The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) supports and advocates for over 150 nonprofit Jewish overnight camps of all denominations across North America. Our mission unifies and galvanizes the field of Jewish overnight camp and significantly increases the number of children participating in transformative summers at Jewish camp, assuring a vibrant North American Jewish community.
When Sarah sent her 6-year-old son off to day camp for the first time, she was excited but worried. “What if he doesn’t love Jewish summer camp as much as I did growing up?”, she wondered. Her concerns mirrored those of many parents who grew up exclusively attending fully immersive Jewish overnight camps. Would the limited hours spent in a Jewish environment at day camp allow her son to form as meaningful a connection to Judaism as she’d experienced at overnight camp?
As the Youth Engagement Director for BB Day Camp Portland’s first summer, I often heard from parents who were concerned that youth wouldn’t be engaged. I assured Sarah she needn’t worry. I’m not sure if she believed me, but I watched her reservations evaporate when she attended Shabbat at the end of her son’s first week at camp. As we watched her six-year-old son joyfully celebrate with his group, Sarah was moved to tears. Her son clearly loved the Jewish songs, the counselors, and his new friends. She was amazed by the depth of the connections that had so clearly formed between everyone at camp within only one week. I was equally delighted, but less amazed. Moments like these are characteristic of BB Day Camp Portland, and powerfully illustrate what Jewish day camps do every summer: provide campers and their families with a significant connection to Judaism, community, and each other.
Day campers learn that their Judaism isn’t specific to a time and place, but a natural and integrated part of their daily lives that continues long after camp has ended. Many parents and campers have expressed how they appreciate that they now have a place where they can meet and play with other Jewish kids – kids who celebrate the same holidays, kids with whom they can have playdates within their neighborhoods, and friends who they can come back to every summer at camp. Jewish day camp offers a unique opportunity for campers to form significant connections with their Jewish identities and important friendships with other Jews within their own communities.
Meaningful and engaging Jewish experiences are woven throughout our BB Day Camp Portland community. We had the opportunity to thread our BB Camp Jewish values – which stemmed from Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Hiddur Initiative – through our weekly themes and activities. Our unique partnership with an area synagogue has allowed for the clergy and congregation’s educational team to bring Jewish teachable moments to camp through art, music, storytelling, and Shabbat celebrations. Additionally, we’ve become a melting pot for members of the Portland Jewish community. During our inaugural summer, we have welcomed campers from all different Jewish backgrounds representing seven local synagogues alongside 30% of the campers from unaffiliated families. This diversity is reflected in our counselors as well. All of these Jewish experiences and backgrounds combine to bring a deep richness to the community we are building.
Jewish day camps play an essential role in offering Jewish youth of all ages access to transformative Jewish summers. We at BB Day Camp Portland are thrilled to have had such an incredible first summer, and look forward to future Jewish summers filled with love, learning, and laughter.
Liz Broberg has been working in Jewish day camps for the past 10 years in Los Angeles. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon, an organization coming up on 100 years in Jewish camping, to create a new Jewish camping experience in Portland!
Everyone warned me that the High Holidays would be hard this year after the recent passing of my father, but in truth, it was just not the case – until now.
As a Jewish camp alum and professional, I typically associate the Sukkah with camp. Camp – like a Sukkah – is temporary, but the brevity of our time there endows it with a special sense of holiness. Camp is an intentional community we create with our own hands, yet it is a mystical and meaningful place that transcends the physical space in which it’s located.
My father did not especially connect with the High Holidays. He was not a religious Jew in any conventional way, but he was a deeply spiritual person. And while he was a genius and spent an extraordinary amount of his time and energy in his formidable mind, he loved to build things with his hands.
Some of my favorite memories of my father are of his building things. For him, building a Sukkah made more sense than the more abstract Jewish rituals. This Sukkot, I pause to contemplate anew the nature of the Sukkah, in memory of my father.
When we think of a Sukkah, we often think of a hut covered in branches. While a Sukkah is a tangible physical structure formed by human hands, it is also connects us to experiences we can’t see or touch in a traditional sense: the history of our people, and our metaphysical relationship with God. It’s a lovely paradox that by entering the enclosed space of the Sukkah, we connect to something outside of ourselves. We’re supposed to cover the Sukkah with branches so we can still see the stars, which can be viewed as a reminder that we can always find light in the world, so long as we don’t close ourselves off from it.
While the Sukkah allows us to enter our historical and religious memories, it is also a place we build to spend time with our families. My father found deep spiritual fulfillment in creating a space for his family to meet and be together. He was not just building a physical structure; he was building family connections and cherished memories. When I enter a Sukkah, I not only bring the historical memories of the Jewish people with me, but my personal memories of my family as well. When I enter a Sukkah, I can’t help but think of my father and all the joyful times we shared within its walls. He is there with me.
My mourning has intensified this Sukkot. I find comfort, however, in the nature of the Sukkah itself. A Sukkah is made up of tangible materials that come from the earth, but it also connects us with the mysteries of heaven and the treasured memories of our communal and personal past. And even in the absence of the earthly structure, the light shines on.
May the Memory of James Joseph Orlow z’l
Rabbi Avi Orlow is the Vice President of Innovation and Education at Foundation for Jewish Camp. Before joining FJC in 2008, Avi was the Campus Rabbi and Assistant Director of the St. Louis Hillel at Washington University and has held numerous positions as rabbi, educator, and youth leader. He spent 17 years as a camper and then educator at Ramah Camps in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and YUSSR camps in the Former Soviet Union. Avi has a B.A. in religious studies from Columbia University. He was ordained in the charter class at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the open Orthodox rabbinical school. Avi lives in White Plains with his wife, Cantor Adina Frydman, and their children, Yadid, Yishama, Emunah, and Libi.
The buses have rolled away, the bags are unpacked, the phone calls between your campers and their friends are sending your phone bill sky high, and the countdown until next summer has already begun. As the days and weeks tick by, the Jewish calendar asks us to take pause and evaluate ourselves and account for our deeds. With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur right around the corner we begin the process of looking at what we have done and how we have grown so we can do more and grow more. The High Holidays aren’t just about beating our chests in repentance; they are also about accepting responsibility for our individual and communal actions and learning from our past experiences.
With camp behind us and the holiday season ahead of us, now is the perfect time to talk with your kids about what they learned at camp and how they might grow and change in the months leading up to next summer. This sort of self-reflection isn’t easy for kids (or adults!) to do, but it can be very gratifying because it can make the whole family appreciate just how special camp is even more.
As you dip your apples in your honey (or your fresh fruit in silan and tehina, as in the recipe below) encourage conversation with your kids on what they learned over the summer. Self-reflection and growth is hard for all of us, but it is important to take the lessons from camp and talk about how they can be applied to challenges in the real world. How can the enjoyment of singing during Shabbat translate to finding meaning in Hebrew school? How can the tribulations of sleeping on a top bunk help you deal with a difficult math teacher? How can the creativity needed to design a cheer for color war help you discover what to write for your essay in English class? Discussing these types of situations with your kids can help them put their camp experience into context so that they can adapt, change, and grow into a better person.“Halvah” Fruit dip
½ cup tehina
½ cup silan (date honey)
¼ cup chopped pistachios
Large platter of fresh and dried fruits (strawberries, mango, apples, dried figs, dried apricots)
1. With a tablespoon, scoop alternating spoons of tehina and silan onto a large platter.
2. Using a fork, swirl the tehin and silan together. Sprinkle with pistachios.
3. Serve with fruit platter.
Rachel Saks has loved to cook ever since she was old enough to stand on a chair at the counter and wield a plastic knife. She has an M.S. in Education and is a Registered Dietitian. Rachel has taught cooking classes at JCC Manhattan and the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts. She developed and ran Healthy Living, a Ramah program for 8-16 year olds that combines nutrition education, mindful eating, cooking instruction and physical activity. Rachel spent a total of 13 summers at Camp Ramah in the Poconos (8 as a camper and 5 as a staff member) and met her husband there in 2000. She feels that a positive encounter with Jewish camp can be one of the most formative and important experiences in a child’s life.
There is nothing that bothers me more than when you say “I need to find a real job next summer.”
The opposite of “real” is “fake.” When you say this, you are implying that the work that you are doing doesn’t have meaning and might as well not exist. This past summer, you have in fact done quite the opposite.
When you work at camp you are truly affecting the lives of your campers and the people around you – teaching them how to have self-confidence, teaching them how to try things that are out of their comfort zone, and teaching them how to create community.
But what frustrates me the most when you say that camp is a ‘fake’ job is that you are implying that being authentically happy in your career, or in your life, isn’t a possibility. I have heard you say that at camp you are your real self —however, you also believe it is a fake job. I want you to know that you do not have to be in some utopia to be your real self. You do not have to be at camp to be your real self. Camp is a vessel to help you find your real self. But it is NOT the only place for the real you to exist.
Maybe next year you need to find a job that will help your resume in your field of choice. Maybe next year you will find a different opportunity that you cannot pass up. That is fine. But you are not entering the real world. You have been in the real world the whole time. Use what you have learned from camp to help lift you up rather than tear you down. Your contributions to campers’ lives have not gone unnoticed and have been anything but fake.
All my love,
Abby Kirshbaum is currently the Assistant Director at Camp TEKO, a day camp owned and operated by Temple Israel in Minneapolis, MN. Abby attended Herzl camp for 12 summers and has recently joined the Herzl Camp Board of Directors. In 2016, Abby interned with the Foundation for Jewish Camping Event Staff during the Leaders Assembly. Abby is passionate about Jewish Camp and knows that learning is best accomplished while having fun!
It’s not unusual to walk through a Jewish overnight camp and see a counselor making friendship bracelets with a group of 4th grade campers in the art center. Everyone is giggling, telling stories, and helping each other select the next color bead to add to their jewelry.
This summer at Camp Chi, you can see the same scenario, but if you look at the group a little more closely, you may notice something else– the 19-year-old counselor laughing with the campers and helping with their craft project has Down Syndrome.
For decades, the Camp Chi community has included campers with disabilities through a unique partnership with Keshet, an internationally recognized organization that provides education and recreation programs for kids, teens and adults with disabilities. When it comes to meeting the individual needs of campers with a wide range of developmental disabilities, Camp Chi and Keshet share a common philosophy: we don’t focus on “whether or not it can it be done,” but on “how it can be done.”
Keshet uses the same approach in Avodah, a specialized vocational program at Camp Chi that provides young adults with disabilities both job training and recreation at camp. For the first time this summer, Kelly – an Avodah participant – is working directly with campers as a counselor for the youngest village at camp. With a small amount of adaptation and support from coworkers, Kelly works independently alongside her camp friends to make sure that campers have the best summer possible.
Rachel – Kelly’s longtime friend, counselor and job coach – collaborated on an interview about Kelly’s experiences this summer.
Rachel: How long have you been coming to camp?
Kelly: I started coming to Chi when I was in 5th grade. This is my 10th summer and now I am a counselor not a camper anymore.
Rachel: What made you want to be a camp counselor?
Kelly and Rachel
Kelly: I wanted to be with my friends who I love at camp. I saw you as my counselor and I wanted to be one too. I love being a counselor. My kids are so cute, and we can laugh together during rest hour or when we play cards. They all run up to me and give me hugs and yell, “Kelly!!!”
Rachel: What do you love most about camp?
Kelly(with a HUGE smile on her face): Being with my friends and my old counselors and helping my kids – especially when they give me big hugs.
Rachel: Do you have a favorite part of the camp day?
Kelly: Helping my campers get to their activities and hanging with my kids at rest hour.
Rachel: What do you love most about being Jewish?
Kelly: I get to help work at a Sunday School with little kids. I like Shabbat songs.
Rachel: Is there a funny story from camp that you would like to share?
Kelly: This summer when I turned 19 at camp, my campers planned a party for me. Rachel picked me up in the golf cart and we drove to my campers’ cabin. They surprised me with cards they made and we all ate ice cream sandwiches. I got tackled with a lot of hugs and laughed a lot.
Kelly: What do you love about camp?
Rachel: Getting to see you be so independent and dedicated to your campers. I am so proud of you, and hope you are proud of yourself too.
It’s easy to see the positive impact that Kelly’s leadership role has already had on her, her life, and her prospects for future employment, but the benefits extend way beyond Kelly. She brings so much joy and ruach to our Jewish camp community. Her campers and coworkers have grown just as much as she has and hopefully gained a better understanding that the inclusion of people with disabilities is an essential expression of our Jewish values, shaping a world that recognizes the dignity and potential of every human being.
Keshet is internationally recognized for its leading edge services for individuals with disabilities. From its local programming at over seventy sites in the Chicago area to its international consultations, the organization strives to meet its most important mission: To do whatever necessary to allow individuals with disabilities to achieve their potential.
The Keshet Avodah Corps at Camp Chicombines work-related activities with camp recreation for older teens and young adults with disabilities. Avodah members are staff at Camp Chi. They live alongside other participants while gaining valuable life skills and work experience.
This post is a part of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s summer blog series “Because of Jewish Camp.” Each week, we will be featuring personal reflections from camp parents, staff, and alumni exemplifying the ways that Jewish camp impacted their lives. Follow along all summer long, and share how Jewish camp impacted your life! Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook, or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JewishCamp.