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Difference is part of life. This is true for everyone, but particularly the case when disability is part of our lives, whether our children have a disability, or we have disabilities ourselves. As parents of children with disabilities, it’s irrelevant whether our experience more closely resembles the classic 1987 description entitled Welcome to Holland, which describes life as though everyone around you landed in your planned destination of Venice, while you landed in Holland. A more contemporary description, which compares life to speeding through a hilly town with busy streets, in a car without functioning brakes vs. another experience entirely. Regardless, our lives are different from most of the community. The weird looks, lack of understanding, and the reality that the lives of our so-called peers seem foreign to our reality, are each completely exhausting.

For children with disabilities, their experience as “different” may seem equally, if not more, frustrating during the school year. The special classes, taking tests physically separated from other students, and often with separate instructions than their “typical” classmates, getting individualized help or other accommodations often further reinforces that they’re different. Regardless of how helpful or even necessary these accommodations are for academic success, they can still reinforce negative social stigmas. It’s no wonder then that both children with disabilities and their parents feel overwhelmed. Any opportunity to escape this reality and experience how “others” live. To fit in and belong, even if it’s only for a few weeks, sounds spectacular to parents and children alike. Thus, summer camp, a predominantly controlled environment, not governed by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which legally require the disclosure of disabilities, seems like the perfect opportunity to be discrete and seem “normal.”

On the surface, nondisclosure of nonvisible disabilities seems like a perfect solution.  If your child can pass as “normal”, they should be treated normally. Consequently, fit in and therefore, avoid the stigma of difference. The problem is that disabilities don’t disappear. Disabilities, even those most often associated directly with learning, don’t only affect people while they’re in school. Even when settings change or labels are hidden, disabilities always remain.

I understand this as a parent, a former camper with a disability, a staff member on a summer program, where there were campers whose disabilities were disclosed before camp, and campers whose parents chose not to disclose their child’s disability. However, if you don’t want to take my word for it, here is something to think about. According to the  American with Disabilities Act a “disability is an impairment or impairments that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” It continues by making clear that a disability exists even if a person “is only perceived by others as having such an impairment.” Major life activities aren’t confined to a singular setting. Furthermore, people’s perceptions are not   determined by disclosure of official medical diagnoses, but rather their day-to-day interaction with an individual. The difficulties associated with disability, with or without disclosure, are always present. Just as important, if not more so, we cannot give our children their best chance for success without providing them access to all of the beneficial support available, something that is impossible without disclosure. In short, we need to take the stigma out of disclosure and put success into it.

Posted on February 25, 2015

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

Success at Camp

jca_C130629-0472Inclusion…mainstreaming …general education…. One on one/shadow…these are words that fly through my mind almost daily, and are a regular part of my vocabulary. My son Sammy is 9 years old, and on the autism spectrum. He is what some might consider “high functioning.” He has no issue with communicating his needs and likes (and definitely his dislikes!). He is happy, affectionate, and has a healthy sense of humor. This social butterfly loves unconditionally and just wants to be friends with everyone. He is incredibly smart and has a memory that won’t quit. Sammy is adventurous and active, sometimes a little too fearless for my comfort level. He is incredibly aware of his surroundings and is a creature of habit. Due to his developmental disability he appears younger than he actually is. His interests are not always completely age appropriate and can be limited in scope. We work to introduce new activities and interests as often as possible to broaden his horizons and help keep up with his peers.

He has a full and happy life, but his knowledge of Judaism is quite limited. Our oldest son attended Camp Deeny Riback (CDR) in Flanders for nine years and our daughter has been there for seven years and running. This day camp program is second to none, offering an enviable array of activities and just the right dose of Jewish heritage programming. It was determined that Sammy was a perfect candidate for the Camp Friends program, CDR’s inclusive experience for children with special needs. Last year we took a deep breath (well truthfully I did, my husband was cool as a cucumber the whole time) and decided it was time to give Sammy the chance to shine in that setting too. We signed Sammy up for the minimum four week session. CDR’s staff has a reputation for being attentive, professional, and dedicated to making each and every camper’s summer a spectacular one.

It was now Sammy’s turn to experience this fantastic program and all it has to offer. Since I feared that placing him in a group of boys his own age– while being the “new kid on the block”–might be a bit too much for him, I asked if we could try fitting him in with group of boys just one year younger. This request was granted without question, and helped to ease my apprehension. Since cooperative play, initiating with peers, and asking/answering questions were at the top of our list of goals, we thought this arrangement would be a more appropriate fit.

At this point I knew several things for certain: 1) Sammy would have an amazing summer at CDR, 2) he would have a dedicated one- on -one shadow assigned to him (and I was assured that his shadow would blend in with the other counselors, no hovering, step in and support when needed, etc.), 3) he would have a somewhat easier time socially, thanks to that one year age difference between him and his bunk mates, 4) he would get the perfect amount of exposure to his Jewish roots via Israeli culture, Friday afternoon Shabbat programming, cooking, songs, etc. and 5) he would be gently nudged out of his comfort zone a bit via new peers, new routine, new activities, and a new setting.

The one thing I didn’t know… the thing that had me worried… will Sammy fit in? Will the other kids like him and accept him for who he is? Will he have friends? These thoughts plagued me. Nevertheless, it was time to take a chance and give both he and CDR the chance to prove my fears were inflated.

PWP Studio photographers specialize in corporate event photography, decor, details, incentive travel, conventions, and on-location photography in Atlanta, GeorgiaFast forward to the day before camp began…camp visitation day. We knew attending this event was a must. It would be the perfect opportunity for Sammy to see firsthand where he would be spending the next four weeks. We arrived and were cheerfully greeted by Becca (the head of the Camp Friends program) and Sammy’s unit leaders, who lead us to a group of friendly and energetic young men, the counselors in charge of Sammy’s group. We handed Becca a list of “goals” (developed by one of our private therapists) for Sammy to work on over the summer such as social skills, eye contact, asking for help, and fostering independence. We were introduced to a friendly, down to earth young man (Mikey) who was assigned to be Sammy’s shadow. We spent a few minutes talking to Mikey about Sammy, but the best way for Mikey to get to know Sammy was by jumping right in and spending time with him. Mikey immediately worked to start forging a connection with Sammy. Sammy was invited to explore camp with the counselors… find his cubby…see the pool…see the ropes course…kick around a soccer ball. My heart skipped a beat as I watched my curly haired boy happily and willingly trot off with the counselors to check out his new camp. It’s as if with that gesture he was saying “it’s all going to be ok, mom. Don’t worry, I’m gonna have a great time here.” He would’ve jumped in the pool that day if we let him. On the ride home Sammy was asking to come back the next day, and talking about all of the things he wanted to do there. He was READY.

I didn’t sleep much the night before camp, as my nerves had gotten the best of me. That morning he leapt out of bed, excited and energized. He hopped onto the bus smiling, happy, cheery. My 11 year old daughter must have sensed my anxiety and took me aside to say “Don’t worry Mom, I won’t let anyone tease him. I will look after him.” Tears of pride filled my eyes. I watched the bus pull away and felt a pit in my stomach. “Please let my baby have a great day…” was all I could think to myself. I had to sit on my hands all day to keep from calling the camp and checking on him. Although I knew he was in very good hands, the “mama bear” in me couldn’t help being concerned and worried.

The bus arrived home at the end of the day. Sammy was tired, he smelled of chlorine, his clothes had a generous film of dirt from playing outside, and he was happy: the surefire signs of a successful day at camp! Since I was given his schedule on camp visitation day I knew exactly what kind of questions to ask and what sort of answers to expect when talking about his day. Several minutes later, Becca called me with the best news I could possibly expect. She told me he had a great day: He participated in all of the activities, followed the daily routine, he was happy, he was social, and that he was a pleasure to have. What more could I ask for than a great start to a new experience?

The days went by and every day it was evident that Sammy was having increasingly more fun. He would share stories about himself and the boys in his group, and all the new experiences he was having. He was singing some of the Hebrew songs, reciting bits of the prayers, and was without fail excited to go to camp each and every morning. It was clear to see that he was part of a camp family, and expanding his horizons.

About a week and a half into the summer, Becca called to offer Sammy the opportunity to visit Camp Nah Jee Wah (an NJY overnight camp in PA) for “Science Day.” Many of the boys in his group were attending, and the activities would likely appeal to Sammy. Another deep breath was required here… this involved a long bus ride to a new location, as well as a change of routine. I was assured that Mikey would accompany him for the day, so I asked Sammy if he was interested. He enthusiastically agreed, and I knew I needed to allow him the chance to try something new. He ended up having a great time and participated in activities such as banana boat rides on the lake and science experiments.

Two weeks of camp had passed and Sammy’s enjoyment continued to grow. It was obvious that he felt right at home. The reports from staff were glowing; he was blossoming. He started to pedal a two wheeler a little, he canoed for the first time, he zipped down the zip line. He was taking chances, coming out of his comfort zone, learning new things, and feeling more connected to his religion. We were told that he was truly part of the group, and well liked by the other campers. He was interacting with campers and staff of all ages, making his mark on CDR.

PWP Studio photographers specialize in corporate event photography, decor, details, incentive travel, conventions, and on-location photography in Atlanta, GeorgiaAt this point in time we knew what had to be done… it was an easy decision to extend Sammy to a total of seven weeks at camp (the eighth week was set aside for our family summer vacation). The benefits he was reaping from this program were huge. Our little caterpillar was turning into a strong confident butterfly.

Sammy truly grew attached to his shadow in a very short time. We saw numerous great pictures of them together and it was easy to see their bond and mutual caring for one another. Mikey left at the end of four weeks and on his last day was awarded a small plush cow wearing a CDR t-shirt. This is a CDR tradition—the COW (Counselor of the Week) award. My daughter told me that Mikey gave this award to Sammy. When he arrived home with this lovely token I was brought to tears. For the remaining three weeks Sammy was paired with a different shadow counselor, also a very nice young man. He had a wonderful time with him as well. He was a super friend and support to Sammy and helped his summer to end on a great note.

We are incredibly grateful for the role that CDR played in Sammy’s life last summer. The Camp Friends program made it possible for him to immerse himself in all of the wonderful aspects of a Jewish day camp, while receiving the support and encouragement he needed. Becca, Mikey, and all of the staff who worked with Sammy deserve a round of applause for making him feel comfortable and safe enough to take chances he might not have otherwise taken (and for making this nervous mother feel comfortable enough to let go and allow Sammy to show us all he is capable of). I cannot stress enough how important it is to find that perfect balance of the right staff, the right setting, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere to make the inclusion experience a true success. Needless to say, Sammy is registered to attend CDR for the summer of 2015. He has been talking about his camp friends for months, and hopes to see many of them again. We are optimistic for another great summer, and expect to see him grow and develop even further in this fantastic inclusion program.

Posted on February 19, 2015

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

Open Hearts/Open Doors

shalom 7More years ago than I care to admit, I was a camper at the JCC Camps at Medford in Medford, NJ. I recall having so many wonderful times, but none was as wonderful as the summer of 2014. As a Division Head, I was able to observe at a distance, my then 4 year old daughter enjoying the time of her young life. By the end of the summer, when every child in her bunk was hugged, and tears dried, she said she was ready for the next important time of her life – being 5.

I’ve spent 20 years as a Special Education teacher, and now, for the summer of 2015 I will have the privilege of serving as our camp’s Director of Open Hearts Open Doors, our inclusion program for children with special needs.  I couldn’t be more excited!

Open Hearts/Open Doors provides the accommodations necessary for children with disabilities to be fully integrated in the Camp program with their peers. With the one-on-one attention of an advocate, each child is able to flourish and fully enjoy their camp experience.  Additionally, Open Hearts Open Doors makes an incredible impact on our typically functioning campers who have the opportunity to learn acceptance and about diversity while make life long friends.

Seussical Jr 270Last summer I observed many moments in the everyday lives of our very special children. I say special because each and every camper, with or without an IEP, comes with their own unique needs and abilities. At camp, those needs are met seamlessly, and differences are celebrated! I observed caring counselors and advocates working as a team to guide their charges from apprehension to joy. I observed children with varying physical, emotional and academic abilities performing on the camp stage together to the rousing applause of fellow campers, staff and parents. Stars were born and magic was made.

My goal for 2015 is to help our very special campers achieve what every child should have in the summer – joy. While I love the motto hanging on the wall behind the reception desk of the JCC, Where people with special needs don’t feel special, I do want our campers to feel special. I want them to feel special in the way all children feel special: when they get a base hit, learn to swim, create a work of art, master karate moves, or perform in a play that everyone loved. The focus is on inclusion, which not only benefits the child with special needs, but also their peers, counselors, and the camp Kehillah (community) as a whole.

Posted on February 12, 2015

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 Case for Camp Inclusion

Originally posted on

There’s no denying the rich, joyous, and stimulating experience of Jewish summer camp; research proves it contributes to Jewish identity, strengthens the Jewish community and fosters Jewish leadership.

At Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), we believe camp must also reflect the diversity of today’s Jewish community and be accessible for everyone.

Jewish camps should strive to create an environment which fosters growth for its campers and college aged counselors. Everyone benefits from an inclusive camp community, which has a culture that embraces and recognizes diversity.

We encourage camp environments where each camper, regardless of whether or not they have a disability, is given what they need to succeed at camp, in an environment in which everyone can learn from each other. Camp offers a place where every child has the opportunity to learn how to live in a diverse community, how to face and overcome challenges, and how to accept that being different is okay. An inclusive camp environment gives everyone the opportunity to be curious, to ask questions, and to learn how to be flexible and tolerant. These skills help build a stronger future Jewish community.

Part of what makes camp so unique is how integrated it is into nature and the ruach that comes along with it. The unpaved greenery, the steps up to the bunks, the hills that lead to the dining hall, the loud cheering after Shabbat dinner on Friday night. But what about the camper with cerebral palsy who can’t walk herself up that hill to the dining hall? Or the boy who covers his ears during song session because he has autism and the loud cheering is overwhelming? For the 15-20% of kids with a disability, whether that is cognitive, emotional, physical, intellectual or sensory, camp can present many obstacles. We feel an obligation to increase the availability of camp options for them.

After our study conducted in 2012-13 found that children with disabilities are significantly underserved by Jewish camp, FJC issued a vision statement for a major disabilities initiative. The overarching goal is to ensure that campers with disabilities and their families experience camp as fully and completely as their typical peers. In 2014, we began securing funding to enhance services at nonprofit Jewish camps across North America for campers with disabilities. One of the major areas identified by the study was the need for trained inclusion specialists and for counselor training focused on serving children with a variety of needs.

One major step in this direction is our new partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, the FJC Ruderman Inclusion Initiative. Four camps have been selected as part of the pilot. Each camp will have a new, dedicated Inclusion Coordinator on staff to intentionally and meaningfully increase their camp’s capacity to serve campers with disabilities. These inclusion coordinators will also receive intensive training and mentoring over the course of three years. They will have the opportunity to learn about universal design, developing strategies to manage camper behaviors and creating cooperative learning for all campers.

Our inclusion efforts continue to grow and we are eager to help more camps find new ways to say yes and break down more barriers. We now have 60 overnight camps within our system who are currently serving children with disabilities. In 2014, we added 3 new programs, one of which is an inclusion program for boys who are deaf and in the summer of 2015, we anticipate several new programs at our camps. As Jewish leaders, camp directors, and educators, this is our responsibility.

It boils down to one major truth: every child, no matter who they are, has the right access the Jewish community. There’s no telling what the future of Jewish camp or the Jewish community will look like, but one thing is for sure: it will be a much richer, more welcoming community if it becomes an inclusive one.

Posted on February 10, 2015

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

Inclusion at Jewish Camp Is Our Jewish Responsibility

Seussical Jr 267 smallJewish camp is a place where each child has the ability to make their own Jewish choices and learn what it’s like being a part of a Jewish community. However, many of the children in North America defined as having a disability are not properly served by the Jewish camp community.  Their ability to experience and explore their own Jewish identities and to feel what it is like to be a part of a Jewish community is often impeded by their disability and/or the lack of knowledge on the part of the camp on how to include them.

As Director of Disabilities Initiatives at Foundation for Jewish Camp, I work with our camps to increase the number of campers with disabilities. I work with camps on investing in staffing and training of camp staff, developing vocational and life skills training programs and enhancing their physical accessibility to children with disabilities.   FJC aims to ensure that campers in North America with disabilities and their families experience camp as fully and completely as their typical peers.  But what does inclusion at camp really look like? What are we, as a Jewish camp community, working towards?

Inclusion of children with disabilities at camp is the participation of such campers, to the greatest possible extent, in the full experience of a regular camp setting, alongside their peers. Campers with disabilities spend all of their time with campers without disabilities. The inclusive camp is structured in a way to allow for all campers to live and participate together while receiving appropriate supports and services based on their individual needs. Behavioral supports and accommodations are incorporated into daily living, often times under the guidance of an inclusion coordinator.  The inclusion coordinator works closely with all staff to collectively provide and implement necessary accommodations and programmatic changes to achieve success for each camper.

Creating an inclusive environment also requires a philosophical shift so that all campers, regardless of abilities, will benefit. A dedication to the broad training of all staff to understand and work together in support of this vision is necessary. Camp-wide assessment of agency goals, programs, and activities within the camp’s overall mission will ensure that campers with varying abilities and needs would be able to fully participate in the life and culture of the camp.

Facilitating inclusion is more than building a ramp or providing extra staff at camp. It also has to do with making friendships possible by allowing campers with disabilities to fully participate in all of the activities that take place.  This includes camp plays and dance competitions, as well as all of the other exciting sports, recreation, outdoor education, cultural arts, and social activities that take place during the summer months.  Goals for each program need to be examined and revised so that camp becomes a place where individuals are allowed to thrive in all areas.

This inclusive approach will ultimately impact the entire community in many positive ways. One must ask the following types of questions:  Is the appropriate goal to put on the perfect theatre performance with only the most competent actors participating? Must a finished product in the art shop look a certain way? and Does the blue team have to win every sports competition involving only the most talented athletes? Or is the value of the camp community to recognize attitude over aptitude? Every camper must have an opportunity to succeed and participate to their maximum extent.

Posted on February 5, 2015

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It’s Jewish Disability Awareness Month!

JDAM Blog 1February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM)! JDAM is “a unified initiative to raise awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide.” Inclusion at Jewish camp is a topic that is very important to us at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Many of the camps we work with offer programs to campers with a wide range of disabilities. We are working to increase these opportunities, elevate staff training on inclusion, and increase community awareness about the inclusion programs that exist around them.  To further the effort, we are running a series dedicated to discussing disabilities at Jewish camp this month.

Check back every Tuesday and Thursday in February for posts by camp directors, experts in the field, former campers, and more.

Posted on February 3, 2015

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

Jewish Summer Camp: The Questions You Should Be Asking

This blog post was reprinted with permission from InterfaithFamily.

Thinking of sending your kids to Jewish summer camp (this year or in the future)? Not sure where to start or what you might want to keep in mind about the experience of your child, a child of interfaith parents? It’s possible you haven’t considered any of these questions yet, but a camp that may seem warm and fuzzy may not be the most schooled in how to project an open and welcoming atmosphere to interfaith families.

Here’s what Jane Larkin, InterfaithFamily parenting blogger, Jodi Bromberg, IFF President and Lindsey Silken, Editorial Director, suggest asking the camp director. (Of course, you’ll want to adapt these questions as appropriate for your family.) And once you’re ready to start searching for a welcoming camp, our resource page can help.

1. Do you welcome children of interfaith families at your camp?

2. Does the camp require that the child is being raised Jewish?

3. Can dual-faith or secular interfaith children qualify? What about children who are in the process of converting to Judaism? Does it matter which parent is Jewish?

4. Do you have a definition of who is considered Jewish by the camp and who is not? How is that communicated to staff and campers?

5. What’s the percentage of interfaith campers and counselors at your camp?

6. What training or education do administrative staff get on working with interfaith families?

7. What training or education do counselors or CITs get on working with interfaith families?

8. What programming is specifically done regarding Jewish education, ritual or practice? (Ask yourself: How “Jewish” do you want your child’s experience to be? There is a wide range of options.)

[Related questions to consider: Is the camp kosher or kosher-style? Is there Jewish education? Israel education? How frequent is it? Do the children pray? When? What aboutShabbat? Is the camp aligned with a Jewish denomination or movement? Are Jewish clergy on staff? Are they welcoming and accepting of interfaith families?]

9. Will I receive information on what my kids are doing each week, including any Hebrew words that they are learning (or any other Jewish education), so that I can understand and participate?

10. Do you do specific outreach to children of interfaith families, or anything specific to ensure that they are welcome at your camp? And what will you do to ensure that my children are welcome at camp?

11. What philosophy does the camp emphasize? For example, Jane’s son Sammy’s camp places a strong emphasis on personal growth and positive self-image. They accept Jewish kids of every race and ethnicity, from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds including many who are from interfaith homes, with learning differences, etc. The camp’s philosophy indicates that a significant amount of energy goes into making a broad spectrum of Jewish kids feel comfortable.

A few suggestions for parents:

1. Visit the camp. Go the summer before you are ready to send your child to see the camp in action. Take your child with you. Ask if the camp offers a family retreat weekend during the school year that your entire family can attend. The whole family can get a taste of the camp experience: see if they are comfortable with the Jewish aspect of the camp and meet other prospective camp families. Many families do this and friends their child makes during the weekend often plan to attend camp together or request to be in the same bunk during the summer.

Counselor and camper2. Let your child experience overnight camp before they go to overnight camp for the summer. Many of the camps—especially those affiliated with a denomination or movement—offer weekend youth retreats for children, usually in third to fifth grade. These are kid-only experiences with camp staff. They are not billed as “check-out camp” but rather youth retreats so they are a mix of experienced campers and kids going for the first time. These outings are opportunities for children to “live” camp for 48 hours. If a child comes home excited about the experience, it is a good indication that they are ready to go to camp, and that the camp is a good fit.

3. Camp can be expensive. Determine what you can afford. If you need additional help, there are scholarships available for first time campers and some camps offer assistance for interfaith families. We recommend learning about Foundation for Jewish Camp’s programs: BunkConnect (matches eligible families with affordable camps) and One Happy Camper(need blind grants of up to $1,000 for first-time campers).

4. Does your child have a specific passion? Jewish summer camps have become hip to specialization. There are now Jewish sports, art and sci-tech focused camps. Today kids can have an interest-specific and Jewish camp experience at the same place.

Posted on January 23, 2015

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

Making Mensches

I PWP Studio photographers specialize in corporate event photography, decor, details, incentive travel, conventions, and on-location photography in Atlanta, Georgiaam certain that I am not the only parent who wrestles with the question of how to guide my children to become mensches and individuals who are relevant in the 21st century.

Educators and leaders of Fortune 500 corporations identified critical skills that are necessary to navigate in, compete in, and contribute to our complex and global society in the 21st century. They have found skills like creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, leadership, and responsibility missing from young hires.

Research shows that these skills are not necessarily taught in schools. We know there is a significant gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills that they need to be successful as adults. As parents work to ensure their children acquire all the skills to succeed, many have begun relying on summer experiences to compensate for this gap and view camp as a critical extension of their child’s education.

Camp is a great place where children are able to practice and perfect these 21st century skills. Through challenging activities with their bunkmates, campers practice teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. The fun games they play encourage humor, creativity, and collaboration. By overcoming obstacles, they build resilience and reinforce life lessons individually and as a community. The power of Jewish camp is that kids develop these skills all within a Jewish context, with Jewish values and joy-filled experiences.

Jewish camps hope to inspire young people today to be able to be decent, mature, and responsible contributing members of our Jewish community. Jewish camps have been in the business of “making mensches” for generations and they continue to do so by providing an environment for our children that models personal behavior, ethics, and responsibility for the future of our Jewish community.

Six months from now, our bunks, chapels, and lakes will be filled with mensches in the making. We must continue to provide our campers with Jewish literacy with the aim of creating visible Jewish pride and curiosity as well as equip them with critical 21st century skills.

Camp’s immersive environment delivers a powerful answer to why Jewish camp remains to this day such a vital tool for our community.

Posted on January 22, 2015

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

Such a Spectacle

Davis academy 8th graders prepare for the volunteering day, holding a fraction of the 9000 pairs of glasses in my office.

Davis academy 8th graders prepare for the volunteering day, holding a fraction of the 9,000 pairs of glasses in my office.

My professor asked for students with bad vision to raise their hands.  Out of a sea of 200, maybe 100 raised their hands.  He called on me, and I explained that I didn’t know my number, but my contact prescription was something like negative 6 or 7.  Hamevin yevin – those who know, know – and everybody else dropped their hands, with their mouths wide open in disbelief.  Wow.  She can barely see!  Professor asked me a follow-up question based on the response, “So, can you not drive without your glasses?”

“Drive?!”  I laughed.  “Without my glasses, I cannot walk.”

My prescription is worse now – negative 8 – making me super-nearsighted, and I rarely find someone whose vision is worse than my own.  I’m grateful every day for the advances in technology that allow me to have all-day contacts.  Technology that allows me to have relatively thin glasses, when years ago, I would’ve been forced into a pair of nerdtastic Diet Coke-bottle glasses.

We talk a lot about how to teach empathy in our students at school and at camp.  We show videos of the farmers who bring chocolate into our lives, tasting chocolate for the first time.  We discuss the Jewish Partisans and how they saved so many people during the time of the Holocaust.  We learn about children who were raised to be terrorists, but chose peace instead.

In planning this year’s Interfaith Social Action & Social Justice Day, I have been up to my eyeballs (I can’t help the puns sometimes) in all of the ways to do good around Atlanta.  We have kids going to Books for Africa, to pack class packs of books to be shipped across the Atlantic.  We have kids going to MedShare, to package sterile and usable medical supplies to be used in clinics and hospitals in the developing world.  We’re also doing some new things this year – a pancake brunch at Safe House Outreach in Atlanta, where they will cook for and hang out with clients – and an eyeglass recovery program.

For the weeks leading up to this program, my office is buzzing with activity.  I’m on the phone, I’m typing furiously on my desktop, laptop, and iPhone, sometimes all in the span of a minute or two.  The room fills with supplies as the program starts to come together.

This year, there are 9,000 glasses, in brightly-colored bins, making a spectacle (zing!) of my office, as part of our on-site mitzvah project with the Lions Lighthouse Foundation.  Many students have stopped by since they were delivered (2 weeks in advance), as my office is overflowing with glasses of every shape, size and color.

Teachers who, like me, have visited Poland, stopped by to mention that they were disturbed by the glasses, as it reminded them of lessons from the Holocaust.  I felt these things, too.  It’s interesting.  It’s disturbing.  It MUST mean something.

I don’t have a hard time sympathizing with people who are hungry, truly hungry.  I’m pretty cranky if I don’t eat every few hours, and I know that I cannot fully fathom actual hunger.

I don’t have a hard time empathizing with people who need medical supplies. I don’t have a hard time empathizing with people who need medical supplies.  I’m incredibly lucky to have had the care I’ve had for my relatively minor medical annoyances over the years.  I carry an EpiPen gratefully. I don’t have a hard time empathizing with people who need books to read.  I’m a voracious reader.  I need books and other online content to survive.

But the glasses.  Oh, the glasses.  I look at them and tears well up in my troubled eyes. I think of all of the people who had their glasses taken away by heartless torturers.  And then, I think of the 9,000 people who sent those glasses to Lions Lighthouse, so that they could be cleaned, sorted, and sent out to people who need their vision corrected and either had no access to or couldn’t afford to do so beforehand.  All of a sudden, I’m struck in a way I haven’t been in a while.

I hope our kids, with all of their options, are as moved as I am by the opportunities they’ll have on our volunteering day.

Until then, I’ll be here, working hard, pausing only occasionally to put in some eyedrops.

Posted on January 21, 2015

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

21st Century Skills and Jewish Camp

Jewish Camp delivers value to campers in so many ways. Most people know that it solidifies Jewish identity, it creates life long friendships, it teaches skills and allows kids to have experiences that they wouldn’t have in their home communities. What most people don’t realize, is that Jewish camp is also one of the best environments to teach campers newly identified skills that they will need to be successful in the emerging 21st century workforce. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is an organization that is dedicated to addressing the gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills that they need in typical 21st century  communities and workplaces. P21 (created by Apple, PBS, Dell and the US Dept. of Education to name a few of the founders) has identified a comprehensive set of skills that our children will need to learn in order to bridge this gap successfully. These include:

  • jca_C130629-0133Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility

It is an understatement to say that Jewish Camp is the perfect environment to communicate, practice and perfect these skills. Our campers and staff have these opportunities every day and the amazing thing is that we have been doing it for decades as part of our mission. At Beber Camp and Perlman Camp, we are also excited to say that we have also been intentionally and explicitly integrating the Partnership for 21st Century Skills ideas into our curriculum for a few summers. We have seen amazing results in our teen leadership training programs, in our overall staff training and in the programs that we run for our younger campers.

We want our campers and parents to know that these skills are important to learn now. We want our campers and parents to know why these skills are important for a successful future. Finally, we want to make sure everyone knows exactly how these skills are communicated, learned and mastered in the Jewish Camp setting.

Beber and Perlman are thrilled to be writing a series of blogs about 21st century skills for the Foundation for Jewish Camp in the coming weeks. We have reached out to our entire community to participate in this project and get ready to hear examples of these skills in action from campers, parents, alumni, professional staff and board members! In the meantime, I encourage you to do a few things – check out for more information, reach out to the FJC for updates on camp-style P21 learning and encourage any camp staff that know to re-think leaving summer camp for that internship!

Posted on January 7, 2015

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