This post is part of our series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month.
In the fall of 2013, the Foundation for Jewish Camp was matched with Devorah Lieberman, a young woman with Down Syndrome, through The Yachad/NJCD Vocational Services program. We are thrilled and excited to have Devorah working here. She has quickly become an asset to our organization and a part of our family.
At FJC we are committed to ensuring that everyone in our community has the opportunity to participate in Jewish life. We look forward to a bright future with Devorah as a colleague and enabling far more young Jews to participate in Jewish life including Jewish camp.
We wanted Devorah to have a voice in this series, so I’m pleased to share the piece she wrote below with you.
– Abby Knopp, Vice President, Program and Strategy at Foundation for Jewish Camp
Here at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I file and alphabetize charts and checks, I stuff envelopes and I stamp envelopes using a machine. What I love about working at FJC is seeing different co-workers and talking to them at lunch. I have a really nice job coach that helps me do my job correctly, makes sure I understand what I am doing and that I am focused. I think it is important for me to work because I am mature, capable, responsible and efficient. I like that work keeps me busy and allows me to interact with other people. I am happy I work here and I think FJC is an important organization because I think camp is important. I have been going to Camp Morasha since I was 16 years old and have really enjoyed it. I was a camper for 4 years and a staff for 9 years. I really enjoy going to camp every summer. As a camper, I enjoyed doing activities like swimming, climbing walls and baking. As a staff member, I enjoyed working in the baking room because I could eat the stuff that I make, the art room because I am an artist like my sister and I love doing the art projects and I enjoyed working in the office doing data entry. This summer I am starting a new camp called Camp Mesorah with Yachad and I am very excited and looking forward to going.
This post is part of our series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month.
When I was seven years old, I started going to a Jewish overnight camp on the West Coast. I honestly think that had to be the worst experience of my life, but not for the reason you may be thinking. The only reason I didn’t like it was the fact that I have autism. Bottom line, I didn’t fit in. Too bad my family decided we should all go for the next two years. (My mom, who is a rabbi, served on faculty there. Even though they tried their best and my mom was up at camp, things were still really terrible.) However, after moving to Pennsylvania, my family and I learned that there were Jewish camps for kids on the autistic spectrum. My family decided to send me to Round Lake Camp which was also a Jewish sleep-away camp. After going for my first year, each summer was all about camp.
Now, if you have a brother, sister, or child who has autism, you probably know that new experiences cause a lot of anxiety. So, for example, if the simplest bee is scary to them, they might be having a nervous break-down the entire car ride wondering if they’ll be tons of bees at camp. In my case, on the drive up with my dad, he calmed me down by telling me the three main purposes of camp and the importance of each. The first important part of going to a Jewish camp would be that you meet new people and make some friends. Considering my lack of friends, this was a big plus. Also, because this is a Jewish camp, you won’t be the minority anymore which also means that you get to do Jewish activities that aren’t available anywhere else such as Israeli dancing. One of the things I did enjoy at the west coast camp was Israeli dancing and it was something I really missed.
The next big purpose is getting to try new things. This would include new foods such as tomato soup, new activities such as high ropes, and water activities such as the huge water slide. Out of all those things, my favorite wouldn’t be an activity, but the fact that I get to stay in a cabin with all my “camp buddies”. At my first camp, however, because I didn’t fit in, I didn’t feel comfortable in my bunk. While at Round Lake, everyone in my bunk accepted me and helped me when I was feeling sad.
After my first year, Round Lake was combined with another camp called Cedar Lake. It was also a Jewish camp, but was not for kids on the spectrum. That wasn’t really an issue because we really didn’t come into contact with the Cedar Lake kids that often. Except for Color Wars which is a big competition where both camps were combined and split into four groups. After being split, you compete in different activities. Almost every camp does this activity and I never really liked it.
The last and most important purpose of going to a Jewish camp is what my dad told me before my first year at Round Lake. That would be the ability to learn more about yourself. In other words, that means finding new experiences and finding what you are good at such as sports and science. I learned that I am good at a game called Ga Ga. It’s a game played in an octagonal court with a rubber bouncy ball. The objective is to use your fist or open hand to hit the ball towards the other players (knees or below). If the ball does hit them (in the knees or below), they are out.
All in all, going to a Jewish camp is a great experience because of the friends you’ll make, the new experiences you’ll have, and the memories you will have created. As we say at Cedar Lake/Round Lake, this is “A Home Away from Home.”
Judaism has been a part of my life since I was born. My mother snuck Shabbat candles into the hospital in preparation for my birth and I was born on Shabbos afternoon surrounded by my family and future friends, all welcoming Shabbat and my existence. As a child, I was raised primarily by my Jewish, African-American mother, Denise. I am honored to say that she converted to this amazing religion and that I am 100% Jewish.
As soon as I turned five, she signed me up for Hebrew school. For seven years, I studied the Hebrew alphabet and dozens of prayers. By the time my Bat Mitzvah rolled around last year, I had memorized every prayer I had studied, but I was nervous. So I used my Bat Mitzvah folder as a memory tool and looking down helped avoid the stares of the 200 guests! Continue reading here>>
As a camper for many years, I’m a regular to knowing the most basic and common camp rules. For instance, the “no cell phones allowed” rule. To us cell phone and technology addicted youth of this generation, many people originally find this rule to be a bit of a pain in the bum. No one wants to leave their beloved battery-powered friend behind, but that’s the exact reason it’s a banned item at camp.
As I see it, the amazing camp directors make the “no cell phones” rule so that today’s generation (my generation), who are so used to using their phones as social outlets and distractions, get out there and make real friends. There, I said it, we kids today need to learn how to make a living, breathing, not battery-powered friend. The cell phone age children are slowly losing their social skills and need to try to put the phones away for once.
This well thought-out rule makes sure that happens. When the phones go away the kids are miserable for five minutes but then guess what, they start up a conversation with another kid. Yes! They have a face to face, words-coming-out-of-mouth conversation! You know what happens next? These two campers without phones have both made a friend! It’s that simple!
It’s a good thing that these genius directors made a rule to get rid of all cell phones because camp is a place where kids go to have fun and make new friends, which is definitely not a technology-only thing. Sure, you can “friend” people on Facebook and play people on Words with Friends, but can you have the summer of your dreams with your nose inches from your phone? Not possible.
If you think going to camp without a phone will be tough, you can forget about that! Trust me, not only does it help you realize that you are capable of making friends, but you will actually look forward to going to your phone-free camp! You will look forward to the time where everyone is happy talking directly to each other and not having those awkward silences as someone answers a text.
So go! Try out camp without a phone! You won’t be sorry because it is a great experience to be free of the internet incorporated world for a few weeks! Camp is one of the most fun places in the world so don’t waste your summer anywhere else on that cellular device! Coming back to it at the end of the summer will be a cool experience too! Never will you ever have that many notifications! Have an amazing cell phone free summer everybody!
I hate when my parents ask me on visiting day or after camp “why weren’t you in any of pictures on the website?”
I have tried to explain my absence by just saying, “I wasn’t there at that moment,” or “I never get picked to be in the picture.” But now I will tell you the truth. The real reason that I am not in many pictures is that I don’t want to get pictures taken of me all the time. When a photographer comes by I just don’t want to interrupt my basketball game or soccer game or any other activity just so that I can pose for a picture. I am having fun and I just want to continue my game.
Parents of campers always get so worried when their kids aren’t in the daily camp pictures, but what they need to understand is that the kids who are NOT in the pictures are probably having even more fun than the kids IN the pictures!
Now, parents, please listen to what I am saying because I am speaking on behalf of your children. When you look on your camps’ websites and you don’t see your kids, PLEASE DON’T PANIC!!! Your kids are most probably just playing gaga or finishing an art project or hanging out with their friends. To be honest, they don’t want to be interrupted or bothered by the camp photographer – they are becoming independent. Isn’t that what you sent them to camp for?
My first summer home was Camp Edward Isaacs (aka Eddie I) in Holmes, NY. I started going there because my two older cousins had been going there for years and were starting to work there. I had been waiting for years and I was finally old enough to go as well. I spent my first summer there in 2007 and loved it; I could not wait for next summer! By the time June of 2008 came around I was in for another great summer. I was so happy to see my best friends, or summer sisters, one of which I could never live without. After another great experience, it was time to go home. This is when the bad news came. The camp had closed down. I was devastated. Where was I going to go? How was I going to stay connected to my best friends?
A few months later, the Camp Eddie I directors held a get together where they invited representatives from numerous other Jewish camps to talk to all the campers and parents about trying to find a new summer home. As we went around, my mom came across the camp that my cousins’ cousins went to and loved. After a lot of discussion, my mom and I decided that I would try out this camp. That summer I went and had fun but I didn’t consider the place to be right as a new summer home for me – it just wasn’t what I was looking for. I was unsettled and I still didn’t know where I wanted to be. Then I was talking to the same cousins who I went to Eddie I with, and they said they were now working at a camp they really enjoyed called Camp Laurelwood. I figured that if they were happy there, I probably would be too.
It looked really nice and fun online and in the pamphlet and I was really interested to go. It turns out we actually took the Camp Laurelwood pamphlet home with us from the camp get together too! It also turns out that one of my best friends from Eddie I went there and loved it. So I had my mom sign me up. I was really happy to know I would have so many people there already that loved it. I got there and met so many great people. I have had three amazing summers so far and am looking forward to more! I would never have had so much fun without the amazing people I met at this amazing place. My friend from Eddie I and I have become extremely close over the five summers we have spent together and I’m glad to call her one of my best friends. If I had never gone to Laurelwood I would never had wonderful memories with amazing friends.
Noam Slomovic is 13 years old, lives in New York City, and has been attending Camp Moshava in Honesdale, PA for four years.
I can’t believe it – camp is only three months away! Well, actually to be exact it’s 113 days away, and as the summer approaches, I think about the many epic memories of my camp life. I have gone to Camp Moshava for the past four years, and from those few months of my life I have the greatest memories ever. Most memories are top secret so I cannot share them with the public. (That is one amazing thing about camp.) But for this blog I decided to share one in particular.
On the last night of my third summer at camp I had the time of my life. It was packing day and it could have been the most hectic day in all of camp history. You could hear counselors and kids screaming at the top of their lungs saying, “Get your things on the truck!”
My bunk was the last bunk to finish packing. We were all going crazy because of what was going to happen that night, the “banquet.” Everyone in camp loved the banquet for one reason, the food. However this year we were in for a little surprise, instead of having the norm – spicy wings, mini hot dogs, wings, burgers, and chicken, they had pita and falafel. People were clearly very unhappy. However, this banquet still could have been the best, for one reason, we were not there. We were outside on the dining hall porch just chatting, and that’s when the fun began. The second we realized that the singing and dancing at the banquet had ended we ran to our bunk and started the party. We had been planning this party for two weeks; we had saved so much food that it took up half the bunk, we were ready to party.
As we started stuffing our faces with food, we launched our karaoke contest. Eight people were singers and we had one DJ and three judges. At about 1:00am we started. Everyone chose a different song to sing. After each round we would eliminate one person from the contest. No one was offended if they were eliminated because they knew it was just because the contest was all in fun. I was one of the judges. My fellow judges and I took five minutes to decide who would be eliminated after every round, so clearly we took this very seriously. It was 3:30am when we finished. At 6:00 we decided to watch the sun come up.
I wanted to share this particular memory because it just shows that camp is mostly about the friends you make and how you spend time with them. Although many activities at camp are very enjoyable, the main reason I go to camp is to spend quality time with my friends.
Qwynn Landfield is 15 years old, lives in Yorktown Heights, NY and has been attending Camp Laurelwood in North Madison, CT for seven summers.
I always look back on my camp memories as the happiest times of my life. I was eight years old when I first started going to Camp Laurelwood and I had mixed emotions about starting out. I was excited because I was going to a camp that I knew two of my cousins went to and loved. Not knowing anyone my age there made me nervous – I had never had an away from home experience before. I also had fear mixed in there: I was going to be two hours away from my parents and if I didn’t like it they would have to go through so much trouble to get me. Overall I was looking forward to this new experience despite my fears and nerves. I started packing for camp weeks before the big day and kept adding items everyday when I thought of possible scenarios. What if I lose these shorts? Better bring five more pairs!
The night before I left for camp, my stomach was in a knot with all my mixed expectations and emotions. Finally, the big day came and while I was going through a final checklist with my mom I said to myself, I’m going to be alright, this will be fun. The drive up to camp was the longest thing I have ever experienced; all I did was think about how nervous I was. When I got there I was so confused by everything that was going on around me. There were forms being filled out and people telling me where to find my bunk. I had to walk from the parking lot to bag drop off to the infirmary to my bunk, over here, over there, over everywhere. When I found my assigned bunk my counselor showed me to my bed and my parents helped me unpack. At this point I was so jittery because I didn’t know anyone and my parents were leaving soon. When it was time to hug my parents goodbye I started crying because I was going to be there without them and I didn’t know what was going to happen.
When all the parents were gone, my counselors had us all sit in a circle. We went around the circle saying our names and our favorite candy. Afterwards, when our bunk was walking to the mess hall, one of the girls and I got to talking, my nerves were crushed right there and then and everything started getting fun. I ended up sending letters home a week later saying I made a new best friend. I had some of the best times of my life that summer and found my summer home. I was so at home and always had the happiest smile on, they even put a picture of me on the cover of the camp promotional pamphlet! It was the best experience of my life to start out somewhere new and make friends with people I would end up calling my summer sisters.