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.
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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.
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]
January 28th was one such day.
I live and work in Atlanta during the school year. For months (MONTHS!) I’d been planning an Interfaith Social Action & Social Justice day, with Marist & Davis colleagues, for my 8th graders at the Davis Academy and our friends in the 8th grade at Marist School, a Catholic school just a few minutes away.
I hit roadblocks in planning. Locations, dates, times, school start times, Atlanta traffic concerns (Haha! Foreshadowing!) But then it came together, groups of 50 students each were scheduled to volunteer at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, MedShare, and Books for Africa. They were to be tasked with sorting and packing tons, literally tons, of: food for Atlanta’s hungry; books sorted into class sets for Africa schoolchildren; perfectly usable medical supplies, saved from landfills, and repackaged to be sent around the developing world. 120 kids were scheduled to participate in VolunteerStock at Davis, making turkey sandwiches for donation in midtown Atlanta, decorating a Prayer Canvas for the Boston Marathon, and making cards for Atlanta’s sick, elderly, and those who visit our local food pantries.
In the afternoon, everyone would meet at the MLK Center in Downtown Atlanta for lunch and a program that included the extraordinary speaker Stephon Ferguson.
The night before the program, we heard that we may have to cancel the second half of the program because of a snow storm. I stayed up late, calling and emailing faculty, staff, volunteer locations, and speakers. The plan for the morning? The show must go on! The afternoon? We will play it by ear.
The morning went off without a hitch. Then we said bye to Marist, hugged, and set up for our afternoon at Davis. Beautiful. I could stop there, the blog post would be done, everyone would smile and know that 220 students and many dedicated faculty and volunteer chaperone adults did good all around Atlanta.
Then, the afternoon arrived. Snow started falling. Carpool started early. Mr. Ferguson couldn’t meet us at Davis because of traffic. Atlanta was coated in dreamy white.
700+ sandwiches sat in my car. Google told me that because of the traffic caused by the storm, it would take two hours to get to the food bank, 24 miles away. My colleagues encouraged me to set out – “you should at least try to get there” even while the transit map was beyond foreboding. I was barely driving. I moved two miles in one hour, and this was better than most. I know many people who took upwards of 10 hours to get home. There were over 700 accidents A baby was born in a car on the highway.
285 minutes, an average of 11 mph, innumerable reroutes, countless others nearly skidding into my car, a giant headache, one stop for gas/bathroom/candy/medicine, and one guy who parked in front of me for a good 20 minutes, trying to turn left, transpired. Close to home, I FINALLY maneuvered my trusty all-wheel drive Subaru Outback into the driveway of the organization that was awaiting our sandwich delivery, hours after their usual closing time. Someone pointed out to me that I could’ve given those sandwiches out to my compatriots stranded on highways, but I’m stubborn and focused. I was a woman on a mission.
How’d I pass the time? I rolled down my window to thank emergency workers, and tried to add levity to the gridlock by making faces at my fellow stranded. I Tweeted and Facebooked while I was in park (which I was, most of the time). One of my colleagues, who took three hours to drive the three blocks between Davis and home, took this picture of two of our 8th graders, serving hot coffee to those stuck in traffic outside of their homes.
The day of service didn’t end at noon, 1:30, 2:30, or even 7:30. It marched into the night. I’m warm now, but every time I look at that picture of our 8th graders serving coffee, my heart melts yet again, as they lived out what it said on our Prayer Canvas “Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.”
“Always thinking, you. Always thinking.”
A friend in graduate school mockingly accused one overachieving friend by telling her she was “always thinking.” Because she was “always thinking,” she came up with creative ideas and solutions to the most mundane and epic of problems.
Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to join my half-time colleagues from the Union for Reform Judaism at URJ Biennial in San Diego, while representing both halves of my job – URJ Camp Coleman and The Davis Academy, a Reform Jewish day school.
Decked out in professional garb (so professional that someone who’d met me last summer didn’t recognize me until I fully identified myself and said, “I know it’s hard to recognize me, as I am usually covered in dirt.”) and armed with an open mind, I stepped into the convention center with wide eyes.
Not raised in the movement, I found it was just like when I first started my job as a Nadiv Educator with the URJ. I was once again being plunged into “Reform Boot Camp.” I found myself “always thinking” thinking like I think at camp. Thinking like I think at school. I was thinking about camp, about school, about partnerships, about old friends and new, about my life before moving to the URJ, and the challenges that continue present themselves in all of our lives. I ran into, met with, and learned from inspirational teachers and role models. I took great pictures and hugged long-lost friends from all over North America. I learned from people who I sought out as role models, and acquired new teachers and friends. Neshama Carlebach wrote about her aliyah to Reform Judaism at Biennial. I’ve been bouncing around in the world Reform Judaism since I started my job. There’s much to learn, and you have to constantly be processing the experience. It’s intellectual. It’s fascinating. And, there’s room for everyone.
So, I was “always thinking” about my big question: What’s going to come back to Georgia with me? There’s the stack of cards from the iCenter for Israel programming. The dance-it-out Shema. The slamming of poetry. The concept of audacious hospitality. The inspiration of every person’s voice in a service attended by 5000 people.
The day after Biennial, I was back at Davis, and meeting with the 3rd graders for Tefillah.
What’s the biggest service you’ve been to?
Was it Yom Kippur? Rosh Hashanah? A bar or bat mitzvah?
I went to services with FIVE thousand people.
Five thousand people.
Five thousand voices.
Every voice matters – your voice matters.
I hope, if nothing else, that I never stop thinking, that WE never stop thinking, and that the Coleman and Davis campers that I teach, directly or indirectly, are always thinking. Always thinking about who and why they are. And always thinking that every voice matters.
Huge drums of food overflow in Jewish Studies classrooms at school.
A formidable stack of brightly-colored pieces of artwork perch precariously, threatening to tumble off of my desk.
This isn’t exactly a blog post about meetings. What kind of blogger writes about meetings? After all, you don’t get lots of numbers for writing about how “at 1:45PM, every Monday, she meets with her supervisor and talks about the tasks at hand.”
And yet, this is a blog post about meetings. Last year, when I first met my contact at Atlanta, GA’s JF&CS, I had no idea what to expect. Let’s review your agency’s good work, I thought, and figure out how to make some mitzvah happen at our machaneh (Hebrew for camp, and also because I love alliteration). Sheri was insightful and helpful and inspired URJ Camp Coleman’s Donate Duplicate Dental Supplies for a local dental clinic. She was good for camp and I continued to appreciate our relationship as I bugged her over the year for suggestions on ways to make mitzvot happen.
This is my job. I have to figure out how to make mitzvot happen.
This year’s Mitzvah Meeting couldn’t come soon enough! In addition to make sure mitzvot happen each summer at camp, school also is always looking for ways to be more involved and to teach our core value of Tzedek/righteousness. And so, after a really cool and long meeting about mitzvot for all ages and stages – starting with what the youngest kids do in the Lower School and through the Philanthropy work the Machon CITs do at camp – more cool ideas emerged.
First project? Making place mats for a Holocaust Survivors’ Chanukah Party. Taking a few study halls, volunteers joined our the Middle School Jewish Life Leadership representatives in sketching, scrawling, coloring and gluing. The finished results will be laminated and distributed soon!
Again, it seems kind of boring to talk about meetings. But these meetings, so filled with purpose, meaning and tzedek, are what yield these incredibly moving and positive results. Youth, ages 4 and up, are impacted by the Jewish commitment of their school and/or camp – the commitment to values and mitzvot.
We’re not just together to learn and to have fun – although we are really good at fun and great at learning. We’re together to make a difference. To create meaning. And to fill the world with more light and love, as a result of our commitment to mitzvah. And that is the most inspiring thing, isn’t it?
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.
Two quick days.
(Two four-week sessions.)
Middle of the school week.
(Middle of another delicious Georgia summer.)
60+ 8th graders.
(450 3rd-12th graders.)
A handful of faculty.
(Multitudes of young (and not-so-young) trained counselors and specialists.)
(Nearly 40 cabins, filled to capacity.)
An abundance of Hershey’s chocolate bars.
(An abundance of Hershey’s chocolate bars.)
There are a number of ways to compare the Davis Academy 8th Grade Gibush/Teambuilding Retreat to a whole summer at URJ Camp Coleman. School had just started, and camp had just ended. Over the course of the time we spent at Coleman, the 8th graders were present. There. Ready to do everything. Willing participants in the teambuilding enterprise.
As their Nadiv Educator, I’d barely transitioned from camp to school when we brought the 8th grade class. I would look out into the crowd at dinner and do a double-take. “Where is Bonim? Why aren’t the Chalutzim meltzing?” Then, I’d shake my head and realize that it wasn’t camp anymore. It was…camp. Davis Gibush camp. At Coleman.
Our 8th graders have taken the first steps on their journey to Israel. In a few short months, they will graduate. But first, to break the barriers. Everybody has their own smaller group of friends in the grade. How does the 8th grade become a cohesive unit? We started with Leaderskits, imagining as if they were Moses, looking out into Israel, not quite there yet. We continued with setting goals for learning for the year, low ropes, Israeli Dance and swimming. After dinner, the kids explored Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” through silent contemplative prayer for nearly an hour, coming back together for s’mores and a poetic review of the Davis menschlichkeit values. The next morning, a walking (and running) Tefillah energized them for a morning of art, campfire cooking and Gaga before lunch and returning to Davis. One student’s mom relayed this story: After hearing a description of the activities, she said that the student had come back from an icebreaker retreat. “No, mom,” he demanded. “It was teambuilding.”
All of the magic of camp.
(All of the magic of day school. At camp.)
Two short days.
(A summer of memories.)
I can’t believe it’s over. All of a sudden, I transitioned from the tie-dyed 24/7 magic of camp to the polo shirts, big binders and giant potential of a year of learning and teaching at a really cool school. I can’t believe school has started. All of a sudden, I’m transitioning to the daily magic of the classroom buzz – and non-classroom activities – at school from the 24/7 constant young role modeling of camp.
Kids, for sure, can’t believe camp is over. Take a look at their Instagram accounts, their most recent tweets. Picture after picture. Camp dates and rates for summer 2014 are already being re-tweeted. Countdowns have begun – only 330 more days until I get to go home again!
As I look around my office at The Davis Academy, it’s like I never left. My Moses action figures kept my office safe, and my eclectic collection of books and toys are perfectly positioned to get pulled at a moment’s notice to teach learners yet again! But, if you look closely, you’ll see changes. A new water bottle from Sustainability Shabbat at Camp Coleman. A copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, ready to teach about silent prayer to Davis 8th graders before they go for a hike in the shady wooded areas on a retreat at Coleman. My Coleman laptop, perched in an unprecarious but funny-looking position next to my Davis desktop. A ceramic mug and a new picture frame on the wall, both gifts from awesome camp staff.
I look at your kids (former campers, future campers, current students) and it’s like they’ve never left. The bright eyes. The shy smiles. The neon-colored backpacks. But again, look closely.They’re taller. Their hair is less Bieber-esque than last year. They learned to read Torah, or lead blessings, or how to climb a tall tower or to make shattered glass into a stunning mosaic. They can’t wait to talk about the sights they’ve seen: The waterfall! The South! The capitals of Europe!
Looking at it both ways, it’s hard to decide what to love more – school or camp? Camp or school? Without school, who would these kids be? Without camp, how would their lives turn out? The combined experiences in our communities (camp, school, home, synagogue, JCC, a university alumni’s mommy and me group, whatever works) are shaping our Jewish future. So I don’t love one place more than the other. I love the promise of a bright and exciting future.
Several weeks ago, as we were gearing up for camp, I was sitting and having a lot of conversations with people. Our primary concerns were health, safety and security, of course, as we want to welcome your children into the safest and most open arms we can provide! Once we provided for basic needs, everyone rallied around the project of setting up the whole camp program, from learning icebreaker games to setting up a trip calendar for every unit to learn out of camp, and getting ready to plan Maccabiah (color war/Olympics/etc).
Just as we have essential curriculum and progression in school, including my beloved day school, The Davis Academy, so too do we set curriculum that goes through a child’s years in camp. In the Programming Castle (because we like to nickname buildings, people, activities, and things at camp), each unit’s dedicated programmer crafts a schedule filled with programs addressing their unit’s enduring understandings and essential questions. “Why does being Jewish matter?” they ask our oldest campers. “We are all a part of K’lal Yisrael/the people of Israel” responds a younger unit. This framework allows for structure fun sessions, as well as a healthy mindset for working, living, learning and enjoying our experiential Jewish summer home.
The following email, edited slightly from its original version, shows the bridging of the two kinds of educational venues, two totally different settings, and two totally identical program goals, addressing the important question of “how do we build a Jewish community together?”
Dear Community Rabbi,
I hope this email finds you well.
We’re gearing up for camp and one of our Programmers is preparing a program about setting a new place, and deciding how to establish the Jewish community. I’ve included the programmer on this email so you two can connect.
The program idea reminds me very much of the program you did with the 5th graders at our day school before they went on their trip to Savannah, GA! I was hoping that you two would be able to touch base about this program while you’re at camp for the first week and a half.
Looking forward to seeing you at day school graduation.
All the best,
Your Friendly, Neighborhood Nadiv Educator