ALYIA & MAX CUTLER
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
Max and I met for the first time at Camp Edward Isaacs in 2000; I was a camper and he was a CIT. My girlfriends and I would give him a hard time about hanging out with our counselor. In 2006, on the first day of staff week I walked into the canteen during a showing of “The Matrix” to say hi to a friend. Max was sitting next to him and immediately stood up and yelled out my name with big open arms. I must have looked very confused because for the past 6 years since we met we had hardly exchanged two words! Max gave me a huge hug and told me he was so glad to see me.
Was it love right away?
Max says he knew that night in the canteen… I took a little longer to warm up. Everyone seemed to know he had a crush on me and when they told me I would just roll my eyes and say we were just friends and it would stay that way! Then one night when I sat OD in my tie-dye pajamas and oversized sweatshirt, he came by and kissed me. At that moment everything changed and I knew he was the last person I ever wanted to have a first kiss with.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
Heartbreak! Straight out of a sad movie. We both decided that since we didn’t go to the same school and we were in “different places in our lives” that we would end the summer romance and just be friends after camp. After a long, drawn out goodbye I remember driving away down the dirt road sobbing by myself until I got home…and then for days after that.
That first winter we talked on the phone every so often, checking in to say hi and happy birthday. When we were home from school we would see each other. The next summer I went back to camp but Max didn’t. He would come visit though and we fell right back into the days of summer love. I spent my days off with him and we began to talk and see each other more and more as the months went on. For the next few years as I finished college and he began his post college “adult life” we dated on and off, taking breaks to study abroad and “find ourselves.” In 2010, during my last semester in college, we became serious and last year he proposed during a bike-ride on a pier in Riverside Park.
Will you send your kids to your camp?
Sadly, Camp Edwards Isaacs closed in 2008 but if it were open we would say, “Absolutely, we’ll send our kids to Eddie I!” There is no question though, that we will send our kids to Jewish sleepaway camp to have transforming summer experiences, and maybe meet the love of their life too.
Alyia and Max were married in September 2013 with their camp friends and former camp directors in attendance. They currently live in Brooklyn, NY with their Sphynx cat, Abby. Alyia is an Assistant Program Manager at Foundation for Jewish Camp and Max is a therapist at the Jewish Child Care Association in Brooklyn.
Jeremy J. Fingerman is the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
Last week, I had the distinct privilege of attending the presentation of the top-line results of the new Pew Research Center study of Jewish Americans. Among the small group were several of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s key funders, philanthropists and trustees. Overall, the people in the room had two immediate reactions to the news that so many Jews living in the US today are non-practicing or don’t identify with Judaism: Why is this happening and what can we do about it?
As a Jewish communal professional involved in identity building and continuity, the findings were not surprising to me. These are the challenges the field of Jewish camp faces every day, the challenges that push Foundation for Jewish Camp and our colleagues in the field to work harder, to get more kids to camp and to make every minute that they are at camp count. According to the Pew findings, 44% of practicing Jews reported attending Jewish overnight camp as opposed to only 18% of those who are non-practicing. We read those results to mean that those who experienced Judaism through the lens of Jewish camp were influenced to make it part of their lives long after they attended their last campfire. We believe that many of those children may have had no other Jewish experiences growing up besides camp.
In his remarks on the findings, Dr. Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner, made the case for Jewish camp. His comments echoed those that he shared on the release of our research, Camp Works, “We don’t have to repair the lack of adult engagement in Jewish life. If you invest in Jewish youth, you’re going to automatically get all kinds of engagement. With Jewish camp…you continue to see the results 20, 30, 40 years from now.” Camp is a place where children live joyous Judaism and explore our religion on their own terms. At FJC, we work hard every day to make sure more kids have that opportunity each summer.
As we have conversations with our many colleagues and partners in the field and beyond regarding the implications of this study, I am confident that together we can and will work to create a more vibrant Jewish future.
I learned recently that groups of animals have the most interesting names. Some are well known, like a school of fish or a colony of ants. Others, I found, were quite amazing and yet, somehow, not at all surprising: a stand of flamingos, a tower of giraffes, a prickle of porcupines. For these animals, what they are called in a group is based on their features – how they stand, how tall they are, or the covering of their skin. And some, like a crash of rhinoceroses, may seem to be based on something obvious when, in fact, it may be due to something much less well known (that rhinos have incredibly bad eyesight). Then there are the groups whose name evokes their connection to humans: a plague of locusts (how biblical!) or a shiver of sharks (“Jaws” comes to mind). And there are those, such as a convocation of eagles, with a name that almost personifies them.
In their daily lives, our kids are so often put in groups: a class of students, a team of soccer players, a minyan of Jews. In camp, it is much the same: a cabin of girls, an elective of artists, a unit of 10 year olds. Unlike what we use for animals, these group names lack creativity; they don’t give our kids (or us!) an opportunity to express anything about themselves in the group. What if we were to rethink how we classified ourselves? A learning of students, a goal of soccer players, a belonging of Jews, a strength of girls, a creative of artists, a decade of 10 year olds. If we were to change what we call our communities, perhaps we could change, too, how we see ourselves as part of them. Think of how empowering it could be for our kids if they knew that every group they belong to says something about who they are. We might be able to create a much stronger sense of connection and commitment to each of the groups – and to the community at large.
Perhaps my favorite grouping of animals is a murmuration of starlings. As a collective, starlings move as one, creating a sort of murmur across the skies – it’s truly awe-inspiring to watch! For these birds, being in a group means being part of a unified whole. If I could wish anything upon our campers each summer, it would be just that: an understanding that their individual participation in the Jewish community is essential to creating the whole. That’s worth a whole lot more than murmuring … we should scream it from the rooftops!
It’s only been a month and a half since my son Jonah returned from sleep-away camp and I’m already feeling nostalgic for that brief August interlude when he was on his own and my wife Cynthia and I were on our own. Not just because it was a break for us from the rigors of parenting a child with autism, but it was a break for Jonah from the rigors of being parented by the parents of a child with autism. We can make for a tense trio at times. It’s not just that we all worry about one another; it’s that we all feel the weight of being worried about. In any case, Jonah thoroughly enjoyed his eleven summer days – and ten nights – away as did his mother and I. We’re all especially grateful for how wholeheartedly Jonah was accepted into his summer camp community.
But the summer is over. Fall is here and with it comes a whole new set of worries. After thoroughly enjoying camp, Jonah, who’s 14, is back at school and enjoying it a lot less. Jonah attends a special needs school, here, in Montreal and for most of the last month we have been receiving reports expressing concern about some of the problems he’s having re-adjusting to the routines and pressures of the day. What has followed is what seems like a daily series of phone calls, emails, and texts back and forth and, along with it, an escalation of worrying.
Then, the other day, Cynthia and I arranged to meet with Jonah’s teacher, his psychologist, his social worker, his behavioral technician, the school’s educational consultant, and the principal. A lot of good will and hard work went into this get-together. There were reassurances the school would keep trying to figure out what was going wrong and what could be done to address making Jonah feel better about his environment. There was also a willingness to hear whatever feedback my wife and I had to offer about what might work best with Jonah. Even so, I confess I was only listening half the time. The rest of the time I was thinking about how much I hated these meetings, all these meeting we’ve had over the years to try to help Jonah fit in, be accepted, flourish. It’s one of the things parents of so-called neurotypical children don’t always understand about being the parent of a child with autism: it seems like you can never make a decision or solve a problem without consulting a dismaying array of experts, often experts who, when it comes to the mysteries of autism, are just guessing. It’s no wonder there are times you don’t feel like a family so much as a lab experiment.
I don’t know about Cynthia but I always end up feeling the same way at these meetings: like I’m the one back in school, experiencing that familiar back to school dread, the troublemaker about to be called on the carpet for whatever it is I’ve done wrong.
What have I done wrong? And what should I have done differently? When you are the child of a parent with autism or any special needs you spend a lot of time asking yourself some variation and combination of these questions. It’s no wonder I find myself missing those relatively worry-free days Jonah spent at camp. This October, they seem so long ago.
Campers and staff often state at the end of a camp session or summer that they wish camp could last all year long. The inherently temporary nature of a camp experience makes both the sweetness of its existence and the sadness of its conclusion all the more profound. As so many in this blog have pointed out so very eloquently, camp is an incredible place where people grow and develop in ways not possible anywhere else. For those of us who are lucky enough to work year-round for camp we know that “camp” is not just the experience that happens during your time in a cabin away from your family, but also how you live your life the other 49 or so weeks during the year.
Often in our staff training right before the start of a camp season we talk about how camp can be different from “the real world” as a way of illustrating how powerful the experiences will be that staff are about to create for children. A few years ago however, a staff member came to me somewhat upset and said, “Why do we keep distinguishing camp from the real world? Camp is as real as it gets. It is the real world and kids should know that.” Wow. What a great point this was! At camp, children are forced into an unfamiliar setting and are given the challenge to try new things, meet new people and form new communities, all without parental help or hand holding. Pretty real indeed.
When a camp experience is successful for a child (here, with Camp Tawonga’s mission in mind) they leave with higher self esteem, a sense of belonging in a new community, awe and appreciation for nature, and a deeper sense of their Judaism and spirituality. These are gifts that camp gives but they cannot be gifts that expire at the end of the camp program.
Instead, camp and the real world can become one and the same (or at least closer together) when everyone who has been given the gift of camp helps spread that out into the world around them. Whether it was a new skill, an improved self image or a more refined idea of what it means to create community and bring people together, deploying these “camp things” at school, youth group, theater, band or sports practice helps spread the good energy of camp even when you are a thousand miles or 49 more weeks away from the real thing. So host a Shabbat, go on a hike, have a sleepover and look in the mirror and smile back! In these ways we spread the gifts of the camp experience and make camp and the real world one and the same, so no distinction will be necessary.
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.)
Why does it sometimes feel almost counter-cultural to pack your kids off to camp? Maybe because we’re living in a time that thinks kids are unsafe all the time, unless a parent or bodyguard hovering directly over them, preferably at home. And anyone who questions that model gets shot down.
Is there anyone in any position of authority who EVER says, “Well, the chances are not 100% that your kid will be safe if you do X, but they’re close enough not to worry about them”? Not yet. In the meantime, I present what passes for wisdom and rationality in modern day America — this “advice” column. Sigh.
This might sound like a crazy question, but at what age do you think a 14-year-old student should be allowed to stay home alone? I am an only child who is going into 10th grade (I turn 15 over the summer), and my parents are still married. I know that is a miracle, because at least 60 percent of my friends have divorced parents. One of my parents works outside the house at a regular job, and the other parent has a home business where she makes and sells crafts over the Internet. It is pretty successful and together they make good money.
So at least one of my parents is always home. And even though I am 14, if they do go out, they still get me a baby sitter. They say that it is similar to an insurance policy to have a college student at the house – no need for the student until there’s a huge demand, and then they will be glad he or she is there. For example, if I get really sick and must immediately go to the hospital. If my parents go to the city or to a play, they want someone at the house who has a car and is old enough to drive.
Cherie, I don’t want to do illegal stuff, but it is humiliating when the baby sitter comes and I am almost as tall as he is. Can you convince my parents to stop this stupidity? I am old enough to be home alone. – Home Alone
To Which Cheri Replied:
I owe you one. You gave me a great reminder why it’s important to have a baby sitter with a car when Jeff and I go out at night. We also have a teen who doesn’t drive, and now that I think about it, there are many reasons for him not to be home alone.
You have good parents when they realize that it is not an issue for you to be home by yourself until it becomes a big problem.
It is just better to have an adult who has a car as well as a little bit more of the good judgment that should come with experience. The chances of a catastrophic event occurring are small, but you never know. They are only covering their bases by having a baby sitter there for you, and I think it is smart.
Someday, you may be that baby sitter for someone else. I hope you don’t have to drive a child to the hospital, or call the parent to say the kid broke an arm; however, it could happen.
For now, set up some ground rules about the baby sitter leaving you pretty much alone, and I think you’ll be OK. Thoughtful letter. Thanks!
Thoughtful letter it may have been. Thoughtful reply? Not. – L
This past Sunday I convinced my sons to join me out back to put up our Sukkah, ritual dwelling for Sukkot, arguing that it was just a really big Lego set. They were happy to build and play until we got to the s’chach, the cut organic material used as the roof of the sukkah. The boys just did not understand it. The s’chach, as compared to all of the other Lego pieces, did not click or tie into place. So I went on to explain that while it needs to be porous enough so that we can see the stars, minimally the s’chach must be thick enough so that it provides more shade then sun light in the Sukkah. Of course they asked why?
Just five days after the solemn day of Yom Kippur, we are off to one of the most joyous holidays of the year. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, is commonly referred to in our liturgy and literature as Zman Simchateinu, the time of our happiness. I began thinking and questioning the so-called happiness of Sukkot. Traditionally on this holiday we read the book of Kohelet. The author of this book retells his investigation of the meaning of life and the best way to live your life. Kohelet proclaims all the actions of humanity to be inherently fleeting, futile, empty, meaningless, temporary, and done in vain. This sentiment is well-said in the most quoted line from Kohelet which reads:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Kohelet 1:9)
Learning that life is senseless seems like a real downer for a holiday of happiness. This juxtaposition is only highlighted in that we read this just after Yom Kippur, a day during which we appealed that mercy would win out over justice. If Kohelet is correct, we will never be able to change. Despite our best efforts to repent and atone, we are stuck and should be judged in light of the fact that will never be able to renew ourselves.
Then it all came together for me.
Kohelet is right; nothing is new under the sun. The difference is that just after Yom Kippur we escape the sun under the shade of the Sukkah. There we find shelter from the harsh judgment of the world. If we spend a serious amount of time practicing being the people we aspire to be, we might be able to achieve it throughout the rest of the year. We see a similar dynamic in the shelter of summer camp. There we are able to immerse ourselves in an Eden of our own design. Is there any greater joy then the promise of a better future?
By now you’ve hopefully eaten a good Rosh Hashana meal, had a meaningful Yom Kippur fast, looked at your watch countless times in services, and found numerous ways to entertain the kids throughout this marathon of Jewish practice. Now its time for some good old-fashioned fun- Sukkot! On Sukkot we literally pitch a tent in which we are supposed to eat and sleep for eight days. If that doesn’t bring up thoughts of Jewish camp, I don’t know what does.
There are two main reasons given for why we are commanded to sleep and eat in the sukkah. One reason is that the sukkah reminds us about the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, sleeping in temporary dwellings like sukkot. The sukkah also serves to remind us of the rich, agricultural history of the Israelites. Sukkot is a harvest holiday, and in Ancient Israel the people would build huts similar to sukkot at the edges of the field in order to maximize their work time (and minimize their commute!). On Sukkot we have the chance to give up some of the comforts of heated homes and cushiony beds to live like the Israelites lived. In many cases, this is similar to how the less fortunate, particularly farm workers, live in our country today. Sukkot is the perfect opportunity to discuss the less fortunate among us. More specifically, you can educate yourself and your family on the treatment of farm workers in America to truly bring new meaning to an ancient tradition.
Try this: Build a sukkah and chose one night to both eat and sleep under the stars. Make one of the tasty recipes below, bring out some sleeping bags, ask your kids to teach you a few camp songs, and have a dialogue about the treatment of farm workers in this country and how it relates Sukkot and to you and your family.
For midnight snack…
Homemade Cheese Crackers
Makes about 30 crackers
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cups whole grain spelt flour or while whole wheat flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk, plus more for brushing
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Combine the cheese, butter, flours, onion or garlic powder, salt and 2 tablespoons of milk into the bowl of a food processor or mixer. Pulse or mix until the dough forms a ball.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface. Roll it out until it is a square about 1/8 of an inch thick (or a bit thinner). Brush the dough with additional milk.
- Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into 30 squares. Using a toothpick, prick a hole in the center of each square.
- Place the squares on the baking sheets, leaving about ½ an inch between crackers.
- Bake about 15 minutes until the crackers are just slightly brown around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
1 ½ cups skim or 1% milk
½ cup quinoa
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons amber agave nectar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup dried fruit and nuts
- Bring milk to a boil over medium high heat- be careful not to let it boil over!
- Add the quinoa the salt, stir once, cover and turn the heat down to very low.
- Simmer about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed, then stir in the remaining ingredients and re-cover for 1 minute.
- Serve hot or put in refrigerator for up to 1 week and reheat.
Shanah Tova from the Ranch Camp! We wish your family a year full of happiness, health, and fulfillment.
The High Holiday season is a like a spa for the soul. Each year we are given the opportunity for rest, reflection, and renewal and if we seize this opportunity wholeheartedly, we can achieve a true sense of cleansing, empowerment, and renewed purpose.
In thinking about my past year and the year that awaits us, we are bombarded by imagery of both personal and professional triumphs and challenges. We think about all the wonderful relationships that we have been able to maintain over the year and all the new friendships that we’ve begun to cultivate with parents, campers, staff and alumni. Camp is really about Kehillah (community) and the many facets that this word embodies. Our role as directors of Ranch Camp, at its essence, is really about relationships and community. It is incredibly important to us not to serve to our constituents but to work together with them as partners. It is only through partnership that we feel like camp can truly have a meaningful and lasting impact, one built on trust and respect, which carries on from the summer into the rest of the year. We are grateful for the trust that our families have all placed in us in the last year that has enabled us to run a successful camping program and carry Ranch Camp through its 60th year of operation.
It’s hard to believe how close we were to losing our beloved camp this year to the Black Forest Fire. It was a humbling experience to have to evacuate our campers, staff, and animals from camp in June and not know if were going to be able to return. But sometimes it takes events like this to refocus on the big picture of what really matters in life. We know that it certainly did for us. Now that we’ve been faced with losing everything, we know with utmost certainty that the only things of value in life are the intangible things that you cannot take with you in a suitcase – memories, relationships, and love.
We think that these lessons learned will serve us well in the next year as we undertake perhaps the biggest adventure our lives – parenthood. We will welcome a baby girl to our family around the first of the calendar year; this is both an exciting and daunting prospect. But as with everything in life, we know that all highs and lows that await us will only help us in our on personal paths towards learning and enlightenment.