ve been rifling through!
I am going into this summer with low expectations about what and when they’ll write. But that won’t stop me from hunting down the mailman and sending pictures of their letters to their bunk-mates’ parents to fill them in.
1. Get Outside and Get Moving. Make sure your camper increases their physical activity prior to camp so that they feel ready to be active all day long. If your child is going to be participating in trip camps this summer, be sure to start wearing new hiking boots whenever possible to break them in and avoid blisters on the trail. For those campers who love Maccabiah (Color War) and Capture the Flag, getting in shape now will pay off during friendly camp competitions as well.
2. Read the Parent Manual. Getting ready for camp should be a family affair, so be sure to include campers when reviewing the camp Parent Manual. This is a great resource to help mentally prepare yourself and your child for what’s in store at camp, including how you will be communicating with one another and what a typical day at camp will look like.
3. Get Psyched, Set Goals. Help your child think about the activities they are most excited to try, try again, and/or learn more about. This discussion will help your camper anticipate all the fun that they will be having at camp and also help them establish some goals that they have for themselves this summer.
4. Keep an Open Mind. Be sure to prepare yourself and your child for the best summer possible by managing expectations and keeping an open mind about the new experiences your camper will have in nature, trying new activities, eating new foods, making new friends, and experiencing Judaism in new ways.
5. Brisket and Babka. Shabbat is a special time of week at camp. Pack a nice outfit for Friday evening and get excited for a beautiful community experience involving fun services, an amazing dinner, dancing and song sessions.
6. Packing Party. Pull out your child’s duffle bag or trunk, clean out their closet, and start picking out clothes to take to camp. Make sure not to bring anything that you or your child would be upset about losing or damaging. Don’t forget to pack different color shirts for Maccabiah (Color War), a white item to tie dye, pre-addressed envelopes to home or other family members, a couple of water bottles, lots of sunscreen, and a flashlight!
7. Plan Pre-Camp Overnights. This is especially important for younger children! Have your kids do pre-camp sleepovers with grandparents and friends to help get them used to sleeping in different settings. Lots of positive encouragement and follow-up praise is helpful in building confidence leading up to camp.
8. Practice Life Skills. Start to encourage your child to make their own bed, fold their own laundry, and just do more in general for themselves. At camp, staff are always there to lend a helping hand but campers are expected to know how to and actually perform many life skills on their own. Now is the perfect time to help your child establish a certain level of independence before departing for camp.
9. Backyard Campout. As a way to get excited for life in the great outdoors and also to help your camper feel comfortable with a possible campout during their camping session, pitch a tent in your backyard on a warm night and have your very own backyard campout! It will make everyone appreciate your comfy bed inside a bit more and is also a fun family bonding experience.
10. Camp Connection. Have questions, concerns, or feedback about camp? Be sure to be in touch with the camp administration staff so that they can help you feel prepared and heard. We are here to serve our families, so make sure to provide us with all the information you can about your camper and their needs by way of forms, phone calls, and emails so that we can prepare to provide your camper with the best summer possible.
In my nine years as a parent, I’ve followed the rules, protocols, and cultural cues that have promised to churn out well-rounded, happy, successful children. I’ve psychoanalyzed my kids’ behavior, supervised an avalanche of activities, and photo-documented their day-to-day existence as if I were a wildlife photographer on the Serengeti. I do my utmost to develop their minds and build up their confidence, while at the same time living with the constant low-level fear that bad things will happen to them. But lately, I’ve begun to wonder if, by becoming so attuned to their every need and so controlling of their every move, I’ve somehow played a small part in changing the very nature of their childhood.
The rest of the article is her talking to people who believe in the value of independence and play (a lot of the folks I like talking to, too), and realizing that unsupervised time is at least as valuable to kids as the super-saturated parent time she had been bathing them in. Not that the answer is to neglect our kids. (Well, maybe a little.) But anyway: giving them space is not neglect.
My favorite anecdote came from her chat with Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd who –
… tells a story about how, years ago, his 11-year-old daughter and several of her friends were planning an overnight campout with some younger neighborhood kids in his backyard. Before the big night, the parents of the younger kids began scouring his lawn for nails and shards of glass. “It just seemed like, Whoa, what is going on with this anxiety?” Weissbourd recalls. The problem wasn’t just the parental anxiety itself — it was how it was actually reshaping the experience for those kids: “I felt like these 10- and 11-year-old girls were so conscientious and these parents came and undermined them.”
Shards of glass they were looking for? What a perfect example of Worst-First thinking: Gee, it’s a suburban lawn. What terror could lurk there?
Great article, great stories, great revelation. And a great argument for letting our kids go to camp and spend some time without us. It’s not neglect, it’s Miracle Gro!
The Davis Academy put on a play, “The Little Mermaid.” It was utterly impressive. The hard work of the kids – and the performing arts staff – was showcased in their acting and singing, the costume design, the makeup, and the gigantic mass of children (ages 5-14!) that sang in the chorus. A number of shows were put on over the course of several days for the entire Davis school community.
As I sat in the audience, I marveled at the kids. I normally only see them in Davis uniform khakis, logo-embroidered polo shirts, and the ubiquitous Davis hoodie. Watching kids transformed by the play never ceases to amaze me – at school or at camp.
I’ve worked at a number of different Jewish summer camps with different views of how to make the play an educational experience. At previous camps, plays were done in Hebrew – all in Hebrew! – or in English. Regardless of the educational mission, the kids are growing before our very eyes. Their time is spent in rehearsal – many hours after school for the school play, and many hours during their regularly scheduled camp program during the summer. The teamwork, mindset and hard work ethic that is built during these experiences, while still having to maintain grades at school, or maintain a neat living space at camp, helps them grow into multitasking adults.
The set design, directing, and producing of the play is the responsibility of the Drama counselor(s), people with experience that ranges from “I did this when I was a camper” to “I appear on Broadway on a fairly regular basis.” Not every play was ready to be presented for a Tony, but one constant remained: the shining of the kids.
At Davis, at Coleman, and at the other camps where I’ve watched plays, the kids sparkle on stage. Whether that is due to intricate sequinning of costumes, or the impressiveness of a voice (usually hid behind a siddur in Tefillah or masked by 600 other voices during a camp-wide song session), the kids are stars.
I have clear visions of my daydreams from years ago. Images of clear blue skies, the shiniest sunny days, a megaphone in my hand while my announcements splatter across campus. These visions would make my eyes light up with the anticipation that one day I would be a Camp Director…
As far as I’m concerned there was no minor or major in college that helped to prepare for the career track of Camp Director. I did summer “internships” of working in the battlefields of my industry of interest but when the fateful time came to walk the graduation walk, my dreams of becoming a Camp Director were still somewhat candy coated. I believed my work life would be filled with summers spent lakeside, green grass under my toes and echoes of spirited voices filling the clean mountain air. But these are the times that campers and camp staff revel in. Not necessarily the year-round Camp Director.
I’m sure many camp professionals can relate to the question, “What do you do the rest of the year?” which happens to be a favorite of mine. Without fail, anytime I meet someone new and share with them my profession, the follow up is “oh that’s awesome, so what do you do the rest of the year?” For me, I like to marinate on the question. I like to pretend like I’m pondering how original the question is and then rattle off a couple of easy breezy year-round roles of a camp director… recruitment, sales, marketing, communications, social media, permit applications, facility management, logistics, operations, development, fundraising, programming, staffing, staff training, staff development, program implementation, therapy (for families and staff), and all the administrative duties that come along with each of these professions. Sound awesome now? Awesomely challenging!
It wasn’t until I walked in the shoes of many camp mentors that I learned that being a Camp Director wasn’t all sunshine, sun tans and raspy instructions into a PA system.
This camp world took work. Actual, year-round, dedicated, long hours, separation from the world around you, travel, meals on the go, phone calls at all hours of the day, coordinated, puzzle-piecing, organizational, programmatic work. And this work didn’t just happen June through August. This was a full time gig.
Just like an event planner, we, the camp professionals plan for the big event. In my case the big event spans over the course of eight weeks. It is within these eight weeks that I hold my breath, pray I don’t turn blue and sigh when it’s all over and the last staff member has exited the premises. That feeling is awesome. The two weeks after are awesome. The outpour of emails, letters, Facebook postings and voicemails are incredibly rewarding and remind me why working my tuchus off for two months is well worth my while. If it wasn’t for the rest of the year, what would we have to live for?
As we round the end of the “off season” and head into the “camp season” I wish all my colleagues, camp professionals and those who live vicariously through the year-round work we do and incredibly awesome and successful summer season. Bask in the day dreams, embrace the hard decisions, recognize the supporters and appreciate that although challenging, we have the most awesome career in the world…
I hate when my parents ask me on visiting day or after camp “why weren’t you in any of pictures on the website?”
I have tried to explain my absence by just saying, “I wasn’t there at that moment,” or “I never get picked to be in the picture.” But now I will tell you the truth. The real reason that I am not in many pictures is that I don’t want to get pictures taken of me all the time. When a photographer comes by I just don’t want to interrupt my basketball game or soccer game or any other activity just so that I can pose for a picture. I am having fun and I just want to continue my game.
Parents of campers always get so worried when their kids aren’t in the daily camp pictures, but what they need to understand is that the kids who are NOT in the pictures are probably having even more fun than the kids IN the pictures!
Now, parents, please listen to what I am saying because I am speaking on behalf of your children. When you look on your camps’ websites and you don’t see your kids, PLEASE DON’T PANIC!!! Your kids are most probably just playing gaga or finishing an art project or hanging out with their friends. To be honest, they don’t want to be interrupted or bothered by the camp photographer – they are becoming independent. Isn’t that what you sent them to camp for?
Shavuot is a holiday often easily overlooked- many of us may not even realize that it has already passed! Shavuot commonly falls after the Hebrew School year has ended, and many of us associate it only with Confirmation ceremonies. In the most basic sense, Shavuot is the holiday that commemorates God giving the Torah to the Israelites. However, Shavuot is also ripe (pun intended) with significance for today on many other levels.
After the Land of Israel was conquered and divided, the nations of Israel established an agricultural society. In order to show gratitude to God, they were commanded to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple as a sacrifice on Shavuot. Each family brought a basket of the seven species described in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. In fact, one of the many names for Shavuot is hag ha bikkurim, The Festival of the First Fruits.
As the weather gets warmer and camp gets closer, farmers markets will likely start to pop up in your community. Depending on where in the country you live, the first fruits of your local harvest will be different. However, as a general rule, asparagus, strawberries, lettuces and peas are commonly among the first things to pop out of the soil in most of the Northeast. Consider using the concept of the first fruits of the festival of Shavuot as an inspiration for your own first fruits celebration. Make a trip to the farmers market with your kids before camp and plan a menu based on the first fruits you find in the market. Speak with one another about the benefits of local produce (hint: it’s fresher, more nutritious and better for the environment) and talk about how we can connect to our local agriculture just as the Israelites did thousands of years ago.
Here’s one recipe to get you started, but don’t feel limited- let the market speak to you and enjoy the kitchen creations that result!
Whole Wheat Linguini with Mint Pesto and 3 types of peas
1 lb whole wheat linguini
1 cup snow peas
1 cup sugar snap peas
½ cup frozen peas
¾ cup packed fresh mint leaves
¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
2 ½ tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
¼ cup shredded Parmesan
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- Fill a large pot ¾ of the way with heavily salted water and bring to a boil. Cook linguini according to package directions
- While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, take the ends off the sugar snap peas and snow peas and cut them in half
- Chop the mint, basil, and garlic in food processor until finely chopped
- Add the pistachios and pulse until they are well chopped, but not powdery
- Slowly stream in the olive oil
- Set aside in a small bowl and mix in the Parmesan by hand
- 2 minutes before the pasta is done add the snow peas, sugar snap peas, and frozen peas
- Drain the pasta, reserving 3 tablespoons of the cooking water
- Combine the herb mixture with the cooked pasta and peas and reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately
Last weekend, my husband and I toured the religious school my daughter will be attending in the fall for her Kindergarten year. She currently attends their preschool, so the tour was simply to get questions answered and for my husband to understand what religious school is all about.
My husband isn’t Jewish. He grew up as a non-practicing Catholic and has had a hard time understanding that we don’t pass a plate around, but rather, have to pay to be members of our synagogue. I grew up with membership dues as the norm (as have most of my Jewish friends). A lot of my friends are also in interfaith marriages and have had to explain the same thing to their spouses. It was also difficult for my husband to understand that kids have to go to religious school years in advance to prepare for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. For the longest time, he assumed it was just a big celebration, like a Sweet 16 party. Last month, he attended his first Bat Mitzvah and was amazed that she was able to stand up in front of so many people and sing/recite a language that was foreign to her. Of course, attending the reception was another story. Apparently my explanation didn’t do it justice. He didn’t quite realize that these parties were comparable to wedding receptions.
Before kids, being in an interfaith marriage didn’t mean much other than having the privilege of celebrating more holidays and not worrying about our parents fighting over us for Rosh Hashanah, Passover, or Christmas. Once we had kids, that all changed. We decided to raise our children Jewish (with the understanding that “Daddy’s parents celebrate Christmas, so we celebrate with them”). We agreed they would attend a Jewish preschool, religious school, and be Bar & Bat Mitzvah’d. Of course, being the Jewish parent, this all fell on me. Preschool has proven to be a HUGE help in educating my children on our religion. My daughter comes home singing Hebrew songs and is excited about all the holidays. Without any family nearby, teaching Jewish traditions to my family can be tough. And, to be honest, I haven’t been doing a great job. This is why it’s so important to me that my children attend a preschool and now religious school. While they will attend public school for their secular education, I want them to have an identity, and sense of belonging, and make friends with others like them.
A few of my friends have decided not to send their children to religious school for a few years, thinking they can catch up in third or fourth grade. For me, it’s not as much about learning Hebrew as it is learning about our culture, heritage, and beliefs. This is also why I send them to Jewish summer day camp and, when they get older, Jewish overnight camp. I never connected with people the way I did with friends I made at camp and through Judaism.
My childhood rabbi used to come into our religious school class every Sunday to visit and before he’d leave, he would remind us of his motto: “Being Jewish is FUN.” Being Jewish IS fun! Summer camp shows us how we can surround ourselves with fellow Jews and make long-lasting friendships, all while learning more about our Jewish culture. Religious school teaches us about our religion and prepares us for our rite of passage and celebration that is our Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I want my children to understand that; even if it means they have to go to school on Sundays! My husband has decided to start saving his shekels for our kids’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in eight and eleven years. So, maybe that part isn’t so fun…
It is interesting that as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot we start the reading the Book of Numbers. In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”
In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.
Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.
Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!
I often wonder if all roads lead us to the place where we are supposed to be. I don’t mean this to sound quite as philosophical as it might come across; I merely mean that there are so many moments in my life that are meant to be. The Chinese have an idea about this: it is called the red thread. This is the notion that when a child is born an invisible red thread connects the child to their past, present and future. As time passes all that is fated to be will happen.
I have a special place in my heart and soul for this thought. It started when I was 14 and a family who was Jewish asked me to babysit their adorable little girl. April had been adopted from Korea two years earlier and she and her parents were in the process of adopting her sister. I was babysitting for their family when little sister Jenna arrived and I continued to babysit for them through high school and well into college. The fact that their children were Asian and Jewish was something I noticed in a celebratory way. I loved the combination of the Korean masks that they had in their house and the menorah that sat right by it. It all made sense to me and seemed perfectly “normal.” I remember the girls going to Korean camp and having their bat-mitzvahs and recently have been blessed enough to watch April stand under the chuppah with her new husband. Asian and Jewish … it just seemed to fit.
Fast forward 20 years and my husband and I are talking about the choices we have in child getting. I have to be honest, for me the decision to adopt was very easy. I had this great example and well, it seemed to me that all the work in trying to have a child biologically was not really worth it if there were children who needed a home and we needed to be parents…. So adoption was the route we took… For my husband and me, this meant going to China in the winter of 2005 and adopting our Madeline Rose Hai Yan Chaya Shifra Nowack.
Fast forward seven years. I consciously chose a place to work that had a good deal of racial diversity for the Jewish community. And let’s be honest, racial diversity and American Jewry do not always go hand in hand. So, I chose to work at Camp JRF because there were other kids who looked like my daughter. There are kids of many races, and many different family styles at Camp JRF so I knew our daughter would fit in at this camp as much as she could in any place where most of the people look nothing like you. I was not prepared for Amy though.
Amy is a stunning 15 year old girl who was adopted from China in the 90s. She is part of the chalutzim, the early families who went to China when things were not as open as they are now. Amy is a smart, easy going girl who never really seemed phased by much at camp. A kid from the Midwest who never got caught up in the drama. So when she walked into my office and closed the door and started to cry I was shocked. She told me how I was the only one who could understand: someone had said something rude about Asians in her presence, not even connecting that she was Asian since, as this person said, “Well I mean you are Jewish…” And she was upset. Not even because her feelings were hurt but because she did not know how to feel. I looked at her and thought: “Oh …. This is that moment… When the red thread brought you to my office…”
We spoke for a while and we tried to solve all the racial issues of the Jewish community. We came up with the idea that nothing was going to be solved for a while. We spoke about how stupid people can be and how confusing things are and how even in the safest of places, like camp, reality is always there.
When Amy went back to her bunk she was better. Nothing was solved, but she knew she had a place to come to when she felt a bit weird about all of the stuff.
I, however, shut the door to my office and cried. I cried for all the kids who look different in one way or another and we as a Jewish community don’t remember that they are part of us. I cried for the moments when someone says something in front of me about others and assumes because I am Jewish I am going to agree with them. I cried because, truth be told, this was exactly what I had feared, that my decision to adopt our daughter and raise her Jewish would somehow leave her on the outside. Then I composed myself and celebrated. How great is it that my daughter can look to older campers and see someone who looks like her. That in her Hebrew school class there are three Asian Jewish girls – not all adopted. That the world gets smaller every day and that there are places all over where she can feel comfortable.
Mostly, I celebrated that the red thread had lead Amy to my office and Maddie to our home and that somehow this puzzle of race and culture and religion was going to be okay.