The Campfire

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

Posts Tagged ‘Community’

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.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

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).

Continue reading on The Canteen.

The Cornerstones of Camp

By Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO, Foundation for Jewish Camp

I am often asked how Jewish camp has become such a powerful and valued educational and engagement tool for our community. The key, I believe, is the college-aged counselors: role models who work tirelessly to help guarantee that their campers have the best, most transformational summers possible.

A few weeks ago, I traveled with seven of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC) board members to our 12th annual Cornerstone Fellowship, a five-day seminar which has become the preeminent Jewish experiential education training program for returning bunk counselors. We observed 250 college-aged fellows from more than 50 different camps who are deeply passionate about Judaism and camp. Cornerstone engages this group and gives them the tools to be effective Jewish leaders in their camps and beyond; they are the “crème de la crème” for future leadership in the Jewish community.

Over the course of five days, these fellows – from different denominations, geographic locations, beliefs, and philosophies – become a unique Jewish community that learns from each other in an open, respectful, and welcoming environment. One of the board members who visited Cornerstone for the first time said it well: “this particular demographic is often the most difficult to reach in the Jewish community. The fact that it touches so many young adults of different denominations, in a shared experience, is truly unique.”

The profound learning at Cornerstone happens, just as in the camp experience, due to the intentional work of the faculty. The Cornerstone faculty is made up of an incredibly impressive group of educators and advisors who run a diverse and stimulating program of innovative sessions and specialty tracks. Some of my favorite sessions included:

     – An exploration of historic Jewish activists and the role they can play in the ongoing fight for justice and liberation.

     – A series of workshops to provide fellows with tools to improve their skills in working with campers with disabilities, identifying potential problem situations before they start, and defusing and addressing them when they do.

     – A discussion of gender identity, expression, and development in different parts of the camp community and ways to create a safe space for all campers.

     – An investigation of the different ways to approach the idea of blessing (brachot) through meditation and thinking about methods to transform the way it is approached at Jewish camp.

The Cornerstone Fellowship has a ripple effect – encouraging the fellows to promote positive Jewish cultural changes in their camp, and in turn, impacting all of the campers and families around them. As one fellow reflected of the experience, “I saw the scope of Jewish camp much more so than I ever had before. And I understand my role as a Jewish leader more fully than I did in the past.” In twelve years, 2,550 fellows have been trained through Cornerstone and in a recent study of the program’s alumni conducted by FJC, 89% of them said the fellowship increased their sense of self as role models and leaders.

We are grateful for the generosity of The AVI CHAI Foundation, The Marcus Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, and the Morningstar Foundation for their investment in the next generations of our Jewish leaders.

Keep up with the #JewishCamp conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

This post also appeared on The Times of Israel.

Teach Your Children Well…

“The world we build tomorrow is born in the experiences we give our children today.”

Our Jewish tradition is centered on our children. On the long journey from slavery to freedom, which we symbolically started at Pesach culminating soon at Shavuot, it is amazing how many times in the narrative that Moses keeps returning to the subject of raising Jewish kids.

“When your children ask you this, you should answer them that.” “Teach your child on that day.” “Say to your child …” Four times Moses speaks about the duty of parents to educate their children, handing on to them their people’s story until it becomes their own. Giving our kids the gift of identity. Knowing who they are. This is a central and recurring plank in our tradition.

How do we do this in this day and age?  I believe the answer is Jewish camp, a fundamental necessity in the journey of our children to find out who they are.

Camp is unique. The world literally stops at camp’s gates. Each and every summer at camp our children get the chance to re-create their universe. Camp is “kidcentric” in a way that the outside world can never be. Camp is a community dedicated to ensuring that our children have the best time that they can. Camp is the antidote to the pressures that our kids are faced with at home. What do I mean by that? We live in the age of instant gratification, immediate convenience. Everything is there for us at the touch of a button and the flicker of a screen.  We live in the “Me” age. Everything is there immediately. iPod, iPad,  iPhone (in my family IPay…). Literally, we can’t turn off our phones, and our children are glued to the devices that we have made them hostage to. Even our friendships are instant, making friends at the click of a button and deleting them in the same way. We can’t seem to leave our kids to their own devices anymore. The pull of the tablet is too strong.

At camp our kids get the chance to switch off, and in doing so get switched on to the “We” as opposed to the “Me” world. The friendships made at camp are real not instant, based on sharing and living together. Time spent at camp is like doggy years. 2 weeks at camp is like 3 months in the outside world. And the lessons learned are life lessons. The opportunities for our children to discover their talents, to nurture their skills, to develop friendships and to see the world from a different perspective to the pressurized “Me” world at home. Camp is life changing. Camp is a gift.

Continue reading on The Canteen.

Surrender

By Miriam Shwartz

tasc-sunset

“At fifteen life had taught me undeniably
that surrender, in its place,
was as honorable as resistance,
especially if one had no choice.” ~ Maya Angelou

When I think about the most significant experiences in my life to date, events that helped propel me into adulthood and that gave me the confidence to venture out on my own, my last year as a camper here at the Ranch Camp always comes to mind. At age fifteen, I participated in Ranch Camp’s TASC (Teen Adventure and Service Corps) program, where I learned a lot about the art of surrender.

Ranch Camp’s TASC program consists of a 10-day trip away from camp where campers go backpacking, whitewater rafting, enjoy a Colorado hot spring, and participate in a community service project. My parents were never especially outdoorsy, so I went into my TASC year as a total backpacking novice having never spent any length of time on a camping trip. We went to a camping store to buy all the gear I needed (most of which I still have to this day) and I headed off to camp that summer facing “the great unknown” both excited and nervous.

During our first day of hiking in Colorado’s beautiful backcountry, we were plagued by heavy rain. One boy on my trip was especially slight of build and was weighed down by a very heavy, ill-fitting pack. He had been headstrong and not listened to the staff when we were packing for our trip as they warned him against carrying so much weight. A few miles into our route, he was visibly weak and was having trouble maintaining his footing on the now slippery trail. Seeing his distress, we all stopped and together unpacked his pack and redivided his gear amongst the whole group in order to lighten his load. By each of us taking on a little more, the boy was able to continue and succeed during the rest of our hiking trip. From this experience, I learned the importance of surrendering one’s pride in order to accept the kindness and help of those around you.

Read the rest of this post on The Canteen.

Being a Mitzvah Representative

How can a few classes of kids in Atlanta brighten an entire hospital?

The Davis Academy’s 4th grade team, interested in making a wellness-related impact in Atlanta and in Israel, raised a lot of money to donate to ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem. They helped those in Atlanta and in Israel.  Here’s the field report from my shaliach mitzvah (mitzvah representative) adventure in Jerusalem…

First step was collecting the money, which the 4th graders did persistently all year.

Second step was figuring out the logistics. I collected a card from the 4th graders to share when I got to Israel, got the total of money to spend, a list of what to spend it on, and was connected to our friends at ALYN Hospital by the 4th grade team.

Third step was actual, on the ground logistics. I converted the dollar amount to shekels, asked for store recommendations from Israeli friends, and made my way to a store near the famous Machane Yehuda shuk with a few of my camp colleagues.  After eating some rugelach and assorted free samples, things started to get interesting: it took around 1 hour, 2 shopkeepers, 2 Nadiv Educators, 1 URJ Camp Assistant Director, a number of baskets and 2 calculators to buy all of the supplies on the list.  (Thanks to my colleagues at URJ Camp Kalsman for their help!)

I left the store with bags and bags of every possible craft supply you could want – acrylic paint, pipe cleaners, paint brushes, watercolors, crayons, markers, crepe paper, cellophane, feathers, ribbons, beads, stickers…stickers…more stickers! My shoulders ache(d) with the weight of the tzedek/righteousness of 70 Atlanta children.

Continue reading 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.

Diversity and Pride at My Jewish Summer Camp

Aviva Davis shares how both Camp Be’chol Lashon and Camp Ramah in California have shaped her Jewish identity on the Jewish& blog.

Judaism has been a part of my life since I was born. My mother snuck Shabbat candles into the hospital in preparation for my birth and I was born on Shabbos afternoon surrounded by my family and future friends, all welcoming Shabbat and my existence. As a child, I was raised primarily by my Jewish, African-American mother, Denise. I am honored to say that she converted to this amazing religion and that I am 100% Jewish.

As soon as I turned five, she signed me up for Hebrew school. For seven years, I studied the Hebrew alphabet and dozens of prayers. By the time my Bat Mitzvah rolled around last year, I had memorized every prayer I had studied, but I was nervous. So I used my Bat Mitzvah folder as a memory tool and looking down helped avoid the stares of the 200 guests!

Continue reading on Jewish&

Jewish Disability Awareness Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), which brings a topic that is very important to us at the Foundation for Jewish Camp to the forefront of conversations all over the Jewish community.  JDAM is “a unified initiative to raise awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide.”  To further the effort, we are running a series dedicated to discussing disabilities at Jewish camp this month.

Continue reading this post on The Canteen.