Author Archives: Sara Beth Berman

Sara Beth Berman

About Sara Beth Berman

Sara Beth Berman has been working as a Jewish educator since a few weeks after her own Bat Mitzvah. Sara Beth, who is proud to have two first names, received her BS in Psychology from the University of Florida and her MA in Jewish Education from the Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is elated to be the Nadiv Educator at URJ Camp Coleman and the Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously, Sara Beth served as the Associate Director of Storahtelling, and has spent time working in the offices of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. Sara Beth has taught at a variety of synagogues in Florida, New York, and Connecticut, and served in Human Resources at Penguin Group (USA). She has staffed a variety of summer programs, including USY on Wheels, Camp Ramah Darom and Camp Interlaken JCC. She likes to teach in or near the water and use sidewalk chalk as often as possible. At school, Sara Beth relishes the time she gets to spend on experiential projects, both large scale and class-based. At camp, her favorite activities are lake activities, laughing, facilitating the professional development of staff members, delving into the world of Israel Education…and anything with snacks.

Home From Camp & Back to School

Camp_0030Camp ended.

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.

Posted on August 30, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Day School and Camp Program Goals

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

Posted on July 29, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

What’s In Your Duffel Bag?

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on June 24, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Play

sbb2The Davis Academy put on a play, “The Little Mermaid.”  It was utterly impressive.  The hard work of the kids – and the performing arts staff – was showcased in their acting and singing, the costume design, the makeup, and the gigantic mass of children (ages 5-14!) that sang in the chorus.  A number of shows were put on over the course of several days for the entire Davis school community.

As I sat in the audience, I marveled at the kids.  I normally only see them in Davis uniform khakis, logo-embroidered polo shirts, and the ubiquitous Davis hoodie.  Watching kids transformed by the play never ceases to amaze me – at school or at camp.

I’ve worked at a number of different Jewish summer camps with different views of how to make the play an educational experience.  At previous camps, plays were done in Hebrew – all in Hebrew! – or in English.  Regardless of the educational mission, the kids are growing before our very eyes.  Their time is spent in rehearsal – many hours after school for the school play, and many hours during their regularly scheduled camp program during the summer.  The teamwork, mindset and hard work ethic that is built during these experiences, while still having to maintain grades at school, or maintain a neat living space at camp, helps them grow into multitasking adults.

sbbThe set design, directing, and producing of the play is the responsibility of the Drama counselor(s), people with experience that ranges from “I did this when I was a camper” to “I appear on Broadway on a fairly regular basis.”  Not every play was ready to be presented for a Tony, but one constant remained: the shining of the kids.

At Davis, at Coleman, and at the other camps where I’ve watched plays, the kids sparkle on stage.  Whether that is due to intricate sequinning of costumes, or the impressiveness of a voice (usually hid behind a siddur in Tefillah or masked by 600 other voices during a camp-wide song session), the kids are stars.

Posted on May 28, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Israel and Israelis

After months of anticipation, I arrived in a slightly damp and chilly Israel for the annual training of summer shlichim (Israeli counselors) and the annual training of Union for Reform Judaism Israel Educators. I arrived a few days early with a busy schedule in mind:  Shabbat with a former Israeli co-counselor who is like family, observance of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).

While I was in Israel, I saw a number of things. I ate all of my favorite foods. I watched a ridiculous and humorous McDonald’s commercial while watching TV with my “family.”I swayed with thousands of people in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square) to commemorate the somber memorials of Yom HaZikaron. I sang, danced, and shouted with glee with thousands more in downtown Jerusalem on the very next night, Yom HaAtzmaut.

The transition from Zikaron to Atzmaut, tempered by the horrifying news of a pigua (terrorist attack) in Boston, really struck me. How can you be so sad, mourning thousands of Israel’s fallen in the very place where Rabin was assassinated, and then, in just one day, transition into singing and dancing outside of City Hall in Jerusalem?

The answer came at the Israeli staff seminar. The delegations from the different camps, chosen from a large applicant pool, are excited to teach about Israel. They have stories, histories, interests, and life experiences that are uniquely their own. Uniquely Israeli, but also uniquely individual. Each person is different. And just like they each bring their own experience, they also represent the full life and times of Israel. They remembered their own family members and friends on Yom HaZikaron, celebrated their country on Yom HaAtzmaut, and talked about how to share their stories with their campers over the course of the summer. Memory and joy for the whole country and people of Israel is important. So too is the ability of each shaliach/shlicha to share those memories and those joys with their campers this summer.

The answer is that the transition from Zikaron to Atzmaut became MY transition, too. Because I’ve lived in Israel, loved in Israel, eaten in Israel, commemorated in Israel, and learned in, from and about Israel, those stories and transitions are mine, too.

Israel is for all of us at Jewish summer camp. My hope is that those memories and joys will become the memories and joys of the campers who receive them this summer.

Posted on April 30, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The iPod Service: Camp, School and Tech

Sara Beth Berman is a Nadiv Educator working at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA in the summer and The Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia during the school year.

“The Barchu is about being called to prayer” was how the prayer was introduced.  Carly Rae Jepsen’s saccharine tones skipped out of the speakers.

IPod

Photo by Walrick (Erick Ribeiro) GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

Call me maybe?” I raised my eyebrows as I pondered the implications of asking kids to maybe, if they feel like it, engage in prayer.  Every head was bopping around to the song.  OK…OK, I can handle this.  Actually, this is…fun.  This is fun!

Just as this JTA piece on tech in camp was going to press, we were preparing to have an all-middle school iPod service at the Davis Academy.

I was, I am, and I always will be looking for good ways to engage my communities in tefillah, in prayer.  The creative and exciting programming that I have seen in my many years at camp ran the range from quietly standing at the edge of a lake to chanting loudly as a room echoed with a thunderstorm of voices.  Some of my more far-out tefillah experiences included snacks, scrolls, markers, chalk, mindful movement, and jumping, in unison and in complete silence.

How would the classic URJ Camp Coleman iPod service change if it was led by the kids and not the counselors?  We set out to answer this question at The Davis Academy last week.  The community is growing used to my outside-of-the-box (AKA camp-style) programming during tefillah.  They’re also getting used to the incredibly serious and thoughtful debrief questions I like to ask, which sometimes deeply engage the kids, and other times, get the kids to see their teachers as thoughtful, spiritual beings.

As each advisory group gathered in a circle on the “gymagogue” floor, iPods in hand, they were poised and ready to leap.  First, they had to figure out the meaning of the prayer on the page called out to them.  Then, they had to find a song that expressed the same ideas.  Finally, a select group of faculty chose a few songs per prayer, playing them for about 30 seconds over the loudspeakers.

Kids were poised, ready to jump, scurrying across the gym and begging to know what the next prayer would be.  One group cued up “All You Need Is Love” in anticipation of Ahavah Rabbah, which is about God’s great love.

At the end of tefillah, I heard the following things:
“What do you mean it’s over?”
“Can’t we do one more prayer?”
“That was fun,” they said.  “We should do this more often.”

And, from a teacher:
“They were SO into it!”

Camp and school came together that day.  And they were SO into it.

Posted on March 18, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Praying With Our Feet

Sara Beth Berman is a Nadiv Educator working at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA in the summer and The Davis Academy in Atlanta, Georgia during the school year. 

I have been to the mountaintop. Learning with students in my day school, we recently discussed the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his last speech. We talked about looking toward the future. A future of rights and equality. A beautiful future.

0078_120808-FJC_x_x

I also see a beautiful future.

I have been to the mountaintop of Jewish summer camp. I have learned with great teachers while wearing flip flops and reeking of SPF 85. I have rejoiced in the beauty of Israeli dance with hundreds of people in one space. I have consumed the proverbial bug juice and I now continue to try to reproduce it – every meaningful, sweet-as-mountain-air, drop. We remove our shoes and wiggle our toes in the gravel. This is holy ground.  It’s serious experiential education. As Heschel put it – we are praying with our feet.

I have been to the mountaintop of Jewish day school.  I have watched sixth, seventh, and eighth graders equate 1960s Civil Rights with modern social justice issues. I have seen them grapple with the text of the Binding of Isaac. I have been moved, as their teachers helped them to sketch in chalk, what this prayer or that prayer means to them. They stomp their feet in the coordinated “Mr. O’Dell Shuffle” as we return the Torah to the ark, a dance named for their 8th Grade Judaic Studies teacher. Their shuffles, their teachers, and our Torah, turn the gym into holy ground.

I have been brought to a new mountaintop. This mountaintop is also revelatory, as I begin to feel and see the connections between camp and school in a way that I didn’t before Nadiv. As I chat with URJ Camp Coleman campers in the hallway at The Davis Academy, I’m transported to the dining hall at camp.  I can feel the heat of hundreds of kids singing “Im Tirtzu Ain Zo Aggadah” – if you will it, it is not a dream – at the tops of their lungs.  Hundreds of feet, skipping forward and then back, as they celebrate the Israeli harvest of strawberries. This, too, is holy ground.

I have been to the mountaintop and I can see the future of Jewish education. Take your shoes off, friend.  We’re walking on holy ground and praying with our feet.

Posted on February 13, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy