We are told very early on in our Jewish history of the importance of ruling over our lands responsibly, of tilling and tending to them as shomrei adamah, guardians of the land. It is also something on our minds now more than ever as we endeavor to use events outside our control as a catalyst for responsible growth and stewardship.
On August 17, less than one week after the last of our summer campers went home, the Rim Fire ignited in the Stanislaus National Forest, mere miles from Camp Tawonga. A hunter’s illegal campfire caught the surrounding brush on fire and for the next month a wildfire, that spread over 400 square miles, would become the third largest in California state history, destroying landscape, livelihoods and property.
Through the heroic efforts of firefighting personnel and our own fire suppression practices, Camp Tawonga was spared the worst of the damage, losing three of our 71 buildings and suffering (repairable) damage to some of our program areas. You can see some of that impact in these photos and this video we shared with our community.
It is easy to rush into decisions when a new building or programming space is needed. It is easy to listen to the loudest voice in the room, the voice promising the quickest results or the cheapest options. But we know from years of experiences across all aspects of camp operations that “people support the things they help create.” Knowing that, we take this opportunity to bring people together from across our community to hear their vision not only for what camp will look like next summer but in ten summers.
When constructing something new on land that we were gifted and on which we will ultimately be only passing visitors it is important to consider many factors. These factors include, but are not limited to money, aesthetics, our mission and ethics, green practices, safety, legacy and stewardship. Aligning these vectors may be a time consuming process but will yield results that are lasting and loved.
The four following spiritual reflections lie for us at the heart of all land use decision making:
- We are grateful for all that has been given.
- We are mindful that we are only temporary stewards of this land, holding it for those to come.
- We accept the mitzvah (commandment) to tikkun olam (repair the world).
- We believe it is idolatry to worship the things of our own creation.
By keeping these reflections in mind we harken back to that initial God-given charge to our ancestors, protect and guard the earth.
Discussions such as the chatter above were floating around the Davis Academy Middle School before experiential Tefillah last Monday morning. Tefillahpolooza featured the prayerful stylings of 13 different teachers. It included teachers both Jewish and non-Jewish, academic and dramatic, texty and crafty. There was something for every multiple intelligence: songwriting, sports, movies, drumming, dramatics, photography, meditation, Torah and gratitude were all covered.
So how did this come to be? As the Nadiv Educator at the Davis Academy, I’m part of a dynamic Judaic Studies team. We work together and spend plenty of time pondering and discussing (as, of course, is tradition) how to make Tefillah engaging for our students. Tefillahpolooza was piloted – and enjoyed – last year, so this year, we turned it up to 13, so to speak. Thirteen teachers were lined up to do something instead of last year’s seven. We tapped teachers from many different departments and three administrators took time to facilitate sessions. It was all in at the Davis Academy, and the options were delicious:
- Banging on Things (Drumming & Spirituality)
- Judaism is Texty (Literature, Movies & Religion)
- Our hiSTORY (Storytelling & Judaism)
- Spirits Soar & Spirits Roar (Slam Poetry & God)
- Make Note, Give Notes (Gratitude & Attitude)
- A Day in the Post-Life (Chaye Sarah Parsha Discussion)
- Get Up, Stand Up (Active Amidah)
- #PhotoTefillah (Photography & Prayer)
- Meditation Service (Spirituality & Prayer)
- Crafty Judaism (Arts & Judaism)
- Ein Kleine Prayermusik (Music and Prayer)
- What are the #miracles in your life that you are most #thankful 4? (Daily Miracles)
- Sporty Spirituality (Athletics & Spirituality)
What was the result?
For me, it meant sharing some activities I’ve done at camp or the Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s Cornerstone Fellowship (that’s Chana Rothman’s “Banging on Things” and Jon Adam Ross’s “Get Up Stand Up” in the lineup) with colleagues as they developed their own lessons. It meant talking about religion and spirituality with a number of teacher from different faith backgrounds. It meant being consistently wowed by and grateful for the thoughtful colleagues I work with at school.
It means trying to figure out how to expand the service choices given at camp in order to mimic the small-group magic of 20+ kids learning to meditate while sitting on the floor.
It means that gratitude for daily miracles were blowing up on Twitter while a Torah timeline was being sketched in a Language Arts classroom. It meant, for one student, it meant that God was HERE, and he taped that very word to the front of his shirt to prove the point.
It meant, as another student wrote, that s/he “thinks that prayer is a way of communication and kehillah (community).”
It meant that we were formed thusly, for 40 minutes, with 13 choices, over 200 students and teachers, many ways to communicate…and that we were one whole community.
He was bubbling over with excitement. He had heard so much about this place. This was his first time away from home. And somehow he knew that his life was going to be different after coming here. While he knew that he was going to miss his family, he was excited to make new friends, and yes he was excited to possibly meet a special someone. As they arrived he could not stay in his seat.
I am sure that this story rings true for you if you remember going to camp for the first time. All of the excitement, all of those expectations of what that summer has in store. As the bus lurched forward you felt yourself opening up to the people on the bus. You were hardly able to sit in your seat as the bus pulled off the main road and you saw that first sign for your camp. You had never been there before, but as you pulled in you knew that you were home.
While this is my story of going to camp for the first time, this definitely echoes what I heard from my eldest son after his first summer at camp, or at least what I got out of him. Similarly, the story of Rebecca that we read in last week’s Torah portion says:
Then Rebecca and her maids got ready and mounted their camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebecca and left. Now Isaac had come from Be’er Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she fell off the camel. (Genesis 24:61- 64)
Rebecca was that first happy camper coming “home.” She fell in love at first sight. Just as I fell in love as a camper. It was not with a person – those crushes and relationships came and went. It was not with that place, even though it will endure in my memory as a place filled with kiddusha, holiness. I fell in love with who I was at camp.
Many years ago my camp supervisor mailed me the following story:
Once there was a Rebbe who had a Yeshiva. His son studied in the Yeshiva. One day the son took off the afternoon to go walking in the forest. The father said nothing. But over time the son took to taking off every afternoon to walk in the forest. At this point the father realized that he needed to confront his son. The Rebbe said to his son, “I hear that you are walking in the forest every afternoon. Why are you doing this?” The son replied that he was looking for God. The Rebbe was puzzled and asked, “Did I not teach you that God is the same everywhere?” The son replied, “Abba, I know that God is the same everywhere, but I am not.”
When and where in my life was I more open to being all of whom I aspired to become? It was when I got off that bus for the first time, and it was at camp.
While I love the place and I love that time in my life, I realize that I owe a lot to my counselors. More than what I saw in them as role models, it was what my role models saw in me when I tumbled off that bus. They shared with me a glimpse of the person that I am still working on becoming. And that is why I fell in love with camp.
This year, the proverbial “holiday season” comes earlier than usual, with the much-ballyhooed convergence of Hannukah and Thanksgiving. This means that I am online virtually every free second I have: as I am two weeks or so away from giving birth to my fifth child, this means, someone has to handle getting 32 gifts for the other four kids. I’m hoping the newborn won’t notice she’s not getting anything.
The “holiday season,” after all, has become a euphemism for the Season of Stuff. The newspapers delivered to the house bleed out ads and coupons for Stuff. Suddenly, every catalog company in the world has found my address, and is intent on selling me everything from a reindeer sweater for my nonexistent dog to a $1500 foot-massager/tooth-brusher.
The implicit message of all this ‘holiday’ consumerism is that if you love someone, you need to show them that you love them by Buying Them Stuff. The stretch for ‘stuff’ for Those Who Already Have Everything extends beyond the reasonable into the bizarre: a $1k diaper bag?
I’m not a fan of status symbols or logos generally, and am more inclined to be moved by an honest and thoughtful card than fancypants jewelry I will rarely wear. So maybe that’s why all this getting and spending doesn’t thrill me to the bone…and why I was so surprised to find that it was such an integral part of the Going-To-Camp-Experience as well.
This idea that Buying Stuff equals Love is threaded almost seamlessly into the camp experience. Sending kids to camp for the first time, as most people become aware very quickly, involves purchasing tons of stuff you might not otherwise have occasion to buy, from moisture-wicking cargo pants to sleeping bags to ponchos. You do all this because it is necessary, because it is on the shopping list provided by the camp, and because you want to make sure your kid is as equipped as possible for a summer without you.
Then we start getting into the “extras.” The battery-powered fans. The squirt bottles. A $30 nightlight shaped like a gummy bear. A $48 personalized yoga mat (for those moments of clarity, perhaps?). Pre-printed address labels so the poor kid won’t have to take the time to write out your home address on those letters. One mother told me that her local camp store recommended she purchase a portable chair for her son, telling her they were “popular because the kids don’t like to always sit in the grass.” Huh?? And, the same mother told me, “the de rigeur present to open when he gets to camp…because a kid who goes to a $10k summer camp really needs MORE GIFTS” And please don’t get me started on the second iPhone for when the camp confiscates the first one.
Not only does all this stuff get expensive, but its endless production also goes against the grain of what camp is allegedly about. These items foster a mentality of coddling rather than self-reliance. They nurture a sense of “Mom and Dad will take care of it for me” rather than “I may actually be hot and sweaty once in a while – it’s summer camp, and it’s okay!”
I’m not sure how a camp would go about outlawing “stuff.” But maybe opening a candid discussion about it would be a good thing.
One of the most amazing lessons kids can learn at camp is how to look at the world with a different perspective. The boys who are “dorky” during the school year become cool because of their ability to win an eating contest or go the longest without changing their socks, the absence of TV and other electronic distractions opens a world of imagination and interpersonal connectedness, and living in a Jewish environment allows campers to bond with their tradition on a meaningful, intense, and personalized level. Camp opens possibilities for campers in ways that would otherwise not be possible.
When kids view the world through a new lens they are awakened to opportunities of change, renewal, and deeper connections to their surroundings. However, this ability to see differently often ends when the last bus pulls away from camp. How can we keep this profoundly important thought process alive between summers in a way that feels both authentic and important? One way can be through food, and another through creating new traditions. Let’s talk about the food first, and next month I’ll share my thoughts on what is now widely known as “Thanksgivukah.”
One thing that is most amazing about healthy eating is that there are always new ways of understanding food, new possibilities for how to understand the taste, flavor, texture, and composition of foods. Although your campers have likely been home from the eye-opening world of camp for many weeks now, they are likely left with the desire to continue to see and understand their world in new ways. So, this month I encourage you to open your kids’ eyes to some surprising, exciting and interesting ways of looking at common foods. Hopefully in the process you will give them a new understanding of spaghetti (or spaghetti squash!), apples, or tofu, to name a few.
Savory Sautéed Apples
1 large yellow onion
4 medium sweet, crisp apples, such as fuji
2 cloves garlic
3 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
- Peel and thinly slice onion.
- Peel and cut apples into ½ inch slices.
- Mince garlic, thyme and rosemary.
- Heat olive oil in large sauté pain over high heat.
- Add onions and cook until they begin to soften.
- Add apples, garlic, rosemary and thyme and cook 5-8 minutes, until the apples onions are nicely browned.
- Remove from heat and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Top with cheese.
Spaghetti Squash with Mushrooms and Spinach
1 spaghetti squash (3-4 pounds)
8 ounces cremini mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ pound baby spinach
- Prick squash all over with a fork or knife, like you would a potato. Microwave on high for 5-8 minutes, depending on the power of your microwave. Turn over and microwave another 5-8 minutes or until the squash feels tender to the touch. Alternatively, roast the squash in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until soft.
- Meanwhile, thinly slice the mushrooms and mince the garlic.
- When the squash is done, cut it in half and gently scoop out the seeds. Scrape out the strings of squash into a bowl with a fork.
- Heat olive oil over high heat in a large sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and almost fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and cook 2 more minutes, or until garlic is lightly browned.
- Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan and cook until all of the liquid cooks off.
- Add in the spinach and cook until it wilts, about 1 minute. Combine the mixture with the spaghetti squash, season with additional salt and pepper if needed, and serve.
1 (12.3 ounce) package silken tofu
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa
¼ cup strong coffee
1 tablespoon soy milk
½ cup sugar
- Puree the tofu in a food processor until it is very smooth.
- Fill a small saucepot with 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer. Put the chocolate chips, cocoa, coffee, and soy milk in a bowl that fits in the pot of water but does not touch the water. Stir continuously until the chocolate chips are melted.
- Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and slowly add the sugar, mixing well. Add to the pureed tofu and puree until smooth and well blended.
- Spoon the mousse into serving dishes and refrigerate at least 2 hours to allow the mousse to set.
A camp professional in my adult life, I have always been a camper at heart. I have the deepest, most meaningful relationship with my camp experiences, memories and friends. So much so that five of my friends from my summers away at sleepaway camp and I took a weekend away from our lives—leaving behind significant others and children to escape to the place where time has no meaning. A place where six, 30-something year old women can play, dance, relax and, most of all, laugh like not a moment of time or space has kept us apart. It was a camp weekend away together in the traditional camp setting of sports, arts, waterfront activities, buffet meals and awkward encounters with perfect strangers that rejuvenated my love for why I do what I do.
Much of this year I have spent questioning myself as to why do I do what I do? If I told you this past summer was sunshine, rainbows and easy breeziness I wouldn’t just be lying to you but I’d be lying to myself. This past summer, like the previous in my camp professional career, was hard work. It wasn’t fun. I didn’t laugh uncontrollably or appreciate moments like I did in the days when I was a camper I pushed through, sometimes counting down portions of the day or week just to have time goals to achieve. Was it harder than usual? Maybe. Was it different? Possibly. Was I still doing something I love? Yes. But did I want to cry? If you know me then you know the answer is yes and some days I did (in the privacy of my own moment—although these are few and far between in a summer camp day). Do I want to go through this again? Absolutely… and the reason is because of the long lasting benefit of what this time (these times) can and will stimulate for my camp community. The community we create over the course of 3 weeks of a summer, twice a summer.
On my recent weekend away, one of my dear friends poetically captioned a posted photo “time is meaningless,” actually it was #timeismeaningless. I have spent days reflecting and reusing this simple yet completely complex statement. If you were to replace the word ‘time’ with any other word, this statement would carry a completely different feeling. Try it… Right? But when it comes to time, when it comes to the distance, the space, the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years…when it comes to your camp friends, time really is meaningless. You can pick up from the exact moment you are in and nothing has changed. Even if everything has changed, that friendship in that time has gone unscathed. The time between the two has no meaning but the friendship has all the meaning in the world.
It is times like these that I hope cultivate each camp season. It is this meaningless sense of time that acts as the gift I can provide to my camp community and in turn, the reward for me is the reminder how these times have shaped me. As hard as a day feels, as frustrating or difficult as a conversation can be, the times that we create at camp and the friendships that create those times are the definition to why I do what I do and why I will always remain the camper at heart.
In addition to beginning to plan for the upcoming 2014 camping season, Gilad and I find ourselves also busy preparing to become new parents in approximately three months. We recently started Jewish Baby University (JBU) classes through the JCC, which are not only helping us gain important knowledge about items related to delivery and infant care but perhaps more importantly, giving us an opportunity to discuss how we want to create and maintain a Jewish home.
Rabbi Jeffrey Kaye, a community leader, Ranch Camp parent, and JBU instructor, led a session for the group that Gilad and I found to be very interesting and I want to share it with you here. In the Talmud (Kiddushin 29a)*, there is a list of things that parents are obligated to do for their child after birth. Interestingly enough, basic necessities such as providing food, shelter, care, and love for a child are absent from the list. Perhaps the Talmudists felt that these were items likely not to be neglected by parents and therefore unnecessary to mention. Instead, “spiritual care” items are listed related to the obligation to provide a child with knowledge about values, morals, and a sense of shared history or collective memory (Torah). This is interesting in and of itself but then, there is something completely unexpected and even more interesting – included at the end of the list is the obligation to teach your child how to swim! Fascinating.
At first glance, teaching your child how to swim might seem very out of place. However, upon further reflection, this makes a tremendous amount of sense. Certainly, there is great value in literally teaching a child how to swim after all, humans have lived next to bodies of water for tens of thousands of years and certainly this is a matter of basic survival. However, I think the rabbis had a larger intent in mind when writing this. After all, learning how to stay afloat in inhabitable, dangerous, and/or difficult conditions is what life is all about really. And the teaching does not say, “hold your child afloat when swimming” or “make sure your child wears a flotation device at all times when in water,” no, it indicates that we are obligated to teach our children skills that will allow them to survive independently of our help when the need arises. And I think this principle is perhaps the essential function of effective parenting.
Gilad and I were really taken by this concept. I think it resonates so strongly with us because of what we feel camp provides to children each summer. There are so many “hard skills” that campers learn every day at camp such as swimming, archery, horseback riding, and mountain biking that will help them to survive, thrive, and be healthy, active adults. But within each activity and social interaction at camp, we are able to impart “soft skills” such as confidence, resilience, and cooperation that gives them a secondary set of competencies that are invaluable in leading a successful and independent life. As parents, I think this is what we all ultimately desire for our children and together, through skills we teach at home and in places like camp, we can successfully fulfill our obligation to teach our children how to swim.
*Kiddushin 29a: A father is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first born, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well.
ALYIA & MAX CUTLER
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
Max and I met for the first time at Camp Edward Isaacs in 2000; I was a camper and he was a CIT. My girlfriends and I would give him a hard time about hanging out with our counselor. In 2006, on the first day of staff week I walked into the canteen during a showing of “The Matrix” to say hi to a friend. Max was sitting next to him and immediately stood up and yelled out my name with big open arms. I must have looked very confused because for the past 6 years since we met we had hardly exchanged two words! Max gave me a huge hug and told me he was so glad to see me.
Was it love right away?
Max says he knew that night in the canteen… I took a little longer to warm up. Everyone seemed to know he had a crush on me and when they told me I would just roll my eyes and say we were just friends and it would stay that way! Then one night when I sat OD in my tie-dye pajamas and oversized sweatshirt, he came by and kissed me. At that moment everything changed and I knew he was the last person I ever wanted to have a first kiss with.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
Heartbreak! Straight out of a sad movie. We both decided that since we didn’t go to the same school and we were in “different places in our lives” that we would end the summer romance and just be friends after camp. After a long, drawn out goodbye I remember driving away down the dirt road sobbing by myself until I got home…and then for days after that.
That first winter we talked on the phone every so often, checking in to say hi and happy birthday. When we were home from school we would see each other. The next summer I went back to camp but Max didn’t. He would come visit though and we fell right back into the days of summer love. I spent my days off with him and we began to talk and see each other more and more as the months went on. For the next few years as I finished college and he began his post college “adult life” we dated on and off, taking breaks to study abroad and “find ourselves.” In 2010, during my last semester in college, we became serious and last year he proposed during a bike-ride on a pier in Riverside Park.
Will you send your kids to your camp?
Sadly, Camp Edwards Isaacs closed in 2008 but if it were open we would say, “Absolutely, we’ll send our kids to Eddie I!” There is no question though, that we will send our kids to Jewish sleepaway camp to have transforming summer experiences, and maybe meet the love of their life too.
Alyia and Max were married in September 2013 with their camp friends and former camp directors in attendance. They currently live in Brooklyn, NY with their Sphynx cat, Abby. Alyia is an Assistant Program Manager at Foundation for Jewish Camp and Max is a therapist at the Jewish Child Care Association in Brooklyn.
Jeremy J. Fingerman is the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
Last week, I had the distinct privilege of attending the presentation of the top-line results of the new Pew Research Center study of Jewish Americans. Among the small group were several of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s key funders, philanthropists and trustees. Overall, the people in the room had two immediate reactions to the news that so many Jews living in the US today are non-practicing or don’t identify with Judaism: Why is this happening and what can we do about it?
As a Jewish communal professional involved in identity building and continuity, the findings were not surprising to me. These are the challenges the field of Jewish camp faces every day, the challenges that push Foundation for Jewish Camp and our colleagues in the field to work harder, to get more kids to camp and to make every minute that they are at camp count. According to the Pew findings, 44% of practicing Jews reported attending Jewish overnight camp as opposed to only 18% of those who are non-practicing. We read those results to mean that those who experienced Judaism through the lens of Jewish camp were influenced to make it part of their lives long after they attended their last campfire. We believe that many of those children may have had no other Jewish experiences growing up besides camp.
In his remarks on the findings, Dr. Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner, made the case for Jewish camp. His comments echoed those that he shared on the release of our research, Camp Works, “We don’t have to repair the lack of adult engagement in Jewish life. If you invest in Jewish youth, you’re going to automatically get all kinds of engagement. With Jewish camp…you continue to see the results 20, 30, 40 years from now.” Camp is a place where children live joyous Judaism and explore our religion on their own terms. At FJC, we work hard every day to make sure more kids have that opportunity each summer.
As we have conversations with our many colleagues and partners in the field and beyond regarding the implications of this study, I am confident that together we can and will work to create a more vibrant Jewish future.
I learned recently that groups of animals have the most interesting names. Some are well known, like a school of fish or a colony of ants. Others, I found, were quite amazing and yet, somehow, not at all surprising: a stand of flamingos, a tower of giraffes, a prickle of porcupines. For these animals, what they are called in a group is based on their features – how they stand, how tall they are, or the covering of their skin. And some, like a crash of rhinoceroses, may seem to be based on something obvious when, in fact, it may be due to something much less well known (that rhinos have incredibly bad eyesight). Then there are the groups whose name evokes their connection to humans: a plague of locusts (how biblical!) or a shiver of sharks (“Jaws” comes to mind). And there are those, such as a convocation of eagles, with a name that almost personifies them.
In their daily lives, our kids are so often put in groups: a class of students, a team of soccer players, a minyan of Jews. In camp, it is much the same: a cabin of girls, an elective of artists, a unit of 10 year olds. Unlike what we use for animals, these group names lack creativity; they don’t give our kids (or us!) an opportunity to express anything about themselves in the group. What if we were to rethink how we classified ourselves? A learning of students, a goal of soccer players, a belonging of Jews, a strength of girls, a creative of artists, a decade of 10 year olds. If we were to change what we call our communities, perhaps we could change, too, how we see ourselves as part of them. Think of how empowering it could be for our kids if they knew that every group they belong to says something about who they are. We might be able to create a much stronger sense of connection and commitment to each of the groups – and to the community at large.
Perhaps my favorite grouping of animals is a murmuration of starlings. As a collective, starlings move as one, creating a sort of murmur across the skies – it’s truly awe-inspiring to watch! For these birds, being in a group means being part of a unified whole. If I could wish anything upon our campers each summer, it would be just that: an understanding that their individual participation in the Jewish community is essential to creating the whole. That’s worth a whole lot more than murmuring … we should scream it from the rooftops!