Posts Tagged 'Camp'

Camp on the Hill

Our family has been doing a lot of driving over the last few days as we we went to visit my parents in Philadelphia. A number of times during our travels we heard the song Castle on the Hill by Ed Sheeran. The theme of the single surrounds Sheeran’s home town of Framlingham, and he reminisces his life as a teenager. He recounts the place that he grew up in, the cast of characters in this life, and where they are now. The line that stuck with me is “these people raised me and I can’t wait to go home”

As great at it was reminiscing about a home, I realize that this mythic home for me is actually camp. Camp is really my Castle on a Hill. I was recently interviewed for Michelle W. Malkin‘s podcast It’s Who You Know.  In this podcast I shared some of my thoughts on the power of Jewish Camping. I encourage you to listen to it, I did not sound that stupid. And to all of these people who raised me, thank you.

-The podcast- https://itswhoyouknowthepodcast.com/2017/12/10/rabbiaviorlow/ 

 

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My Defining Moment

We read in Tazria Metzoria, this week’s Torah portion, that when a person is afflicted with tzaraat they must dwell alone outside of the camp until they are healed. Tzaraat is commonly translated at leprosy but was actually a scaly affection of the skin with some discoloration. It was not contagious, but rather is seems to have been a symptom of an inner spiritual disorder.  Why is dwelling outside of the camp so transformative?

I was thinking about this recently when reading a paper that my Yishama had to write. His assignment was to explore a defining moment in his life to date. This is what he wrote and the drawing that accompanied it:

Before I went to sleep-away camp I wasn’t independent or responsible. I was not responsible because I didn’t ask for any responsibility. I wasn’t as productive at school because I didn’t have a sense of how important school was. I relied on my parents and au pair a lot because I didn’t have to be independent or responsible.

The summer I went to sleep-away camp changed my life. At sleep-away camp I was introduced to many kinds of people. The environment at camp was different because there were all kinds of people and different ways of living, which helped open me up to new foods and lifestyles. When I came home from camp my parents were surprised by how much I had changed and matured.

After I came home from sleep-away camp, I was more independent, responsible, and didn’t rely on other people as much. When I came home from camp my parents trusted me enough to let me do a lot of things I had not been allowed to do before I went to camp, such as staying home alone and making my own plans. When I came back from camp I was more productive in class because I knew the value of education.  Meeting some of my new friends at camp showed me how much they valued education and they inspired me to keep learning more – just like they do. Going to sleep-away camp opened my eyes to the world around me and the person I aspire to be.

For Yishama leaving home and going to camp helped his grow in his confidence and sense of responsibility. Coming into contact with all kinds of people and different ways of living helped Yishama open up. When he returned from a summer at Camp Stone he was transformed spiritually. I can only assume leaving camp was as transformative to the ancient Israelites. And in both cases I assume when they came back they needed a really good shower.

In Our Own Sight : A New Vision of Jewish Camp

As parents, we want to see our kids succeed in all facets of life – whether that is getting into a certain college, establishing themselves in a career of their choice, or empowering them to compete in the global marketplace. In many ways, our children’s success is the “promised land.”

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In Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, the Israelites are waiting to enter the actual Promised Land. Before entering, God instructs them to send a representative from each of the twelve tribes to check it out. Two spies came back with glowing reports, but the other ten spies told stories of gloom and doom. What would cause the spies to experience the Promised Land so differently? They were given the same information before leaving, and they reported on the same land and people. We read:

‘The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.’ (Numbers 13:31-33)

How we experience life is so often a result of how we see ourselves. It seems that the only difference between our spies was their self-image.

How do we help our children get to the “promised land” of success? We have to stop preparing the way for the child and do the hard work of preparing the child for the way. Instead of just helping the child build up a robust resume, we need to offer them the chance to develop and foster leadership, grit, collaboration, creativity, tenacity, resilience, and a strong self-image.

And, you know what? Summers at Jewish camp encourage the growth of all of these things. Away from our watchful eyes, our campers and staff increase their independence, friendship, confidence, responsibility, and teamwork, along with a sense of peoplehood, community, and heritage. At Jewish camp, they learn 21st century skills and become mensches with strong character.

Here the “promised land” is more than just academic and career-oriented success. It means nurturing social and emotional intelligences, critical-thinking, and problem-solving abilities. It means a new generation that not only “does well” but “does good.” The “promised land” of today is a generation that values self-awareness, self-actualization, and a strong self-image.

Inspired by the life skills that camp has nurtured in generations of campers, we’re highlighting 21st Century Skills for a summer blog series. We’ll be featuring personal stories from camp alumni and professionals across the field exemplifying how Jewish camp provided the ideal environment to become the best version of themselves.

This is the first in a new blog series developed by Foundation for Jewish Camp reposted from eJP 

21st Century Synthesis : On Jewish Life, Camp, and Purim

Despite being erroneously attributed to Hegel, it was actually Johann Gottlieb Fichte, an 18th century German philosopher, who originated the idea of  thesis–antithesis–synthesis. This idea takes an intellectual proposition, reacts to this by negating it, and then solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling their common truths and forming a new thesis, which in turn starts the process over. In its most elementary way, Fichte’s idea can be used to describe the story of Esther we will read on Purim.

In the Megillah it seems that the thesis is best described by Haman when he says to the king:

“There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king’s laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them.” (Esther 3:8)

As an orphaned child of these refugees, Esther is presented at the extreme margins of society. It seems that the pendulum swings to the other extreme for Esther when she ascends to the Persian throne. But is there a synthesis? Mordecai pleads for Esther to speak to the king to save her people from Haman’s plot. On a simple level he asks her if she will remain comfortable in the king’s house or risk death and approach the king. On another level Mordecai is asking her to synthesize her Persian and Jewish identities.

I was thinking about this process these last few days at the 2016 Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leaders Assembly. At this conference we hosted 750 people committed to vibrant Jewish future through high quality, meaningful Jewish summer experiences. Together we celebrated the genuine maturation of the field of Jewish camp and 18 years of the FJC. It is interesting to think about the history of Jewish summer camp in North America in the context of Fichte/Esther’s process.

At the inception of Jewish summer camps in this country at the start of the 20th century, the goal was to bring inner-city children of Eastern European immigrants out to the country to “Americanize” them. This thesis to acculturate our children was met by the antithesis in the emergent trend to use camp to indoctrinate a generation intentionally in Jewish culture, education, and religious and Zionist ideologies (e.g. Cejwin Camps, and denominational camps). The most recent phase has emerged in the last decade of specialty camps. After listening to visionary camp owner and director Scott Brody at our Leaders Assembly, I realize that this specialization is actually part of a larger synthesis.

Scott is the former national vice president of the American Camp Association and currently serves on FJC’s board. He recently expanded his camp business into China, where affluent parents are looking to give their children an edge in a competitive economy. At our conference, he eloquently spoke about the movement to use camp to strengthen 21st century skills in the next generation (see recent article). Jewish parents, like their Chinese counterparts, are increasingly looking for experiences that give their children an advantage, add value, prepare them for college and position them to succeed in their careers. Last year, Brody said:

“When you look at the entrepreneurial and innovation skill set, a lot of what you need are the qualities that people get to practice at camp – creativity, communication, collaboration, and building your own sense of resilience … All of these themes are interwoven with the American dream. And the opportunity to practice these skills is the critical novelty of the camp environment.” (Yale Globalist)

At camp we foster leadership, grit, tenacity and resilience in the next generation. Away from our watchful eyes, our campers and staff increase their independence, friendship, confidence, responsibility, and teamwork. At a Jewish camp, the next generation have a profound feeling of connectedness to the Jewish people, gain a deeper understanding of Jewish values, and explore their heritage of wisdom and spirituality. We need to help the next generation synthesize their identities.

We understand how we all want to see “Esther” pursue her interests in all facets of life – whether that is getting into a certain college, establishing herself in her career of choice, and empowering her to compete in the global marketplace. Like Mordecai, we want Esther to do well and to do good and to be fully self-actualized. We need to better articulate how our Jewish engagement efforts help do all of these things and at the same time create mensches who make the world a better place. With Jewish camp, parents do not have to choose between their children’s future and our heritage. The right synthesis will ensure a bright future for all.

– Reposted from ejewishphilanthropy.com

Shabbat of Shabbats: Yom Kippur and Camp

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of reading a very touching piece by Dr. Oliver Sacks z”l in the New York Times. In the piece, the world-renowned neurologist reflects on his youth growing up in a traditional Jewish house and having Shabbat with his family. He shares the heart-wrenching story of his leaving that world. Through a turn of events before the end of his life, he revisits Shabbat with family. About this rediscovery he writes:

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived? (Sabbath- NYT August 14, 2015)

This depiction of the Sabbath brought me back to camp. Camp was really the first place that I truly connected to “a stopped world”.

Is there anything better than Shabbat at camp? What is there not to love? It is amazing, you get all cleaned up, get on your nicest clothes, partake in better food, have some less structured time with people you love in a place filled with beauty and memories. It is the gold standard of food, folks, and fun. I often hear from people, “I do not keep Shabbat at home, but for me Camp is the Shabbat of my year.” On one level, this is so beautiful. This sentiment expresses their love of camp and Shabbat. They have found holiness in their lives in these amazing immersive experiences. On another level, it makes me sad. Do Shabbat and camp need to be all or nothing? These peak experiences at camp two months a year might preempt other amazing experiences 10 months a year, or worse for years in their lives when they can no longer come to camp.

I pause to reflect on Shabbat in preparation for Yom Kippur a day described as “Shabbat Shabbaton” (Leviticus 16:31, 23:32). On a simple level, it means a day of complete cessation of work, but on a deeper level is a day to reboot our system. Yom Kippur is a day in which we spend time reflecting on how we can repair what is broken and return to a better version of ourselves. For me, that means going back to camp.  It is a day we can give ourselves permission to take the best part of camp and Shabbat and bring them into our lives. What would it mean to take time every Shabbat to grab some unstructured time within a beautiful place and eat some yummy food with people you love? Yom Kippur asks us not to let perfection get in the way of success. We do not need to wait until the end of our lives to “wonder what if“.

Gmar Chatima Tova and Shabbat Shalom

Backpocket Jewish Wisdom

So there are campers down at the pool and the life guard is not there yet. What do you expect the counselor to do? At one level we would just be thrilled if the campers do not drown. On another level we do not want to waste a moment. So your stellar counselor starts them off on a group activity or improv game. This shtick is the bread and butter of camp. But would we give our counselors an A+ for this?

  • In these interstitial moments we build group dynamics, the bunk forms, and most importantly we have fun. While there is no doubt we should not overthink having fun, what would it look like to use these moments to have meaningful Jewish moments of reflection? This seemed like a fitting question for the Backpocket Education’s blog.

To this end I wanted to share ImProverbs . It is a low cost guide to Jewish wisdom that every counselor can have in their back pocket. ImProverbs is a playful mashup of form (see folding instructions below) and content (lessons on being a Mensch).  The idea of a mashup of Proverbs and improv comes from Danny Messenger, a friend from Camp.  I imagine you might have comments or suggestions regarding the content or other uses for the form. Please send either or both to Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow at avi@jewishcamp.org

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And the best part is if they lose it in the pool, no worries, just make another photocopy.

– Reposted in Back Pocket Education Blog

Little Becky : Feeling at Home for the First Time

Years ago I heard a story of a girl named Becky. She grew up in a small town where she was the only Jewish child. She had many friends, but she was still a little lonely. There was part of her that yearned to be with others who shared her faith, practices, culture, and history. From her earliest days she remembered her family telling that there was a place for her to be with her people. So when she was old enough she decided to go there. She went with someone who had been there before  who took her to this special place. As her companion saw the sites signaling that they were getting close Becky echoed that person’s excitement.  By the time she got there her heart was palpitating. The minute her foot hit the ground she felt at home for the first time in a place she had never been before.

For any of us who grew up going to camp we can relate to little Becky.  Even today there is a special feeling going up to camp that reminds me of that first time I stepped off that bus so many years ago.  I was privileged to grow up in a large Jewish community attending a Jewish day school. Thinking about Becky I think about my camp friends who grew up in the coal-mining communities  in Pennsylvania. For them it was transformational to live in a vibrant Jewish community of their peers. Seeing their experiences enriched mine. I never took camp for granted and it made me love that community even more. Jewish camp is that home that we need desperately need for the next generation.

The only other place that I have had this kind of experience of homecoming to a place I had not been previously is Israel. So, it will not be surprising if you were to learn that the place she went in little Becky’s story was Israel. It might surprise you that this story is actually taken from Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion. Truly years ago, it is the story of Rivka Imeynu, Rebecca our Matriarch. She left the place she grew up to come home to the land of Canaan. Echoing Abraham’s answering God’s call of Lech Lecha-  to Go, Rivka says”Ailech- I will go” (Genesis 24:58). Following in his footsteps she goes home to a place she has never been before.  It makes me think of Rainer Maria Rilke the German poet when we said,“The only journey is the one within.” We are a nation of seekers.

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