Tag Archives: Parenting

Celebrating Tu Bishvat

283362_10150273021193254_4222107_nGilad and I welcomed our baby girl into the world on January 1st. Sivan Amali Shwartz arrived just in time to help us celebrate one of my favorite Jewish holidays, Tu Bishvat, which began last night.

Tu Bishvat is known as the New Year of the trees, or Jewish Arbor Day. It is an opportunity to celebrate trees and all their fruits, as well as the beauty and wonder of Nature. There are many different ways to celebrate Tu Bishvat – planting trees, participating in a Tu Bishvat seder, writing prayers for the trees, decorating trees with personal prayers and/or psalms, or simply eating fruit!

During camp each summer, it feels like a 10 week Tu Bishvat celebration in many ways. It is amazing to see campers arrive to camp and become immersed in the natural world around them. Free of their video games, computers, smart phones, and other technology, campers return to picking up natural materials and playing with them. Many of these materials come from the plethora of ponderosa pine trees that are situated on the Ranch Camp property. Sticks, pine cones, and pieces of bark transform from something that campers may not even take notice of at home to exciting toys and building materials here at camp.

Sivan

For the last two summers, one of our most popular chuggim (electives) has been Fort Building. Boys and girls eagerly venture out into the forest, collect tree branches and construct natural structures with the help of staff members. I love to walk out and observe campers doing this activity. It never ceases to amaze me how really little it takes to make kids happy when they are given a mission and are turned loose in nature to use their imaginations and make it happen. The children play with and amongst the branches of our forest and in turn, become reconnected with the natural world around them.

Sivan is a little too young this year to truly celebrate Tu B’Shevat but I’m grateful that she will share her birthday roughly with that of the trees each year. Tu Bishvat is a great opportunity for us to get out in nature with our children and share with them the wonders of Creation.

Chag Sameach! Here are some resources to help you celebrate Tu Bishvat with your family this year:
1. Punk Torah’s Tu Bishvat Ideas
2. Make a Fruit Mandela With Your Kids, From Kveller
3. Creative Jewish Mom’s Tu Bishvat Crafts
4. MyJewishLearning’s Tu Bishvat Recipes

Posted on January 16, 2014

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

We Hereby Resolve

joelOn New Year’s Eve, my wife, Cynthia, our son, Jonah, just turned fifteen, our new puppy, Phoebe, five months old, and I gathered around our dining room table to make our resolutions for 2014. The easiest to come up with was Phoebe’s. She resolved to be house-trained by the end of January at the latest. Okay, we came up with that one on her behalf, but I didn’t see much difference between us wanting her to realize her full potential and Cynthia, for instance, wanting to receive more foot massages and back rubs in the coming year. Both are cases of wishful thinking being imposed on others. Both seem, even in the hopeful glow of the New Year, like long shots.

“And what’s your resolution?” Cynthia asked me, as if she really had to. In fact, she and Jonah could both guess mine correctly. “I resolve to be less crabby,” I announced. Even Phoebe looked skeptical.

“A lot less, man,” Jonah added.

Jonah’s new habit of referring to everyone as “man” – that includes his mother and the dog – is, I confess, one of the things making me crabby these days. Jonah is on the autism spectrum and, as a result, he’s always been more likely to pick up verbal tics (or stims, as they’re called in the world of autism) and sustain them for longer than most other kids would. I should be used to this sort of thing by now, but being called “man,” instead of daddy or dad, is driving me a little crazy. It’s like sharing the house with Jack Kerouac. I mean if Jonah has to talk like a 1950s beatnik, can’t he at least call me daddy-o?

Cynthia doesn’t like this new term of endearment much either, mainly because it doesn’t sound that endearing. Still, she reminds me to let Jonah express himself the way he chooses to. Self-expression is hard for a kid with autism so you take it where you can find it. In fact, we take it as a sign of the thing we want most for him nowadays – independence.

His mother and I were terrified the first time we sent Jonah to sleep-away summer camp three years ago, but the main reason we did it was so we wouldn’t always be around to do things for him. To a surprising extent, this plan worked. He became resolved to do more things on his own; we became determined to let him. We remain grateful to his experiences at camp for allowing him and us to see our interconnected resolutions through.

Lately, Jonah insists on going to the corner grocery store on his own whenever we are out of milk or orange juice or green beans. (What can I say? The kid is different; he loves green beans.) The first few times he left for the store I followed him, ducking behind parked cars and recycling bins, as if I were a private detective trailing a criminal suspect. Now, I still worry, but I manage to stay in the house. By the time I finally decide I must head out and find him, he’s invariably on his way back, happily swinging the plastic bag of green beans he just bought.

The other day I also let him take the dog out for a short walk as far as the grocery store. I watched anxiously from the window as Phoebe, still very puppyish, jumped all over him, but eventually they did some walking. Phoebe also did what she was supposed to – some peeing. As for Jonah, he brought her back safe and sound. I couldn’t have been prouder of both of them. When my son got back into the house, I asked him how it went as if I hadn’t been watching him every single moment. “No problem, man,” he said.

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Posted on January 7, 2014

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

How I Learned to Do More Than Just “Accept” Same-Sex Relationships

©Next Exit Photography www.nextexitphotographyI am not quite sure when I first started to understand the notion of homosexuality. When Billie Jean King was forced to come out, I distinctly recall asking my parents about it and them telling me that she was “with another woman” and that woman was telling her secrets to the world. I remember having this strong reaction about how unfair it was for someone to tell another’s secrets. As I grew older, most of what I learned about LGBT issues was tied to the AIDS crisis of the 80s. And then, as time passed, it became less of a “thing” I knew about and more of a reality in my life. There was a cousin, who was gay, and died from AIDS. A friend from high school who came out and we all accepted. A close girlfriend from Jewish sleepaway camp who came to me struggling with coming out and wanted my acceptance. In the course of 25 years, there has been a transformation from when being gay was this abstract thing in my life to being just a way of life. I am pretty sure that the planet around me has grown with me in this area too. I mean: same-sex marriage 25 years ago? People would never have even understood why it was a civil rights situation.

I am a pretty liberal person, probably more liberal than most. So it is not a real shock that much of this is totally a “non-issue” for me. However, I am always shocked by how much I have to learn and how completely encompassed I am in my own little world. When that friend from sleepaway camp came out to me when I was 22, I was surprised. She wanted my approval so badly and I was not sure why. And I didn’t know how to explain that my surprise was just surprise, not disappointment or judgment. It took us a few weeks and then everything was back to normal between us. Today I am still friends with her as well as and her partner who she has been living very happily with for over ten years.

When I got my Masters in Social Work and Jewish Communal Service, there were plenty of LGBT people there and also plenty of people who thought this was wrong. I was shocked by the ignorance of those who thought this was a moral decision. I considered myself an advocate of anyone who needed me to speak up. That being said, I was still pretty separate from the LGBT world.

Then I had the chance to go to a Keshet training. WOW. I was one ignorant person. I was the only “straight” person and I was completely lost in the conversation a lot of the time. I needed to know what letters stood for what, that there were issues like why getting married was a political and financial choice as opposed to just some loving decision, why parenting was different when everything was showing your child that your family was not the “norm.” I was able to learn that people were struggling with such simple issues that I gave no thought to: what to tell their grandparents about their partner, when to come out to certain people, what companies were innately against the family they loved, how going to a public restroom was filled with angst for people who felt trapped in another body. All of this was just stuff I did … and took for granted.

I felt out of place. But I am a question-asker, and ask I did. It became apparent to me that being an ally of others required more than my mere acceptance. It required me to stand up, speak out, say something, look at the world through someone else’s eyes.

That was five years ago, and I now consider myself an advocate for LGBT issues. It has changed what I let people say in front of me and how I parent. It has let me know that there are people struggling with issues that are so deep and so involved for them that I cannot understand, but that doesn’t mean I can’t listen and let them know that my world is a place where I will not only accept who they are but celebrate it. I will not allow people to be anything less than welcoming in my presence. I will cheer the camper who needs to figure out how to come out to the bunk and I will gladly explain to a parent about the transgender staff member we have working for us.

I am so proud that the LGBT community answered my questions and gave me a safe place to ask them. I am even prouder that as the counselors and other staff at our camp talk about these things, it is almost a “non-issue.” I learn so much from these 19- and 20-year-olds who just see this as the most normal part of life. Many of them have no idea who Billie Jean King is and they certainly can’t see why sharing someone’s secret would be on the news.  They are infuriated by homophobia and champion marriage equality. They give my daughter a chance to see things from such a different perspective that she truly has no idea that there are people who think it is wrong for some people to be married or have children. As she grows, I am thrilled to share my anger and disbelief at those people’s stupidity with her.

I know that many people say they are accepting or tolerant, but I want more from all of us. I want celebration of differences. I want people to be comfortable to ask and answer questions about differences. I want to be a person who lives and works in a place where friends and strangers know that I am supportive of all people. I am working toward this each and every day. Don’t get me wrong: some days I mess up on a pronoun or I say something that is completely heterosexist. But as time passes, I can feel the difference happening and I am so lucky to be in such an accepting community like Camp JRF where I can ask and have questions answered, where I am made to feel comfortable even in my ignorance, and where I am celebrating people who love and care for each other and themselves.

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Posted on December 10, 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

My Son, His Autism, and My New Appreciation for Hanukkah

shutterstock_161101661Last August, when my son, Jonah, returned from sleepaway camp with a sunburn, an array of nasty-looking mosquito bites, and a desire to water ski again (though this time for longer than a nanosecond), he also had a deepening connection to ritual. At camp, he’d taken to the morning flag-raising ceremonies, the campfire singalongs, as well as the Friday evening Shabbat dinners. I’m guessing that’s what inspired him to insist, this fall, on fasting on Yom Kippur; it was a carryover from his summer of Jewish education. His effort not to eat was, for a 14-year-old with an enormous appetite, remarkable: he made it until lunch.

But then Jonah, who was diagnosed with autism a little more than a decade ago, has always had an affinity for ritual. In fact, one of the early signs of his autism, for me at least, was his habit of lining up his toys single-file from one end of his bedroom to the other. He would have done this for hours if we let him. He could always tell, too, when I switched one toy’s place with another in the line. And, under no circumstances would he tolerate the chaos of double-file or a semi-circle. Eventually, it became clear that Jonah was a lot less interested in engaging in imaginative play with his tiny trucks and alphabet blocks and stuffed animals than he was in giving them an orderly world in which to exist. Which is, come to think of it, the whole point of ritual.

A point, I confess, I’m missing these days. After all, this was the year I deliberately passed on the apple slices dipped in honey on offer at my mother-in-law’s Rosh Hashanah celebration. It was also the first year, since my Bar Mitzvah, that I did not fast on Yom Kippur. My reasons were simple and admittedly childish: I was angry with God. The reason for that was simple, too. My beloved sister died this past August after contracting a mysterious illness and suffering for an excruciating six weeks in the hospital (Jonah came home from camp the day of her funeral) and I was determined to blame God. Childish, like I said, but once my initial anger subsided I had no need to see the world as an orderly place. I’d experienced this kind of thing before, decades earlier, when my mother and father died within two years of each other. When my sister died, I discovered the instinct to be vindictive was – like riding a bicycle – impossible to forget.

But now, it’s Hanukkah and Jonah is all in for the holiday, for the gifts, the candle-lighting, the dreidel spinning and the latkes; and I am doing my best to play along. Still, Hanukkah may be a good way for me to get back on the ritual bandwagon. As Jewish holidays go, it’s innocuous and undemanding. The emphasis is mainly on fun; the mood mainly lighthearted. No great physical, emotional or intellectual demands are going to be made on me. I also can’t help remembering that my late sister loved Hanukkah. She made mouth-watering latkes and, along with my other sister, devoted herself to finding and meticulously wrapping eight special presents for Jonah. It was just one of the many small ways she demonstrated her love for her nephew and also her acceptance of him, which was, from the moment he was born as well as the moment we learned he had autism, absolute and unconditional. So, for the sake of my son and my sister, I’ll put my holiday boycott on hold. The truth is I’ll be doing it for my own sake, too. And while I recognize it’s a lot to ask of any ritual to make the world seem less random, less cruel, it’s probably not the worst place to start.

Posted on December 2, 2013

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The Small Moments

©Next Exit Photography www.nextexitphotography

Recently, my daughter was asked to write about a small moment for school. Not just any small moment – one that she realized later was important. She came home at a loss. What was she going to write about?  She was not just confused, she was actually annoyed. She said: “What if I don’t want to share a small moment?  What if I want to keep it to myself?”  I laughed … not just for the simplicity of her question, but because if you know me at all you know there has never been a thought I have chosen to keep to myself. The notion that she revels so much in her own privacy is like a foreign language to me.

I often look at my daughter and think: “We (my husband and I) have done a pretty decent job at this parenting thing so far!” She does well in school, mostly listens, respects people, is great at sports, feels safe in the planet, and has self-esteem that I marvel at.  Listening to her tell me all the moments from the past summer that seemed small but meant so much to her and her friends was bittersweet. I love that she has funny personal jokes with other nine year old girls, she sings Hebrew songs as though Katy Perry wrote them, and I am thrilled when she says: “my counselor said…” or “at camp we learned about….”As we were talking about ideas for her small moments project, it became VERY apparent that most of the moments in her life that she found so pivotal, I was not there for. So many of them happened at camp when she was being herself with her friends and role models and I was not engineering her growth and development.

Well, mostly I am thrilled. Sometimes I am sad. I can’t believe how much effect this experience is having on her becoming the person she will eventually be.  I am so blessed that this place exists. A place where my daughter is learning to love herself, her traditions, her version of Jewish life; truly she is becoming a young person with strong ideals and opinions. That part I was ready for. I wasn’t ready for the other stuff. You know, her realizing who is “cool” and who is not as “cool,” her understanding of her own body image, being able to comprehend where she fits into a social structure. Understanding relationships that will one day lead to marriages of all sorts. Learning about her connection to the earth, what she is willing to give up and not give up for the sake of others. Figuring out when to give in and when to stand up. I mean all the small moment stuff; the stuff that DEFINES who you will be.

What I realize is that residential camp gives her a secure place to learn this without me (and her father) being there. That alone may be why it is so incredible to her. She gets to be her own version of herself – what she wants to present and share. I am not sure people who have not experienced residential camp can truly comprehend the value of this. I am sure that if this one summer is any indication of the future, I am going to be in for an interesting ride. One where my daughter is in a roller coaster cart on her own and at times lets me in to see the small moment but, overall, creates her own reality, learns her own lessons, and celebrates her own triumphs.

Posted on November 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

Hanukkah Gift Guide for Your Favorite Camper

Presenting: Hanukkah gift suggestions, Canteen-style! Although we have a few cold months to get through before we reach our beloved camp season, these gifts are tailored for the camp lover throughout all seasons. From sleeping bags to camp music albums, we’ve got you covered.

You should also check out our Hanukkah Basics Shopping Guide and our “Shalom, Y’all!” Southern & Jewish Gift Guide! 

This Retro Shalom Love Peace Symbol Water Bottle ($9.99) has an easy-flow drinking spout and a cute design for your favorite camper or counselor.

camp

Any baseball mensch will love this handcrafted Map of Jerusalem Collector Baseball ($20) which is handcrafted, and will sit nicely on any desk.

 

Copy of jerusalem

Teach your young one the concept of tzedakah early with this creatively designed Soccer Ball Tzedakah Box ($10.95)

Copy of soccerb

Got baggage? We have a Guilt Trip Luggage Tag ($19.99) for the person in your life who gets the most shpilkes when traveling.

guilty

Let’s take it back to the 80s with the ultimate celebration of Jewish summer camp: Wet Hot American Summer on DVD ($9.14).

wethot

Camp Songs ($16.39) by the Ben Perowsky Trio is a jazzy, folk version of traditional prayer melodies of summer camp youth.

campsongs

For both your novice and expert crafty friends and family to use on the bunk porch, or during winter nights at home: Jewish Threads: A Hand’s-On Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Crafts ($13.87).

jewthreads

For outdoor camping or home sleepovers, this TETON Sports Trailhead Sleeping Bag ($61.06) has heavy duty quality and a sporty, fashionable look.

SLEEPINGBAG

Send a Hanukkah gift basket ($94.99) to your kid’s favorite counselor. Because…babka!

hanpelg

These Thermal Wool Socks ($8.70) are ideal for cold winter days or while playing sports.

sockz

We hope this guide brings you back to your youth–or reconnects you with the warm spirit of camp until next summer. Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Posted on November 8, 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

Giving

This holiday season, we have giving on our minds and in our hearts. How camp influences what it means to us, how giving is a part of our lives, how we teach our kids about giving, and more. We encourage you to use these blog posts dedicated to the theme of giving to start conversations with friends and loved ones. Happy holidays!

November Director’s Corner

©Next Exit Photography www.nextexitphotographyFall is one of my favorite times of year – the leaves are changing, the weather is crisp and I find myself concentrating my time on some of my favorite things. My mind wanders through wrapping up camp registration, ramping up summer staffing, kicking our annual scholarship campaign into high gear, planning my family vacation and looking forward to my daughter’s first Hanukkah. These things all have the same season in common and they also share one other very important characteristic. They all center around giving.

I think that most people tend to focus on giving this time of year, usually with a focus on giving (and getting) gifts. Admittedly, that is a nice part of this season and I look forward to watching my daughter’s face as we open Hanukkah gifts. However, the giving that I love so much is a bit different…

With registration wrapping up in September, we get to give 700 campers the opportunity to have the best summer of their lives at Beber Camp! We are part of a community that gives Jewish Identity, life skills, friendships, new experiences and memories that will impact our children for years to come.

With staffing ramping up, we get to give dozens of amazing young role models the chance to positively impact the lives of children. These staff members are committed to developing their campers and are also looking to be developed themselves. We often forget that we are in the staff development business as well and this season starts our intense gift giving through selection, training, preparation, development and staff support processes.

With our annual campaign kicking into high gear, we get to directly give all families the ability to send their children to camp through the generosity of our Beber community.   We also get to give our annual scholarship campaign investors the opportunity to support something that they believe in passionately.

With my family vacation, I get to give time and love to my family that is separated by distance most of the year. People will be coming from all over the country to spend time together, reminisce, share and create new memories. I also get to give my family amazing quality time with my daughter Micah and in turn, I get to give Micah one of the greatest gifts I have – her loving, supportive family.   It is important to note that one of the reasons that my extended family is so strong is that the kids all spend their summers together at Beber Camp.

Finally, I get to give my immediate family our first Hanukkah. I am beyond excited to share in the magic with my wife and daughter, as we continue to create our own Jewish traditions. The magic that I am anticipating isn’t all about gifts, rather it’s about community, family, love, appreciation and giving. These are things that my family learned directly from our Jewish summer camp experiences.

Hopefully, you are looking forward to this season as well and you are personally excited about giving. Please make sure to take a minute to think about all of the different ways that you can give this season. Maybe it will be the gift of family time or the gift of a summer at camp for your child.  Maybe it will be a directed gift to the Jewish summer camp or the gift of encouraging your college-age child to return to camp as a staff.  Maybe it is the gift of support, compassion and community…..or maybe it is the gift of another pair of dress socks for the first night of Hanukkah.  Thanks in advance, mom!

Posted on November 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

The Truth about Pink

When my 14-year-old son Jonah returned from sleep away camp this past summer it was with some surprising new interests. Which is to be expected; it’s also predictable that not all of the surprises would be pleasant ones. I’m referring to some of the songs he has been singing since he got off the bus, specifically the songs of Alecia Beth Moore, the bestselling recording artist better known as Pink. And while I’d like to quote some of her colorful lyrics, here, in this family blog, they are, unfortunately, not fit for a family blog.

Initially, this upset me. For most parents, the dilemma would be a difficult but straightforward one. They could forbid their child to listen to music they deemed in questionable taste and suffer the inevitable consequences. Their child would rebel and be more determined than ever to listen. Jonah, however, is not rebellious. In part, this is a consequence of his having autism. For better or worse, he is more likely to trust us to know what is good for him. Here’s an example of what I mean: everyone in our family is a big fan of the Canadian singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman, whose lyrics will occasionally feature so-called bad words. One song, in particular, on a CD called Between the Beautifuls that Jonah and I listened to repeatedly in the car, was objectionable, so a few years ago I informed him that he wouldn’t be allowed to play the offending track, number seven, until he was a teenager. Whenever the CD was on, he would dutifully skip from number six to number eight. But the day he turned 13, he headed straight for track seven.

Of course, a part of me knows this generational divide is not only a cliché, it’s one of the main reasons we sent Jonah to sleep away camp in the first place. The idea was for him to spend more time socializing with kids his own age and for him to get a closer look at the pop culture world in which they live, something his autism often prevents him from doing.  When it comes to music, though, he’s just about caught up to his peers. But then I like to think his musical taste has always been sophisticated. I’ve been imposing my baby boomer listening habits on him for years; my wife doing the same with her affinity for folk music. He has always been able to love both. Aside from the obvious choices – The Beatles and Bob Dylan – the range can be dizzying: from Tom Waits to Pete SeegerSteely Dan to Joan Baez.

And, now, even an old fogey like me knows, even revels in the fact that Jonah is developing his own likes and dislikes. So when he got back from camp, he and I went out and bought Pink’s latest CD, The Truth about Love. I was right by the way: it’s filthy. I was also wrong: it’s fantastic. Pink uses bad language the way any clever lyricist or writer would: to great effect. Again, I can’t quote from a song like “True Love” but her assessment in it of how the people we love invariably drive us crazy is both crude and spot on. There is also an anthemic quality to some of her songs that speaks specifically to human frailty. “Try” and “Just One Reason” are good examples. But my favorite rousing Pink song is on an earlier CD. It’s called “Raise Your Glass” and serves as a touching and empowering tribute to kids who are different, kids like Jonah: “So raise your glass if you are wrong/In all the right ways, all my underdogs…”

What can I say? I’m not only glad camp introduced Pink to Jonah, but Jonah introduced Pink to me.

Posted on November 4, 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

Falling in Love with Myself

0243_130813-FJC_x_xHe was bubbling over with excitement. He had heard so much about this place. This was his first time away from home. And somehow he knew that his life was going to be different after coming here. While he knew that he was going to miss his family, he was excited to make new friends, and yes he was excited to possibly meet a special someone. As they arrived he could not stay in his seat.

I am sure that this story rings true for you if you remember going to camp for the first time. All of the excitement, all of those expectations of what that summer has in store. As the bus lurched forward you felt yourself opening up to the people on the bus. You were hardly able to sit in your seat as the bus pulled off the main road and you saw that first sign for your camp. You had never been there before, but as you pulled in you knew that you were home.

While this is my story of going to camp for the first time, this definitely echoes what I heard from my eldest son after his first summer at camp, or at least what I got out of him. Similarly, the story of Rebecca that we read in last week’s Torah portion says:

Then Rebecca and her maids got ready and mounted their camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebecca and left. Now Isaac had come from Be’er Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she fell off the camel. (Genesis 24:61- 64)

Rebecca was that first happy camper coming “home.” She fell in love at first sight. Just as I fell in love as a camper. It was not with a person – those crushes and relationships came and went. It was not with that place, even though it will endure in my memory as a place filled with kiddusha, holiness. I fell in love with who I was at camp.

Many years ago my camp supervisor mailed me the following story:

Once there was a Rebbe who had a Yeshiva. His son studied in the Yeshiva. One day the son took off the afternoon to go walking in the forest. The father said nothing. But over time the son took to taking off every afternoon to walk in the forest. At this point the father realized that he needed to confront his son. The Rebbe said to his son, “I hear that you are walking in the forest every afternoon. Why are you doing this?” The son replied that he was looking for God. The Rebbe was puzzled and asked, “Did I not teach you that God is the same everywhere?” The son replied, “Abba, I know that God is the same everywhere, but I am not.”

When and where in my life was I more open to being all of whom I aspired to become? It was when I got off that bus for the first time, and it was at camp.

While I love the place and I love that time in my life, I realize that I owe a lot to my counselors. More than what I saw in them as role models, it was what my role models saw in me when I tumbled off that bus. They shared with me a glimpse of the person that I am still working on becoming. And that is why I fell in love with camp.

Posted on October 24, 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

“Stuff” Doesn’t Equal “Love”

©Next Exit Photography www.nextexitphotographyThis year, the proverbial “holiday season” comes earlier than usual, with the much-ballyhooed convergence of Hannukah and Thanksgiving. This means that I am online virtually every free second I have: as I am two weeks or so away from giving birth to my fifth child, this means, someone has to handle getting 32 gifts for the other four kids. I’m hoping the newborn won’t notice she’s not getting anything.

The “holiday season,” after all, has become a euphemism for the Season of Stuff. The newspapers delivered to the house bleed out ads and coupons for Stuff. Suddenly, every catalog company in the world has found my address, and is intent on selling me everything from a reindeer sweater for my nonexistent dog to a $1500 foot-massager/tooth-brusher.

The implicit message of all this ‘holiday’ consumerism is that if you love someone, you need to show them that you love them by Buying Them Stuff. The stretch for ‘stuff’ for Those Who Already Have Everything extends beyond the reasonable into the bizarre: a $1k diaper bag?

I’m not a fan of status symbols or logos generally, and am more inclined to be moved by an honest and thoughtful card than fancypants jewelry I will rarely wear. So maybe that’s why all this getting and spending doesn’t thrill me to the bone…and why I was so surprised to find that it was such an integral part of the Going-To-Camp-Experience as well.

This idea that Buying Stuff equals Love is threaded almost seamlessly into the camp experience. Sending kids to camp for the first time, as most people become aware very quickly, involves purchasing tons of stuff you might not otherwise have occasion to buy, from moisture-wicking cargo pants to sleeping bags to ponchos.  You do all this because it is necessary, because it is on the shopping list provided by the camp, and because you want to make sure your kid is as equipped as possible for a summer without you.

Then we start getting into the “extras.” The battery-powered fans. The squirt bottles. A $30 nightlight shaped like a gummy bear. A $48 personalized yoga mat (for those moments of clarity, perhaps?). Pre-printed address labels so the poor kid won’t have to take the time to write out your home address on those letters. One mother told me that her local camp store recommended she purchase a portable chair for her son, telling her they were “popular because the kids don’t like to always sit in the grass.” Huh?? And, the same mother told me, “the de rigeur present to open when he gets to camp…because a kid who goes to a $10k summer camp really needs MORE GIFTS” And please don’t get me started on the second iPhone for when the camp confiscates the first one.

Not only does all this stuff get expensive, but its endless production also goes against the grain of what camp is allegedly about. These items foster a mentality of coddling rather than self-reliance.  They nurture a sense of “Mom and Dad will take care of it for me” rather than “I may actually be hot and sweaty once in a while – it’s summer camp, and it’s okay!”

I’m not sure how a camp would go about outlawing “stuff.” But maybe opening a candid discussion about it would be a good thing.

Posted on October 23, 2013

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