Tag Archives: Memories


Session 1 Lowdown Hudson Music group w MollyA camp professional in my adult life, I have always been a camper at heart. I have the deepest, most meaningful relationship with my camp experiences, memories and friends.  So much so that five of my friends from my summers away at sleepaway camp and I took a weekend away from our lives—leaving behind significant others and children to escape to the place where time has no meaning. A place where six, 30-something year old women can play, dance, relax and, most of all, laugh like not a moment of time or space has kept us apart.  It was a camp weekend away together in the traditional camp setting of sports, arts, waterfront activities, buffet meals and awkward encounters with perfect strangers that rejuvenated my love for why I do what I do.

Much of this year I have spent questioning myself as to why do I do what I do? If I told you this past summer was sunshine, rainbows and easy breeziness I wouldn’t just be lying to you but I’d be lying to myself. This past summer, like the previous in my camp professional career, was hard work.  It wasn’t fun. I didn’t laugh uncontrollably or appreciate moments like I did in the days when I was a camper I pushed through, sometimes counting down portions of the day or week just to have time goals to achieve. Was it harder than usual?  Maybe. Was it different? Possibly. Was I still doing something I love? Yes. But did I want to cry? If you know me then you know the answer is yes and some days I did (in the privacy of my own moment—although these are few and far between in a summer camp day). Do I want to go through this again? Absolutely… and the reason is because of the long lasting benefit of what this time (these times) can and will stimulate for my camp community. The community we create over the course of 3 weeks of a summer, twice a summer.

On my recent weekend away, one of my dear friends poetically captioned a posted photo “time is meaningless,” actually it was #timeismeaningless. I have spent days reflecting and reusing this simple yet completely complex statement. If you were to replace the word ‘time’ with any other word, this statement would carry a completely different feeling. Try it… Right? But when it comes to time, when it comes to the distance, the space, the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years…when it comes to your camp friends, time really is meaningless. You can pick up from the exact moment you are in and nothing has changed. Even if everything has changed, that friendship in that time has gone unscathed. The time between the two has no meaning but the friendship has all the meaning in the world.

It is times like these that I hope cultivate each camp season. It is this meaningless sense of time that acts as the gift I can provide to my camp community and in turn, the reward for me is the reminder how these times have shaped me. As hard as a day feels, as frustrating or difficult as a conversation can be, the times that we create at camp and the friendships that create those times are the definition to why I do what I do and why I will always remain the camper at heart.

Posted on October 18, 2013

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Summer Lovin’ – Alyia & Max


photo (3)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 Wedding Photo for Aliciaroad 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.

Posted on October 11, 2013

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Room For Improvement

Camp_0309A 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.

Posted on September 4, 2013

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Home From Camp & Back to School

Camp_0030Camp ended.

I can’t believe it’s over. All of a sudden, I transitioned from the tie-dyed 24/7 magic of camp to the polo shirts, big binders and giant potential of a year of learning and teaching at a really cool school. I can’t believe school has started. All of a sudden, I’m transitioning to the daily magic of the classroom buzz – and non-classroom activities – at school from the 24/7 constant young role modeling of camp.

Kids, for sure, can’t believe camp is over. Take a look at their Instagram accounts, their most recent tweets. Picture after picture. Camp dates and rates for summer 2014 are already being re-tweeted. Countdowns have begun – only 330 more days until I get to go home again!

As I look around my office at The Davis Academy, it’s like I never left.  My Moses action figures kept my office safe, and my eclectic collection of books and toys are perfectly positioned to get pulled at a moment’s notice to teach learners yet again!  But, if you look closely, you’ll see changes.  A new water bottle from Sustainability Shabbat at Camp Coleman. A copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, ready to teach about silent prayer to Davis 8th graders before they go for a hike in the shady wooded areas on a retreat at Coleman. My Coleman laptop, perched in an unprecarious but funny-looking position next to my Davis desktop. A ceramic mug and a new picture frame on the wall, both gifts from awesome camp staff.

I look at your kids (former campers, future campers, current students) and it’s like they’ve never left. The bright eyes. The shy smiles. The neon-colored backpacks. But again, look closely.They’re taller. Their hair is less Bieber-esque than last year. They learned to read Torah, or lead blessings, or how to climb a tall tower or to make shattered glass into a stunning mosaic. They can’t wait to talk about the sights they’ve seen: The waterfall! The South! The capitals of Europe!

Looking at it both ways, it’s hard to decide what to love more – school or camp? Camp or school? Without school, who would these kids be?  Without camp, how would their lives turn out? The combined experiences in our communities (camp, school, home, synagogue, JCC, a university alumni’s mommy and me group, whatever works) are shaping our Jewish future.  So I don’t love one place more than the other. I love the promise of a bright and exciting future.

Posted on August 30, 2013

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Summer Lovin’ – Alexandra & Eric


Eric_Alex1993When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We attended Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, CA as kids and met in the Summer of 1993 when Eric was 13 and I was 12. We were camp crushes for two summers in a row.

Was it love right away?
Absolutely!  We adored each other even at that young age. We even have a “Shabbat-O-Gram” that Eric had written Alex the first summer we met signed, “I love you, Eric Spitz”

What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
We lived about an hour away from each other but at that age it may as well have been across the country! Needless to say, we lost touch after that last summer of 1994. Fast forward to 2006 when I finally gave in and signed up for a MySpace account. I had always remembered Eric and his infectious smile and fun-loving attitude so I decided to look him up.  I was still living in Los Angeles and I discovered that he was living in Miami. We were both in other relationships at the time but it was so nice to catch up over email. A year later, in June of 2007, he emailed me to say he would be in LA for his brother’s wedding the following month.  We made a plan to meet for a drink (to be safe!) on Tuesday when he arrived in town. Drinks turned into dinner which turned into many more hours of laughing and catching up. We had both recently broken off the relationships we had been in so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  We spent as much time as possible together over the next five days while he was still in town and by Sunday he had decided that he was going to move back to LA so we could be together.  He went back to Miami, organized the move and on Spitz_007September 6th got in his car and drove cross country. We hadn’t seen each other since he had visited in July so we were both taking a huge leap, though it felt completely normal and as if we had been together for many years. We had a connection at 12 and the feelings came back instantly when we saw each other again. We were engaged about 10 months later and got married in May of 2009 at the only venue we could possibly imagine: CAMP!!! We had our close friends and family stay for the weekend and we enjoyed all of the activities camp had to offer.  We transformed the camp grounds into a gorgeous, rustic wedding setting and could not be happier with how it turned out!

Will you send your kids to your camp?
There is no question and we cannot wait to!  Many of our friends and family members also went to camp…it is a huge part of our lives. We attended our first family camp weekend when our son was 16 months and we can’t wait to do it every year until he is old enough to go on his own.

Eric and Alexandra Spitz currently reside in Orange County, CA with their 2 year old son, Jack and dog Lucy.  Eric is an Account Manager for Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. serving the entire Orange County region. Alexandra is a Certified Parent Educator and Certified Newborn Care Specialist and is currently taking care of their son while running her new business, OC Mommy and Me, a program for new moms in Orange County with babies 0-12 months. 

Posted on August 9, 2013

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The Red Badge of Courage

Camp_0103When “Camp Gyno” came out last week I immediately sent it around to all my friends with the subject line – “Camp – Hysterical.”  And at first watch, it is.  The writing is fabulous, the actress is brilliant. The tie-dye t-shirts, string bracelets, totally authentic (full disclosure: it was filmed at Surprise Lake Camp – one of the camps we work with here at FJC). I am sure tampon creative execs are reeling about how this mom got it so right out of the gate and they still make commercials full of 20-somethings prancing around in white jeans and jars full of blue liquid to prove absorbency.

It was the nostalgia that got me. The commercial is an ode to every female camper, ever – a compilation of our story, our language, our history. Every bunk had a period guru – Menstrual Mommy, Auntie Flo. We all have a story of whispering in the back bathroom trying to learn to use a tampon so we could swim and no one would know. I always felt bad for non-campers. How the hell did they learn this stuff?!

The video deals with some really important themes in a minute and 47 seconds – being an outcast, gaining and managing popularity, and just talking to your friends about periods. Kudos to Hello Flo founder Naama Bloom and BBDO for that. I love how they talk in real language too. It may not be the correct language, but it is the language we use – “vag,” “gyno” – it is how we talk. It makes the “icky” accessible.

But as I watched the video a few more times, it got a little less funny each time. I started thinking: does this fabulous video send the wrong message in the end? It gives great insight into a teen girl’s first period experience. So why are we willing to take that conversation and tuck it away into a plain brown box? I am not really a women’s libber, but are we still so embarrassed that we can’t go into a store and buy a box of pads? Is it necessary to have them “discretely” delivered to our door every month? Do we really want to teach our daughters that they need to hide it away? Yes, it is hard at 12, 13, 14, 28, 42 years old to walk around with pads and tampons in your knapsack. Hard, yes. Shameful, no. I think that good parenting is giving your kid the tools to help them through hard things. Sometimes that tool is a extra pretty Vera Bradley pouch that you would never buy for a 12 year old, but will make carrying pantiliners that much less hard.  If I can’t show my daughters that I can walk into CVS and buy a big old box of tampons as easily as I do shampoo and Altoids, how will she learn to do it?

The commercial starts out with campers having a dialogue about periods. They just put it out there.  No shame, no pretense because camp is the place where kids learn to overcome fears, to have hard conversations, and gain independence.So I’ll be damned if I am going to throw that all away because periods are a little hard to talk about.

Who am I to rain on an entrepreneur’s idea? I am jealous that she was brave enough to go after a dream. (She probably learned that at camp too. She went to another one camp in FJC’s network, Camp Galil). I am always tempted to sign up for subscription commerce – I love new stuff and can be as lazy as the next person. If two days go by and I don’t order from Amazon Prime, Jeff Bezos himself delivers chicken soup to my door. But in this case, I’ll wear a red badge of courage on my sleeve. I learned how at camp.  I’ll see you in the feminine hygiene aisle.

Posted on August 5, 2013

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After two 15 year old boys performed a passionate, if not pitch perfect, duet of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” after a cabin of girls brushed their teeth onstage using guacamole for toothpaste, after a slew of performances both great and courageous got unanimous rounds of applause, after all the hot chocolate in camp had been consumed, after all that was the Bogrim (young adults) Coffee House on Tuesday night at Camp Kingswood, the chadar ochel (dining hall) emptied out. And when the campers and counselors had all left to go to bed, that’s when the real magic moment happened.

0723_110811-FJC_x46I stayed after the Coffee House on Tuesday to have a conversation with six staff members, all new to camp, all from outside the United States. Three Israelis, two Aussies, and a Brit. We had a wide-ranging conversation about their impressions of camp, the people, the environment, the Judaism. One Australian, non-Jewish staff member spoke with pride at the fact that she had memorized Birkat HaMazon and loved singing it at the end of each meal with her campers. One Israeli staff member talked about how amazing it is that the kitchen can produce almost a thousand meals a day and still have the food be delicious! But those tidbits were merely appetizers for the best comment of the night.

Sometimes when it rains, it pours.  In my 22 years of spending summers at camp, I have found that this axiom is especially true at camp. The storms are bigger in the summertime, in the woods. Or at least they feel that way when you’re hanging out in a wood cabin, hearing the raindrops pound the roof while you play rafter ball with your buddies. In the case of Camp Kingswood, by the time I got to camp on Monday it had rained nine of the previous 12 days. After I left on Wednesday, that number has risen to 11 of the previous 14. Not to say that people weren’t having the time of their lives – in fact, rain days at camp can be so much fun! Unless you’re on swim staff. Then things get interesting. You play games indoors, you come up with rain plans for evening activies…like casino night!

It was at casino night that one staff member, a member of swim staff whose hopes of teaching swimming had been stymied by mother nature for more than a week, fell down and broke her arm. It instantly became an impossibility that this staff member would get to teach swimming anytime soon, or even lifeguard down at the lake. One could imagine this staff member feeling a bit down, needing a boost from her childhood friends. We are at camp, after all. But this staff member was in her first year at Kingswood, traveling all the way from England to work on swim staff at a summer camp in Maine. So when she finished telling me her story, I was sure this staff member would talk about how frustrated she was, how disappointed, how bummed or sad. But that wouldn’t make a very good blog post, would it?

We were going around the circle, describing our summers, and this staff member declared with a huge smile on her face, that one thing has surprised her more than anything else at camp: not once has she felt homesick. After the broken arm, she spoke on the phone with her mother. And she told her mom the same thing. Sad about the arm, thrilled to be at camp. Not homesick one bit. I had to ask her why? What about Kingswood makes her feel the way she does? Her answer? Everyone at Kingswood treats it like it’s their second home, so I do as well. It’s like having a second family. How could anyone be homesick here?

Of course, many people do feel homesick at camp. Especially their first summer. Especially young campers and new staff. But Camp Kingswood has given us all an aspirational goal: to make our camps feel like a home, and our community like a family. Camp Kingswood is lucky to have a staff member with an indomitably happy spirit, and that staff member is lucky to have Camp Kingswood – a camp that’s more than a camp. A camp that’s a home.

Posted on July 15, 2013

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Summer Lovin’ – Mollie & Jon


campWhen/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!

nowOn 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.

Posted on July 12, 2013

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Summer Lovin’ – Samantha & Brian


Scan.BMPWhen/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.

Michael Lee PhotographyWill 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.  

Posted on June 14, 2013

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Aleph, Bet…

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.


Jon and his dad in Israel

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!

Posted on June 13, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy