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Archive for June, 2012

The Secret of Our Immortality

In an oft quoted article by Mark Twain on the Jews, he wrote:

…If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it …  What is the secret of his immortality?”  (“Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899)

Mark Twain seems to capture what has meant to be a Jew in history. For us survival is just not enough, we need to contribute.  But, what is our secret?

In our tradition there is a blessing one says on the occasion of seeing 600,000 or more Jews together. While it is hard to imagine why our tradition has a blessing for what seems to be such a rare occasion, what interests me most is the blessing that we say. It goes:

Baruch Ata Adonay Elokenu Melech HaOlam Khacham HaRazim

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who knows the secrets

God is identified as the one who knows all of our secrets. But still I ask, what are all of these secrets?

Simply put, we are a family. The Jewish community is not just an imagined community, it is a real community. I know this from my work in Jewish Camp. Not just because of the profound feeling of belonging that thousands of campers and hundreds of staff feel every summer, but also from our partnership with the Gift of Life. The Gift of Life is a bone marrow registry that targets the Jewish community which shares a remarkable number of DNA, not often found on other registries. Over that last few years the Foundation for Jewish Camp has partnered with the Gift of Life for “Finding the HERO in You at Camp,” a program to educate and get as many camp staff on the registry as possible. The camps’ staff is the ideal candidate for the registry. They are young, healthy, and ideologically preconditioned to donate if they match. At their local camps they are talking about belonging to the Jewish family. Joining the registry is a great way of actualizing our most basic shared value.

With the simple swabbing of your cheek you give the registry the information to determine if you are a potential match for someone who is suffering from a life threatening disease. To date there have been three matches found from camp drives. Two of these matched where from URJ GUCI and one from Camp Pinemere. One of the ones from GUCI was requested for transplant. Jewish camp is saving lives. This is an exercise in our being a family. Our work with the Gift of Life is helping us achieve immortality by our collective morality. With each cheek swab we reveal more of the secret of our being a family. That surely merits a blessing.

To hear more about Gift of Life and Finding the HERO in You at Camp, we suggest you watch the following video which is shown to staff members at swabbing events:

-Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow is the Director of Jewish Education at the Foundation for Jewish Camp

Promoting Jewish Camping

Shalom from URJ Eisner Camp! As I prepare for my summer here on Senior Staff, I’ve been thinking about my time as the Foundation for Jewish Camp Camping Fellow at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA. I have spent the last year acting as a camping resource for the community, promoting Jewish camping, and connecting families to the amazing network of Jewish camps in the Boston area and beyond. Towards the end of the academic year, I focused on an especially important part of the job: connecting our TBS students to their home community as they go off to 13 different camps and 2 Israel programs!

At TBS, we want our youngest members to know that we care about their lifelong Jewish educational experience. As studies and anecdotes have shown time and again, Jewish camp has an incredible impact on young people’s lives. Along with visiting various camps throughout the summer and working at one of the most popular camps among our families, I spent a week in May preparing over 150 packages for our TBS campers. The packages were full of both useful and silly things to enjoy at camp, and will be sent during each session of the summer. It is our hope that these packages will make our campers smile and remind them that we are thinking about them all year long.

As I put those packages together, I thought about what else campers receive while they are away at camp, what they can’t get from the mail room: independence, new friends, a sense of community. Though we send them off with water bottles and stationary for letters home, they come back with a stronger Jewish identity and plenty of ruach (spirit) to share. In the fall, these campers will return to our community, reinvigorating our classrooms and sanctuary. I sent them off with packages and now I can’t wait to see what they bring back!

- Leah King is a Foundation for Jewish Camp Camping Fellow at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, MA

Jewish Camp on “Sanctuary”

On June 3, 2012, the public affairs program “Sanctuary,” which airs on ABC7 Chicago, took a look at what makes Jewish camps Jewish, what makes them special, and what sets them apart from other camps.

Host Jerry Kaye, also director of URJ Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), sat with Lori Stark of Ramah Day Camp, Stefan Teodosic of B’nai B’rith Beber Camp, and Rabbi Nina Mizrahi of the JCC Chicago Pritzker Center for Jewish Education.  Here is the segment:

Cornerstone 2012!

The following post originally appeared on the Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village blog.

When I arrived at Cornerstone with the other fellows from CPLV, Jorie Cohen, Bill Porreca, Hayley Roher, Steven Underweiser, and Yoni Geisler, it seemed as though we were in for a crash course on Jewish programming.  We were right, but in a completely different way than we had originally imagined.

Each morning, our first activity was to spend an hour discussing certain aspects of camps with other camps.  These sessions, called Morning Mingles, were more focused on sharing ideas than learning from the Cornerstone staff.  “My favorite part of Cornerstone was comparing programs with other camps to get new ides for summer 2012,” said Hayley Roher, junior girls counselor and programming specialist for Camp Poyntelle.  Ideas for camp-wide Jewish programming and Maccabiah were shared, among many others.  Some of these ideas will be on the calendar this summer, and would not have been without Cornerstone.  In addition, when discussing these programs, fellows would question one another about the functionality of some programs.  Jorie Cohen, programming specialist for Lewis Village, said “it was amazing to share and get amazing ideas from other counselors facing the same obstacles that we had.”  Both she and Bill Porreca, supervisor for Lewis Village, attended sessions about overnight programming, learning from other camps how to make overnight experiences more interesting for teenage campers, specifically girls.

Over the course of the program, we each attended a different specialty track session.  Mine was focused on using food as a tool to teach Jewish values and tradition.  We began by discussing how we are all connected through spices, as the different spices led to trade routes, political connections, and wars.  We discussed how different food cultures were developed as a result of the available spices, and examined how food is part of the Bible.  We used ingredients mentioned in the Torah to make new dishes, some of which could have possibly been made by our ancestors.  We made foods mentioned in stories of Jews during the Inquisition and the Holocaust, and read stories of the foods’ role in the characters’ lives.   By the end of the three session, we learned how people can be connected and build culture through food and how it has impacted our history as a people.  We created fun memories and built connections that we other wise wouldn’t have, and brainstormed techniques for bunk bonding, and programs that can improve each of our camps.

The theme for Cornerstone this year was “Tell A Story,” and in this fashion we each met with one Cornerstone educator to hear their stories.  Said Steven Underweiser, lifeguard for Camp Poyntelle, “I really enjoyed the activities that involved expanding on camp’s values.  We did an activity that incorporated our personal stories and how that can relate to camp.”  In a session with Naomi Less, Poyntelle’s Cornerstone advisor, Steven and I were asked to write our stories and tell them to people we did not know.  While our life stories may be considered very personal, we found the activity easier than we expected.  At the end of the activity, we had received feedback on the delivery of our stories and felt more comfortable sharing them, learning to value the trust of those who became our audiences.

Throughout the week, we broke out into Camp Rooms, during which each team would discuss their sessions and come up with an action plan to implement these ideas in their camps.  Half of our time was spent split into Lewis Village, led by Assistant Director Mallory Saks, and Camp Poyntelle, led by Poyntelle supervisor Jonah Zinn.  The other half of our time was spent together, so that we can discuss changes that can be made to improve both sides of camp similarly.  At the conclusion of the program, we presented our action plans to Director Sarah Raful Whinston, editing them with her input.  Our Cornerstone advisors, Naomi for Poyntelle and Amy for Lewis Village, would also attend portions of these sessions so that they could enhance our thought process and push us to create the best action plan possible.  They will be visiting Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village for Shabbat during the summer to check on our progress.

When we left Cornerstone on Thursday morning, we all were happy to have attended.  We were excited for the summer to begin, so that we may begin implementing all that we had learned these past few days in the everyday operations at Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village.  We are excited to improve the lives of our campers through teaching values and reshaping our approaches to some camp experience.  I wish I could say more without giving too much away, but you’ll just have to wait and see when Summer 2012 begins on June 24th!  See you then!

- Sara Karol, a 3rd year Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village counselor, just finished her freshman year at the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.