The Canteen is a tribute to all things Jewish sleepaway camp. Hosted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), this blog is written by campers, alumni, parents, and camp professionals and is a place to talk about parenting, camp fun, projects, crafts, recipes, and more – all tied back to Jewish holidays, traditions and, of course, camp!
Avi Smolen and Justin Rosen Smolen
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We met as staff at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack in 2005 when we were going into our freshman and sophomore years of college. We were introduced briefly by a mutual friend on Thursday of staff week and then found ourselves at the same meal tables and discussion groups over Shabbat.
Was it love right away?
We definitely cliqued right away, and while we were really just (flirtatious) friends the first weeks of the summer, our friends quickly saw that our relationship would become something more. Two weeks into camp we were dating, and just over five years later, in October 2010, we were married.
What happened between you after that summer?
Justin was a rising sophomore at Columbia and JTS, and Avi was about to begin his freshman year at Rutgers. We decided to brave the quasi long-distance relationship with the help of New Jersey Transit. Summers at camp brought us together in the same place for two months each year. Over eleven years later, we appreciate our summer together at camp and for the individual growth that going to different schools allowed us. We are grateful our life together in Manhattan among friends and family.
Do you find that your time at camp has influenced your relationship/marriage/family?
Definitely. We were both inspired as Jewish educators and leaders at camp, which led Justin to pursue a career in the Jewish community and inspired Avi to bring a Jewish and faith-based lens to his work in human rights. Our home reflects our Jewish values and the rhythm of the Jewish calendar. We enjoy hosting friends and family regularly for Shabbat and holiday meals, help lead our joint family Pesach seders, and have served on boards and committees for different Jewish groups and initiatives.
Did you have any camp themed thing at your wedding?
We were fortunate to have many longtime camp friends at our wedding. Several, including our camp director, read blessings under the chuppah, and later during “shtik,” entertained us by dressing up in camp t-shirts and acting out old inside jokes. We all danced to a few favorite Israeli camp songs too.
Will you send your kids to camp?
Absolutely! We both come from very proud, extended camp families, and look forward to offering these powerful experiences to our children in the future.
Pronounced: PAY-sakh, also PEH-sakh. Origin: Hebrew, the holiday of Passover.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.