There is a cold bite to the air in the Northeast US that’s very much at odds with the blooming cherry trees and forsythia bushes. The wind has been whipping around my New Jersey house at night with an un-springlike vehemence. And maybe that seasonal incongruity is partially why it is so hard to believe that my kids will be going away to camp just about two months from today.
The cold makes it seem odd to commence all the “behind the scenes” parent prep work for camp: scheduling the physical checkups at the doctor’s office, sending all the forms in (if we count “mommy and me,” 4 of my 5 kids are going to camp this summer—that’s a lot of forms, people), getting everyone bathing suits and summer clothes in their new sizes…the list goes on and on.
But it’s time to start getting ready—and starting getting ready on the physical level can serve as a prompt for the equal necessity of emotional getting ready. Judaism’s calendar is very savvy about getting ready for momentous events. In the month before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Elul, we are supposed to take the time to devote ourselves to preparing for the new year. We do so through introspection and taking stock of ourselves, gauging how far we have come in the year about to end, and where we want to go in the year to come. And similarly, we are now in the Omer, the time between Passover and Shavuot, where we prepare ourselves for the holiday commemorating receiving the Torah from God. We anticipate the gift of the Torah, and take each day to demonstrate how much we want to take Torah into our own lives.
We need to not only start finding our Sharpies, but to start evaluating what we will be packing and what we will be missing as we start the countdown to summer. As parents, we need to take this time to talk to our children about camp. If they have concerns, we need to help our children to address them. Just as we wouldn’t send a kid to camp without underwear, we shouldn’t send him without the security that even if he will miss home, he can still have a wonderful experience away from it. And as parents, we need to look at ourselves and to evaluate how to counterbalance missing our children with encouraging them to take their first steps, however small, away from us.
Use this time to find web resources like Packing for Jewish Camp: 10 Tips and Packing Tips, Tricks, and Things that Aren’t on the List. Ask your camp for veteran parents in order to figure out what is the best way to pack and to communicate with your child – maybe you can even arrange a pre-camp playdate or two so your child will see familiar faces on that bus.
Camp may seem far away, but it really is just around the corner. The question is what we do with this time until it begins, and how we use it to best prepare our children and ourselves.
There has got to be something between Speedo and slutty.
I would love to meet all the girl and tween bathing suit designers out there. Just five minutes—so they can explain to me why it is necessary for there to be a bright pink hang tag that says “Fab fit feature…REMOVABLE PADS! How cool is that!” on a tankini in a girls size 8? Besides still playing a little dress-up in my bras, my 9-year-old is blissfully unaware of her chest (as she should be!). Please tell me why this is remotely necessary? And I’d love to know why there is a plethora of string bikini options for the elementary school set and very little options for those of us that prefer to keep our girls a tiny bit more covered, yet stylish.
I realize some girls develop earlier than others. My 12-year-old is an early bloomer—but would rather die than see that tag on a bathing suit. If you ask her, she doesn’t see why any kid would want to make her breasts look bigger.
Being the mom of 9- and 12-year-old girls, I have some pretty hard and fast rules for bathing suits. No string bikinis (there needs to be a serious band holding that top on!) no bra style or push up tops (yup—they are out there) no tie bottoms, no cut outs, no low cut bottoms—you get the picture. There are slim-pickings out there. Over the past month—a slew of boxes from Delia’s, Target, Nordstrom and Zappos have arrived on our doorstep (complete with huffing from my husband…) promptly to be repacked for returns after they turned out to be skimpier than they appeared to be online.
It is a given that one of us leaves the dressing room with tears in their eyes when we are bathing suit shopping. Them for being disappointed I won’t give in to the Roxy string bikinis that all the surfer girls wear—or me, thinking about how crazy it is that we have sexualized our children so much—in the way they dress and the media they are exposed to. I am far from a prude. You’re an adult? The more cleavage the better. Go for it—rock that string bikini. Maybe there should be an age restriction on this type of stuff like there is on voting and driving.
I am raising my girls with the hope that they are comfortable in their own skin—both physically and emotionally. Which is hard enough when “thigh gap” and “airbrushing” are part of their vernacular. They’re summer experiences at camp plays a big role in this for my girls. For seven weeks every year, the media and celebrity influences fade into the background. They test out new personas, new friendships and even new outfits (no bikinis are allowed at camp though!). They have a place where the pressure cooker of the everyday is a little less intense. Sure I cringe when I see a picture of them at camp in a pinney with just a bandeau underneath—and then I remind myself how glad I am that they are comfortable enough with themselves to pull it off. Yet, I plead with you Mr. and Mrs. Bathing Suit Designer—remember us moms that are trying to keep our girls little just a bit longer.
There are plenty of reasons I became a social worker and a camp director within the Jewish community. Recently, there have been a chain of events that have shown me that I had no idea what the true benefits of my job choice would be. I mean, I knew I was pretty fulfilled with my life; I enjoy waking up to go to work and feel somewhat valuable in the daily life grind. But there have been instances recently that have led me to believe that this job I chose might have this incredible side effect: this job gives me HOPE.
Hope, as defined by good old Webster’s, is: “a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.”
Hope is perhaps the single greatest benefit that could be bestowed upon another person, and this job allows me to hope so very much. There are a lot of negatives in a daily CNN viewing – people seem to be pretty messed up on this planet. here are so many people fighting for freedoms, against violence and just for the right to gain more education that it is actually heart-breaking. I look around at times and wonder: WHAT IS GOING ON? People can’t shop at a mall safely. Countries are maiming and killing their own. Schools spend so much time trying to answer to the state that they don’t get an opportunity to create a love of learning. I could go on and on … and sometimes, for just moments, I do. I get so discouraged. It all feels like it is never going to get better.
But then it happens. I talk to one of my staff members from the summer and I realize that there is so much ahead. I know that working with children allows most people to gain some wistful thoughts about the future, but I am not talking about that. I am talking about being so blessed as to meet the next generation of people who are going to make this world a better place. I am talking about the letters I get to write to City Year, Avodah, Teach for America and other year-long volunteer programs that my staff are hoping to get into. I speak to them and they talk about taking a year off to work in organic farming, volunteer for an environmental company, or take a year to live in another country to educate people and gain knowledge about what is “out there.” These 20-somethings are not getting arrested for DUIs or creating havoc, they are not blasé about the world around them; they are creating change and working towards the betterment of others.
As camping professionals, we use the term “role model” for our staff. We talk with them about how the kids need to look up to them. But I don’t think it ever dawned on me that they are my role models too. These young people are what keep me positive and aware. They inform me about things that I sometimes have stopped paying attention to in my cynical views of the world. These young adults keep me HOPEFUL. They don’t let the world beat them down; they fight it, they know they can make a difference, and they give me back my idealism. Who would have thought it? I spend hours in a year creating an orientation for them to know how to work with children and all along they are giving me one of life’s greatest gifts just by being themselves.
Whether it be a video sent to me where ten of my former staff are celebrating Shabbat together and just wanted me to know that camp made a difference, or a staff member from 20 years ago posts a Facebook message that they are working with children who learn differently and that camp made the difference for them to chose that career, or even when I reconnect with my own peers from my days of being a camp counselor and I realize that, well, these people are the good ones, the ones who are doing things that make this world a more productive, compassionate, and better place. My staff call during their own time to let me know that two campers are having an issue on-line and how can they help. They ask me about what the adulthood thing is really like and are there any secrets to making it all work. They care for and about each other and others. They make me proud. With that pride comes a realization that something good is happening in these summer homes. We are not merely helping families and children through their search for a Jewish connection or a place where kids can be better than they get to be in their everyday lives. We are allowing these staff to create glimmers of positivity. They are learning and being and creating HOPE.
The Davis Academy’s 4th grade team, interested in making a wellness-related impact in Atlanta and in Israel, raised a lot of money to donate to ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem. They helped those in Atlanta and in Israel. Here’s the field report from my shaliach mitzvah (mitzvah representative) adventure in Jerusalem…
First step was collecting the money, which the 4th graders did persistently all year.
Second step was figuring out the logistics. I collected a card from the 4th graders to share when I got to Israel, got the total of money to spend, a list of what to spend it on, and was connected to our friends at ALYN Hospital by the 4th grade team.
Third step was actual, on the ground logistics. I converted the dollar amount to shekels, asked for store recommendations from Israeli friends, and made my way to a store near the famous Machane Yehuda shuk with a few of my camp colleagues. After eating some rugelach and assorted free samples, things started to get interesting: it took around 1 hour, 2 shopkeepers, 2 Nadiv Educators, 1 URJ Camp Assistant Director, a number of baskets and 2 calculators to buy all of the supplies on the list. (Thanks to my colleagues at URJ Camp Kalsman for their help!)
I left the store with bags and bags of every possible craft supply you could want – acrylic paint, pipe cleaners, paint brushes, watercolors, crayons, markers, crepe paper, cellophane, feathers, ribbons, beads, stickers…stickers…more stickers! My shoulders ache(d) with the weight of the tzedek/righteousness of 70 Atlanta children.
The next day, I was ready for the fourth and final step. I asked another camp friend (everywhere you turn in Israel, you find a camp friend!) who is studying to be a rabbi to help me carry all of the craft supplies to ALYN, to share the weight and the love. I was welcomed with a banner that had my name on it, and we were given a comprehensive tour of the facility. ALYN hospital is so many things – a rehabilitation center, a hospital, a school, a place for families, a place where secular and religious Jews and Arabs all work together to help kids recover from accidents and illness. Smiles abound in this brightly-decorated and highly vibrant building. Those who can are encouraged to cycle around the hospital – not quite able to walk, they strive to be more independent and mobile.
The thanks were many and often as we walked around the hospital. Many people – in the craft store, in ALYN, in the taxis necessary for the shlep – were so grateful (in both Hebrew and English!). I’m just the shlicha mitzvah, a person delivering a mitzvah for others, I said. These weren’t my supplies, wasn’t my money that I was spending, wasn’t my idea. I was just representing the 4th grade teachers, students and families, and I was so proud to work with them at my school. Regardless, I was treated like a hero, as were my friends and colleagues who helped me along the way. “I’m so proud to work with them,” I said.
Who are the heroes?
The 4th grade team for raising the money and figuring out where to donate – and for making a card to send with the supplies before I left on my trip!
The people who are committed to social justice and tzedek/righteousness, the people who masterminded an international mitzvah, and those who daily think about how to make things better for others.
The doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers, social workers, development professionals, security guards, families and patients at ALYN Hospital.
Thanks, 4th grade team, for letting me be a part of this holy work.
In its simplest form, Passover is a holiday that commemorates the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom. During the seder we do things that indicate how we were slaves in the land of Egypt and also how now we are free. For instance, we eat matzah (the bread of affliction) and bitter herbs to signify our slavery, yet we eat them while reclining during a lavish and festive meal that is a privilege of our freedom. From this we can learn that while we should remember our people’s past as if it was our own, we should not become so mired in their despair that we forget our wonderful, thriving lives.
This lesson of experiencing the pain of our ancestors without taking on too much of their pain applies perfectly to how we eat on Passover. Most of us only tolerate matzah, and we make matzah kugel, matzah pizza, and matzah lasagna because that’s what we’ve always made…and we’re supposed to eat a lot of matzah, right? Well, not necessarily.
Although it can be fine to include matzah in some things over the holiday, we don’t necessarily have to overly oppress ourselves with its dry texture and flavorless taste (or the tummy troubles that result in the over-consumption of matzah). We can look at the Passover food guidelines as an opportunity to recognize the oppression of the Israelites (by not using certain items) to come up with new, interesting foods to eat. Instead of matzah meal cookies, try some flourless chocolate and walnut cookies (recipes are everywhere). Instead of matzah kugel, why not try a sweet potato soufflé? Instead of matzah pizza, try eggplant parmesan (breaded with ground walnuts and almonds). And instead of matzah brie or Passover cereal for breakfast, try the idea below for an amazing hot breakfast quinoa (like steel cut oats, but better!).
If you and your kids need more clarity on how to simultaneously experience freedom and slavery in your Passover food, just look to camp. Counselors and staff members know that one of the most amazing and challenging parts of camp is coming up with creative and interesting programming under the constraints of rules, schedules, resources and space. Often, the most innovative and fun programs at camp are borne under those constraints, and it is in that space that we can learn the most about slavery and freedom and how to dance between the two. Perhaps as you sit over your bowl of hot quinoa with your kids you can discuss the essence of this interesting aspect of both camp and Passover- that often it is in the times of our greatest oppression or constraints that we are able to break through and come up with new, innovative, and freeing (and delicious!) ideas.
3 cups 1% milk
1 cup quinoa
¼ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup mixed dried fruit and nuts
- Bring milk to a boil over medium high heat- be careful not to let it boil over!
- Add the quinoa the salt, stir once, cover and turn the heat down to very low.
- Simmer about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed, then stir in the remaining ingredients and re-cover for 1 minute.
- Serve hot or put in refrigerator for up to 1 week and reheat.
We come together for Passover to celebrate our ongoing liberation from slavery. During the seder we will speak at length about the exodus from Egypt, but how did we, the descendants of Jacob, get there? Before we ask how did we end up as slaves we need to ask how did we end up in Egypt?
This story starts with Joseph and his brothers. Annoyed by his being different, they sell him into slavery. Through a turn of events Joseph ends up in a position of power in Egypt. Forced by the famine in the land of Canaan, his brothers unwittingly come before Joseph seeking sustenance. Sitting before them, he is faced with a choice as to whether or not he will keep his identity closeted. The text reads:
Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, “Cause every man to go out from me.” And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he gave his voice in tears; and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard” (Genesis 45:1-2).
When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, his voice knows no limits, and everyone in Egypt finds out about his identity. Through Joseph’s coming-out they were all witness to the unfolding of God’s plan. What started off as a family tragedy was transformed into a divine national comedy.
In modern times we can hear resonance of the Passover cry for justice in the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He wrote that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963). I believe that we can hear a corollary to this in the sound of Joseph’s tears. There is an inextricable connection between personal and national revelation. While Moses led us out of Egypt we were not truly free until we experienced God’s revelation at Sinai. Joseph’s personal revelation to his brothers was a precursor to God’s coming out to the nation at Sinai. While we need to seek justice for everyone, we should rise to the challenge of realizing that we will not understand the collective revelation until we are all free to express all of who we are as individuals.
A few months ago I went to a benefit hosted by Camp Ramah in the Poconos, the camp at which I grew up. There were some people there who I had not seen for 20 years. Stepping into that room it was as if we were all back at camp. One hug later it was as if no time had passed. We were family. For a moment there I had a sense of what Joseph and his brothers must have felt so many years ago. Camp avails us of the opportunity to expand our idea of family. There in the presence of our camp family we can give voice to hidden parts of ourselves. There we can start to articulate what we aspire to become in our lives. How can we provide our children with that safe place to reveal all of who they are and who they might become?
At your seder, as the Jewish world sits as equals sharing food, I hope that more of us find safe space to share ourselves with the collective. May you have a very revealing and meaningful Passover.
When you’re the parent of a child with autism, you’re always bracing yourself for the endless string of theories headed in your direction. They come from health care professionals, the media, family, friends and, my personal favourite, complete strangers. One woman we barely know keeps asking my wife, Cynthia, for a sample of my son Jonah’s urine so she can run her own tests on it.
The good news about all this is it helps you develop a thick skin, though never quite thick enough. I figured out pretty soon on this journey through what is sometimes called Autismland that the reason theories about autism are so plentiful is directly related to the fact that no one really knows anything definitive about it. In my experience, that includes mental health professionals who are, when it comes to matters of the brain, only guessing.
And the guessing persists. As do the studies generating all those theories. The latest trend in studies has put the emphasis on the ability of parents to cope with the challenges of autism on a day-to-day basis. Researchers seem determined to prove, every few months or so by my count, that there is a connection between raising a child with autism or other special needs and higher levels of stress as well as greater financial and marital challenges. Of course, whenever Cynthia and I hear about the latest results of one of these so-called “well-being” studies we roll our eyes and say pretty much in unison: “No kidding.”
“They could just ask any of us if we’re stressed,” Cynthia invariably adds. “They’d save all that money on research and they could use it to take us all out for dinner and drinks, lots of drinks.”
Or, in our case, they could buy us time to be more organized. In last month’s blog, I confessed we were behind in registering Jonah for summer camp. We’re still behind. That’s because chaos – missed deadlines, unmet obligations, double-booked appointments – has become the rule in our house. I would write a to-do list of all the things yet to be done, but frankly who has the time? or the confidence that it won’t get lost in the clutter?
As defined by WhatIs.com, chaos, with reference to chaos theory is, “an apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws or rules.” In other words, laws or rules you’ll never predict or figure out. But parents of special needs kids know that already. We have learned to expect the unexpected. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed every day is just part of that. Of course, there’s an advantage to living in a state of chaos. You’re hardly ever bored. Now, if I could just remember where I put that summer camp registration form.
Let’s be clear. I can make any conversation into a conversation about art. Especially when it comes to the Torah and art at camp. Parah Adumah? Let’s talk about the color red! Miriam leading the people in celebration? Kikar dancing! Moses with two tablets? Sculpture! But really, those are stretches. That’s what makes Vayakhel-Pekudei so exciting for me. It’s not just easy to make a connection between the story and “art,” it’s explicit.
We read about the nomination of Betzalel and Oholiav to design the Mishkan and lead it’s construction. And the Torah goes into great detail about the materials used (acacia wood, dolphin skin, crimson wool, etc.). So here I could talk about the different materials our campers get to create with in the art room and the wood shop: clay, mojpoj, paint, pine wood, woodstains, etc. And the Torah talks about the skill of the lead designers, how their talents are divinely inspired. Here I could talk about kavanah, and how every piece of art made at camp, from a 11 year old camper’s painting to a 16 year old camper’s original song, is done with Jewish content in mind, with a sense of Jewish intention behind the art. And of course, the Torah talks about portability – this is not going to be a permanent fixed structure. That is an easy bridge to the art work at camp being ephemeral, meaningful in the moment as a memory, and then lost to a blank canvas, which resets for the next session, the next summer, the next camper with an idea for expression.
But those things are not what makes this parsha so clearly about art at camp. In Chapter 36, Verses 1-7, we see that Bezalel and Oholiav were overwhelmed by the amount of things Israelites brought to contribute to the project. People brought their gold, their wood, their fabrics. They all wanted to be a part of what was happening, they all wanted ownership. And THAT is what Jewish summer camp’s philosophy of artistic creation is really all about. You go see group of campers perform Beauty and the Beast, and you’ll notice: the younger campers standing up with grey cardboard ovals on their heads, performing as ‘spoons’ in “Be Our Guest”; a 14 year old camper on violin, a special needs camper on drums, and a member of Sports staff playing the saxophone in the orchestra; the oldest campers running the tech booth. The list goes on and on. At Jewish summer camp, like our Israelite ancestors before us, we take communal ownership of our art. To me, this way of creating art is what I’ve always known from camp, it feels natural. In Vayakhel-Pekudei, the Torah tells us it’s genetic.
A camp is just a camp, but MY CAMP IS THE BEST THING EVER.
It doesn’t have the same ring, but you get the idea.
[Colemanites] get together during the year. The Clergy Advisory Board gathers to talk education and development. The Olim Fellows meet to learn about social justice, Reform Judaism, and to explore other camps in the URJ family. Cornerstone Fellows gather to learn how to make great programming even better with camps from all over North America, and brainstorming how to impact their work at Coleman when gathering in “Camproom.” Retreats. NFTY. Facebook. Instagram. Camp Shabbat. Bar/Bat Mitzvah weekends. Shabbat dinners. The emails – so many emails.
[Coleman] people find time to see [Coleman] people.
At the end of February, a collection of Coleman people met in Atlanta for two days. This form of Coleman reunion was targeted and focused. Like last year’s MasheJew meeting, we were developing curriculum. This year, we did some editing of the units from last year, and added in two more units. We also did a series of Tefillah workshops that could fill an entire summer of Kavannah (our name for our counselor- and programmer-led programming), come from my work at camp and at The Davis Academy (#NADIV) and will be one of my sessions when I serve on Cornerstone Faculty in May. We’re working on developing a program called “Hot ShoTz” (ShoTz is the abbreviation in Hebrew used to describe a service leader) which will teach people in our camp community leadership skills and service-leading methodology, allowing them to step up, and to shine in a new light.
It was a long 25 hours, Shabbat-long in length, but stuffed with beautiful, holy work. Faculty clergy, programmers, unit heads, our Rosh Mishlachat (Head of the Israeli Delegation), one of camp’s specialist coordinators, and year-round staff collaborated on all-camp programming, on Tefillah, and on unit specific work.
We’re not done with the work. There will be more emails. There will be teaching and learning and a summer of experimenting with new, exciting programming. And I’m thankful to know that there are so many people who are working toward another amazing summer of programming. This is the good that comes from thinking about camp all day, every day.
And if you want to be a Hot ShoTz, Coleman staff, you know where to find me.
Where [Coleman/ite] = [Your Camp’s Name/people]
Jewish overnight camp is about so much more than campfires and color war. At camp, kids get the chance to explore who they are—and who they want to become—in an active, inspiring, fun-filled environment. (Marshmallows included.) But paying for camp can be difficult. We get it—we are parents too.
We have some easy ways to make the dream of overnight summer camp a reality for your child. We can even help you find the perfect camp—no matter what your background, you will find a place your child will have fun, be comfortable, learn more about themselves, and explore their Jewish identity.
If your family lives in the northeast, check out BunkConnect, a new program that offers introductory rates at 40-60% off to first time campers. Finding out if you qualify is quick and confidential—answer six questions at BunkConnect.org. Then start browsing for the right summer experience for your child for this summer! The website will connect you right to the camp director to learn more about the experience.
One Happy Camper
BunkConnect doesn’t work for your family? One Happy Camper offers first time campers up to $1000 off. With over 155 Jewish camps on Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Find a Camp tool – search out the perfect one. You can narrow down your search by choosing preferred session length, specialty activities, denomination, and more. Once you choose a camp visit OneHappyCamper.org to see if you are eligible for a need-blind grant.
While you are on our website, visit our scholarship database. Don’t forget to talk to your synagogue, local federation, JCC or other Jewish organizations. Many have scholarships available to make summers at Jewish camp a reality
At Jewish camp, ruach (spirit) is part of every activity—from dancing to hitting a home run—allowing campers to explore their connection to Judaism in a meaningful way while having the summer of their lives. Clearly, we are a little passionate about this. You will see the difference in your child the minute they return home. The impact of overnight Jewish camp is immediate. At camp, kids hang out with amazing role models, who inspire confidence and independence, guiding your child to hone their skills, build self-esteem, and discover interests and talents they never knew they had.
We can’t wait for your child to have the summer of a lifetime. (And you get a bit of a break from the logistics of the daily grind, not bad…)