Outside the Box

012315_insider_shoresh_outsidethebox1For many kids growing up in Baltimore’s large Jewish community, summer camp is a time to get away from home and have fun with friends. For those growing up in places with little to no real Jewish population, camp can offer much more.

“It’s tremendous,” said Phran Edelman, Camp Shoresh’s director of operations. “For some of these kids, these are the only affiliations they have.”

With 2013’s Pew Report on American Jewish life came an increased effort to use camp to create lasting interest in Judaism and Jewish life among younger generations. Camps were quickly painted as the solution to the problem of disengagement, especially among those outside the traditional Jewish community.

Based in Frederick, Camp Shoresh attracts campers from all over Western Maryland and nearby regions. In addition to kids from areas such as Silver Spring and Olney, the camp caters to children from areas such as Ashburn, Leesburg and even Roanoke, Va. — areas with few synagogues and very small Jewish communities.

“It exposes them to other kids from other communities, so if they’re alone they get a different aspect of Judaism than they would have in their own community,” said Edelman. Jewish camp lets kids “see kids from all different walks of life and all different levels of religiosity.”

In fact, Edelman pointed out, the camp’s location has ensured that it has been serving kids from relatively non-Jewish areas since its opening.

“When it started with 19 kids in just Frederick, my in-laws started it in their backyards because their kids went to public school where there were like four Jewish kids in the class, so they didn’t have that social aspect while they were in school, and the camp options didn’t exist for a day camp in Frederick. You would have to go to the YMCA camp or whatever not-Jewish camp,” said Edelman. “So that’s really why the camp started, for those kids who didn’t have those other Jewish camp opportunities.”

Camp Shoresh stresses what Edelman calls “positive Judaism.” Staff mix Jewish values into fun activities and show kids how living Jewishly can be fun. In addition to the chance to experience Jewish life, Edelman added, the relationships campers develop among each other help to solidify their connection to Judaism.

012315_insider_shoresh_outsidethebox2At Capital Camps, CEO Jonah Geller said his staff is making a conscious effort to reach kids living outside the fold of Jewish communal life.

“It’s those kids who benefit from a Jewish camping experience the most,” said Geller, who added that there are a growing number of incentives and financial aid available to attract kids from outlying areas to try Jewish camp for the first time.

“The beauty of Jewish camp is that each camper and each staff member each summer is going to take away something different from that experience and what they choose to make of their own life, and how they choose to incorporate their own Judaism and Jewish pride is really up to them,” he said. While the attention recently has been on engaging the previously unengaged, the value of camp is high for all children.

Said Geller: “For the camper who goes to Jewish day school, who goes to Jewish camp and a camper who only goes to Jewish camp, it’s the only thing in that camper’s whole entire year that’s Jewish related, [it] can have the same type of meaningful impact.”


Flashback Laurie Rosen


Laurie Rosen (Photo provided)

Pikesville native Laurie Rosen has plenty of memories from summer camp. After all, she was a camper and counselor for eight years, from age 8 to 16. Now 30, the Pikesville High School and University of Delaware graduate who works as a financial loan consultant for her father’s company, HFS Financial in Reisterstown, attended Beth Tfiloh Camps, Gerstung, Camp Louise and Camp Seafarer. She also was a counselor at BT and Gerstung. Rosen lives in the Pikesville/Mount Washington area with her husband Mike, a dentist from Suffern, N.Y., who did not attend summer camp. The couple met on JDate and married in May 2014.

INSIDER:What did you like most about your summer camp experience?
Laurie: I enjoyed making friends and doing all the activities. At Camp Seafarer, which was right on the water in North Carolina, I did all sorts of water sports. It exposed me to lots of new things that I wouldn’t have tried if I hadn’t gone to camp. I remember packing the trunk every summer and sending it off. It was always exciting.

Any bad memories?
There’s always a little homesickness at the beginning.

Was it different being at Jewish summer camps like Beth Tfiloh and Camp Louise, as opposed to non-Jewish camps such as Camp Seafarer?
Camp Seafarer was a YMCA Camp, but non-denominational and not at all religious. In fact, there was a whole group of Jewish people from Pikesville who went there. It was interesting to have both experiences.


Laurie Rosen and husband, Mike. (Photo provided)

Do you keep in touch with camp friends?
Yes, I email and stay connected on Facebook. Last year, when we were traveling back from Florida to Baltimore I took my husband to Camp Seafarer to show him everything. He learned to tie figure-eight knots while wewere there.

If you have kids, do you expect to send them to summer camp?
Yes, I will definitely send my kids.

What’s Trending? Healthy living dominates 2015 camping trends

In recent years, healthy eating and lifestyle initiatives have grown in popularity among Jewish summer camps. This year promises to prove the trend is only growing.

“Parents are definitely concerned about what the camp is serving,” said Jennifer Silber, executive director of Habonim Dror Camp Moshava in northern Maryland. In addition to concern about the quality of the food their children are consuming, Silber said the camp must also work hard to accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions each year. “There are plenty of parents who have a lot of questions about what kind of food we serve — is their kid going to be hungry? — pretty natural parental instincts.”

The campers themselves have become increasingly interested in taking part in the process as well. Campers at Moshava are encouraged to help harvest the camp’s organic garden, and when a meal features ingredients picked from their own garden, Silber said, the pride the campers emit is palpable.

Even the camp’s Tikkun Olam project is devoted to healthy eating. Each year, campers help harvest the fruits and vegetables grown at First Fruits Farm and prepare it for donation to area soup kitchens.

“We get extremely high ratings for our foods, and that’s probably part of it,” said Silber. “The kids really feel like they’ve contributed and they’re part of the process.”

At Camp Zeke, the healthy lifestyle trend that has developed among many Americans inspired the founders to create the camp in the first place.

“There’s a sort of this awakening in the United States when it comes to healthy living,” he said. Instead of “bug juice” and candy hunts, parents today want to see their kids eating fruits and vegetables.

The camp opened last year, and co-founder Isaac Mamaysky said he expects enrollment to grow by more than 50 percent in the 2015 season. Mamaysky describes his campers as the mini-version of “the people you find in the produce section of Whole Foods in their gym clothes.”

Unlike Moshava, where campers harvest the produce but don’t cook it, Camp Zeke doesn’t have its own garden or farm but does offer campers the opportunity to cook with the food staff brings in from local farms. In the future, Mamaysky said the plan is to expand the kitchen even more to allow more exploration on the culinary side of healthy living.

At Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa., where enrollment is at a five-year high, variety is the overriding theme of 2015. Camp staff spent much of the off season enhancing the programs offered to their campers and even developing some new programs.

In traditional camp settings, said Jonah Geller, Capital Camps’ chief executive officer, campers’ time was split between a set of very basic programs, such as games and arts and crafts. In the interest of providing campers with a more meaningful camp experience, Capital Camps has begun offering kids the chance to specialize in one subject or another, building their own schedules around whatever activities most interest them.

“We’re really trying to be more intentional in lesson planning so that kids can learn specific skills — whether it’s camping skills, sports, fine arts, ropes course and team building — so kids feel challenged, they feel like the time they’re spending in each of these activities is meaningful time,” said Geller. “We want to make sure that, when they’re at activity periods that they are really embracing the opportunity to learn new skills, to practice those skills and to get better at things that they want to.”

At Beth Tfiloh Camps, staff have developed a variety of specialty camps that allow campers to hone in on what interests them the most. With Theater Camp, varsity and junior varsity sports camps, travel camp, arts camp, a new community service camp and a high-level lacrosse camp and many more, kids are able to immerse themselves in a host of different activities. To allow kids to participate in as many different programs as they wish, BT camps has also amended the length of their programing, offering more sessions for fewer days.

“Even though with the traditional 8-week day camp there might be some benefit, that’s not what kids and families are looking for,” said the camp’s director, David Schimmel.


Magical Wonderland Camp Simcha, Camp Simcha Special bring joy to ill children

Ecstatic children spill off the buses and run through a tunnel of counselors decked out in silly costumes, cheering loudly. The session kickoff is a thrill for the campers, who without Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special would not be able to participate in the joys of summer camp.

The children and teens who attend Camp Simcha all have cancer diagnoses, and those attending Camp Simcha Special are living with chronic illnesses or disabilities. The campers descend on the 125-acre campgrounds in Glen Spey, N.Y., from all over North America, Israel, South Africa and Europe for two-week sessions of nonstop fun, all of which is free to the families, transportation included.

“It’s beautiful to watch the kids who come back every year, the excitement as they get off the bus to see the friends that they made at camp,” said girls’ head counselor Rivky Schwartz. “[Campers] tell me all the time that there’s no friends that they have like their friends at Camp Simcha.”

Boys’ head counselor Ari Dembitzer concurs, saying, “It’s really unique the conversations the kids will have because of their similar experiences. They’re very open about it.” He adds that campers provide comfort to one another when needed, which is a rarity.

“We shower them with a lot of love,” he said. “They feel loved and special, then all of a sudden they’re not thinking about their illness, they’re thinking about all the things that they’re getting [at camp].”

The days are packed at Camp Simcha with all the typical camp experiences — swimming, boating, candle making, sports, photography, camp fires and more — all adapted to accommodate campers’ different needs.

There’s singing and dancing along to music spun by the camp DJ at every meal, face painting for theme days, time spent in a recording studio, helicopter rides, concerts and performances and even guest appearances by celebrities. Last summer, New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia thrilled campers by showing them how to throw and by signing countless autographs.

“With travel days, we only get 11 full days of camp. We want to give them as much as we can in that time,” said camp director Rabbi Avrohom Kunstlinger.

Program director Shaindy Lowenthal of Baltimore has been with Camp Simcha for 25 years and is the mastermind behind daily activity schedules and the special events that make camp, in her words, a “magical wonderland.”

She recalls a particularly memorable moment from a few summers ago in which the dining hall was transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with eight inches of artificial snow, a ski lodge and mascots in costumes interacting with the campers.

For one wheelchair-bound Camp Simcha Special camper, it was the first time she got to play in the snow. Despite growing up in New York, her chair had kept her inside away from traditional snow day fun.

“Camp Simcha is truly a magical wonderland where we just try to make kids happiness [our priority],” said Lowenthal. “Scientific studies have shown time and time again … that happiness can help people respond to their treatment.”

Photos by Chai Lifeline

Though camp is a place where kids can be kids, the reality of their illnesses are addressed by the full medical staff headed by Dr. Peter Steinherz. Camp Simcha has its own ambulance and can deal with most emergencies on campus, according to Kunstlinger.

The budget to maintain and run camp is in the neighborhood of $3.5 million per year, he estimates.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” said the rabbi. “Almost $9,000 to $10,000 per child.”

Chai Lifeline, the parent organization of Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special, runs charity campaigns throughout the year, such as Bike4Chai, to pay for camp and other respite services.

For the staff, especially the counselors, the experience of working at Camp Simcha and Camp Sim-cha Special is transformative. The counselor-to-camper ratio is frequently one-to-one.

“You walk away a different person,” said Kuntslinger. “You’re changed.”

“More than less, kids really take to their counselors and take to them as a pillar of strength,” added Dembitzer.

The bonds forged at camp continue well past the summer with some counselors opting to be big brothers and sisters to their campers, celebrating events large and small together.

“For the campers, you can break it up into two categories: short term thrill, excitement, getting to be a kid again after so much hospitalization,” said Kuntslinger. “Long term, it’s even more important they gain the strength and the courage to go on with what they need to do in life. … Kids come to camp despondent; they leave camp excited for life, with the will to live.”


A Thing Called Love JDate partnership to help Ramah alumni kindle campfires of romance

RamahDate, a joint project of JDate and Ramah, will launch later this year. (Courtesy Ramah)

RamahDate, a joint project of JDate and Ramah, will launch later this year. (Courtesy Ramah)

NEW YORK — Beth and Jeff Kopin are one of an estimated 700 married couples to have met at one of the Conservative movement’s Ramah camps.

The Kopins, who fell in love at Ramah Wisconsin in the 1970s, went on to raise a flock of “Ramahniks.”

“There’s this family feeling if you meet another Ramahnik,” said Beth Kopin, who calls herself a “Ramah lifer” and splits her time between Chicago and Jerusalem. “There’s the communal experience of Shabbat singing, of keeping kosher, of being in a Hebrew musical, of exploring Israel together. It’s being part of a smaller tribe within a larger tribe.”

That’s why Kopin, along with some other Ramah alumni, urged the North American camp network to start a dating service for its alumni.

The service, called RamahDate, is expected to launch this year and is being created in partnership with JDate, the for-profit online dating site. Believed to be the first Jewish camp-specific dating service, RamahDate will cater exclusively to Ramah alumni. The camp estimates that as many as 10,000 of its former campers are single and under 40.

RamahDate users, who will pay the same fees as other JDate users, will be able to search the entire pool of Jewish singles as well as restrict their searches to those in the group registered with a “Ramah badge.” As with the general site, Ramahniks of either gender can choose whom they want to date, men or women. According to the terms of the agreement, 70 percent of the first month’s fee of each alumnus or alumna will go toward Ramah scholarships; after that, JDate will retain all the revenues.

Liz and Dan Spevack with children Ayelet, Noam and Eytan, on a hammock at Ramah Berkshires. The Spevacks met at Ramah Berkshires, where Dan Spevack's parents also met. All three children attend Ramah camps. (Courtesy of Liz Spevack)

Liz and Dan Spevack with children Ayelet, Noam and Eytan, on a hammock at Ramah Berkshires. The Spevacks met at Ramah Berkshires, where Dan Spevack’s parents also met. All three children attend Ramah camps. (Courtesy of Liz Spevack)

Ramah initially explored the possibility of constructing its own alumni dating service and also spoke with Saw You At Sinai, an Orthodox matchmaking service. However, it settled on JDate because it liked the company’s approach. With the infrastructure already in place, the partnership also saves Ramah from making significant financial investments.

The partnership does have its drawbacks. JDate is in the midst of restructuring, which has delayed RamahDate’s launch from the start of 2015 to some point later in the year.

In the meantime, single Ramah alums are waiting with interest for RamahDate.

“It limits the pool in a positive way. There’s a common understanding, interest and memory of what was experienced,” said Sarah Attermann, who is spending the semester studying for a master’s degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary here. Attermann, who is 28 and single, also is the program director of Ramah Darom — one of Ramah’s eight overnight camps, and based in Georgia.

After RamahDate was publicized, she said, “I got a lot of text messages and emails. Everyone was asking, ‘Is this for real?’ People are so excited about it.”

Another single woman, who requested anonymity, noted that because she’s only 25, she doesn’t feel “so much pressure to actively enroll in a paid service” like JDate, though she uses free dating apps. For RamahDate, she would be willing to invest. The common culture and values “give you a jumping-off point,” she said.

Camp officials suggest that Ramah memories and culture stretch across the North American network, with alumni from different Ramah camps recalling the same Hebrew-English phrases such as “Yom Sport” and intuitively knowing just when to bang on the table during a recitation of birkat hamazon, the grace after meals.

Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, national director of the Ramah Camping Movement, said the dating service offers a gift of sorts to “alumni, who even after their camp years are still looking for someone with their Jewish values.”

Even without a kickoff date, Ramah has been fielding calls from other Jewish youth groups and camp movements interested in partnering.
Andrea Glick, director of communications for the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth, said that she thinks RamahDate is a “great idea” and “we would absolutely join them.”

But at least for now, the answer is no. Cohen said he does not want to appear “elitist and exclusionary,” but he worries about losing a special quality if the network were to cover the entire Conservative movement, for example.

Beth Kopin — the “Ramah lifer” — is less concerned that some might find RamahDate too exclusionary.

“You know what?” she said. “Parents who send their kids to Ramah sacrifice a huge amount of money. A lot of energy goes into making a Ramahnik. It’s a huge amount of effort and there should be a benefit.”

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Back at Jewish Boot Camp Shaping a Jewish identity, collecting tools along the way

Herzl Camp in Webster, Wis., provided the author (bottom) the tools to carve out more of her Jewish identity. Decades later, she still works to hone it. (Photo provided)

Herzl Camp in Webster, Wis., provided the author (bottom) the tools to carve out more of her Jewish identity. Decades later, she still works to hone it. (Photo provided)

It’s pretty accurate to say that when I began seventh grade, my life changed. Navigating a new student body, and then spending three weeks at Herzl Camp in nearby Webster, Wis., gave me the tools to begin carving out my Jewish identity, and many decades later, I’m still whittling away at it.

In elementary school, my brother Murray and I, along with Lenny and Scott Kaufman, were the only four Jewish kids during all my years at Randolph Heights. (Insert audible gasp heard from across Pikesville.) It honestly didn’t faze me, though I was conscious of it. I definitely came from a Jewish home, but for my closest neighborhood friends, ours was the only Jewish family they knew.

But just a neighborhood away, at Highland Park Junior High where I entered seventh grade, that scenario changed. Highland Park was, and still is, the heart of the St. Paul, Minn., Jewish community, so at my new school I was suddenly plunged into a huge pool of Jewish teens. I had begun Temple of Aaron Talmud Torah Hebrew School a couple of years earlier so I knew some Jewish kids, but seeing them for just two hours twice a week after school wasn’t quite the same exposure as when I stepped full-on across the threshold into junior high.

Once there, I was entertained by the school hall antics of classmates with names like Ricky Bloomfield and Steve Gottlieb; I hung out at my best friend Cheryl Kloner’s locker and skipped class with Layni Katz to watch “All My Children.”

It was from this new crowd that I started to hear about a place called Herzl Camp. In addition to receiving bar and bat mitzvah invitations and learning the cool clothes to wear (I still remember getting my first pair of real Levi corduroys — baby blue, red tag on the pocket) I was also regaled with endless stories about the fun times my classmates shared at camp each summer.

Up to then, my siblings and I (I have another older brother and an older sister) were sent to a nearby secular day camp during most summers. According to my mom, it was so we’d quit whining to her that there was nothing to do and also for the proximity (a short bus ride away) and the affordable cost. But as the post-seventh grade summer of 1976 drew near, I lobbied my mom to send me to Herzl Camp for the three-week overnight session. She applied for and received a scholarship through the St. Paul Jewish Community Center, so off I went.

I had a blast that summer as a Machaneh Herzl camper in Cabin 3. We prayed three times at day on the mirkaz overlooking Devil’s Lake, recited the hamotzie before and sang the birkat hamazon after every meal and learned an endless amount of Hebrew songs and Israeli dances that filled the camp with ruach from dawn to dusk. I met dear friends, some of which I’m still in touch with to this day. But the rituals, melodies and prayers also remain ingrained in my mind and my heart. It turned out, by happy accident, I had signed up for Get-Your-Jewish-Identity-On boot camp. And it worked.

To be clear, (I can hear my mother now!) I do not discount my home life for its impact on my Jewishness. In fact, I know it was the bedrock and that I felt a connection to Judaism well before camp, thanks to a culturally and religious (lite) Jewish upbringing. But I think camp, for the first time, provided me with more building blocks and a space in which I could construct what Jewish identity meant for me.

Several years after college, I moved to Portland, Or., — a beautiful and inspiring place to live, though at the time Jews were still a bit of an anomaly. I kid you not — I walked into a shop in December, and the clerk, wearing a very puzzled expression, asked me what a hannakan candle was when she heard my request. I walked out thinking, my God, where did I move?

About seven years ago a job brought me to Baltimore, and honestly, after a decade in Oregon it almost felt like coming back to Jewish boot camp. I remember being astonished to find Chanukah candles for sale at Target, right out in the open, in an end cap display! And just imagine my excitement about access to real deli.

Even more than the cultural aspects of Judaism, I’ve benefited from programs like Dor Tikvah, the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation, the DFI institute and even Torah study classes at Chabad Center of Maryland, all of which have provided me, once again, with more building blocks.

Now, a couple of states and many years later, my connection to Judaism remains strong, but I’ll admit I’m still building the toolkit, in search of what shape that identity might take. It may require a lifetime to hone, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


On Bookshelves Inside Scoop

012315_insider_inside_scoop_book“Summer on the Short Bus” by Bethany Crandell
Running Press Book Publishers, 2014. 256 pages
Nook Book and paperback

Bethany Crandell’s debut novel is a perfect pick for the young adult in your life. “Summer on the Short Bus” tells the story of 17-year-old Cricket Montgomery, an over-privileged and entitled teen with tons of attitude. Fed up with her behavior, Cricket’s father decides it’s time she got a job. So he sends her off to a summer camp for children with special needs. Cricket experiences major culture shock but ends up making some surprising discoveries and meaningful friendships. Pack this in your preteen camper’s duffle bag! As the parent of a daughter with special needs, Crandell tells it like it is, so, warning: This novel is realistic but not always politically correct.

Bad Hair Days Inside Scoop - Health


(credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Mypurgatoryyears)

It’s drop-off day at summer camp and smiles are everywhere. Campers and counselors share hugs, music blares from outdoor speakers, and parents greet one another. But before they can bid their parents goodbye, the kids must pass the mandatory pre-admission lice check. Campers who have lice will be sent home to be treated and will not be welcomed back until they are lice-free.

Anyone who has ever had to deal with these tiny critters can attest to the fact that the parasitic insects, found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes, are not easily evicted! In fact, many claim the lice epidemic has become more pervasive in recent years, as the insects have become resistant to chemicals in the solutions that were once effective in treating the condition.

One of the most common myths about lice is that they are symptomatic of poor hygiene or low socioeconomic status. However, the CDC debunks this myth, estimating that “the incidence of lice in school children ranges from 2 percent and 52 percent. In the United States, says the CDC, “there are 6 million to 12 million infestations each year in this group.” Children contract head lice through “head-to-head” contact with an infested person that occurs through play, at sleepovers, during sports activities and at camp.

Preventing the transmission of lice is not easy. Though some swear by preventive shampoos, others dispute their usefulness. The CDC advises avoiding head-to-head contact as much as possible and discourages the sharing of combs, brushes, hats, scarfs and towels. If lice does strike, the whole house must be deloused. That means, linens, towels, stuffed animals, pillows, etc.

Education Inside Scoop

012315_insider_inside_scoop_educationDoes your middle school or high school student prefer curling up with a good book to playing sports, doing arts and crafts or singing around a campfire? If so, the Great Books Camp may be a perfect fit. Started as a three-day program in 2002, the innovative camp now offers eight-week sessions at Amherst College and Stanford University and a two-week high school program at Oxford University in Oxford, England. Students in the program have opportunities to study works by literary giants such as Whitman, Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, Hemingway, Woolf and Tolstoy.

The Great Books Camp uses the Socratic Method (asking students questions) to teach skills such as critical thinking and reflective reading and to encourage them to develop big ideas. Students enjoy the benefits of top educators, authors and scholars and the resources on the campuses where the camps are located. For additional information, visit greatbookssummer.com.

On Bookshelves: The Path of Names

030714_insider_inside-scoop-bookBy Ari Goelman
339 pages; Arthur A. Levine Books
(Appropriate for mature middle schoolers)

Dahlia Sherman, 13, wants to spend her summer going to magic camp. Her parents agree, but first she must attend Camp Arava, a Jewish overnight camp, where her brother, Tom, is a counselor. On her first day, Dahlia sees two girls vanish into the wall of her cabin. Determined to uncover this magic trick, she seeks clues that lead to an unsolved mystery from 72 years ago. Together with her friend, Rafe, Dahlia investigates the camp’s history while learning Kabbalah, Hebrew and friendship. Amazon compared “The Path of Names” to “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” but for kids.