The Campfire

Gather round for news, perspectives, and tales of Jewish summer camp.

Revealing Passover

We come together for Passover to celebrate our ongoing liberation from slavery. During the sederwe will speak at length about the exodus from Egypt, but how did we, the descendants of Jacob, get there? Before we ask how did we end up as slaves we need to ask how did we end up in Egypt?

This story starts with Joseph and his brothers. Annoyed by his being different, they sell him into slavery. Through a turn of events Joseph ends up in a position of power in Egypt. Forced by the famine in the land of Canaan, his brothers unwittingly come before Joseph seeking sustenance. Sitting before them, he is faced with a choice as to whether or not he will keep his identity closeted. The text reads:

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, “Cause every man to go out from me.” And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he gave his voice in tears; and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard” (Genesis 45:1-2).

When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, his voice knows no limits, and everyone in Egypt finds out about his identity. Through Joseph’s coming-out they were all witness to the unfolding of God’s plan.  What started off as a family tragedy was transformed into a divine national comedy.

In modern times we can hear resonance of the Passover cry for justice in the words of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  He wrote that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963). I believe that we can hear a corollary to this in the sound of Joseph’s tears. There is an inextricable connection between personal and national revelation. While Moses led us out of Egypt we were not truly free until we experienced God’s revelation at Sinai. Joseph’s personal revelation to his brothers was a precursor to God’s coming out to the nation at Sinai. While we need to seek justice for everyone, we should rise to the challenge of realizing that we will not understand the collective revelation until we are all free to express all of who we are as individuals.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Chaos Theory

When you’re the parent of a child with autism, you’re always bracing yourself for the endless string of theories headed in your direction. They come from health care professionals, the media, family, friends and, my personal favourite, complete strangers. One woman we barely know keeps asking my wife, Cynthia, for a sample of my son Jonah’s urine so she can run her own tests on it.

The good news about all this is it helps you develop a thick skin, though never quite thick enough. I figured out pretty soon on this journey through what is sometimes called Autismland that the reason theories about autism are so plentiful is directly related to the fact that no one really knows anything definitive about it. In my experience, that includes mental health professionals who are, when it comes to matters of the brain, only guessing.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Art, Torah, and Jewish Camp

Let’s be clear. I can make any conversation into a conversation about art. Especially when it comes to the Torah and art at camp. Parah Adumah? Let’s talk about the color red! Miriam leading the people in celebration? Kikar dancing! Moses with two tablets? Sculpture! But really, those are stretches. That’s what makes Vayakhel-Pekudeiso exciting for me. It’s not just easy to make a connection between the story and “art,” it’s explicit.

We read about the nomination of Betzalel and Oholiav to design the Mishkan and lead it’s construction. And the Torah goes into great detail about the materials used (acacia wood, dolphin skin, crimson wool, etc.). So here I could talk about the different materials our campers get to create with in the art room and the wood shop: clay, mojpoj, paint, pine wood, woodstains, etc. And the Torah talks about the skill of the lead designers, how their talents are divinely inspired. Here I could talk about kavanah, and how every piece of art made at camp, from a 11 year old camper’s painting to a 16 year old camper’s original song, is done with Jewish content in mind, with a sense of Jewish intention behind the art. And of course, the Torah talks about portability – this is not going to be a permanent fixed structure. That is an easy bridge to the art work at camp being ephemeral, meaningful in the moment as a memory, and then lost to a blank canvas, which resets for the next session, the next summer, the next camper with an idea for expression.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Camp All Day, Every Day

A cookie is just a cookie, but a Newton is fruit and cake.

A camp is just a camp, but MY CAMP IS THE BEST THING EVER.

It doesn’t have the same ring, but you get the idea.

[Colemanites] get together during the year.  The Clergy Advisory Board gathers to talk education and development.  The Olim Fellows meet to learn about social justice, Reform Judaism, and to explore other camps in the URJ family.  Cornerstone Fellows gather to learn how to make great programming even better with camps from all over North America, and brainstorming how to impact their work at Coleman when gathering in “Camproom.”  Retreats.  NFTY.  Facebook.  Instagram.  Camp Shabbat.  Bar/Bat Mitzvah weekends.  Shabbat dinners.  The emails – so many emails.

[Coleman] people find time to see [Coleman] people.

At the end of February, a collection of Coleman people met in Atlanta for two days.  This form of Coleman reunion was targeted and focused.  Like last year’s MasheJew meeting, we were developing curriculum.  This year, we did some editing of the units from last year, and added in two more units.  We also did a series of Tefillah workshops that could fill an entire summer of Kavannah (our name for our counselor- and programmer-led programming), come from my work at camp and at The Davis Academy (#NADIV) and will be one of my sessions when I serve on Cornerstone Faculty in May.   We’re working on developing a program called “Hot ShoTz” (ShoTz is the abbreviation in Hebrew used to describe a service leader) which will teach people in our camp community leadership skills and service-leading methodology, allowing them to step up, and to shine in a new light.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Make Your Child One Happy Camper!

Jewish overnight camp is about so much more than campfires and color war. At camp, kids get the chance to explore who they are—and who they want to become—in an active, inspiring, fun-filled environment. (Marshmallows included.) But paying for camp can be difficult.  We get it—we are parents too.

We have some easy ways to make the dream of overnight summer camp a reality for your child.  We can even help you find the perfect camp—no matter what your background, you will find a place your child will have fun, be comfortable, learn more about themselves, and explore their Jewish identity.

BunkConnect.org
If your family lives in the northeast, check out BunkConnect, a new program that offers introductory rates at 40-60% off to first time campers. Finding out if you qualify is quick and confidential—answer six questions at BunkConnect.org. Then start browsing for the right summer experience for your child for this summer! The website will connect you right to the camp director to learn more about the experience.

One Happy Camper
BunkConnect doesn’t work for your family? One Happy Camper offers first time campers up to $1000 off. With over 155 Jewish camps on Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Find a Camp tool – search out the perfect one. You can narrow down your search by choosing preferred session length, specialty activities, denomination, and more. Once you choose a camp visit OneHappyCamper.org to see if you are eligible for a need-blind grant.

Read the rest on The Canteen.

Why My Camp Rabbi Might be Sporting a Pixie Cut This Summer: What Camp Rabbis Do in the Off Season

By Rabbi Elisa Koppel

As I think back on the past 20-some-odd summers at camp, there are probably about a dozen programs that I remember—really remember. I think back on them not only in that I can remember what we did or what we created, but I remember how they felt: the moment of insight, the powerful conversation, the unique energy that was created through the experience.

Tuesday night was one of those programs. Except instead of being at camp, this program happened at a convention of rabbis. But I think that it’s no coincidence that nearly all of the rabbis that participated in this particular program were camp rabbis. Experiential education is so much a part of our thinking that we can’t help but create these moments for ourselves—and use those moments to live out the values that are inherent in the Jewish camp experience.

Tuesday night, I was one of about 53 rabbis who shaved my head. On stage. In front of the rest of the convention. And on livestream.

And like the programs from various summers that I remember, it was a night that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It was an experience that really changed me—more than just my hair.

Not only that, it was an experience that enabled me—and the other participants, as well as everyone who supported us—the chance to change the world, and to use the values that we preach and teach.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Inclusion at Jewish Camp

Last week, the Foundation for Jewish Camp hosted our biennial conference, Leaders Assembly, in New Jersey.  The topic of inclusion was high on the agenda and I engaged in so many invigorating conversations with colleagues about the topic and what each camp hopes to achieve within their own camp communities.  Alexis Kashar, a civil rights and special education attorney, spoke to attendees about how growing up deaf impacted her access to the Jewish community. I was particularly struck by Alexis’ description of the effect that living in a home with a family with two parents and a sibling who were all deaf had on her sister who is hearing.  Because synagogue life and supplemental school were inaccessible to the family, her sister was never introduced into it. Alexis stressed to us how inclusion has a ”ripple effect” and can profoundly affect the lives of the family of the person with disability.

Just one day after the close of the conference, I read the report that had just been released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing that the escalating numbers of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis continued to rise. According to the report, one in 68 children are now believed to be diagnosed with ASD, a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It reaffirmed for me the important work that our camps can do to engage children with disabilities and their families and continuing to evolve in order to embrace them in the best way possible.

Read the rest of this post on The Canteen.

The Tech Side of Camp

by Rabbi Jason Miller

New Brunswick, NJ – As Jewish camp leaders once again convened at Leaders Assembly, the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s biennial conference here in New Brunswick, there was a lot of networking taking place – both in person and via social media. The dozens of ad hoc camp reunions taking place in the hallways of the hotel also materialized into an exchange of best practices for these Jewish camp professionals. The hot topic this year was the use of technology, both in the back office of the camp operations and front and center for campers, their parents and alumni.

What role all of this new technology plays for the Jewish summer camp industry was hashed out in breakout sessions at the camp confab in what were termed “Hot Topics” and also discussed in the “Shuk” where the companies that provide this new technology were camped out. “Do you keep your camper registrations and medical forms in the cloud?”, “Who manages your alumni Facebook page?”, “Have you started Instagram or Pinterest accounts,” and “Which online service do you use for staff background checks” were just some of the questions overheard at the conference.

While many don’t typically associate high tech with the camp world, which for generations was thought of as a low tech industry, there’s no question that camps have come to depend on the latest support applications in the technology world to run their camps efficiently, effectively and safely in the 21st century. After all, while one of the core missions of the overnight summer camp experience may continue to be allowing our youth to unplug from their electronic gadgets for several weeks each summer, the camps charged with that mission must be run like businesses. And that means using the best technology to manage everything from security, registration, financials and medical information to social network engagement, summertime communication and alumni relations.

In one “Hot Topic” session, Sacha Litman, the founder of Measuring Success, demonstrated the importance of using “Big Data” to help camps with their year-round engagement efforts. Big corporations, he explained, have been using “Big Data” for many years and in 2014 summer camps need to utilize the same data tools to acquire new campers and maintain existing relationships with both current staff and the valuable alumni who are now positioned to donate and send their children or grandchildren to the camp. These data measuring tools have been available to camps for years, but most didn’t know how to put that data to good use for philanthropic or camper recruitment and retainment purposes. Litman’s plea that camps focus on engaging their campers twelve months a year rather than in the traditional camp recruitment season was a theme echoed throughout the 3-day conference, which ended Tuesday afternoon.

Read the rest of this article on eJewish Philanthropy

Q&A

By Joel Yanofsky

The call came the other day from our son Jonah’s sleep-away summer camp. Registration was almost completed and we hadn’t signed him up yet. Was there a problem? I explained the delay was because our son was on the autism spectrum and there were additional details that had to be worked out – about how long he would be staying, about the availability of a shadow for that time period, about the cost. I was tempted to go on from there to my usual rant about how much more complicated things were when you’re dealing with a child with special needs, but I refrained. You see, after my last blog post called the “The What-if Moment,” about how I sometimes imagine how much easier our lives would be if my son did not have autism, my wife, Cynthia, strongly suggested I might want to be a little less of a grouch in future.

Her request reminded me of an interview I did some years ago with the novelist Richard Ford. He told me that his wife challenged him to write about a happy character for once. The result was Frank Bascombe, the narrator of Ford’s three wonderful but hardly cheery novels, The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and Lay of the Land. I’m guessing the Bascombe trilogy just left his wife shaking her head. “This guy is supposed to be happy?” she was undoubtedly thinking. Even so, Ford tried. And so will I.

In fact, after last month’s blog, I was reminded of an event I did in a library a few years ago. I was discussing my book about Jonah and during the Q&A, an older woman prefaced her question by saying she didn’t mean to be cruel, a sure sign she was going to be. I braced myself, but still her remarks stunned me. Do you ever wonder, she wanted to know, if you would have been better off if your son had not been born? For example, she added, your wife and you would have had more time for each other. Or maybe, she went on, you could have written more books. Like I said, I was stunned and speechless. Which is when the audience, bless them, came to the rescue. After the woman had gone on for a while longer, they basically shouted her down. I never really got to give her a good answer, but I thought about her question later and I wished I’d had the chance to respond.

I could have told her about the little things I’d miss – the fun I have making up crossword puzzles with Jonah, one of our new pastimes, or listening to music with him in the car. Or the way he chooses bedtime to conduct his own Q&A, asking his most profound and challenging questions like this recent one: “Daddy, why does there have to be yuck in real life?”

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Jewish Camp in the News – Week of 3/17/14

Here’s some news on camp from this week:

Here’s a great post from the 6 Points blog: “Grapefruit of Cactus?

Check out the new section camp on InterfaithFamily.com!

Jeremy has a post on Times of Israel called “Welcoming Children with Disabilities at Jewish Camp