The Campfire

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

Making a Healthier Jewish Community

The following post is the second in our summer series hearing from the camps that were launched as a result of FJC’s Specialty Camps Incubator.  

06.18-21.14 Jewish CampsIn an often-told story, Rabbi Hillel was asked to summarize the entire Torah while standing on one foot. His response was, “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your fellow person.” This is the foundation of the most basic rule of Jewish ethics: We should do no harm to other people.

Most of us don’t think of skipping the gym or choosing fries over salad as ethical decisions. These are personal decisions, the rationale goes, because they don’t harm others. But before deciding on your next snack, you might consider a very new perspective on Jewish ethics: Making unhealthy decisions is unethical because of the impact those decisions have on our peers.

Let’s use a brief thought experiment to understand why: If I were to tell you that most of my friends are health-conscious gym members, what would be your most reasonable conclusion about me? If you answered that I am also a health-conscious gym member, then you have successfully learned something about me from a statement about my friends.

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Yom Partisans 2014

Papers were flying and staples were clamping, stickers were delivered, and DVDs were organized. Another summer, and therefore, another fast day was upon us. It was dinner on the 14th of July in Cleveland, GA, and it was time to frame Yom HaPartisanim, or, as we’ve been calling it, Yom Partisans.

For the past two years at URJ Camp Coleman, we have done a dedicated day of Jewish learning to commemorate the holy, solemn days of Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) and/or Shiva Asar B’Tammuz (17th of Tammuz). Last year our campers learned about a non-Jewish man who wrote visas to allow Jews to escape from Lithuania during the Holocaust. You can read about it on last year’s day of learning blog entry!

This year, as the cheers for Letter Lotto (a beloved write-mail-and-you-might-win-you-a-towel program) quieted down, I spoke to our population of 650, introducing Ruth Bielski Ehrreich, the daughter of Tuvia Bielski (played in the movie by James Bond, Daniel Craig in the movie Defiance):

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“Visiting Day ESSENTIALS!”

I have received at least seven e-mails proclaiming that they have the GOTTA-HAVE items that I NEED to bring to my camper on visiting day!!!! MUST GET THEM NOW!!! If you don’t spend at least $100 on this stuff showing that you love your child, then you are a crappy, crappy parent! (Okay, maybe that last part was just implied.)

Isn’t it weird that we spend so much money to send our kids to a comparatively bare-bones environment to teach them “what’s really important”—and then, on Visiting Day, we are supposed to land back in their lives with a dramatic splash of materialism in the form of personalized M&Ms, autographable t-shirts and light-up, dancing toys?

Here are some of the items that I am told that my camper will go into cardiac arrest if he does not receive them on visiting day:

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Jewish Camp in the News – Week of 7/7/14

As we turn to Shabbat, we continue to hope for more peaceful days in Israel. Keep in your thoughts, the friends and relatives of our staff that are visiting and living in Israel,  as well as those of the 1100 Shlichim throughout our camps and our campers traveling in Israel.  You will see from the article below, each camp is talking about the situation with their campers and staff in an age appropriate way that feels organic to their culture.  We have been in touch with JAFI, who is providing resources to the camps and Shlichim as well.

The piece  from JTA about how Jewish summer camps are handling the murder of the Israeli teens, and it was picked up by Times of Israel and the LA Jewish Journal as well:

Here’s some news on camp from this week:

Food at a Jewish Outdoor Adventure Camp

The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) launched the second cohort of camps this summer through the Specialty Camps Incubator.  We asked all of the specialty camps to tell us about what it looks like to be Jewish at a specialty camp. The following post is the first in our summer series.

ROAOur director, Rabbi Eliav Bock, often says that our most impactful area of camp is not the rock climbing, backpacking trips, kayaking, or anything else—but rather the food choices that we make as a specialty camp. This is one aspect of what sets us apart as an outdoor adventure camp. We really strive to lift the veil on the food preparation process and involve our campers in it.

As a longtime Ramahnik, and recent transplant to Ramah Outdoor Adventure, I have had over 2000 camp meals in my life. While I have many fond memories of camp meals and routines, none have been quite like the dining experience that happens here at Ramah Outdoor Adventure. The first and most easily noted difference is the routine, which begins with a siur haochel (food tour) delivered by one of our tzevet mitbach (kitchen staff) upon entering the chadar ochel (dining hall).

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Sending to Camp is a Lot Like Parenting

Full disclosure: I feel like running a victory lap right now. My son, who had a terrible overnight camp experience last year, just came home from two weeks at another overnight camp—and LOVED IT. So much so, that he made me sign up for next summer. Knowing that your kid had a great time—and overcame demons of homesickness fought unsuccessfully last summer? Priceless.

And in this process, I’ve learned come to realize a few things—about sending my kid to camp, but also important reminders to me as a parent.

1.  You can’t control everything.

You just can’t. You can pack everything you think they’ll need in the bag, but that’s about it. They might have a fight with their best friend. They might get sick. There is nothing you can do.

And that’s a valuable lesson as a parent—that is LIFE. They’re going to be rejected by a date or a college, at some point. They are going to do poorly on tests despite intense preparation. They are going to get sick just before the prom. As Elsa wisely says, you’re going to have to learn to Let It Go. These things happen—and as a parent, you need to be able to dig into a sense of self and self-confidence to know that…

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Who You Are at Camp

One of the best things for me about camp was that I could be someone else.

At each of the three camps I attended, I only knew one person in my bunk the first year I went to that camp. I went to camps which mostly attracted kids from different neighborhoods, schools and synagogues. It was a chance to re-invent myself, to have a different identity. And having different girls around, who knew nothing about me, unlike the girls with whom I attended school from kindergarten on, was, looking back, liberating.

I was a “smart” girl in school but that didn’t really matter in camp since there was only one period of shiur (learning Jewish subjects) which was, of course, my favorite even though most everyone else slept through it. I was not good at sports so I experienced being really, really bad at something which had never happened in school. I can’t say that was fun but it did help me figure out how to negotiate difficulties. I admit it: I lied. I pretended I had ear aches, had my period four times in eight weeks, sprained my finger.

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Jewish Camp in the News – Week of 6/30/14

Here’s some news on camp from this week:

Here’s an interesting blog post from URJ Camp Harlam about their first ever full-staff training on LGBTQIA inclusion: “Queer Jewish Homecoming

There were many articles this week about the three Israeli boys who were tragically killed.  These, in particular, may be of special interest to you since they have a camp angle:

Six Words

Do you think you could sum up your camp experience in just six words? If not your entire experience, what about a summer? How about a session? I’m sorry if it sounds like a pretty impossible task. (To be honest, I completely understand.) After all how do you sum up weeks (or years) of memories in just six words?

You see I pose this question to get at a larger question … how do we tell stories at camp?  How do we use these stories to build friendships? One of the absolute best things we do at camp is help kids build friendships with one another. Same thing goes for our staff too … ask any counselor why they come back to camp summer after summer, and rarely will they say the food. Sometimes these friendships burn hot and fast for a summer, and sometimes they last an entire lifetime. Regardless of their longevity, how our kids create these friendships is almost as important as the friendships themselves. Staff, counselors, specialists … friendships are what keep everybody coming back to camp summer after summer.

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My Kids Live 10 Months For 2, and I Live For 10 pm

My life is as a voyeur. In fact, social media has turned us all into complete voyeurs. We follow blogs of people we have never met, are cheerleaders for Team Ethan, and wait for the next post from Superman Sam’s mom.  Who hasn’t clicked on the Facebook page of the first person that broke their heart way back when? Not to mention trying to keep up with the Instagram pages of our kids and their 617 friends. Oh and all those beautiful “how to get beachy waves” tutorials—I keep watching, and it ain’t working. And, it is about to get much worse…

I am about to become the biggest voyeur of them all. It’s time for camp pictures.  Every year I promise myself that I am not going to be tied to my CampMinder, the pictures can wait until morning.  Yet once my kids leave, every night as it nears 10pm, I find myself reaching for my phone, the iPad, or fighting my husband for the computer to catch a glimpse of my smiling girls at camp.  Or at least a pic of a kid in a t-shirt that I think could possibly belong to one of my kids (that means they have friends, right?), or a corner of one of their towels as they zip by the background of the picture (if they are wrapped in a towel, they aren’t lost on the lake), or a lost flip-flop that found its way into a picture (inevitably, things won’t make it home).

I am a pro at this. I preach it: camp is the best thing to happen to kids since, well, ever. I know they are having the time of their lives and there is no greater gift I could give them. I also know the camp sifts through the pictures before posting them so even if there was one of someone having a questionable moment, I would never know it from the 548+ images posted each night. Yet, I just need to see one picture.

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