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.
A couple of years ago I was walking to synagogue with my two boys on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and I wanted to engage them in a discussion about the holiday. At the time Yadid was seven and Yishama was five. To get the ball rolling I simply said, “Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin. So besides celebrating a new year, it is also the time when we reflect on how we might want to improve ourselves in the coming year.” At this point I felt a huge urge to just tell the boys how I wanted them to improve. I know that I am not alone. I want my children to be the best they can be so if I love my children so much, how could I stay silent and not tell them how to improve? It seems so clear to me what they need to change to be the mensches I so desperately what them to become, so of course I should just give them a list, right? I decided that instead of going in that direction, I would shift the conversation and said, “So since today is the day we work on our improving ourselves, let’s start. Tell me what you think I need to be working on to be a better abba (father).”
Wow, what a difference! Not only did they give me amazing feedback that I use until this day, but without any additional prompting they started giving each other feedback. What a blessing to be part of this conversation. Holding back my own voice at this moment created room for us all to grow and improve. I know that this internal voice of the overbearing parent is coming from a good place, but I also know that it does not always get the desired results. So, where did I learn this?
Upon reflection, I realized that I learned this technique as a junior counselor at Jewish overnight camp. It was there in the context of managing a bunk of children that I learned how to create an ideal learning environment. It was there that I learned how I might get more bees with honey then vinegar (another important message for Rosh Hashanah). I also learned the important difference between being authoritarian and authoritative. Seeding power actually creates space for other voices. So years later as a father I knew that suspending my own need to share my love created space for us all to share our love with each other. I cannot say I got it right that year as a JC, but I deeply appreciate the space of camp and what it taught me. Someone else who was more experienced could have done it better, but in the spirit of Jewish camp, they got out of the way to make room for an 18-year-old to find his voice. I in turn learned how to make room for my campers and eventually my own children. Jewish camp is magical. Yesterday’s campers are today’s counselors and tomorrow’s parents. If it was not for camp I am not sure I would have been blessed with the loving, powerful, and thoughtful critique from a five-year old. Jewish camp has cultivated in me the desire, skills, and confidence to be a more accessible and loving parent.
Shanah Tova -May we all be blessed to make more space for more loving voices this year.
Shavuot is a holiday often easily overlooked- many of us may not even realize that it has already passed! Shavuot commonly falls after the Hebrew School year has ended, and many of us associate it only with Confirmation ceremonies. In the most basic sense, Shavuot is the holiday that commemorates God giving the Torah to the Israelites. However, Shavuot is also ripe (pun intended) with significance for today on many other levels.
After the Land of Israel was conquered and divided, the nations of Israel established an agricultural society. In order to show gratitude to God, they were commanded to bring the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple as a sacrifice on Shavuot. Each family brought a basket of the seven species described in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. In fact, one of the many names for Shavuot is hag ha bikkurim, The Festival of the First Fruits.
As the weather gets warmer and camp gets closer, farmers markets will likely start to pop up in your community. Depending on where in the country you live, the first fruits of your local harvest will be different. However, as a general rule, asparagus, strawberries, lettuces and peas are commonly among the first things to pop out of the soil in most of the Northeast. Consider using the concept of the first fruits of the festival of Shavuot as an inspiration for your own first fruits celebration. Make a trip to the farmers market with your kids before camp and plan a menu based on the first fruits you find in the market. Speak with one another about the benefits of local produce (hint: it’s fresher, more nutritious and better for the environment) and talk about how we can connect to our local agriculture just as the Israelites did thousands of years ago.
Here’s one recipe to get you started, but don’t feel limited- let the market speak to you and enjoy the kitchen creations that result!
Whole Wheat Linguini with Mint Pesto and 3 types of peas
1 lb whole wheat linguini
1 cup snow peas
1 cup sugar snap peas
½ cup frozen peas
¾ cup packed fresh mint leaves
¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
2 ½ tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
¼ cup shredded Parmesan
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- Fill a large pot ¾ of the way with heavily salted water and bring to a boil. Cook linguini according to package directions
- While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, take the ends off the sugar snap peas and snow peas and cut them in half
- Chop the mint, basil, and garlic in food processor until finely chopped
- Add the pistachios and pulse until they are well chopped, but not powdery
- Slowly stream in the olive oil
- Set aside in a small bowl and mix in the Parmesan by hand
- 2 minutes before the pasta is done add the snow peas, sugar snap peas, and frozen peas
- Drain the pasta, reserving 3 tablespoons of the cooking water
- Combine the herb mixture with the cooked pasta and peas and reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately
It is interesting that as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot we start the reading the Book of Numbers. In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”
In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.
Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.
Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!
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.
According to Jewish Law it’s the practice to refrain from getting married between Passover and Shavuot – until Lag B’Omer (Shulchan Aruch 493:1). It is recorded that this custom serves as a memorial for the students of Rabbi Akiva, Tanna of the middle of the 2nd century, who perished during this period of time. Their deaths came to an end (or at least a break) on Lag B’Omer. But, why did the students of Rabbi Akiva die? And why would we mourn their death by refraining from getting married?
Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbata to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: “All of them died between Passover and Shavuot.” (Yevamot 62b)
It seems strange that Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did “not treat each other with respect.” Rabbi Akiva taught that “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is the great underlying principle in the entire Torah (Torat Kehonim 4:12 and Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4). It would be surprising that even just one student of this great Tanna did not learn such a basic lesson. So what is the additional significance of the quantity of students who died?
It might be helpful to learn some more about who Rabbi Akiva was as a teacher. Despite his humble beginnings as a shepherd, Rabbi Akiva became a tremendous scholar. And while he had a tremendous effect on Jewish life, he was not without flaws. We learn in the Gemara that during the 24 years in which he accumulated these 24,000 students he did not see his wife once (Ketubot 62b-63a). There is no doubt that Rabbi Akiva loved his wife Rachel dearly. He gave his wife credit for all of the Torah they learned during his time away from her. When his students first met his wife he told them explicitly that they were all indebted to her. But here is the issue: while living apart from his wife for all of those years, Rabbi Akiva did not show his students the daily habits of respect. How were his students to learn how to treat each other with respect if Rabbi Akiva did not model this for them?
On Lag B’Omer we should take a moment and try to learn the lesson that evaded Rabbi Akiva’s students. How should we treat each other with respect? It is clearly not enough to just talk about it. If we want to teach respect, we need to model it.
It is in light of this that we see the real power of Jewish camp as an educational institution. As the adage goes, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” In school we are told a lot of things, but in camp the staff members model the most important lessons. And on the highest level we are all asked to get involved in creating the community.
Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
Unlike many parents who send their children to overnight camp, I have seen many camps. As the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I spend my summers on the road visiting various types of Jewish camps across North America. This summer my wife and I are sending our eldest child on his first overnight camping experience. Despite all of my experience, I have anxiety about sending our child away. Just like every other parent, there is no doubt that part of this anxiety is the irrational fear of sending our baby away. But, there is another part of this anxiety which is realizing that while he will always be our baby, when he returns he will have grown up so much. At camp he will experience being included in a community of his own. There he will make deep friendships of his own design. There he will make his own connections to his heritage. There he will have a new sense of independence. And all of this will happen because we will not be there. We have chosen a camp that has role models who manifest our family’s highest values, but in the end he will need to buy into these values for himself. The trick seems to be in the fact that these role models are not telling him who to be, but rather inspiring him to make choices based on their profound example.
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that many of the camps that we all send our children to are not so new. Actually, many of them got their start in the late 1940’s or 1950’s. This was a profound period of growth for institutions in the North American Jewish community as it was in the newly founded State of Israel. This is not coincidental. After the cataclysm of the Holocaust we needed a place to call our own. Both Israel and camps speak to a renaissance of Jewish life. In so much of history we found ourselves defined by those around us. In a land or a camp of our own we found, and continue to find, a unique opportunity to define ourselves on our own terms.
This week we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. Israel is an amazing place and I am excited to introduce my children to our homeland. It represents the hope of two thousand years. But for now I am excited for our 9-year-old getting his first taste of independence at camp.
Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
I am excited. Tonight we will begin celebrating Chag Ha Aviv – Passover, our spring holiday – also named Chag HaMatzot the holiday of unleavened bread. But why do we eat unleavened bread – matzah – on Passover? We read in the Haggadah:
Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, revealed God’s self to them and redeemed them. Thus it is said: “They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions.” (DIY Haggadah)
So yes, as the Haggadah says, when the time came for the Jews to finally leave, they did not delay. Yet, the final plague was not the first time they heard of their pending exodus. Moses came and told the slaves long in advance that they would be leaving. While they did not have Ziplocs and Tupperware to pack provisions for the trip, I still think they could have done a better job preparing for this arduous journey. They weathered the elements so well before that you’d assume they would have prepared some bagels for the trip. Now wouldn’t a holiday where we just needed to eat a lot of bagels be a great one? So,why matzah?
It is understandable that the slaves would be reticent to leave the only world they knew, could it be that was not the only reason that they were not well prepared for their trip? We all run late, waiting until the last-minute to get things done. Even when we are told that something is going to happen, or that we have an assignment, we can be surprised and unprepared when it comes to pass or be due. While completely natural and common place, this procrastination comes from an interesting lapse of faith. Maybe Pharaoh was not alone in doubting the God of the Israelites. While we call matzah “the bread of affliction,” it appears that the affliction itself is procrastination.
So we have Chag HaMatzot a holiday that you cannot do last-minute. We actually start to prepare for Passover a month in advance. As we eat this “bread of procrastination” it is a time to reflect on our faith. When I am running late or procrastinating, I assume that other people will understand because I am doing God’s work, but God forbid someone wastes my time… We all have ways we can grow; matzah is there to flatten us out and remind us that this growth might not fit neatly into our schedule. Which is why I am excited, because after spring comes summer and with summer comes … camp a time for growth for so many of our children!
Rachel Saks has an M.S. in Education and is a Registered Dietitian. She developed and ran Healthy Living, a Camp Ramah program that combines nutrition education, mindful eating, cooking instruction and physical activity. Rachel is also the co-author of “Jewish American Food Culture.”
Even though the Purim costumes have barely been packed away and there are still one or two lonely poppy seed hamentaschen sitting on your counter, it’s time to think about Passover. Will you be having guests for seder or going to celebrate with friends and family? Who will be invited? What kind of haroset will you make this year? What kind of medication will you stock in the medicine cabinet for the inevitable mid-week tummy troubles? All of these are important questions to answer, but it’s also important to stop for a moment to think about another, slightly bigger question: How will you engage your children in preparations for the holiday this year in a way that will bring your whole family a deeper, more spiritual understanding of Passover?
Sure, you can ask your children to help clean the house of chametz, but doing so won’t give them a context for understanding the holiday, primarily because it involves simply doing something rather than immersion in an experience. Jewish camps excel at experiential learning by creating a context for activities rather than going through the actions by rote. Camps deeply engage campers with Judaism at a young age, leading them to develop a desire for connectivity to the Jewish community and to the formation of a strong Jewish identity.
One of the greatest and most exciting ways for kids to experience Judaism and Passover is in the kitchen. With their hands in kugel and their minds on the laws of kashrut for Passover, kids have the opportunity to learn through doing on this holiday. Teach them about what it means to be kosher-for-Passover and engage them in helping to prepare your kitchen for the holiday. Work with your children to find interesting recipes and to plan, shop, and cook with them. Notice the pride they exhibit when mastering a task in the kitchen (just like the pride they had last summer when they perfected their 3-point shot or got up on water skis!) and revel in the fact that they are experiencing and understanding Passover on a whole new level.
Here are some tips to involve your children in the kitchen on Passover and the rest of the year, as well as a fun recipe to try together. Planning, shopping and cooking can teach you and your family how to effectively connect to each other, to Judaism and to God on a deeper and more meaningful level. Here’s how:
1. Plan it up!
Cooking with kids works better if they are involved in the planning and if they are given a specific job to do under light supervision.
2. Chop it up
Kids 3 years old and up can cut, as long as you give them a safe knife. Give them a plastic disposable knife, plastic knives from a kids set, or a butter or dinner knife with a dulled edge. Give them things that are easy to cut, like herbs, peeled fruit, zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers.
3. Mix it up!
Kids love stirring and mixing things, but that doesn’t have to be limited to baking! Have them help toss a salad, mix sauce into quinoa, or even mix spices together for an herb rub.
4. Mess it up!
Cooking with kids will be messy, but that’s okay! Food will be spilled and clothes like likely get stained- so gets some aprons and let the fun begin!
5. Chat it up!
Try to use your time in the kitchen together to talk about food traditions, the spirituality of food, where food comes from, good nutrition and more. The opportunity for these precious family moments should not be missed!
Kosher for Passover Zucchini Potato Kugel Muffins
5 medium baking potatoes
2 small zucchini
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 large yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
1 large spring fresh rosemary
4 whole eggs
4 egg whites
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup matzah cake meal
3 tablespoons potato starch
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Using the shredding blade of a food processor, shred the potatoes (with the skin), zucchini, carrots, onions and rosemary leaves.
- Place all of the vegetables in a large bowl and squeeze out the excess liquid (don’t worry about getting all of it out- there will always be more!)
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and then stir in the remaining ingredients.
- Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and mix well.
- Spray muffin tins with cooking spray and heap the vegetables into the tins. Pat down firmly.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the kugel seems to be firm and set and the top is browned and crispy.
- Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving, or allow to cool and refrigerate up to 5 days (or freeze up to 3 months!)
Have a happy, delicious and meaningful Passover!
Lauri Exley lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, four-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son.
Charoset, fried matzo, wine, matzo meal bagels, matzo pizza, marshmallows and family. All of these things, and more, are why Passover is and has always been my favorite holiday. Sure, people moan and groan about the dry, tasteless food, but I love it! My favorite memories are of my mother and me using matzo meal to make virtually everything and I have always enjoyed finding new ways to use it (even if bagels and donuts end up having the same taste). In recent years, it has become much easier to keep Kosher for Passover, with more variety and flavor in the food, but I am always searching for something new.
My mother-in-law loves to cook and bake. She has a treasure trove of recipes; each one tops the next. I discovered a recipe she had for something called “Saltine Chocolate Pieces” and after we made them together, and of course ate them, I knew this was a recipe I had to have. The end result is something similar to toffee brittle using saltine crackers. Having spent so many years suffering through store-bought Passover treats, I immediately thought about how great this would taste if I replaced the saltines with matzo.
Chocolate-covered matzo is one of the first items to fly off grocery shelves during the Passover season. So, using my mother-in-law’s recipe, I decided to make a variation of my own. (Upon writing this blog entry, I have discovered that other people have discovered this wonderful creation as well, so I cannot claim it as my own original idea).
Sure, I will continue to make matzo meal bagels and fried matzo every year (can’t forget the classics), but it’s nice to be able to add new, tastier foods to the mix – creating new memories and traditions with my kids.
Matzo Chocolate Pieces (aka Matzo Crunch)
- 4-6 unsalted matzo
- 1 c brown sugar
- 1 c butter
- 12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 3/4 c chopped nuts
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a 10×15-inch cookie sheet with foil; place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the foil (very important).
- Cover the cookie sheet with a layer of matzo.
- Boil sugar and butter in saucepan for 4 minutes.
- Pour mixture over matzo and spread evenly.
- Bake at 400°F for 5 minutes.
- Remove from oven.
- Sprinkle with chocolate chips.
- Let set and cool for 1 minute, then spread the melted chips over the matzo with a spatula.
- Sprinkle the chopped nuts on top, then press down lightly.
- Cool until firm and cut into diagonal pieces. Pieces can be frozen.
Yields approximately 30 pieces.
Looking for a camp-y Passover dessert to serve alongside this delicious treat? Try these yummy Matzo S’mores from ingredientsinc.com!