Five Things that Happened at Jewish Camp this Week

IMG_15721. Camp JCA Shalom unrolled their entire Torah, one of 1,564 scrolls recovered in Prague after the Holocaust, for the camp community to see.

2. Camp Ramah in the Poconos’ Chef Tim competed on an episode of Food Network’s Chopped!

3. Camp Nageela Midwest had their Color War.

4. Camp Airy took everyone on a dance tour of camp. 

5. URJ 6 Points Sports Academy staff put their Cornerstone training to good use.

Posted on June 24, 2015

Five Things that Happened at Jewish Camp this Week

from Camp Young Judaea Midwest

from Camp Young Judaea Midwest

1. Capital Camps wanted to make sure that their CEO was ready to be the camp director this year and knew how to have fun.

2. Camp JCA Shalom has started a camper-led radio show and have already posts their first few recordings.

3. URJ Jacobs Camp alumnus, Nate Hausman, a young author & illustrator with autism spent time spent time at camp sharing his book ABC Animals /אבג  החיים בעלי.

4. Camp Young Judaea Midwest took some truly incredible photos around camp.

5. Camp Tel Yehudah’s staff learned a new Israeli dance from Erica Goldman, a member of our Cornerstone faculty and part of the Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History.

Posted on June 19, 2015

10 Things You Learn During Your First Summer as a Camp Counselor

PWP Studio photographers specialize in corporate event photography, decor, details, incentive travel, conventions, and on-location photography in Atlanta, Georgia

1. Camp is for campers. If you did not realize it before, you will as a staff member. Yes, staff members are supposed to have fun too, but campers always come first. You let them eat first at meals, you let them keep you up all night when they are crying because they are homesick, you let them dress you up in ridiculous costumes just for fun. Because camp is for campers.

2. It is hard to get a lot of sleep as a staff member. On top of waking up early with campers, staff do a lot of things at night that prevent them from getting as much beauty sleep as they would like. Aside from shmira/night duty, where staff are required to stay in their cabins at night so they are there if a camper needs them, many camps allow for staff to spend time as a group once campers are asleep, letting staff go into town, serving snack, movie nights, and/or planning other fun nighttime activities. On top of that, nighttime is a prime time to plan for the next program.

3. What you were like when you were a camper. As a camper, it is hard to step back and realize what kind of a camper you are. Once you are staff and can see all your own campers, it becomes abundantly clear just what you were like back then. Were you the eager beaver camper, always volunteering to be first in line? Were you the troublemaker, giving your staff premature gray hairs? Were you the slacker, who refused to participate in anything? Every staff member will find the one camper who is basically themselves reincarnated.

JUL 11 Foundation for Jewish Camp - Greensboro, NC4. Days off are solid gold. You love your campers. While at camp, you are the parent and they are your children. That said, even the most dedicated parents need some alone time. When your day off rolls around, you will be so happy to get out of camp and experience civilization for the day. Aside from giving you a much needed break, it makes you all the more excited to see your campers when you return.

5. Seriously, do not let your campers know that you have your phone at camp. Unless you want to be surrounded by crying, begging kids, it is not a good idea. Plus it is likely against your camp’s rules.

Posted on June 16, 2015

Five Things that Happened at Jewish Camp this Week

PWP Studio photographers specialize in corporate event photography, decor, details, incentive travel, conventions, and on-location photography in Atlanta, Georgia

1. The camp season has officially started with several camps opening their gates! We wish each of them a safe and fun summer.

2. Camp Young Judaea Texas and URJ Greene Family Camp got together for a day of learning from the ADL as part of their staff training.

3. Camp Daisy & Harry Stein in Arizona held a reunion for former campers and staff. 

4. Camp Judaea in North Carolina had a little fun with their camp director and a life-sized game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. 

5. Camp Inc. announced their summer 2015 lineup of presenters. 

Posted on June 12, 2015

Time to End the Hate Song

We find ourselves living at an interesting time on a couple of levels. Having just participated in two wonderful Seders with my family commemorating the Exodus from Egypt we are getting ready for the last days of Passover commemorating our salvation at the Red Sea. Having just been liberated from slavery, our ancestors found themselves witness to the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea. One can only imagine the elation. In response to this, Moses and Miriam led the Israelites in the two songs sung at the sea. This has become the gold standard of expressing gratitude and religious freedom.

On this the Talmud Sanhedrin says:

The Holy One, blessed be God, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked.  For Rabbi Shmuel ben Nahman said in Rabbi Yonatan’s name: What is meant by, “And one approached not the other all night”? (Exodus 14:20)  In that hour [When the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea ] the ministering angels wished to utter the song of praise  before the Holy One, blessed be God, but God rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would you utter song before me! (Sanhedrin 39b)

The Egyptians slavers are finally getting their just due, yet God experienced no pleasure in the process.  Why was the angels’ song censored, while the Israelites songs were not? A song of salvation is great, but rejoicing in someone else’s suffering is just wrong. Someone who truly cares for God’s honor would not rejoice when the wickedness of man gave God no choice but to blot it out. In the imagination of the Talmud from a divine perspective true freedom is only realized in a reconciliation process. It seems in light of their recent salvation the Israelite song might be explainable if not excusable. But the Talmud seems to pointing out that singing at this moment might be inappropriate.

Is the experience of happiness inherently contextual and only understood relative to others? What about our nature is so prone to take joy in others suffering as compared to our own happiness? While the freedom of religious expression is laudable and surely deserves praise and even song, why must it be coupled with reveling in the suffering of others let alone causing suffering?

Posted on April 9, 2015

Our Very Best Friends the Torahs

It was my first Shabbat at a new camp – Camp Interlaken JCC – and I was still feeling out how this camp was going to be different from all other camps (a little Passover humor).  Future (now current) Rabbi Benjy Bar-Lev started the cheering and chanting.  Kids jumped out of their seats.  They were bursting with excitement, as Benjy put it, for their VERY BEST FRIEND THE TORAH!

I sat grinning and wide-eyed, thinking to myself that this man is a genius!

Fast forward to a handful of years later.  I’m standing in front of an outdoor amphitheater filled with hundreds of campers and staff, or wrangling a “gymagogue” filled with middle schoolers.  I announce that it’s time for OUR VERY BEST FRIEND THE TORAH!  I get some giggles, and most participants smile at my nickname of the holy scrolls.

I love the Torah.  I love the stories, the scrolls, the craftsmanship, the history, and the magic!  In my job, many Torah-related opportunities have presented themselves.  I wanted to share a few vignettes about how OUR VERY BEST FRIEND THE TORAH has found its way into my #nadiviated life.

  1. Working to document, catalogue, update, and maintain the sacred scrolls that are in the care of URJ Camp Coleman.
  2. Embarking on a comprehensive cataloguing and updating of records with the Memorial Scrolls Trust Torahs that are in the care of NFTY-STR and URJ Camp Coleman, including an in-depth foray into the history of how the scrolls came to be in our care, spanning decades of Coleman & Southeastern liberal Jewish history.
  3. Helping to unroll the scrolls with the Davis Academy community on Simchat Torah, every year (always making sure to wear my Bible Belt & surgical gloves, as in the photo above).
  4. Checking every b’nai mitzvah student’s Torah reading in preparation for their school reading and ceremony, and preparing the scroll for their milestone ceremonies.
  5. Teaching Torah regularly, sometimes with the help of a simple prop:
    • Student:  Morah Sara Beth, is that your kefiyyah?
    • Morah SB:  Nope, it’s in the wash again.  It’s a regular scarf, but I’m using it as a costume. Can you tell who I am today?
    • Posted on April 8, 2015

Jewish Teens, Summer Camp and Liberation

As we approach Pesach, I have been thinking about one of the names of this holiday – z’man heiruteinu – the time of our liberation. For our teenagers, what does it mean in these modern days to really feel and experience liberation?  From what do our teens need or seek liberation?  Where is Mitzrayim (Egypt) and where is the (possible) Promised Land(s) in their lives?

While, I would certainly not want to compare the lives of our teenagers to the hardships our ancestors endured in Mitzrayim. However, we might want to also think about the idea of Mitzrayim from its Hebrew root which refers to a narrow, confining place. It also refers to straits or distress.   We know that the teenage years are challenging with difficult pressures from school, peers, family and society. Compounding these pressures are the physical, emotional and intellectual changes our teens experience. These pressures and changes can sometimes create feelings of being limited, trapped, shuttered and distressed – in a sense, being in a state of Mitzrayim.

Just as we experience Pesach each year, we know that the process of moving from Mitzrayim to liberation is a perpetual one – we always exist between those conditions and circumstances in our lives that confine and limit us and those forces and experiences which liberate us and allow us to live to our potential.  The challenge is to continually see ourselves as if we went out of Mitzrayim and to do the hard work of actually participating in our own liberation.

Jewish summer camps like Tel Yehudah, an intentional community of Jewish teens, offer important possibilities of liberation for Jewish teens.  There are reasons that so many Jewish teens from all different camps, are counting down the days until camp, and not all of those reasons have to do with being done with homework or the great food at camp.  The following are some of the forces that our teens might feel liberation from this summer:

Liberation from the Market Place:  Our teens are constantly bombarded with messages about what they need to buy, wear, look like, download, etc.  Camp offers a break from the perpetual pressures of an economy and society driven by the need to always have the newest gadget or fashion.  Besides buying a soda or ice cream at the canteen, our teens have an opportunity to put away their wallets, avoid television commercials and exist with the material items they brought with them. It is a time where our teens can be freed from the pressure of feeling that they need something new and can appreciate the community and natural environment in which they live at camp.

Posted on April 3, 2015

Matzoh & Mitzvot

Passover is about so much more than just a seder, and with time off from work and school, we want to encourage everyone to make the most of the next eight days. Take some time to do some good- below we share eight mitzvot to add some extra meaning to this Passover!

1. Yesterday, April 2, was International Children’s Book Day! Ask your seder guests to bring any children’s books they are ready to retire to donate to a children’s hospital or other CBO’s in your neighborhood. Learn more about International Children’s Book Day here!

2. Learn more about the mitzvot of Shabbat here!

3. Recycle all of the bottles and cans left over from your seder and donate the money to the charity of your choice. You’ll not only be doing something great for the environment, but something great for others as well!

4. It’s spring cleaning time! Have everyone in your family pick one or two items from their closet to donate.

5. Talk to your family about how they incorporate tzedakah and mitzvot into their everyday lives, whether it’s donating a portion of their allowance or volunteering once a week at their local food bank. Check out this article for some inspiration!

6. Take some time to learn about the meaning and importance of saying sorry to loved ones. It’s a lesson that they will be able to take with them wherever they go!

7. In true camp fashion (see what we did there?), invite your friends and family over for a tie-dye party, and donate the clothes that you made to a local charity. You’ll be letting those in need look stylish and you’ll get to do a mitzvah!

8. Write a letter of support to an Israeli soldier. Show your solidarity and wish them a happy Pesach!

How many will you do this Passover?

Posted on April 3, 2015

ProcrastiNation

Why do we eat Matzah on Passover? As we read in the Haggadah:

Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, revealed God’s self to them and redeemed them. Thus it is said: “They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions.” (DIY Haggadah)

So when the time came for them to leave they did not delay, but that final plague was not the first time they heard of their pending exodus. Moshe came and told the slaves of the plan to leave Egypt. It seems as though the Israelites were surprised by the exodus. Or is it that they doubted that it was possible? You would think that they would have prepared some provisions. Maybe some bagels for the trip- they travel quite well. Can you even imagine what our Passover brunch spread would have been like? But that is not the case. We are stuck eating Matzah.

It seems that Pharaoh was not alone in doubting that God would redeem the people from their bondage. While we call it the bread of affliction, the affliction in question seems to be procrastination. The slaves procrastinated in getting ready to leave the world they knew. We all can relate. On a mundane level we all run late and wait until the last-minute to get things done. But on a deeper level we are all a little slow in working to be the change that we want to see in the world. As the expression goes, failure to prepare is preparing to fail. As we eat this “bread of procrastination” we should liberate ourselves from habits of being a “ProcrastiNation”. As quoted by MLK in his moving Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We must believe, plan, and move swiftly to free our world from injustice. Eating Matzah reminds us not to delay.

During Passover, take the time to look at the things we procrastinate about. Is it in our work or our daily routines, or is it in something bigger? This coming spring, will we do more to bring Jewish culture and values into our everyday life? Will it be through attending services, signing our children up for camp, or having shabbat dinner? However you choose to do it, keep in mind, with a little planning, it could be bagels over matzah.

Posted on April 2, 2015

Create Your Best, and Most Personal, Passover Seder

Looking to change-up your seder this year? Archie Gottesman, FJC board member and self-proclaimed Marketing Jewru has spent the past few Passovers writing, compiling and curating a fun Haggadah based on readings and songs she has found on various websites, traditional Haggadahs and other sources. Archie, besides being an advocate for Jewish camp, is the Chief Branding Officer of Manhattan Mini Storage, rebranded self-storage with ads like: Why Leave a City that has Six Professional Sports Teams, and also the Mets? and NYC: Tolerant of Your Beliefs, Judgmental of Your Shoes.

She is passionate about helping others see how much fun, joyous and meaningful Judaism it can be.  Check out her version of a Haggadah and let us know how it enhances your seder.

Need some tips on how to enhance your seder? Archie suggests these simple steps to host a seder that will seriously impress your family and friends:

  1. The Seder Police: There are none. Yes, there are certain traditions to a seder. In fact, the word seder actually means “order,” and there is a specific order that you are supposed to follow. But if you’re the Seder Leader (SL), you are the master of the table. So if you want to have a rip-roaring seder, do whatever feels right. Personally, I think most Haggadahs are deadly dull. So many people take control and make their own Haggadahs. Feel free to download mine below, or make your own at www.haggadot.com. (But for God’s sake, don’t wait until the day before Passover.)
  2. Watch out for Too Much Hebrew (Aka Don’t Play “Who’s the better Jew?”):  You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re at a seder with like 15 people, and there are only four of them  who know the words to some Hebrew song, and the rest of you sit there uncomfortably while they stumble through it?  Me too. And it makes me feel like a bad Jew, wondering “Why didn’t my Jewish education prepare me for this?” This is NOT the feeling you want to elicit at your seder. So if you’re going to include Hebrew, make sure your guests understand it, or keep it to a minimum.
  3. Posted on April 1, 2015