Monthly Archives: July 2014

Summer Camp, Life Skills and Confidence

In partnership with The Jewish Week’s “The New Normal” blog, FJC is pleased to present a series of blog posts featuring a range of different voices sharing the power and benefits of Jewish camp for those in our community who have disabilities.

disabilities series - marciaWe have all heard that Jewish summer camp is one of the most valuable experiences a parent can give their child to ensure a strong Jewish foundation. If you think of it as a construction project, the footings beneath the foundation is community and together, this community builds the foundation they share. As each child grows into an adult, the shared experience of community-building in a Jewish context continues to strengthen his or her Jewish foundation.

But the Jewish child with disabilities who cannot have a summer camp experience is left with an unstable foundation or worse; no Jewish foundation. As the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I live with the fear shared by all parents of children with disabilities:  Who will be my child’s community when I am no longer here to provide it?

At age 11, we began sending our son to overnight Jewish summer camp with his younger sister.   A condition of his acceptance, we contracted with the camp for a one-on-one aide who slept in the cabin with our son and shadowed him as he moved with the mainstream campers. Each year it became more apparent that our son lacked the social and life skills his cabin-mates had developed and lacking these skills in a mainstream environment, our son would not be perceived as a full participant in this community.

Though we had resisted the model of separating campers with special needs from mainstream campers by cabin, at the urging of our rabbi, I contacted the director of Ramah Wisconsin’s Tikvah program when our son was 14. In describing the program, the director explained that every year since his arrival, the Tikvah program had become more integrated with the greater Ramah community. To my surprise, he suggested we keep our son in his current camp for another 2-3 years, at which time he believed Ramah would be ready for him.

After much discussion that included Ramah staff traveling from Chicago to our home in Minneapolis, our son left for his first summer as a Tikvah camper when he was 17. Tikvah campers are connected to Machon (campers entering 10th grade) from which a select group are chosen by staff to be paired with each Tikvah participant as their chaver (friend). Four weeks later at visitor’s day, I observed that the culture of the camp was one of acceptance, regardless of ability, with staff and campers embracing everyone in the Ramah community. With his chaver, our son participated in both typical camp activities and special programs for the Tikvah-Machon group.

After two years, our son moved into the Atzmayim (vocational) program where campers live in dormitory-style housing and focus on social skills and life skills development. Ramah staff trained our son for his job in town and also provided a job coach, ensuring he always felt like a productive member of a professional team. Five days a week, he had to prepare himself for his work day, beginning with prompt attendance at morning services, dressed for his job in town.

As a guest last summer on a non-visitors day, I witnessed my son as a full participant in the rhythm of Ramah, comfortably engaging with campers and staff and taking responsibility for his personal care with a conscientious focus on his summer job at the local grocery store. I also saw my son embracing Torah study and discussion about a myriad of Jewish topics, which made him feel so proud to be part of this Jewish community.

Now 21, our son is completing his final summer as a Tikvah/Atzmayim camper. Looking back, I can honestly say that each summer we witnessed significant social and emotional growth, along with life skills development; all of which has contributed greatly to his self-confidence. Through these programs, our son was given a safe, nurturing Jewish environment in which to grow and develop on all levels. Through Ramah and its culture of acceptance, our son was able to experience community-building in a Jewish context and after five years, he leaves with a solid Jewish foundation.

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Posted on July 31, 2014

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

Teens & Screens Part 2: Cyberbullying

The following is the second in a three-part series on how to help safely navigate the world of social media with your kids from Sue Scheff, a mother, author, parent advocate, and expert in internet safety education.

teensnscreens2Cyberbullying is a concern for all parents.  We can’t be with our children 24/7 and the fact is our kids spend more time in cyberspace than they do with us. The most common form of cyberbullying among tweens and teens happens with cell phones. We need to equip them with the knowledge to handle cyberbullies and prevent them from becoming victims.

Since your child either just came home or will be coming home from camp soon, let’s be sure they are well-prepared to know how report online abuse and, most importantly, know they can come to you if they witness it or are a victim of cyberbullying.

Going back to the study of Teens and Screens that I referenced in my last post, in 2014 cyberbullying tripled.  24% of tweens and teens lack knowledge on what to do in the event they witness online abuse or are a victim of it.

According to Cyberbullying Statistics for 2014, 52% of teens report having been a victim of cyberbullying. Sadly, only 33% of those victims have reported bullying to parents or another adult.  A recent European study showed that over half of teens view some level of cyberbullying as a normal part of online life. By having open and frequent face-to-face chats with your child about digital citizenship, hopefully we can eliminate this opinion of cyberbullying.

First we need to understand why tweens and teens don’t tell their parents.

1)  Fear of consequences: Your child’s online existence is a critical part of their social life. With all their friends online, being excluded would be devastating them. They don’t want to risk you banning them from their friends and their digital lives.

2)  Humiliation and embarrassment: Our kids are human and have feelings. Although some kids portray a tough persona and believe they are invincible, deep down everyone feels hurt by cruel keystrokes. Your child may fear looking stupid or weak. If the incident gets reported to their school or camp, will they be able to face their classmates and campers? Imagine the horror of a child hearing from peers after being bullied that they somehow deserved it, brought it on themselves or should have just toughened it out rather than be a snitch.

3)  Fear of making it worse: We have taught our children well so they understand that bullies are looking for attention. By reporting the incident of cyberbullying to a parent, your child may fear it could anger the bully and make matters worse for them online. In some cases bullies will enlist more online trolls to cyber-mob your child. Of course the child’s dreaded fear is his or her parent reporting it to their school or camp and more people knowing whereby they become a possible target in the future.

Building a strong digital relationship with your child:

1)  Speak openly about cyberbullying: Communication is key to helping your child understand that you are their advocate not only offline, but online too. Talk to them about cyberbullying prevention and remind them of the basics such as:

  • Never engage with online bullies
  • Never give out passwords
  • Never try to seek revenge on a cyberbully
  • How to block bullies
  • Save evidence of cyber-bullying, especially if you have to report the bully to a school or camp

2)  It is not their fault:  Being a victim of a cyberbully is not their fault. Remind them you are not going to judge them or blame them.  Assure them that you will not revoke their Internet privileges or take away their phone if they are cyberbullied.  As I mentioned earlier, the Internet is an important part of their life so if they feel threatened that it will be removed, they may believe it is easier to be bullied and emotionally tormented.  We don’t want them to be feel this way, it is not healthy for anyone to have to tolerate.

3)  Listen:  Communication is also a two-way street.  Be sure you hear what your child is saying.  Many victims say what helps most is to be heard — really listened to, either by a friend or an adult who cares. Hopefully that is their parent. Cyberbullying may not be physical, however the emotion scars can be deep. Listening to your child respectfully can start the healing process. Never diminish their feelings and let them know you are their advocate.

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Posted on July 30, 2014

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

Coming Home Different

06.18-21.14 Jewish CampsI didn’t expect to cry when I picked my kid up from camp.

When I dropped him off at the bus? Totally. I skulked past the more experienced parents doing the hora in the parking lot as the bus pulled away, got into the front seat, shut the door and started crying.

But when I picked him up, I expected it to be all sunshine and happiness.

And it was.

But there was another component to it.

See, I mistakenly expected to get back the same kid I sent to camp. And I didn’t. And that made me cry tears of happiness.

This kid was taller. His hair was longer. He was definitely dirtier (“This IS my clean shirt!” he said as I pointed out that the shirt he was wearing looked a lot like he had cleaned the bunk floor with it before putting it on.). But I don’t sweat the small stuff, and that is all small stuff.

My son had changed for the better.

When he took my husband and I to see his favorite spot at camp, he wasn’t quite sure he was going the right way. Without any prodding, this nine year old went over to a teenager and her family—people he’d never seen before—and politely asked them for directions. That was maturity. That was impressive.

But in addition to the maturity, there was something else that I couldn’t quite pinpoint at first. As we kept talking, though, it made itself evident bit by bit. It was in the Hebrew words, naturally sprinkled through his speech. It was in the joy with which he demonstrated the hand signals that corresponded to the Hebrew song they sang every day before lights out. It was in his questions about what is going on in Israel now, and what we can do to support the Jewish state. And it was in his descriptions of the camp gathering for Kabbalat Shabbat by the lakefront, and when he spent part of the car ride home demonstrating that he now knew Birkat Hamazon by heart.

My son was happily, joyfully proud to be Jewish.

I’m not saying this was a sudden change—I like to think he was already proud of the identity we built for him at home. But it was different: going away to a Jewish camp had given him the opportunity to make Judaism his own—a key and critical part of himself, who he is and who he will become. At camp, he could grow, physically and emotionally, and as a Jewish individual—the person he will be and develop for the rest of his life.

My son came home from Jewish camp a taller, more mature, joyful Jew. And I couldn’t be happier.

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Posted on July 29, 2014

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Robots, Minecraft, and Shabbat

The following post is the next in our summer series hearing from the camps that were launched as a result of FJC’s Specialty Camps Incubator.

6 points2How does one describe the feeling of opening a new specialty camp? Awe inspiring, and an amazing challenge. I came into the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy with ideas, a framework, and a mission: to instill Jewish identity through science and technology. Over the last year, while fleshing out those ideas and expanding that framework, I still had only an inkling of what an incredible place this camp would become.

Sci-Tech is a specialty camp; similarly to our sister camp, URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, we offer dedicated periods of time to specific activities where our campers can learn about a subject in which they are passionate. In our case, those activities are robotics, digital media production, environmental science, and video game design. These workshops are supported by a variety of chugim (electives) taught by our stellar staff with backgrounds in programming, chemistry, and virology (just to name a few), who teach their subjects at a level very approachable by 5th-9th graders, but much more intellectually complex than I ever expected. Surrounding the workshops and chugim are camp’s core Jewish valuescuriosity, discovery, respect, and connectionand a Jewish camp frameworkmorning blessings, song session, and Shabbat.

We’re creating an environment for a group of campers who might have never experienced a Jewish camp if it weren’t for the science and technology. Our goal has been to meld in-depth science and technology learning provided by our workshops with a campy and fun feel that only song sessions and cabin bonding can offer. In daily song sessions, campers look forward to singing “Why Does the Sun Shine,” an informational, yet energetic song by They Might Be Giants, followed by “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.” At breakfast, a staff member examines a great Jewish scientist or innovator before we join together in Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) full of ruach (spirit).

‘Only at Sci-Tech’ is a phrase that many of our Faculty have used to describe the environment here at camp. In my opinion, only at Sci-Tech can our campers find friends and build relationships with other campers who feel and act just like them. Campers are incredibly driven and enveloped in their projects and experiments at camp, but share these passions, and work, with other campers. All of our workshops have campers working in groups to accomplish things like building a Rube Goldberg Machine or developing a new video game. When there are activities that are independently driven, campers are working together towards a common goal or on a single project; for example, campers in our Virtual World chug work together on their own computers while physically in the same room to re-creating buildings and structures in camp using Minecraft. The amount of productive discussion and friendly cooperation that campers exhibit here at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy is simply astonishing.

Thankfully, after an intense week of creativity and innovation, camp has the privilege of celebrating Shabbat. We take time to reflect on our amazing accomplishments from the past weekfilming a movie, building a robot, making a fossil, etc.and infuse our core beliefs into the learning and fun we have had. We are only just under two sessions into the existence of camp, and I know that the experience we are providing here is opening up children’s eyes to the Jewish and scientific & technological worlds.

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Posted on July 28, 2014

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

Teens & Screens Part 1: Raising Smart Cyber-Citizens in Social Media

The following is the first in a three-part series on how to help safely navigate the world of social media with your kids from Sue Scheff, a mother, author, parent advocate, and expert in internet safety education.

teens and social mediaDo you consider yourself a savvy digital parent? While your kids are away at camp during the summer, it can be a great time to get caught up on learning about the cyber-lives of youth today. The more you know, the more you can better communicate with your kids regarding their digital lives.

The results of a recent 2014 study by McAfee titled, Teens and Screens, should be a wake-up call for parents. Some of the staggering findings include:

  • 59% of tweens and teens engage with strangers online
  • Cyberbullying has tripled, yet 24% of the respondents admitted they don’t know what to do in the event of online abuse
  • Tweens and teens are still over-sharing their personal information, with 14% admitting posting their home address

Exactly what do you know about your child’s online life? Most know about cyber-safety 101:

  • Limiting screen time
  • Telling kids to never give out passwords
  • Parental settings/controls and monitoring kids’ and teens’ social media activity
  • Being kind online – explaining to your kids to think before they post
  • and other common cyber-security issues

This is all very important, but let’s look at some issues you may not have considered.

Some virtual friends are actually strangers.

At camp your child is meeting many new friends and people.  They will be expanding their social networking circles and it is fun learning about new people and their lives.

What your child needs to understand is that there are restrictions.  When they come home from camp and jump on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking sites to add their new friends—that it should be limited only their real friends from camp.

What does this mean?

Many kids can get distracted into friending or adding people that are friends of friends—and before they know it they are connected to hundreds of people they don’t really know and have never met.  Why is this not a good idea?

The main reason: your child’s future is at-risk.

Your child’s digital image is their future. His or her online reputation will be what determines their college and employment future. 98% of employers now say they will run an Internet search on an applicant and 77% of those with a negative online presence are not invited for an interview.  College recruiters are reporting the nearly the same statistics—they are putting your child’s name through an Internet wash-cycle, and how it spins out will determine if your child secures a spot at a college of their choice.

What does this have to do with a virtual friend that is actually a stranger?

Adding people to your friends list that you don’t know in real life is not a smart idea for anyone, especially kids.  Since you really don’t know them well or their online behavior, you risk them lifting photos, manipulating them and re-posting them on sites you may not approve of. They may use your comments out of context, or worse—you may upset them and they might create a slime campaign with your name.

What to do? An action plan for parents.

When your child arrives home from camp this summer and starts chatting about his or her new friends, it is a great opportunity for you to put your digital parenting hat on.  Your child will probably keep in touch with these new friends through social networking, which is a benefit of our social media, however let’s discuss friending—now.

This is a perfect opportunity to also have your child clean out their friends list of others they possibly don’t really know. Especially if you have a teenager that will be applying to college soon— explain the reasons for this. This is not about you not wanting them to have friends, but in reality these aren’t friends—they are virtual strangers.

It is hard for children to understand this, as adults we learn with maturity that our friends are a reflection of who we are. We have to start instilling this into our children.  Explaining to them that they don’t want friends that are making them feel uncomfortable because of what they post or if they don’t contribute positive content.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are full of people that they probably won’t miss.  Unfriending is really painless. Visit www.JustUnfollow.com which will will let you know who isn’t following you back —or even inactive followers – on Twitter.  That is a great start.

Safety is always a priority.  Be an educated digital parent.

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Posted on July 24, 2014

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

Diary of a Camp Meal

food at a Jewish campIts ribs and wings night.  I’m with my husband and eight month old son for two weeks at the camp where my husband and I met and fell in love. He’s the rabbi in residence and I’m playing and relaxing for most of the day with the baby. Camp is peaceful and is mostly how I remember it. Except for ribs and wings night.

Campers are exiting the kitchen with trays laden with spicy buffalo wings and what, I must admit, are some of the best barbecue ribs I have ever eaten. Each time a camper reaches his or her table the entire bunk erupts in mad applause and then sets about the task of even more madly devouring the meat as fast as possible, only for the camper-waiter to return to the kitchen and start the process over again. The salad bar, roasted sweet potatoes and crispy fresh cabbage slaw are on the whole being ignored, and by the end of the night the bones strewn about the tables and heaped into trash cans make the dining hall looks somewhat like a very productive archeological dig.

As my son happily plays on the grass after dinner (after all, his tummy is filled with delicious wings and ribs as well) I ask myself: What’s with the meat mania?  There is meat almost every day at camp, and while the wings and ribs that the kitchen turns out are truly exceptional, they are no more so that the amazing roasted cauliflower or the Indian quinoa and tofu veggie meal from Friday night (yes, camp food really has improved!). Why does my otherwise peaceful camp go insane every time there are wings and ribs?

Like brisket, potato latkes, homemade birthday cake, fresh matzah brei and turkey with stuffing, the wings and ribs served at camp are delicious, eaten infrequently, and aren’t exactly the healthiest meal around. The combination of these three factors creates the aura of a superfood (different from the kale and blueberry type of superfood) that is the stuff of legends. There is nothing wrong with indulging in a rarely procured, fatty and entirely delicious food, but there is a way to do so that we don’t get carried away.

To take a line from Pirke Avot (The Ethics of our Fathers), “In a place where there are no men [human beings], strive to be a man [human].” (Pirke Avot 2:5)  In other words, enjoy the wings and ribs, but try to have some of the sweet potatoes and veggies with them. Check in with yourself every once in a while to see if you really are still hungry, and eat slowly, enjoying each delectable bite. In the end, there’s nothing wrong with applauding the arrival and consumption of a great plate of food, but I encourage you to do so with mindfulness of why and how the food attained such an elevated, important status.

Keep in mind as well that not all meals at camp (or elsewhere, for that matter) are as special as wings and ribs, but that they can be just as delicious and satisfying in their mundane-ity. The “profane” comforting breakfast of unsweetened oatmeal and banana I consume every morning at camp, including the morning after the “sacred” wing and rib night, reminds me to try to appreciate the continuum that is camp food.

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Posted on July 23, 2014

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Fine Writers

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06.18-21.14 Jewish CampsThere is definitely an amusing sub-genre of literature to be found in the letters kids send home from camp (anyone interested in a book called “Sh*t My Kids Write From Camp”? Drop me an email). Let’s just say that it is fairly clear that we no longer live in an epistolary society in which people pour out their thoughts and feelings on tear-stained pages. I mean, I did as a kid, but we have clearly established that I am a freak.

No, instead we live in the era of the tweet, in which children seem to think that three sentences, tops, can distill the essence of experience. And sometimes, surprisingly, they can.

I asked my friends who are parents of overnight campers for their favorite camp letters received from their children. None of this, note, was ever mentioned in What To Expect When You’re Expecting. Here are some of my favorites:

“Our bathroom smells HORRENDOUS. If you could please send Febreze Thai Dragon Fruit, I would love camp even more.” (Parent notes that said aroma is discontinued.)

“OMG Lebron went to the Cavs. Could you throw that poster of Lebron away. Love you.”

“Where is my package?”

“Dear Mom, I have no time to write.”

“I will miss you.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t take a picture with [sibling] because his poison oak is very contagious.”

“Dear Mom, you forgot to pack me a toothbrush. Can you bring one on Visiting Day?” (Note: Visiting Day = four weeks from date of letter)

“I have good and bad news. Good news is I found my lost flip flop. Bad news is in chess I lost a pawn and a knight.” (This was the entire letter)

“I learned how to light a fire with a lighter.”

And, my personal favorite:

“Dear Mom and Dad, Your last letter was too short. Love, David.”

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Posted on July 22, 2014

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Cold Feet

joelLater this month, my fifteen-year-old son, Jonah, is off to Camp B’Nai Brith (CBB) in the Laurentians, about an hour north of Montreal. He’ll stay for a full session, three weeks, longer by far than he’s stayed before. Naturally, I’m feeling some anxiety on his behalf. Or projecting, as my wife Cynthia calls it. She has a point. The idea of being in an isolated place for a prolonged period with strangers and nature (i.e. mosquitoes and a lack of air condition and Wi-Fi) has never been my idea of fun. That’s why my case of cold feet will be getting colder as the day of Jonah’s departure approaches.  It’s in my nature, as a person and a writer, to find inspirational quotes that may be appropriate to any given situation. Inevitably, though, the quotes end up being inadequately inspirational.  Like this one from the British writer Julian Barnes: “Time… give us enough time and our best supported decisions will seem wobbly…”

I also find myself wondering how much Jonah really wants to go. Projecting again, no doubt. In any case this kind of information would probably be hard to pry out of any teenager. Still, I know kids must get cold feet about sleep-away camp, too. Cynthia enjoyed her time as a camper and later a counselor, but she also remembers her decades-old “Y” camp song word for word. The first couple of lines, alone, are a model of adolescent ambivalence: “I go to YCC, so pity me. There’s not a boy in the vicinity.”

Measuring Jonah’s mixed feelings can be tricky. Jonah has autism and he can have a hard time making it clear how he’s feeling. Cynthia and I know him well enough to read between the lines of his sometimes off-topic conversation. But we also look to his behavior for unspoken clues. The other day, for instance, my sister, Marilyn, and I took Jonah shopping to pick up some of the extra clothing he needs for camp. When he and I got home we showed everything we bought to his mother and then I put them on his bed so he could put them away as he does with all his clothing. We’d bought some pretty cool t-shirts and shorts so I figured he’d want to wear them till he left for camp in a few weeks. The next day though I couldn’t find any of the things we’d bought. I looked for them in every drawer. I quizzed his mother. Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I asked Jonah where all his stuff had gone.

“In my bag,” he said.

“What bag?” I asked.

“The one for CBB.” And, indeed, there they were. All stuffed into one of the gym bags he will be taking with him to camp. It seems he can hardly wait.

His keenness is reassuring. Never more so than last weekend when Jonah, Cynthia, and I visited the CBB’s pre-camp Open House. Jonah was happy to see everyone, including counselors and staff he didn’t know. If my son has a philosophy, it’s cornier than mine but a lot more, well, inspirational. Summed up, it’s something like: “A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.” But he was really excited to see the counselors who were at CBB for his shorter stay last year. In fact, he seemed to have nicknames for all of them. “Hi, Quiet Wyatt,” Jonah shouted to one young man, who shouted back, “Hey Jonah, great to see you back!” He hardly looked like the quiet type, which was what made the nickname funny, of course. “Max and the Yaks” was what Jonah told me he calls the fellow who runs the camp’s circus program.

Jonah loves animals, especially unusual ones, so when he met his unit head, Mike, the two immediately hit it off, discussing animals from Mike’s native Australia. I volunteered kangaroos and received a look of disappointment from both Jonah and Mike. Mike seems to have had his fill of kangaroos as the iconic but hopelessly clichéd symbol of his country. Instead, he provided Jonah with a great deal of information about the platypus. “You know it’s one of the only mammals that lays eggs,” Mike said. Then he told Jonah it was from the small family of animals known as monotremes. “Like horses are equines and cows are bovines?” Jonah asked. “That’s right, mate.” Mike seemed to know just how to talk to Jonah, which was reassuring. Cynthia also found out that in Australia he was a teacher and had a class of kids with autism. Driving home, I already felt my feet warming up. Jonah and I also brainstormed about nicknames for his newest stranger/friend.  So far, though, we’ve only settled on what Jonah won’t call him—Kangaroo Mike.

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Posted on July 18, 2014

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Making a Healthier Jewish Community

The following post is the second in our summer series hearing from the camps that were launched as a result of FJC’s Specialty Camps Incubator.  

06.18-21.14 Jewish CampsIn an often-told story, Rabbi Hillel was asked to summarize the entire Torah while standing on one foot. His response was, “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow person.” This is the foundation of the most basic rule of Jewish ethics: We should do no harm to other people.

Most of us don’t think of skipping the gym or choosing fries over salad as ethical decisions. These are personal decisions, the rationale goes, because they don’t harm others. But before deciding on your next snack, you might consider a very new perspective on Jewish ethics: Making unhealthy decisions is unethical because of the impact those decisions have on our peers.

Let’s use a brief thought experiment to understand why: If I were to tell you that most of my friends are health-conscious gym members, what would be your most reasonable conclusion about me? If you answered that I am also a health-conscious gym member, then you have successfully learned something about me from a statement about my friends.

Some recent research actually provides scientific backing for this conclusion. Social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler found a correlation between our personal health choices and the choices made by members of our social circle. Their study, which relied on data from one of the longest health studies of the past 100 years, The Framingham Heart Study, led to the theory that seemingly-personal decisions about health influence the behavior of others. When one person in a community is active and eats healthy foods, everyone around them is more likely to do the same.

The Talmud teaches that “all of the people of Israel are responsible for one another.” Based on this ideal, we all might do a little more to make good choices and inspire healthy living in our community. This is why my wife and I decided to launch Camp Zeke, the first Jewish camp where kids celebrate healthy, active living.

Our inaugural summer is off to an amazing start. Campers are choosing from action-packed electives like running, yoga, strength training, dance, gymnastics, Krav Maga, and sports. They’re also putting on aprons and cooking healthy, gourmet dishes with a professional chef. In the process of making lifelong memories and forming amazing bonds with new friends, our campers are making very real connections between Judaism, nutrition, and fitness. When they go back home as ambassadors of vibrant good health, they will bring all of us one step closer to a healthier Jewish community.

Posted on July 17, 2014

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

Yom Partisans 2014

5th graders with ruth

5th grade campers with Ruth Bielski Ehrreich

Papers were flying and staples were clamping, stickers were delivered, and DVDs were organized. Another summer, and therefore, another fast day was upon us. It was dinner on the 14th of July in Cleveland, GA, and it was time to frame Yom HaPartisanim, or, as we’ve been calling it, Yom Partisans.

For the past two years at URJ Camp Coleman, we have done a dedicated day of Jewish learning to commemorate the holy, solemn days of Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) and/or Shiva Asar B’Tammuz (17th of Tammuz). Last year our campers learned about a non-Jewish man who wrote visas to allow Jews to escape from Lithuania during the Holocaust. You can read about it on last year’s day of learning blog entry!

This year, as the cheers for Letter Lotto (a beloved write-mail-and-you-might-win-you-a-towel program) quieted down, I spoke to our population of 650, introducing Ruth Bielski Ehrreich, the daughter of Tuvia Bielski (played in the movie by James Bond, Daniel Craig in the movie Defiance):

“Tomorrow is a Jewish holy-day called the 17th of Tammuz, not a holiday, that commemorates bad things that happened to the Jewish people, like the beginning of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem thousands of years ago. On the 17th of Tammuz, traditionally, we fast and learn about Jewish history. At URJ Camp Coleman, we have a dedicated day of learning.  Tomorrow, we’ll be learning about the Jewish Partisans who fought against the Nazis during the Holocaust, during WWII. We have a visitor here with us who is going to help us learn about her family, the Bielskis, that led a group of 1200 Jewish Partisans during the Holocaust.  There was a movie called Defiance about the Bielskis’ story. Check out the trailer: 


Throughout the day of the 17th of Tammuz (July 15th), there was Partisan learning happening around camp, thanks to Ruth, thanks to our unit programmers and staff, thanks to our faculty, and thanks to the help of the Jewish Partisans Education Foundation. Unit programming that day was about the Partisans and the realities of living in the forest for three years. Younger campers learned about what it was like for the Partisans to live in the woods and how they decoded messages and confused the Germans, our middle school kids learned about leadership, history and ethics of the Partisans, and our oldest campers learned about the women in the Partisans. Every meal featured at least a video, if not a discussion question, about different parts of Defiance or short films about the Partisans. Evening services were leadership and heroism themed, and every group in camp had a chance to listen to Ruth telling her story over the course of the day.

For our oldest 3 units’ evening program, groups were divided with kids in every grade, counselors, faculty and other staff facilitated debates about tough moral choices and leaving ghettos to join the Partisans. As the sun set, our oldest campers were conversing respectfully, and listening carefully as Ruth told her family’s moving story.

Over the course of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, the Bielski story was shared with 650 people in the Coleman community. Each learned something age-appropriate, and each will walk away from this summer remembering that while bad things happened to the Jews, we always fought back.  Another day of learning has come and gone, but the lessons will remain. We will never forget.

Posted on July 16, 2014

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