Tag Archives: Memories

“Don’t Forget!” Preparing Your Kids for Camp … and Beyond

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.

Copy of 110707.CampJRF.-265Over 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.

Posted on June 11, 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

Who Needs Camp? I’m Guessing Me.

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?

joelNow, 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.

Posted on June 3, 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


Copy of 110707.CampJRF.-353My 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…

  1. 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.)
  2. 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!?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Posted on May 31, 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

What Do You Do the Rest of the Year?

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…

mollyAs 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…

Posted on May 24, 2013

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Summer Lovin’ – Ahuva & Meir


Meir and Ahuva Balofsky - Cabin picWhen/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.

balofsky-41Will 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.


Posted on May 10, 2013

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Camp Connects

josh4It’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.”

josh3Because 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.

josh5The 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.

Posted on May 7, 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

Finding My Camp

0014_110811-FJC_x46My 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.

Posted on April 22, 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

From Tears to Transformation

Rebecca Leibowitz works at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

It is my first summer at camp. I am 5 inches taller, 50 pounds heavier and 8 years older than the other first-timers in my cabin. I am not embarrassed by this because I am a Jewish camp late-bloomer, recruited by a college boyfriend to come work as a counselor at “the best camp ever.”

The decision to work at camp for the first time is not easy; my other summer option is an internship with an advocacy organization in Washington. DC – a real résumé building opportunity to pursue politics in the nation’s capital. To me, this makes sense for my future career. Camp, I assume, would just be another year away from the “real world.”

But, I am 19, and of course, I follow a boy to camp. The entire week of staff orientation, as I stand paralyzed with anxiety on the sidelines, watching Israeli dance choreographers and work-wheel enthusiasts prepare for the campers’ arrival, the only thing I am sure of is that I have made the wrong choice.

Just when I am certain that I can’t feel any more insecure, on the morning of the campers’ arrival, my boyfriend and I end our relationship, leaving me to fend for myself in a very foreign environment. I spend the next few days crying and doubting myself. I can hardly move my body, let alone lead my campers through ropes course and song sessions. My campers know camp rituals, legends, and ghost stories. I feel inadequate, as I try desperately to connect with the other staff who already have a lifetime of memories and inside jokes between them.

RLI have no choice, if only to save myself from further self-pity, to throw myself into the art of being the best camp counselor ever. Late bloomer I might be, but in this pivotal moment I am hell-bent on proving my worth to the camp community, to my campers, and most importantly, to myself. I quickly find footing through the structure of the camp schedule. I fear free time so I fill it with creative games and luckily my campers and fellow staff members welcome me into the camp community. The ultimate reward comes when the camp director personally invites me to stay for the next session. I accept on the spot.

That summer changed my life.

When I returned to college in the fall, I was transformed, filled with a new confidence. I continued to seek out as many Jewish leadership and programming opportunities as possible, wanting to continue to feel like I was in that same welcoming, ego-boosting, camp environment. I became the student president of the Hillel on campus and put all of the skills I developed at camp to work: time management, innovative programming, running meetings, and public speaking.

In my current role as a Senior Program Manager at Foundation for Jewish Camp, I get to work with camp professionals every day, developing and implementing programs geared to enhancing the business of camp.  I feel I have hit the career jackpot!

RL2I am a Jewish day school alumnus, Israel trip participant, and former youth group member.  While all of these experiences play a significant role in my commitment to Jewish communal life, it was working at camp that transformed me into a Jewish leader. As a 19 year-old, Jewish summer camp created an environment where I thrived despite a dramatic teenage situation.  My craving for the professional learning laboratory of camp brought me back for five more summers. Every leadership or professional role I have held alongside and after my time at camp has been influenced by the management and problem solving skills as well as confidence-building tools that I learned there. And as an added bonus, today, my best friends are camp people.

It is conventional wisdom that Camp Works. FJC has been a forerunner in the research that proves the long term impact on camp for campers, who are more likely to delve into Jewish ritual after a significant summer camp experience. What is less measured is how camp fosters personal and professional development opportunities for camp staff. Whether it is a young adult’s first or 19th summer, camp has the power of building strong Jewish identity, creating communal bonds, and creating powerful professionals. Personally, even though I didn’t have the opportunity to be a Jewish camper, I am grateful that I got my second chance as a young adult, and encourage others to do the same.

Posted on April 19, 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

Summer Lovin’ – Tamara & Neal

Camp and summer romances go hand in hand, and once in a while those early relationships actually go the distance.  We’re rounding up some great stories of young love that blossomed into real life marriage and delivering them to you in a monthly series called Summer Lovin’.


photo (3)When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We met on staff at UAHC (now URJ) Camp Swig in Saratoga, CA the summer of 1987. Tamara was the CIT girls’ advisor and Neal was a counselor. We met during staff week.

Was it love right away? What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
Love right away, no, but we connected pretty early into the summer.  It was a summer romance which ended when we left camp and headed back to college in separate cities.  But…just over eight years later, in fall 1995, we reconnected through our jobs. Neal had just relocated to Los Angeles working for NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) as a recruiter for youth Israel programs.  Tamara was in her first job post grad school as Director of Education at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, CA. Neal had to make calls to rabbis and educators to set up group meetings with synagogue teens and their parents. His call to Tamara (whom he knew as Tammy back in the day) went something like the following: “Is this the same Tamara Lawson who used to be known as Tammy at Camp Swig?” And, well, the rest is history. We set up a time in December for Neal to meet with the TBT confirmation families and after the meeting the two of us hung out. By late January 1996 we were dating and, in June, upon Tamara’s return from Camp Swig (where she served on faculty during staff week and for the start of camp) Neal proposed while walking to baggage claim(!) at LAX airport!

tam and neal (3)Will you send your kids to your camp?
Already do!!!  Our kids (ages 12, 10 and 7) attend URJ Camp Kalsman in Arlington, WA, and we serve on faculty. Yes, we travel to the Seattle area (Neal’s hometown) for camp. Our kids love going to Camp Kalsman with their cousins and we love that camp is still a part of our lives!


Tamara and Neal Schuster were married in May 1997.  Tamara received her MAJE/MAJCS at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and currently serves as Director of Admissions at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy (HBHA), a community day school.  Neal graduated from the HUC-JIR rabbinic program in Los Angeles and currently serves as Senior Jewish Educator at University of Kansas Hillel.  They live in Overland Park, KS with their three kids.

Posted on April 12, 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

Camp Is…

Molly Hott is the director of 92Y Passport NYC, a Jewish overnight camp based in New York City focusing on fashion, film, music, culinary arts, and musical theater.

mollyA very close and longtime friend read my first blog post and reminded me of a piece I had written years ago that I only shared with some of my nearest and dearest … my camp friends.  There was a point in my life and career when I couldn’t imagine living without camp but couldn’t configure how camp would fit in my life as an occupation.  There were so many positive experiences that connected me to camp, to my friends, my personal growth and acceptance and with all of those experiences came great emotion.  From that great emotion came:

Molly Hott, June 27, 2008

Camp is where I learned to be me
And where I let you know, it’s ok to be you

Camp is where I learned to make friends
And where I learned to be a friend

Camp is where I learned how to make my bed
And where I taught others about the importance of hospital corners

Camp is where I saw my first remembered sunset
And where I shared my first remembered sunrise

Camp is where I learned to hold hands confidently
And where I shared the importance of having a hand to hold

Camp is where I cried myself to sleep missing home
And where I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe when I had to leave

Camp is where I saw my first starry night
And where I shared the sighting of my first shooting star

Camp is where I sang and cheered until I had no voice left
And where I learned that my voice would never really come back

Camp is where I learned to respect, my counselors, my campers, my friends and myself
And where I learned about disciplining my staff, my campers, my friends and myself

Camp is where my sister and I became friends
And where I learned that my friends would become my sisters

Camp is where I learned to try everything and anything
And where I learned my strengths and weaknesses

Camp is where I learned that tears of joy can overwhelm you at any time
And where I learned that those tears turn to the greatest memories

Camp is where I learned to laugh until it hurt
And where I learned that laughing is the best medicine

Camp is where I learned to live with others and share common space
And where I learned that wearing the same thing every day is cool

Camp is where I learned how to separate my laundry
And where I learned that I would come home with none of my own clothes

Camp is where I learned I would sleep my deepest and most comfortably
And where I learned that waking up next to your friends every morning is treasured

Camp is where I learned about music and how to change the words to every great song
And where I learned that singing at the top of your lungs anywhere at any time with camp friends is acceptable

Camp is where I learned to love my counselors, my campers and my friends for who they are
And where I learned that each of these people would somehow remain in my life forever

Camp is where I learned about tradition, culture and spirit
And where I learned that these things can change but still remain the same

Camp is where I learned that there is no greater place to be
And where I learned that there is no greater experience for a child, an adult and for me

Camp is where I learned to be me
And where I let you know, it’s ok to be you.

To read this back, almost 5 years later and know that my feelings remain the same is amazing.  My relationships remain as strong if not stronger and my love of camp and the experiences it has enabled me to create continue to develop way beyond my wildest dreams…

Posted on March 22, 2013

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