MOLLIE & JON BECKER
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We knew each other since we were Oles, the youngest age group at Camp Tevya. It wasn’t until the year before my Kinneret summer when I was 13 and Jon’s Tel Chai summer when he was 15 that we actually started talking. We spent hours on end instant messaging and writing emails and then that summer, Jon asked me to be his girlfriend. On the second night of camp, we were walking back from evening activity in the Girls Rec Hall and right before we passed the girl’s porch, Jon asked me if I wanted to “make it official.”
Was it love right away?
I think it was. We were inseparable that first summer and for every summer after that.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
Like all “serious” couples, during the last week of camp, we had a talk about what would happen over the year. I remember sitting on the stone wall outside of the El Bess building right before the Ole play. I was so nervous. Jon said that he wanted to try and make it work and that we would call each other and visit one another over the year. Living in two different states (Jon lived in Canton, MA and I grew up in Ambler, PA) was hard but we saw each other a handful of times during that year and talked on the phone constantly. Needless to say, our parents were both not happy about the cost of our long distance phone calls.
Each summer from 1998 to 2003 we went back to camp together and during the school years we saw each other frequently. In 2001, Jon graduated high school and went to school in Manchester, NH. The following year, I went to school in Waltham, MA. My parents always joked around that my only requirement for a college was that it was within an hour of Jon. They were right!
On New Year’s Eve in 2006, Jon proposed along Rose Warf in Boston. The next year he moved to Philadelphia and then in 2008, we were married with many Camp Tevya alumni present to celebrate our big day.
A lot has happen since that first summer. It is hard to believe that fifteen years have passed but what an incredible fifteen years it has been! All thanks to our favorite place in the world-Camp Tevya!
Will you send your kids to your camp?
There is no doubt in our minds! We will be signing Hailey up for double Dalia as soon as she is old enough. As soon as she understands, we will start telling her stories about camp and she will know that there is no where better to spend her summers than at Camp Tevya!
Mollie and Jon Becker have been together for 15 years – ever since that first summer at Camp Tevya. They currently live in Ambler, PA with their dog Pebbles, daughter Hailey, and are expecting another child in the fall of 2013. Mollie works as a Project Manager at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia and Jon is a SAP consultant who travels all over for IBM. In March of this year, they celebrated their five year wedding anniversary.
SAMANTHA & BRIAN ISENSTEIN
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We met in the picnic grove during lunch, on the second day of staff training in the summer of 2002. Sam was an SIT (staff in training) that summer and came up early during staff training week (with her mom who was a nurse) to hang out with her friends who were already counselors. Brian happened to be friends with her friends. We also happened to both still be wearing a concert bracelet from the week before, so that broke the ice for us.
Was it love right away?
No, it wasn’t. Sam wasn’t that interested in Brian, so we remained friends that summer.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
We stayed friends, and luckily Sam was at the University of Illinois and Brian was at University of Wisconsin so it wasn’t too far to visit. After a couple of visits up to UW and spending time together on breaks, we were official in February 2003 and have been together ever since. While Sam was staffing Camp Chi’s Pacific Northwest trip, Brian flew out to South Dakota and proposed in front of all her campers at Mt. Rushmore.
Will you send your kids to your camp?
We’d love to send our future kids to Camp Chi, we could only hope that they would make the best friends that we’ve both made and maybe even be a 2nd generation of Camp Chi spouses.
Samantha (Sam) and Brian Isenstein were married in 2011 at JCC’s Camp Chi. Sam is the Youth Community Director at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, IL. She went to the University of Illinois and majored in International Studies and the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Davidson School of Jewish Education where she received her Masters in Jewish Education. Sam spent 12 fantastic summers at Camp Chi in Lake Delton, WI as a camper, SIT, counselor supervisor and trip leader. Brian is an IT dude for a mid-sized accounting firm in Chicago. He went to the University of Wisconsin and Depaul University in Chicago where he received his Masters of Science in Business Information Technology. Brian spent 13 summers at Camp Chi as a camper, SIT and counselor.
I remember being a little kid, maybe four or five, when my dad sat me down with a workbook and began teaching me to read Hebrew. He didn’t know what any of the words meant, but he could read it and teach me to read it as well. I also remember it seeming really important to him. In fact, being so young, I think that Hebrew workbook is my earliest memory of homework. I don’t remember enjoying it one bit.
When I was in fourth grade, a Jewish day school opened in my neighborhood in Memphis. My parents transferred me there but my Hebrew comprehension was non-existent. I only knew how to read, but not how to understand. I was behind most of the other students…I struggled. And, again, I didn’t enjoy learning the language.
Then came the summer before sixth grade. My parents sent me to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, a sleepaway camp in the northwoods of Wisconsin. A camp where all the public announcements were in Hebrew. Where all the singing in the dining hall was in Hebrew. Where all the prayer services (and there were lots of these at Camp Ramah) were in Hebrew. And, most importantly, where all the musical theater performances were in Hebrew, too. I had already been bitten by the acting bug in my local community children’s theater in Memphis. So in my second summer in camp, when I had the opportunity to audition for a part in the musical (Free to Be You And Me) I was so excited! But Hebrew? I could read it, I could memorize my lines, but I still wouldn’t know what they meant. I was doomed. Until I wasn’t. Until I started learning my lines for more than just how to pronounce them, but for the meaning behind them. I got a solo song that summer. Singing, in Hebrew, alone in front of 600 people. The song? “It’s All Right To Cry.” And you know what? I did. The entire time I sang it. Cried. But I made it through.
And the next few summers I got to play Fagan in Oliver! and Kenickie in Grease and Berger in Hair. All in Hebrew. That’s when I really started learning the language. I was understanding Hebrew! Then I went to Israel on Ramah Seminar in the summer of 1998. And I was able to ask Israelis how much things cost, what time it was, and, most importantly, where the sherutim (restrooms) were. It was an amazing summer.
Fast forward to the summer of 2005. My family went on a trip to Israel – and it was my father’s first time there. Seeing my father see Israel for the first time was pretty special. Seeing my father watch as I navigated us around Israel, showing off my Hebrew? Priceless. I owe my Hebrew skills (which are still improving) to my father for teaching me how to read and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for teaching me how to understand. I couldn’t be more grateful to both. Todah Rabbah!
I was nine years old my first summer at camp. When I came home, my mother (who had never been a camper herself) unzipped my duffel bag and was shocked — everything was wet, smelly, covered with sand, and starting to turn a little green. The next summer, as we packed for what I knew would be the best three weeks of the year, she sat me down and told me that I should remember three things while I was away: have fun, don’t do anything stupid, and, most importantly, don’t mix wet with dry. When I went to college, she put a note in my bag telling me how proud she was of me and reminding me of these same three rules. For my family, these have become shorthand for how to take care of yourself.
Over the past few weeks, there have been blog posts sprouting up about preparing for camp. Certainly there are clothes to buy, envelopes to address, bags to pack. In the midst of all these logistics, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important — preparing your kids for an experience of growth and self-exploration. As a camp director, it’s my job to provide an environment for your kids to thrive and grow; as parents, it’s your job to give them the grounding they need to make this possible. So, here are some things I’ve learned from parents (and campers) along the way that may help you take a break from packing to get your kids really ready for camp…
Don’t forget family traditions! One Friday afternoon, I was running around camp getting ready for Shabbat. I walked through the office and saw a fax coming off the machine for one of our teen campers. I looked over and was perplexed: on the piece of paper were images of two hands. At dinner that night, I handed the paper to the camper and her eyes lit up. “They are my dad’s hands,” she said, as she turned the paper over and put it on her head. “He blesses me every week for Shabbat, and since we’re not together, this is how he can do it.” As the weeks of that summer and many others followed, I always knew that the fax machine would ring just before Shabbat or the FedEx would arrive on Friday morning. And I knew that, even though they were in different places, this father would always bless his daughter for Shabbat.
Kids love being away at camp, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be connected to what’s going on at home. If you bless your child on Friday night, send her the blessing in a note every week. If you read your child a poem every night before he falls asleep, send it on a card for him to post next to his bed. Showing kids that they can be independent but also deeply connected to you is one of the most important parts of sending them away.
Don’t forget to ask for help! A friend sent her oldest child to camp a few years ago with an instruction: when they take your picture for the website, put a thumbs up if you’re doing okay and if something is wrong, leave your hands at your side. This was their way of ensuring that, if something was wrong, the mother would know to call camp to check it out.
On one hand, I love this: a secret code between parent and child that allows them to communicate “in real time” over the summer when we don’t allow phone calls, emails, or texts. On the other hand, I hope that parents will also tell their children: if you’re having a hard time, make sure you to talk to a friend or a counselor. If that person isn’t able to help you feel better, go talk to a group leader or head counselor. (Think of it kind of like asking to speak with a manager when you don’t get the answer you want from customer service.) And if that doesn’t work — go straight to the top. I know that every camp is set up differently and that camp directors are busy people. But I, for one, want to know if a kid is having a tough time so that we can work together to make things better; as camp professionals, we live for these moments when we can help kids overcome challenges.
It’s good that this mother and son had a way to ensure that both had peace of mind during his first summer away. But it’s also important to teach your kid that sometimes she needs to speak up for herself when she’s unhappy. It’s important for kids to know that there are adults, in addition to their parents, they can trust. Camp is a safe place to try this out.
Don’t forget who you are! Camps are fond of saying that they help children to build character. At Camp JRF, we help campers (and staff) understand that they aren’t building who they are — they just need to be who they already are, being sure to live their values and ideals in all they do. Our staff has heard me tell this story many times: I walked by two 12-year-old boys, one of whom was with us for the first time and had, apparently, just made fun of another camper. The other boy, who was with us for his second summer, looked at him and said: “that’s not how we act here.” This boy took pride in our camp culture, but he also took pride in his role as a friend, an ally, and a member of the community.
Before they leave for camp, talk with your kids about values. Remind them of their deepest held values. Discuss what it means to stand up for someone else. Let them know how proud you are of them for remembering to be their best selves, even in moments where it’s challenging.
So as you finish those last minute preparations for this summer, take a moment to remind your kids of who they are as individuals and as part of your family. Remind them of the blessings you share with them, let them know that it’s okay (even more than okay!) to ask for help, and give them the power to stand up for others.
Oh yeah — and don’t forget to tell them not to mix wet with dry.
While I enjoy being in the water, backyard swimming pools mostly, I’ve had less success being on it. This is probably attributable to the fact I never went to sleep-away camp as a kid. In fact, when I learned that my son, Jonah, got up on water-skis last summer, albeit briefly, while he was at Camp B’nai Brith in the Laurentians, an hour north of Montreal, I was surprised the apple had fallen so far from the tree. Of course, I blame my camp-free childhood on my parents. I like to think the reason my parents insisted on keeping me around was because I was so much fun, but as a parent myself now, I know that can’t possibly be true. In retrospect, I can see that the reason my parents never sent me to sleep-away camp was because they’d already gone to so much trouble – like so many Jewish families of their era – to move us out of the big city and into the suburbs that they convinced themselves suburbia was nature enough for any kid, theirs included. After all, we had a park down the street, a lawn. There were trees and birds chirping. There was, eventually, a swimming pool in the backyard. To be fair, I agreed with them at the time. I had no desire to be shipped off to camp. Woody Allen once said that he was at two with nature and you can double that for me. Never comfortable in the great outdoors, I still get a little antsy when I am more than a half-hour drive from a shopping mall. The way I looked at it back then was: who needs camp?
Now, I’m thinking I did. Take my ineptitude with water craft, for example, which has plagued me for as long as I can remember and which led to one of the worst fights my wife, Cynthia, and I ever had. Also, one of our first since it happened on our honeymoon. We were staying at a swanky hotel up north, not far from where my son now goes to sleep-away camp, and Cynthia rented a pedal boat for us so we could leisurely make our way around a nearby lake. Once on the water, though, it became apparent that I couldn’t steer the thing. “Really?” Cynthia said. “It’s like driving a bike with training wheels. A six-year-old could do it.” At which point, I grumbled something about having never gone to sleep-away camp and then angrily announced I was going back to the hotel to sit by the pool. A premature announcement, as it turned out, since I had to wait for my wife to steer us back to shore.
We never mentioned the pedal boat incident again. But a few years ago when we had the chance to take a canoe out on the lake near Cynthia’s parents’ cottage it looked like we were headed for another fight. It’s been said that “a true Canadian is someone who can make love in a canoe without tipping it” and by that measure I was barely Canadian at all. As a matter of fact, I was in my late 40’s at the time and had to admit to Cynthia that I’d never stepped foot in a canoe. Coincidentally, the first lesson Cynthia, who attended sleep-away camp all through her girlhood and was also a counselor for several years, had to teach me was that you don’t step into a canoe, at least not the way I was about to do it, like I was stepping onto an elevator. Instead, you stay low, hold onto both sides of the boat, centre yourself, and proceed with extreme caution. Evidently, canoes tip. As it turned out, there were a lot of instructions and I grumbled through all of them. But then a surprising thing happened once I was in the canoe: I stopped grumbling. I loved it. Nature was in evidence everywhere and, for once, it wasn’t bugging me. It was a crisp fall day: the air was light and the leaves were turning. I watched the dragonflies skid over the surface of the water and even spotted a beaver working away at a dam. My wife showed me how to paddle but even that effort felt, well, effortless. It felt like we were defying gravity, gliding across the lake like it was frozen. The experience was at once exhilarating and serene and a little sad, at least for me. For the first time in my life, I found myself wishing I’d gone to sleep-away camp. I also wondered how I might go about asking my son to take me with him this summer when he goes.
My first summer at Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, when I was going into 4th grade, my mother promised me Capri Sun Juice pouches in my lunch every day the following year if I wrote every other day. Seemed like a great incentive before I left, but once I got to camp and realized rest hour was for playing jacks and cootie catchers, I didn’t really care about the silver pouch of fruit punch. I had lanyards to make and bunk-mates hair to braid (and let me tell you, both of those skills have made me a really cool mom!). I wrote about four letters that summer.
Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and now I struggle with getting letters from my own kids while they’re at camp. My nine-year-old is a great letter writer, but my older one – not so much. She sends me the names of her counselors weeks after I met them on visiting day and borrows check-off stationery from her friends. So how do we get our kids to write? Here are my suggestions…
- Create your own fill-ins. I send 2-3 Mad Lib-style letters for my kids to write home with the first few days of camp. This way, I get the info that I need to picture them having fun at camp. Who is in their bunk? Are they on a top bunk bed? Who sleeps on the bunk above, below, next to them? Where are their counselors from? What activities are new at camp this year? Did they check on each other? You get the gist. (I save the templates from year to year and just print a new batch for that summer.)
- Send pre-addressed envelopes. This year my little one asked me to take a stack of stationery, address the envelopes and put stickies on them so she knows how many letters she should write to each of her grandparents, aunts/uncles/cousins, and a few friends. Hmm, why didn’t I think of that!?
- Print pre-addressed labels. I create address labels for them to use so they not only have an idea of who they need to write to, but it’s easy for them to do so. I give them the amount of labels for how many letters each person is expecting.
- Make sample envelopes. Since letter writing is becoming a lost art, I put a sample envelope in with their stationery so they remember to include (and where to put) their return address and a stamp.
- Choose your stationery wisely. I’ve never met a stationery store I didn’t like, but the cutesy stationery isn’t always best. My nine-year-old has big loopy handwriting so standard fill-ins and postcards aren’t always the best. This year, we made personalized pads on VistaPrint. We have a few fun fold-overs from years past, but this way she gets something fun and the room she needs to tell her stories.
- Keep it together. I try and send my kids’ stationery organized in a plastic sleeve from Staples. One goes with a lapdesk, my other with a big storage clipboard. I also include some fun pens – sparkly, smelly, twisty – as incentive to write. It all comes home as a big mess but at least that shows they’ve been rifling through!
I am going into this summer with low expectations about what and when they’ll write. But that won’t stop me from hunting down the mailman and sending pictures of their letters to their bunk-mates’ parents to fill them in.
I have clear visions of my daydreams from years ago. Images of clear blue skies, the shiniest sunny days, a megaphone in my hand while my announcements splatter across campus. These visions would make my eyes light up with the anticipation that one day I would be a Camp Director…
As far as I’m concerned there was no minor or major in college that helped to prepare for the career track of Camp Director. I did summer “internships” of working in the battlefields of my industry of interest but when the fateful time came to walk the graduation walk, my dreams of becoming a Camp Director were still somewhat candy coated. I believed my work life would be filled with summers spent lakeside, green grass under my toes and echoes of spirited voices filling the clean mountain air. But these are the times that campers and camp staff revel in. Not necessarily the year-round Camp Director.
I’m sure many camp professionals can relate to the question, “What do you do the rest of the year?” which happens to be a favorite of mine. Without fail, anytime I meet someone new and share with them my profession, the follow up is “oh that’s awesome, so what do you do the rest of the year?” For me, I like to marinate on the question. I like to pretend like I’m pondering how original the question is and then rattle off a couple of easy breezy year-round roles of a camp director… recruitment, sales, marketing, communications, social media, permit applications, facility management, logistics, operations, development, fundraising, programming, staffing, staff training, staff development, program implementation, therapy (for families and staff), and all the administrative duties that come along with each of these professions. Sound awesome now? Awesomely challenging!
It wasn’t until I walked in the shoes of many camp mentors that I learned that being a Camp Director wasn’t all sunshine, sun tans and raspy instructions into a PA system.
This camp world took work. Actual, year-round, dedicated, long hours, separation from the world around you, travel, meals on the go, phone calls at all hours of the day, coordinated, puzzle-piecing, organizational, programmatic work. And this work didn’t just happen June through August. This was a full time gig.
Just like an event planner, we, the camp professionals plan for the big event. In my case the big event spans over the course of eight weeks. It is within these eight weeks that I hold my breath, pray I don’t turn blue and sigh when it’s all over and the last staff member has exited the premises. That feeling is awesome. The two weeks after are awesome. The outpour of emails, letters, Facebook postings and voicemails are incredibly rewarding and remind me why working my tuchus off for two months is well worth my while. If it wasn’t for the rest of the year, what would we have to live for?
As we round the end of the “off season” and head into the “camp season” I wish all my colleagues, camp professionals and those who live vicariously through the year-round work we do and incredibly awesome and successful summer season. Bask in the day dreams, embrace the hard decisions, recognize the supporters and appreciate that although challenging, we have the most awesome career in the world…
AHUVA & MEIR BALOFSKY
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We met at Camp Moshava Ennismore in 1995 – she was a CIT and I was a second year staff. We were just friends for the first summer but the second summer she was a first year staff and I was a unit head. I specifically asked that my good friend be on my staff/in my unit. It worked out and that summer I ended up asking her out.
Was it love right away?
No. Were just friends for the first year and most of the following summer.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
She went to Israel for a year in Seminary and I was in University in Toronto. We did the long distance relationship thing – back before phone calls were free and were still around a dollar a minute.
Will you send your kids to your camp?
Ahuva and I made Aliyah in 2004 with our three children, Moshe, Ariel and Shoshana. Then for the following summer we ended up applying to go back to camp for the first time since the summer that we got together in 1996. Long story short, it worked out and we’ve been going back every year since with our children. Our daughter, having been to camp every summer of her life since she was 1 year old, is finally old enough to be a full session camper this year!
Meir and Ahuva Balofsky were both raised in Toronto and attended Camp Moshava as campers but their paths never really crossed until they met in 1995. They were married in September of 1997 and both graduated from York University’s Jewish education teacher training program. They lived in Toronto, teaching in Jewish day schools, and raising their three children until 2004 when they made Aliyah. Meir currently works for the Israel Experience at Bar Ilan University program as the Informal Education Director and Ahuva teaches at a seminary in Jerusalem as well as teaches English.
It’s hard to believe that we’re now less than 50 days away from the start of another summer! Many campers have been counting down the days with excitement since they returned home from camp last year. “OMG I get to be a CIT this year!!” is one example of a recent Facebook post. And, to be honest, there were many more exclamation points than that.
Indeed, Facebook and other virtual spaces are used more and more by kids, parents, and alumni to connect with one another and build Jewish community. But camp works in part because it gives kids opportunities to feel connected to something larger than themselves. This connection can happen, and increasingly does happen, for more than a few weeks each year.
We recently posted something on our Facebook page that asked folks to complete the following sentence: “Camp Alonim is where I _____.” The range of responses was extraordinary, as was the range of respondents – campers, staff, parents, and alumni. Here is what some of them said: Camp Alonim is where… “I found out what makes me Jewish.” “I started my first band.” “I learned to love Shabbat.” “I feel safe leaving my kids.” “I met my first boyfriend.” “I cowgirl up!” “I developed my Jewish identity and danced!” “I want to be right now.” “I am home.”
Because a picture can be worth a thousand words, we also recently ran a photo contest during which folks shared all sorts of images on our Facebook page that they felt best represented camp. Sprinkled throughout this blog post are some of the pictures that were submitted.
At this point, you might be asking yourself: why all this talk about Facebook when camp is about unplugging from electronics and getting away from the always-on world in which we live? I think the answer is best illustrated by the following story. A few days ago, Jamie, who was one of our teen program advisors last summer and who currently is studying abroad in Israel, posted on Facebook that she just “casually ran into her children” at the Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv. The “children” to whom Jamie was referring are her former campers (by the way, don’t you love how staff refer to the campers as “their kids”?). Jamie shared a surprise reunion with some of her teens, which generated “likes” and “comments” from campers, staff, parents, and her other “children.” This chance encounter in Israel involved generations of camp, and the connection and reconnection extended further than it ever could before.
The connection has to start somewhere. For many kids, camp can be the first link in a lifelong connection to deep, meaningful friendships and active communities infused with the joys of Jewish living. Much of my job as a camp director is to help that first connection form, and then to help incubate all sorts of budding connections so that they can grow and thrive for a lifetime.
As I write this, staff members are being hired to “give back to camp;” parents are searching for white Shabbat clothing; alumni are reuniting with camp friends to celebrate life’s simchas and to support one another when life throws its curve-balls; and new and returning campers are counting down the days until summer. It’s community. It’s connection. It’s camp! And, when it comes to camp, there’s no such thing as too many exclamation points.
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.