The Campfire

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Archive for June, 2011

Passing My Camp On To My Kids

I am less than 48 hours to becoming a parent of campers; campers who will take my place in the history of URJ Camp Harlam. Campers who will walk where I walked, sleep where I slept, grow where I grew, and make friends that will continue to last a lifetime. Cliché? Perhaps. Is there much riding on their little eight year old shoulders? Not really. As much as I’d like to think it’s my 16th summer, it’s really their first and they can make it whatever it becomes. They certainly carry with them years of my stories with my friends who they all know like family, but I believe the summer becomes whatever they make of it.


It was certainly gratifying to see their eagerness at wanting to go this summer (great sales job, Sam!) and that it sustains until today. They have been listening to Debbie Friedman and the music of the Union camps since the day they were born. This was their decision – they chose Harlam. They appear excited and anxious – both ready to make new friends and carve their own history at Harlam. So we packed (more appropriately my wife packed – bless her, I wrote names in underwear and hovered about looking for my supervisor clipboard and General T-Shirt) and showed the girls what they had, so hopefully some of it comes home. Labels, sharpies, and personalized bags a plenty. We discussed what goes on the shelves, in the cubbies, and in the ubiquitous plastic drawers and bins. In my day, we only had cardboard bins. There were no peace signs in day glo neon on everything either. That was then, this is now. The music still moves me.


Among the most mind blowing aspects of their going to camp is the fact that they will share this experience with many other multi-generational campers. Not only are staff from my days there this summer to look out for them (I’m talking to you Ben and Bomze), but my campers will share their first summer with my friends’ kids in the same tzrif. Facebook messages keep coming in with bunk assignments. It’s quite powerful.


Will they go on midnight swims? Will they schmoogie the blue van? Will they enjoy milk squad? Will they shout “Yeah Sheor?” Will they bang on tables with abandon while singing “Sabbath Prayer?” Will their friends this summer appear in their wedding years from now? Will a shared camp experience bring us even closer together or will they come home speaking a language even foreign to me? I don’t know yet – I think that’s half the excitement. And believe me when I say I am prepared and can accept if their summer at camp isn’t everything it was to me. At least they had the opportunity and took the chance. I think that’s all we can ask for in life sometimes.


I hope it’s great, it’s hard not to want the best for your kids; but more so, I hope it’s great on their terms. That they create their own traditions, their own inside jokes, their own lifelong friends, and their own Jewish identity. I am who I am today because of 15 great years at Harlam – I look forward to getting to know my girls as they create their own Harlam identity.


- Adam Rosenberg, dad of Abby and Sophia, age 8

Camp Massad: Reunited After 30 Years

This is a great summary of Monday night’s Camp Massad reunion from Leah Meir at the AVI CHAI Foundation.  Although this amazing Jewish camp closed 30 summers ago, it left behind a legacy of camp programming and Jewish leaders. Did you know that Maccabia and Zimriya programs started at Camp Massad? Read on the learn more about how we celebrated the special place where so many children (including me) spent their formative years. – Amy Kruglak, Director, Institutional Advancement and Human Resources, FJC

Camp Massad: Reunited After 30 Years

I spent this past Monday night at summer camp. Together with hundreds of other former campers and staff members at Camp Massad, I spent an evening celebrating the continuing legacy of the Hebrew-immersive camp that existed from 1941-1981 – that’s right: it’s been closed for 30 years!

So many showed up that an audio and video feed had to be set up in another room to accommodate those who didn’t fit into the auditorium. What brought an overflow crowd of Massadniks in their 50’s and 60’s (and older!) to pay homage to a summer camp that they had attended so many years ago?

In addition to the desire (and the curiosity!) to see how old bunkmates and summertime sweethearts looked 50+ years later, these former campers retained an unshakable loyalty and sense of indebtedness to an institution that gave them a lifetime gift. The gift was an eight-week home in which Hebrew was the language of the everyday, of sports, of music, of plays, of color war (“Maccabiah” in which all the activities were cleverly designed to teach about Jewish and Zionist history). Shlomo and Rivka Shulsinger, Massad’s directors over the 40 years, were “meshugaim ladavar” – fanatics for the cause of Hebrew. Supported by others in the Hebrew language movement and by the Histadrut Ivrit, the organization for the support of Hebrew in North America, they brought together an extraordinary staff of like-minded people. Some were religiously observant, others not; some were socialist Zionists, some were Revisionist Zionists, but their shared passion for the Hebrew language bridged all the differences.

Massad was a religious Zionist coed environment, something rare these days. While many of the campers were students at modern Orthodox day schools like Ramaz and Flatbush and many of the senior staff taught at such schools, others lived outside New York with little in the way of Jewish community or education. Their summers at camp gave them a concentrated dose of Hebrew, Jewish and Zionist education in addition to friendship bonds that kept them connected with Jewish friends throughout the year.

Massad also produced an astounding numbers of Jewish leaders. Just ask any Jewish community luminary “of a certain age”, and you’re likely to hear that he/she was at Massad. On Monday night, we watched a moving video that was recently created, alternating old movies and videos of camp with interviews of well-known Jewish leaders talking about the impact of the camp on them and on their peers. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Kehillath Jeshurun Synagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Rabbi Gerald Skolnick of Forest Hills and Dr. David Bernstein of the Pardes Institute, among others, spoke of the profound impact that their camp experiences had on them.

The evening’s highlight was the talk given by 90 year-old Rivka Shulsinger, Shlomo’s widow, in her characteristic forceful voice. It was alternately nostalgic, funny and moving. If your Hebrew is good, enjoy her talk on YouTube (click here for part 2.)

Other Jewish camps continue to have, powerful impact on campers and staff alike. Ramah and URJ camps, JCC camps, Yavneh to name a few, provide unique educational experiences summer after summer. Massad was a product of its time and sadly, may not have flourished if it had been founded in the 21st century. But its legacy lives in the camps that have followed it and in the fluent Hebrew spoken by its alumni. It’s fascinating to reflect on what the legacy of today’s Jewish summer camps can and will be. And can the experiences of camp be embedded into Jewish schools during the other 10 months of the year?

We ended Monday night’s program by singing – what else? – classic Israeli songs and the Massad camp hymn, the words of Birkat Am (commonly known as Techezakna) a poem by the Hebrew poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik. Those familiar Zionist lyrics “Al ipol ruchachem, alizim, mitronenim, bo’u shehem echad, leezrat h’am” (“Let your spirits not fail, come joyously, shoulder to shoulder to the people’s aid”) transformed us for a short while into 10 and 12 year-old kids wearing blue shorts and white shirts, thrilled to be surrounded by their friends and bunkmates, living once again in Hebrew.

If You Were at Camp Tonight, How Would You Be Spending Shabbat?

Whether you are participating in the pickle juice ceremony at Camp Nageela West, blowing the shofar on a mountaintop with Adamah Adventures, or performing “shticks” to songs at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, the Shabbat experience at each of the over 150 nonprofit Jewish overnight camps in North America is unique and magical.  The following is the first post of a series which will share a sampling of how several camps celebrate this special time of the week.  Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat at URJ Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA

No matter how often I have experienced it over the many years I have served on faculty at Camp Coleman, Shabbat here continues to fill my heart with a genuine sense of joy and hopefulness.  There is joy in the fact that the entire community, divided into their respective units throughout the week, comes together as one Coleman family on Shabbat evening, all – without exception – dressed in Shabbat whites, creating a beautiful sight both in the dining hall and at the Shabbat evening services that follow.  I find hopefulness in the fact that 700+ campers and staff have chosen to be part of this community where Shabbat is such a sacred and special time of the week, and I am heartened when I consider the proud Jewish identities that are being formed and strengthened in this camp setting.

Campers are invited to participate in Shabbat services by writing some of the prayers that they then read during the service.   Given the opportunity to express themselves, it’s amazing to see how the campers can express their sense of spirituality, connection to God, and joy of being at camp.  For instance, the following is a prayer written and shared by Audrey Goldstrom and Leora Greene during the service:

The Hashkiveinu is a prayer that asks God to protect and shield us when we sleep. At your house, you would want your parents to tuck you in and wish you a good night’s sleep, while knowing that they can protect you from harm.  Some people, before bed, would say a prayer asking God to protect them while they sleep, which is similar to the Hashkiveinu.  At Camp Coleman, that’s what our counselors are for.  Even if you don’t realize it, they will always try to make sure we are safe.  As we sing this beautiful prayer, we can think about the little and not-so-little people we love and hope that they will always feel protected in the future.  As one camp, let us pray that God will protect us and spread shelter over all of us together.

And there was also this gem written by Sammy Feuerman and Scott Hafetz:

I remember my first summer as a camper.  The first few days I felt homesick.  I bet some of you felt that way, too.  But now we are all here.  One week has already passed and we realize we had no need to feel this way, because our fellow campers are our family away from home.

Now here we are together, on our first Friday night.

For the first timers, they thought camp would be a fright.

But now we’re all here, praying together.

Praise is due to Adonai, now and forever.

Many other thoughtful and sweet writings, accompanied by the musical contributions of guitar, drums, keyboard, violin and vocals combined to make Shabbat evening services an experience that the entire community truly enjoys.

And then…there is the song session…  In my opinion, if you want to see and experience a peak moment each week at Coleman, then you must attend a Shabbat evening song session.  The ruach, joy and friendship, spirit, singing and dancing taking place in the dining hall are truly spectacular, an amazing culmination to Shabbat evening!  I think the greatest disappointment expressed by anyone all week, faculty included, is when Shabbat song session comes to an end.

Saturday at Coleman is also unique and entirely different from the rest of the week.  All are allowed to sleep in a bit later – surely welcome for the staff and older campers! – and the entire community gathers for a Shabbat morning service in the Strauss Chapel led by members of the camp community (this morning, it was 2nd year staff members).  Campers then have the great joy of choosing a variety of special activities throughout the day, helping to give Shabbat its special character.  Tonight will include a carnival for the entire camp run by the Machon Unit (rising HS seniors) and Havdalah.

I’ll end the way I began.  “No matter how often I have experienced it over the many years I have served on faculty at Camp Coleman, Shabbat here continues to fill my heart with a genuine sense of joy and hopefulness.”  There truly is nothing like it.

- Rabbi Ron Segal, Temple Sinai, Atlanta

A Mama’s Prayer for Summer Camp

The following is a post we love from a great blog, Ima On and Off the Bima.

A prayer for my dear son embarking on his second year at summer camp…

May you find learning and growth of all kinds.
May you gain independence and feel comfort in your Jewish identity.
May the mosquitoes be guided away from you, and may the raindrops not fall into your tent (too much).
May the food be delicious and the pool the right temperature.
May you seek out new experiences and try new things (vegetables would be nice but I’m doubtful).
May you smile brilliantly for the camp photographer and show up daily in the online photo albums.
May you avoid the camp crud and may you never lose your socks.
May you take a shower and brush your teeth every day.
May you not send wet towels to the laundry, because the laundry is charged by weight.
May your arrows fly straight, your fishing line never get tangled, and your tetherball not whack you in the nose.
May you not fall off the top bunk.
May you not spend your whole canteen account on silly junk.
May you not lose your hat and water bottle in the first week.
May you not lose your way in the night to the outdoor bathroom.
May you write me at least one letter besides the mandatory first-day-letter.
May you create a life-long friendship (at least one, if not many).
May you  renew old friendships, since they are the most precious. (Are 9 year olds allowed to have “old friends”?)
May you learn more and more about yourself and your spirit and being.

May you return home in one piece with all your belongings, and may you ever yearn to return to the land of summer camp.

Camp in Your Backyard!

Summer is officially here—which means children and teens across the country are leaving in droves for camp! That couldn’t make us happier, but it probably makes the younger siblings at home a little lonely.

What better way to remedy that longing-for-camp feeling than participating in the Great American Backyard Campout this weekend? The National Wildlife Federation is behind this awesome annual event—officially scheduled for Saturday night, June 25th—and you can register a team of campers or even just your family here on their website.

The website also lists a bunch of camping tips, fun camping recipes, camping games and fun stories to tell around a campfire. Check it out!


We’ve also got some fun ways for you to bring Jewish camp to your backyard on Saturday night:

1.    Shabbat comes to a close on Saturday night, and in Jewish tradition (and at many Jewish camps), this is marked with a Havdalah ceremony. Havdalah is a beautiful opportunity to say goodbye to the previous week, and ready yourself for the upcoming week, and involves a number of simple rituals to which young children can connect easily—smelling of spices (to carry the sweet spice of Shabbat into the week), lighting of candles (a sign that the time to begin creating again has arrived), singing, and more. Learn more about Havdalah on MyJewishLearning’s website here.
2.    Build a Ga-Ga pit in your yard. Use picnic benches, chairs, whatever you’ve got. Invite some neighborhood friends over for a tournament, or make it into an afternoon of Color War. Plan ahead and visit for great ideas from Freeze Tag to Human Tic Tac Toe.
3.    Learn some camp songs—check out Jewish rockers Danny Nichols and Rick Recht. Both are big on the camp circuit and may even be visiting your child’s camp this summer.
4.    Read a bedtime story. Check out PJ Library for some great Jewish book and music suggestions grouped by age-range.
5.    And what would a campout be without s’mores? We just found these flat s’mores that are just perfect for the campfire.

Enjoy your backyard campout, and please post any ideas, photos, and camping stories below by leaving a comment!

Bunk Junk Junkies

We can’t help it.  We are bunk junk junkies.  In packing up our own kids for Jewish camp, the FJC staff has been busy sharing favorite camp items and scouring the internet for some of the fun things we have seen on our camp visits. Below, find our best-of list that we are using to spoil our own kids and friends this summer.

Make your own camp funwear! Pick your design, pick your style, pick your color. Some of our faves are:

Bug Juice tee-shirts:










Got 2 Go 2 Camp Black Touchdown Capris:










And don’t tell, but we know that these are hidden in our marketing director’s daughter’s trunk:










These are so fun and cozy, we wish we could start wearing them around the office:








Even boys can get in on the fuzzy pants action with these:










S.W.A.K: Letters from campers are usually few and far between. Nevertheless, we are sending tons of stationery and stamps – everything they need to spend rest hour and rainy days writing about the fun they are having…

Check out this Yankee lap desk (plenty of other sports teams to choose from):






or see Bee Bee designs for a variety of girly versions.

A clipboard case acts as storage for stamps, stationery and pens.
Here are some personalized versions:










Or whip out the paint pens and personalize these great metallic envelopes:









Lots of fun stationery (yeah, we know it will barely get used):






And don’t forget to send some string for the bus trip:










Most campers start talking about Maccabiah (color war) the minute they unpack – let them wear it proudly:










Hide it in the Trunk: Here are a few more items that are perfect for hiding in the camp duffel or trunk and surprising your child with when they unpack…

Top Trumps – A new take on the classic Card game “War”:







And MASH – the game that will keep the girls laughing all night:







And finally, a camp classic–Mad Libs:







Enjoy the goodies, and we hope your child has an awesome summer at camp!


We can’t help it. We are bunk junk junkies. In packing up our own kids for Jewish camp, the FJC staff has been busy sharing favorite camp items and scouring the internet for some of the fun things we have seen on our camp visits. Below, find our best-of list that we are using to spoil our own kids and friends this summer.

Lovin’ the Likewear

Make your own camp funwear! Pick your design, pick your style, pick your color.

Some of our faves are:

The bug juice tee-shirts

Young Judaea to Become Independent Organization

As the feature below from JTA details, last night Hadassah voted to grant Young Judaea the opportunity to transition into an independent entity.

Over a year ago, the Foundation for Jewish Camp began counseling the Young Judea camping movement and Hadassah to strategize a transition that made sense for both organizations and could set Young Judaea up for a successful future.  We are thrilled with the outcome of these discussions as well as last night’s historic vote of support from Hadassah which would not have been possible without the leadership of FJC’s Skip Vichness, Chair, Board of Directors and guidance from the mentors at the Grinspoon Foundation for Jewish Philanthropy. FJC looks forward to working Young Judaea – we know they will thrive and continue to be an important brand on the North American scene.


Young Judaea to become independent Zionist youth movement

June 16, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Young Judaea will spin off from its parent body, Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, to become an independent youth organization.

The move was announced Thursday by Hadassah’s leadership.

A founding board of Young Judaea alumni and supporters, along with Hadassah leaders, will create a nominating committee to structure a board of directors for the newly independent Zionist youth organization.

Immediate tasks include creating a network for the five Young Judaea summer camps and broadening the scope of its Israel programs, including the Year Course.

The stated goal of the reorganization is to revitalize the movement and reach out to new partners and supporters in the Jewish world.

Hadassah National President Nancy Falchuk told JTA that the move has been in the works since January and comes at the suggestion of a group of Young Judaea alumni, all now successful professionals in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

“This is what we wanted for them all along,” she said.

Hadassah will continue to offer “significant” financial support to the youth movement at decreasing amounts over the next three years, Falchuk said, “as they requested.” She declined to provide exact numbers.

“We’re giving them what they asked for,” she said.

Young Judaea, founded in 1909 as a Zionist youth organization, has been supported entirely by Hadassah since 1967.

The Shuk: Your Camp Marketplace at Leaders Assembly 2012

2012 may feel far away, but for FJC, it feels like it’s just around the corner.

We’re gearing up for our 4th biennial Leaders Assembly conference, where we’ll be convening the entire field of Jewish camp–professionals, lay leaders, funders, advocates, community professionals, and more.

We’re already planning a compeletely new and exciting program for the 2012 conference. One of our new offerings is the Shuk: Your Camp Marketplace. The Shuk will operate as a “ideas exhibition,” and we’re looking to partner with individuals and organizations that will:

•    Offer innovative ways of expressing Jewish life at camp that makes Jewish camp more competitive in summer experience marketplace
•    Deepen Jewish life at camp so that programming has an enduring impact on campers and staff alike.
•    Reflect a diverse spectrum of ways to connect to Judaism at camp, helping camps engage a larger market segment of North American Jewry.

Do you or your organization offer a product or service that qualifies? If so, download our RFP. We look forward to hearing from you!



We are looking to partner with individuals and organizations that will:

· Offer innovative ways of expressing Jewish life at camp that makes Jewish camp more competitive in summer experience marketplace

· Deepen Jewish life at camp so that programming has an enduring impact on campers and staff alike.

· Reflect a diverse spectrum of ways to connect to Judaism at camp, helping camps engage a larger market segment of North American Jewry.

7 Ways to Combat Homesickness Before Camp Starts

Let’s face it: It wouldn’t be camp without a little bit of homesickness.  (And let’s be honest–as parents, it’s nice to know that our kids really like to be at home with us and miss the community we have built with them.)  Luckily, most camp directors claim that severe homesickness is rare – especially if we have prepared our kids for the fun summer that lies ahead.

We gathered seven tried-and-true ideas to turn an anxious camper into a happy camper:

1. The Golden Rule: No Escape Plan. Every camp director will tell you this. Telling your kid that you will rescue them if they are not having fun gives them permission to sit and sulk. It implies your lack of confidence in your child’s ability to succeed at being on their own, away from home. Part of the reason you are sending your child to camp is to give them the opportunity to gain a sense of independence and boost their self-confidence. Do this from the onset. Role modeling a confident, positive attitude is one of the best predictors of having a great summer at camp.

2. Talk positively. While it can be helpful to share stories of your own homesickness at camp or in other environments when you were younger, it’s important to share the fun stories as well. Give your child some ideas of how to deal with their homesickness at camp (we like these ideas we found from other kids:

3. Get the lay of the land. Watch the videos on the camp website and look at the pictures over and over again.  The landscape of camp will become more familiar and less of a scary place. Talk about what your child’s routine will be like each day. Will meals be family-style or cafeteria-style?  Will your child be showering at the beginning of the day or before dinner?  How many activities will they be choosing on their own?  How will they celebrate Shabbat? Most camp websites have a sample schedule, or reach out to the camp director to send you one. The camp wants your child to have a successful summer, and they are happy to arm you with the tools you need to prepare.

4. Use the buddy system. It is very likely that a friend of a friend has a cousin that is going to camp with your child.  Ask around and find one.  Or ask the camp for the name of someone in your area.  Help your child make a connection so they have a familiar face on the first day.

5. Home Sweet Home. Bring a memento from home. An entire stuffed animal collection may be too much, but perhaps photos of your family, a collage of your child’s friends or a pillow from your child’s bed at home will do the trick.

6. Hello, Muddah, Hello Faddah. Talk about communication while your child is away from home.  What can they expect from you – letters, emails, weekly phone calls? Go over the rules of the camp so they don’t expect phone calls when the camp doesn’t allow them.

7. Lend an Ear. Talk to your child about the roles of different camp leaders so they know who to turn to when they need something.  Discuss the role of the counselor.  How do they interact with the unit head?  Is there a “camp mom” on staff?  When do they go to the infirmary?  When will they see their siblings, cousins, and friends in different age groups?  Is your rabbi coming up to camp to visit?

We hope your child has a wonderful summer at camp, free of homesickness. Hopefully they’ll love camp so much that they’ll come home “camp-sick” instead!

One Happy Camper Conference

Last week over 30 Jewish federation and foundation professionals from across North America came together in New York City to talk about nonprofit overnight Jewish camp and the One Happy Camper program.  It may have been the first meeting of this kind: federation/foundation fundraisers, planners and lay leaders coming together to discuss why, and more importantly how, to move the camp agenda forward in their local communities.


The day reflected a movement of communal commitment to camp and highlighted various community models of how to develop and elevate Jewish overnight camp.  Representatives from MetroWest NJ, Philadelphia, Boston and Memphis shared how and why their local community has made a serious investment in Jewish camp as a strategy of strengthening the fabric of their community.


The highlight of the day was hearing from Martin Schwartz, chair and $1 million donor to Montreal’s GEN J Camping Initiative.  He inspired the crowd with his commitment to making Jewish overnight camp a priority in his home community.  Martin says it best: he is a camp supporter for selfish reasons – to ensure his grandchildren have a vibrant and engaged Jewish Montreal community.


I felt the most thrilling parts of the day were the many side conversations, sharing, and brainstorming that took place.  You could feel the excitement in the room, but more importantly, you could see that excitement being translated into action as people sought out advice and counsel from their peers to figure out how a certain program, practice or strategy could work in their community.


Some of the many exciting “nuggets” that we heard resonating around the conference include:

- Educating campaign professionals about camp and One Happy Camper using data from CAMP WORKS

- Creating a “camp portfolio” for board members

- Take supporters, volunteers, and leadership to camp this summer

- Connecting Jewish camp into existing strategic plans

- Convening a fall meeting/kick-off of synagogue camp liaisons/leadership and camp directors

- Forming advisory committees of past One Happy Camper parent recipients for recruitment and fundraising purposes

- Recruiting at non-Jewish schools


I hope this is the first of many such conversations!


- Rebecca Kahn, Program Manager, One Happy Camper Program, FJC