Monthly Archives: June 2013

Putting the “Refresh, Refresh, Refresh” to Good Use

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On Wednesday, my kids went analog. They hopped on the camp bus, leaving behind a trail of Instagram photos, Vine videos and Kik messages.  But just because they have to sign out of their digital life for the summer (and thank G-d they do!), doesn’t mean that I have to unplug completely too.  So instead of standing in the card aisle at my local store trying to find silly cards for them, I am going digital.

postcardLast summer, my eight year old came home with a bag filled with unopened letters.  “I was too busy doing stuff. It was just too much to read, and I can’t read your cursive anyway” she explained. Even though it seemed like too much, obviously, I would go down in history as the worst mom ever if there wasn’t a stack of letters waiting for them when they arrived at camp and a letter at every mail call after that. The one-way email to camp is great – and each morning as I commute to work I try and find a new way of saying “Daddy and I went to work yesterday and then out for dinner.” Yet, as convenient as it is, I feel the need to send something a little more personal. With the help of a few new apps, my letter writing just got a little more creative – and a whole lot easier for me and my happy campers.

The photocard apps are my new best friends.  On vacation? Voilà – a picture of you in front of the Golden Gate bridge, on a postcard, is delivered to camp in 2-7 days.  Last day of school pictures that didn’t make it into the trunks?  Pop it out on a photocard from Red Stamp to hang right on the bunk wall.  Just a few clicks, and you have a completely customized postcard from wherever you are.  There are a slew of options with different price points, features and platforms. These are my favorites thus far (no actual stamps required!):

Postcard Star: This made me a very cool mom last summer.  I bought the pictures from the camp website, uploaded them onto a postcard, and then let the app print, stamp and send.  The kids get pictures of their bunkmates while they are still at camp.  A little instant gratification. The app itself is no frills, making it easy to send individual postcards. The cards print nicely and get to their destination quickly. Set up an account and you can buy postcards in bulk.

Postcard on the Run: Simple to use – pick a photo from your phone’s camera roll, pick a border thickness and color and add your signature using your finger.  There is even an address finder feature and you can add a GPS map to the card.  The only downfall – the message is only 200 characters.  I guess that could be a plus in some situations.

Red Stamp:  The most sophisticated option I have found.  I sent a few of these this weekend to my girls and their friends.  There is a great selection of modern templates for every occasion with options to add photos or just customize text. “BESTIES” fit in nicely with my last day of school pics, I had a lot of fun with the mustache templates and there is even grouping with pop-out photos. For an extra 99 cents, you can purchase a premium template to use over and over again.  The app lets you save addresses and send the same card to multiple people. You even get an email when the card goes in the mail. There is a desktop version available as well.

Now, if only I could figure out how to make the everyday of my life without them sound as exciting as what they are doing!

Posted on June 28, 2013

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This month, my husband and co-director, Gilad, and I are grateful for our wonderful camp kehillah (community) and for life and health. Two weeks ago, the Black Forest Fire in Colorado necessitated that we evacuate the JCC Ranch Camp just 3.5 days into our first session of the camp season. I’m happy to report that not only did all of our 140 campers and 80+ staff make it off site without incident, so did our 37 horses, 5 chickens, 3 cats, 2 goats, 8 dogs, and 2 cows.

miriamFaced with this urgent situation and subsequent logistical challenge as we were, Gilad and I had a unique opportunity to assess what really matters to us in our life together. I can tell you without a doubt that what we concluded is that what really matters are the people and animals that we share our life with and not our material possessions. For the past six years, we have chosen to live at Ranch Camp year-round; camp is literally our home. When faced with losing everything we own in the Black Forest Fire, I can honestly say that when I had a few moments to decide what to take with us upon evacuation, it did not take me long because I knew in my heart what was really important to me – and it was not much. I am happy to have gone through this experience because it afforded me a rare opportunity for self-reflection and renewed perspective, which has been both extremely gratifying and refreshing.

I’m grateful to report that not only did our camp site remain safe and untouched by the fires, but we were able to welcome campers back to camp the morning of June 17th to resume our camp session! We feel so blessed to be a part of a wonderful and supportive camp community and appreciate the outpouring of love and good wishes since our evacuation. I hope that we will not have to go through this again but I feel quite confident now that whatever might befall us in the future, we will come through it successfully and be stronger for it.

Posted on June 27, 2013

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How Very Welcoming

lenoreHi Readers! Here’s the sign a nature center director is about to take down from the local preserve where, for the record, there are no cliffs, no plunging ravines, no standing water, no wild animals beyond the usual squirrel-type thing, no snakes, and no evil trees. There IS some poison ivy. Anyway, as he put it, “It is really a welcoming sign, isn’t it?”

The great thing about camp? There’s “caution,” of course, but it’s not extreme in the face of non-extreme, day-to-day, child-and-nature encounters.

And a tank battalion, when possible.



Posted on June 26, 2013

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What’s In Your Duffel Bag?

As we gear up for camp every year, there is so much work to be done. Schedules to be finalized, outfits to be tagged and folded lovingly into duffel bags, water bottles to be cleaned. I remember how practical it was, writing my initials on all of my white athletic socks, not just for camp laundry, but also because all 6 of my family members wore the exact same style and brand.

Copy of SBBMy camp prep begins in August.  Once the campers leave, I return to my “winter” life – 4 days a week at The Davis Academy, a Reform Day School in Atlanta, and 1 day a week at the URJ Camp Coleman office. At Davis, I labbed prayer programming with middle schoolers and 3rd graders, helped work on exciting study programs, and began construction on an awesome interfaith program.  During my 1 day at Coleman (referred to affectionately as “Yom Coleman”), I learned about year-round operations, met with leadership, traveled to Israel, and structured camp’s programmatic success 2013 (and beyond).

A few weeks before Leadership Week, many of camp’s programmers and unit heads gathered in Tampa, FL, to prepare for the summer. In addition to learning about important Jewish texts and their place in our work, we had the unique opportunity to join one of our congregations for a camp send-off Shabbat. Dressed in our finest Coleman attire, we spoke to the congregation about what we love at camp, with a focus on Shabbat.

Veteran and neophyte staff joined together in talking about values, singing, dancing, smiling, hugging, and, as my teacher taught me to say, “Our very best friend the Torah.” Much of what we spoke about was the intangible stuff that comes home with you from camp.

Our joint speech moved each of us and got us ready for summer.  And we’d like to think that the members of that congregation got excited to fill their own duffels with the perfect physical things when they set out on their journey – and to fill their hearts and minds to prepare them for the long road home, after camp. You can’t put that Shabbat feeling in your duffel bag, but your camp is certainly going to put it in your heart!

Posted on June 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

The “Nervited” Camp Director

T-minus three days until my camp staff arrive.  Ten days until our teens arrive. Nine months ago I was shrugging in confusion that the summer was over and I had no idea where it went. Now, I’m in complete “denial” that it’s all happening again … or so I thought.

mollyLet me explain. I have previously shared about the 10 months in between the end of a camp season and the start of a new one. Much of what I shared was about the fullness you feel by the amount of work there is to be done. And the satisfaction you feel when it is all over and the message is of success. But now, here I am only days away from my favorite time in my year, more so in my career cycle, and I’m floating in what feels like a state of complete and utter denial.

What is it that I’m in denial of? This is the interesting part. Every day for the past 2 weeks colleagues and friends have asked, “How are you feeling?” “When does camp start?” “Are you ready?” Many of these questions evoke mild feelings of anxiety but more so the response, “I’m good, just in a state of denial.”

Is it really denial? I had to do myself a favor and look up the proper (Wikipedia) definition of denial, because all I kept hearing in my head was… “Whoever denied it supplied it” (thank you, camp, for that one!). Anyway, when I looked up the word “deny” and saw its actual definition; asserting that a statement or allegation is not true, this did not help to clarify the feelings I have been facing. The definition continued; a psychological defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead. This definition is a bit more relatable but not quite. Then I thought about a word my college girls and I used to toss around when describing the end of our Lehigh days and the start of our “real lives.” NERVITED- the feeling of being nervous and excited.

It was as if the fog cleared for me. I’m not in denial about the culmination of a years worth of work coming to its climax, I’m nervited about it. I’m not feeling like I want to reject all the staff and teens that are headed my way in a couple of days; I’m nervited about how they will receive each other, our camp program and me. I’m not too uncomfortable leaving the regularity of my day to day New York City life behind; I’m nervited about the changes this will bring. I am nervous about the unknown. I am excited by the unknown. I am crystal clear that I am not one to deny… but always one to take the challenge head on.

This feeling of nervited-ness is a common one.  It’s one I talk to parents, families, teens and staff about regularly. It’s a changing feeling that flutters through your belly and radiates through your face. To all who prepare to embark on new experiences, engage in new relationships and try something out of the ordinary, the best advice I can give you is don’t deny the nervousness and excitement of it all, embrace it. To be nervited gives you a whole lot to look forward to! Summer of 2013, I’m ready for you … now get here.

Posted on June 21, 2013

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Busy, Busy, Busy

Camp is almost here.  As you pack the duffel bags, label the underwear, and organize the toiletries you have to remind the kids that camp hasn’t yet started and that they need to continue to do their school work…you must be tired!  Your kids, on the other hand, have never had more energy.  You want to plan a festive meal to give them an extra warm memory of home (even though they will likely forget all about you the minute they find their bunk bed and hug their best friend from last summer), but you just don’t know if you have the energy for it!

rachelThis scenario can be replaced with any of a hundred others at any time during the year.  Meetings, sports games, activities, errands, play dates, doctor’s appointments and more seem to crowd our calendars, and often healthy food is one of the casualties.  Instead of dinners full of whole grains, lean protein and ample fresh veggies, many of us opt for convenience foods like frozen meals and fast food.  I promise- life doesn’t have to be this way!  Take a look at some of these tips for quick, healthy cooking and try out the recipe below for a delicious meal that promises tasty, easy and healthy leftovers.

– Look for one pot meals and recipes
– Purchase pre-prepped veggies- the extra cost is worth your time!
– Purchase frozen veggies to use in soups and casseroles- they have just as much, if not more, nutrition as fresh veggies
– Raid the salad bar to make a salad for your family
– Train yourself to have better knife skills
– Prepare things according to the time it takes to cook them- start the foods that take the longest first!
– Purchase and cook foods with other meals in mind- cook chicken once for two different meals
– Use a crock pot
– Use recipes with fewer ingredients
– Pre-read the recipe
– Keep food in the house!  Chicken and meat in the freezer and a stocked pantry mean less trips to the store
– Get older kids to help

 Black Bean Edamame Pasta Salad
Serves 8


8 ounces soba noodles
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp dark sesame oil
¼-½ tsp sriracha sauce or other Southeast Asia chili sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 garlic clove
1 x 1 inch piece ginger
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 can black beans
1 bunch scallions
1 ½ cups sugar snap peas
1 carrot
1 small head bok choy
1 red pepper
1 cup frozen edamame


  1. Boil the water for the soba noodles and cook them according to the package instructions
  2. Whisk the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, teriyaki sauce, canola oil, sesame oil, Sriracha sauce and brown sugar in the bottom of a large mixing bowl
  3. Mince the garlic and ginger together on the cutting board with the kosher salt until they release their juices and form a paste
  4. Whisk this into the soy sauce dressing at the bottom of the bowl
  5. Drain and rinse the black beans and partially mash them with a fork
  6. Thinly slice the scallions and add them to the mixture.  Set aside
  7. Remove the ends from the snap peas and cut them in half
  8. Thinly slice the carrot and bok choy and dice the red pepper
  9. Spray a large sauté pan with cooking spray and sauté the sugar snap peas, bok choy, carrots, red pepper and edamame over high heat until the leafy parts of the bok choy are just wilted and the rest of the vegetables are still crispy
  10. Add the vegetables to the noodles and serve while still warm, or refrigerate and eat cold

Posted on June 18, 2013

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Summer Lovin’ – Samantha & Brian


Scan.BMPWhen/how/where at camp did you meet?
We met in the picnic grove during lunch, on the second day of staff training in the summer of 2002.  Sam was an SIT (staff in training) that summer and came up early during staff training week (with her mom who was a nurse) to hang out with her friends who were already counselors. Brian happened to be friends with her friends.  We also happened to both still be wearing a concert bracelet from the week before, so that broke the ice for us.

Was it love right away?
No, it wasn’t.  Sam wasn’t that interested in Brian, so we remained friends that summer.

What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
We stayed friends, and luckily Sam was at the University of Illinois and Brian was at University of Wisconsin so it wasn’t too far to visit.  After a couple of visits up to UW and spending time together on breaks, we were official in February 2003 and have been together ever since.  While Sam was staffing Camp Chi’s Pacific Northwest trip, Brian flew out to South Dakota and proposed in front of all her campers at Mt. Rushmore.

Michael Lee PhotographyWill you send your kids to your camp?
We’d love to send our future kids to Camp Chi, we could only hope that they would make the best friends that we’ve both made and maybe even be a 2nd generation of Camp Chi spouses.

Samantha (Sam) and Brian Isenstein were married in 2011 at JCC’s Camp Chi.  Sam is the Youth Community Director at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, IL.  She went to the University of Illinois and majored in International Studies and the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Davidson School of Jewish Education where she received her Masters in Jewish Education. Sam spent 12 fantastic summers at Camp Chi in Lake Delton, WI as a camper, SIT, counselor supervisor and trip leader.  Brian is an IT dude for a mid-sized accounting firm in Chicago.  He went to the University of Wisconsin and Depaul University in Chicago where he received his Masters of Science in Business Information Technology.  Brian spent 13 summers at Camp Chi as a camper, SIT and counselor.  

Posted on June 14, 2013

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Aleph, Bet…

I remember being a little kid, maybe four or five, when my dad sat me down with a workbook and began teaching me to read Hebrew. He didn’t know what any of the words meant, but he could read it and teach me to read it as well. I also remember it seeming really important to him. In fact, being so young, I think that Hebrew workbook is my earliest memory of homework. I don’t remember enjoying it one bit.


Jon and his dad in Israel

When I was in fourth grade, a Jewish day school opened in my neighborhood in Memphis. My parents transferred me there but my Hebrew comprehension was non-existent. I only knew how to read, but not how to understand. I was behind most of the other students…I struggled. And, again, I didn’t enjoy learning the language.

Then came the summer before sixth grade. My parents sent me to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, a sleepaway camp in the northwoods of Wisconsin. A camp where all the public announcements were in Hebrew. Where all the singing in the dining hall was in Hebrew. Where all the prayer services (and there were lots of these at Camp Ramah) were in Hebrew. And, most importantly, where all the musical theater performances were in Hebrew, too.  I had already been bitten by the acting bug in my local community children’s theater in Memphis. So in my second summer in camp, when I had the opportunity to audition for a part in the musical (Free to Be You And Me) I was so excited! But Hebrew? I could read it, I could memorize my lines, but I still wouldn’t know what they meant. I was doomed. Until I wasn’t. Until I started learning my lines for more than just how to pronounce them, but for the meaning behind them. I got a solo song that summer. Singing, in Hebrew, alone in front of 600 people. The song? “It’s All Right To Cry.”  And you know what? I did. The entire time I sang it. Cried. But I made it through.

And the next few summers I got to play Fagan in Oliver! and Kenickie in Grease and Berger in Hair. All in Hebrew. That’s when I really started learning the language. I was understanding Hebrew!  Then I went to Israel on Ramah Seminar in the summer of 1998. And I was able to ask Israelis how much things cost, what time it was, and, most importantly, where the sherutim (restrooms) were. It was an amazing summer.

Fast forward to the summer of 2005. My family went on a trip to Israel – and it was my father’s first time there. Seeing my father see Israel for the first time was pretty special. Seeing my father watch as I navigated us around Israel, showing off my Hebrew? Priceless.  I owe my Hebrew skills (which are still improving) to my father for teaching me how to read and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for teaching me how to understand. I couldn’t be more grateful to both. Todah Rabbah!

Posted on June 13, 2013

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“Don’t Forget!” Preparing Your Kids for Camp … and Beyond

I was nine years old my first summer at camp. When I came home, my mother (who had never been a camper herself) unzipped my duffel bag and was shocked — everything was wet, smelly, covered with sand, and starting to turn a little green. The next summer, as we packed for what I knew would be the best three weeks of the year, she sat me down and told me that I should remember three things while I was away: have fun, don’t do anything stupid, and, most importantly, don’t mix wet with dry. When I went to college, she put a note in my bag telling me how proud she was of me and reminding me of these same three rules. For my family, these have become shorthand for how to take care of yourself.

Copy of 110707.CampJRF.-265Over the past few weeks, there have been blog posts sprouting up about preparing for camp. Certainly there are clothes to buy, envelopes to address, bags to pack. In the midst of all these logistics, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important — preparing your kids for an experience of growth and self-exploration. As a camp director, it’s my job to provide an environment for your kids to thrive and grow; as parents, it’s your job to give them the grounding they need to make this possible. So, here are some things I’ve learned from parents (and campers) along the way that may help you take a break from packing to get your kids really ready for camp…

Don’t forget family traditions! One Friday afternoon, I was running around camp getting ready for Shabbat. I walked through the office and saw a fax coming off the machine for one of our teen campers. I looked over and was perplexed: on the piece of paper were images of two hands. At dinner that night, I handed the paper to the camper and her eyes lit up. “They are my dad’s hands,” she said, as she turned the paper over and put it on her head. “He blesses me every week for Shabbat, and since we’re not together, this is how he can do it.” As the weeks of that summer and many others followed, I always knew that the fax machine would ring just before Shabbat or the FedEx would arrive on Friday morning. And I knew that, even though they were in different places, this father would always bless his daughter for Shabbat.

Kids love being away at camp, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be connected to what’s going on at home. If you bless your child on Friday night, send her the blessing in a note every week. If you read your child a poem every night before he falls asleep, send it on a card for him to post next to his bed. Showing kids that they can be independent but also deeply connected to you is one of the most important parts of sending them away.

Don’t forget to ask for help! A friend sent her oldest child to camp a few years ago with an instruction: when they take your picture for the website, put a thumbs up if you’re doing okay and if something is wrong, leave your hands at your side. This was their way of ensuring that, if something was wrong, the mother would know to call camp to check it out.

On one hand, I love this: a secret code between parent and child that allows them to communicate “in real time” over the summer when we don’t allow phone calls, emails, or texts.  On the other hand, I hope that parents will also tell their children: if you’re having a hard time, make sure you to talk to a friend or a counselor. If that person isn’t able to help you feel better, go talk to a group leader or head counselor. (Think of it kind of like asking to speak with a manager when you don’t get the answer you want from customer service.) And if that doesn’t work — go straight to the top. I know that every camp is set up differently and that camp directors are busy people. But I, for one, want to know if a kid is having a tough time so that we can work together to make things better; as camp professionals, we live for these moments when we can help kids overcome challenges.

It’s good that this mother and son had a way to ensure that both had peace of mind during his first summer away. But it’s also important to teach your kid that sometimes she needs to speak up for herself when she’s unhappy. It’s important for kids to know that there are adults, in addition to their parents, they can trust. Camp is a safe place to try this out.

Don’t forget who you are! Camps are fond of saying that they help children to build character. At Camp JRF, we help campers (and staff) understand that they aren’t building who they are — they just need to be who they already are, being sure to live their values and ideals in all they do. Our staff has heard me tell this story many times: I walked by two 12-year-old boys, one of whom was with us for the first time and had, apparently, just made fun of another camper. The other boy, who was with us for his second summer, looked at him and said: “that’s not how we act here.” This boy took pride in our camp culture, but he also took pride in his role as a friend, an ally, and a member of the community.

Before they leave for camp, talk with your kids about values. Remind them of their deepest held values. Discuss what it means to stand up for someone else. Let them know how proud you are of them for remembering to be their best selves, even in moments where it’s challenging.

So as you finish those last minute preparations for this summer, take a moment to remind your kids of who they are as individuals and as part of your family. Remind them of the blessings you share with them, let them know that it’s okay (even more than okay!) to ask for help, and give them the power to stand up for others.

Oh yeah — and don’t forget to tell them not to mix wet with dry.

Posted on June 11, 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 Cell Phone Controversy

As a camper for many years, I’m a regular to knowing the most basic and common camp rules. For instance, the “no cell phones allowed” rule. To us cell phone and technology addicted youth of this generation, many people originally find this rule to be a bit of a pain in the bum. No one wants to leave their beloved battery-powered friend behind, but that’s the exact reason it’s a banned item at camp.

0014_110811-FJC_x46As I see it, the amazing camp directors make the “no cell phones” rule so that today’s generation (my generation), who are so used to using their phones as social outlets and distractions, get out there and make real friends. There, I said it, we kids today need to learn how to make a living, breathing, not battery-powered friend. The cell phone age children are slowly losing their social skills and need to try to put the phones away for once.

This well thought-out rule makes sure that happens. When the phones go away the kids are miserable for five minutes but then guess what, they start up a conversation with another kid. Yes! They have a face to face, words-coming-out-of-mouth conversation! You know what happens next? These two campers without phones have both made a friend! It’s that simple!

qwynnIt’s a good thing that these genius directors made a rule to get rid of all cell phones because camp is a place where kids go to have fun and make new friends, which is definitely not a technology-only thing. Sure, you can “friend” people on Facebook and play people on Words with Friends, but can you have the summer of your dreams with your nose inches from your phone? Not possible.

If you think going to camp without a phone will be tough, you can forget about that! Trust me, not only does it help you realize that you are capable of making friends, but you will actually look forward to going to your phone-free camp! You will look forward to the time where everyone is happy talking directly to each other and not having those awkward silences as someone answers a text.

So go! Try out camp without a phone! You won’t be sorry because it is a great experience to be free of the internet incorporated world for a few weeks! Camp is one of the most fun places in the world so don’t waste your summer anywhere else on that cellular device! Coming back to it at the end of the summer will be a cool experience too! Never will you ever have that many notifications! Have an amazing cell phone free summer everybody!

Posted on June 10, 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