You should also send your rabbis, educators, cantors and youth professionals to Jewish summer camp for their benefit and for the benefit of your congregation. Why?
Who would have thought that the Jewish values my wife and I hold most dear, and the texts from which they arise, were embedded in our hearts at those Jewish summer camps?
Invite 6th and 7th graders to get real about God and spirituality, and the depth of their questions and their unceasing quest for understanding will astound you!
Why? Because at Camp Newman, the location of the biggest drug stash is a well known secret. In fact, this being California, first day camper orientation includes an explanation of when and how you can get your fix.
Drug Stash Revealed
I’m speaking, of course, about the Mirpa’ah (our infirmary) and its enormous stash of medical drugs (tylenol, advil, etc.). Camp Newman’s Mirpa’ah is staffed with so many medical personnel, who know how to combine the best camp diagnostic tools (usually a thermometer), the most up to date over the counter medication, and ample amounts of TLC (tender loving care) that they can handle at camp a vast majority of the situations which arise. It is comforting to know that at camp my three kids – and Congregation Or Ami’s 45 – are so well taken care of.
When Does Camp Really Begin?
Speaking of my kids, no sooner do they arrive at camp, then the Mirpa’ah countdown begins. How long will it take until a Kipnes/November kid winds up in the Mirpa’ah? Like a chocoholic drawn to a Milky Way bar, my kids are drawn to the Mirpa’ah. In fact, in some ways, camp is truly set in motion once a Kipnes/November kid spends time in the Mirpa’ah. Until then, camp infirmary is like a car right off the assembly line: all the parts are there, it should work, but you just can’t be sure until you put the key in the ignition and shift into drive. Our kids, it seems, are the keys to the ignition of Camp Newman’s Mirpa’ah.
Every summer, without fail, we get a message that one of our three kids has entered the infirmary. One year, Daniel sliced the top off his toe (now camp is strict about the “no open toes shoes” policy). Another year saw Noah quarantined as part of “Swine ’09,” the swine flu outbreak that required camps to separate out for seven days any kid with a fever. We have had everything from ingrown toenails and blisters to allergies and pneumonia.
How Do You Score a Private Room at Camp?
Camp is all about sharing a bunk with 7-10 other kids of the same age. Friendships are formed that last a lifetime. Sometime, though, a guy just needs a break from all the camaraderie. So how does one score a private room at camp?
My son Daniel discovered the answer when he needed to spend his third through eighth days in the Mirpa’ah. With fever and more, he scored room 3 – the “suite” – where he watched movies on the computer and received sympathy from the staff and campers. We like to joke that he also field-tested the Mirpa’ah processes, ensuring that the always fantastic staff were truly on the best game.
Of course, he enjoyed (endured?) the illness experience at camp much more than he would have at home. At home, we pump him full of medication, feed him and of necessity, go about our business. At camp, he got more TLC than even his doting mother could provide.
Where Do Adults Hold Hands at Camp?
When Daniel spiked 103 degrees for the second and third time, this calm camp parent became a bit more agitated and anxious. Like all parents, I put my trust in the Mirpa’ah staff. I needed some serious handholding, and the infirmary staff were just the people to do it.
Daniel was treated hourly or more by an excellent infirmary staff, headed by two doctors, PhD-toting Nurses, and many other degree-toting medical professionals. They worked around the clock diagnosing, medicating, feeding, and cleaning up. In addition, they took and recorded his temperature hourly, and treated my boy as if he were their only concern. Just as they do by phone with parents of other sick campers, they kept me informed of his progress and our options for treatment.
These incredible medical professional are up early, dealing with everything from overnight illness to bed-wetting little boys to enormous amounts of morning medications. They work late, awaiting the inevitable moment when the camp shuts down for the night so they can sleep. Still, rarely a night goes by without the “on call” nurse being awoken to deal with a camper with some issue.
So Daniel was released from the Mirpa’ah when he was fever-free (and other symptom-free) for 24 hours. He is healthy, happy and fully functional. Of course, the next unfortunate patient moved into his (deeply cleaned) medical “suite.” And the cycle of illness and healing continues.
Who Are these Incredible Volunteer Nurses and Doctors?
All of the medical staff are volunteers, most taking their own vacation time to volunteer at camp. Their compassion and care has no limits. It takes a whole village to care for a kid. At camp, that includes counselors, rashim (unit heads), program and support staff, kitchen crew and maintenance staff. They all deserve our appreciation and thanks for making the summers great for our kids.
But don’t forget to thank the medical staff. The unsung heroes of the summer camp, celebrate most when everything is quiet (though superstition prohibits them for saying aloud that everything seems “quiet”).
And so this summer, for these first two weeks, I thank our medical staff:
- Roberta Bavin PNP DNP
- Tanya Buynevich RN
- Deepika Goyal PhD FNP
- Diana Sherman PNP
- Juliana Stewart RN
- Dr. Greg Hirsch
- Dr. Lona Larsh
- Dr. Karon Seal
- Dr. Joey Robinow
- And Alisa Robinow, MOM (extraordinaire)
Thank you for caring for my kid. Thank you for holding my hand. Thank you for ensuring that we parents can send our kids off to camp without having to worry about their health and safety.
Postscript: How Does Camp Deal with Sibling Rivalry?
A few days after Daniel was released from the Mirpa’ah, his younger brother Noah hobbled in with a smashed toenail. Swearing it was an accident (and with plenty of witnesses to testify to this), Noah’s injury nonetheless set off a wild discussion about whether he was just hoping to “one up” his older brother. The verdict is still out on that one.
Finally, if you had to get sick at camp…
On the TV show Parenthood, teenager Max has Asperger’s Syndrome. While running for student body president, Max tells his classmates about his Asperger’s. The episode is riveting television, but not quite as poignant as when one of our Congregation Or Ami teens stepped up before her peers and shared her own Asperger’s story.
It all began when one of our teens and her mother watched the Parenthood episode. It inspired her to contact their rabbis to suggest that our teen tell her fellow teens about how her Asperger’s affects her. Since at Congregation Or Ami we start at “yes” – especially with regards to full accessibility for individuals and families with special needs – we moved quickly to scheduling a date for her presentation to her peers.
Our teen worked with her parents to compose a paragraph about her strengths and challenges she wanted to share with the group. To make it most comfortable for our teen, one of our rabbis was present to support her when she was speaking.
Jewish Teenager with Asperger’s Shares Her Story with Her Temple Peers
Our teen said:
I have Asperger’s Syndrome. It is a part of me. I might think differently than you do. My brain is kind of like a MAC and everyone else is PC. I just do things a little differently. My brain functions a different way than yours does. It’s not wrong or bad to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s just another way of thinking and being. 1 out of 88 people is on the autism spectrum. This is a recent number. Chances are you, or your mom, dad, sibling, grandparents, whichever, may know someone who works with, is friends with, or goes to school with someone on the autism spectrum. Scientists are still not sure what causes Asperger’s Syndrome. They have been working since the 1930’s to discover what it is and what causes it.
There are people who have been suspected to have some form of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Temple Grandin is an American doctor of animal science.
- Bill Gates is the creator of Microsoft and is one of the richest men in the world.
- Albert Einstein was a German/American theoretical physicist.
- Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States.
- Loves Animals, and
- Loves Reading
- I can take things out of context.
- I may say things that might seem rude, but I don’t mean it.
- It’s hard for me to make eye contact and make friends.
- If it seems like I walk away sometimes, I just need a little break.
What can you do?
- Understand that I struggle with social interaction and try to understand what I am going through.
- Accept everyone as unique and valuable.
- Talk to kids who seem shy. Include them.
- Stand up for kids that are being bullied.
- Don’t be reluctant to give friendship advice, but be kind about it.
Our teen answered some questions and the session continued with the scheduled session plan. But like the fictional Max from tv’s Parenthood, our real-life teen inspired her peers and taught us all about strength, grace and courage.
On Judaism and Accessibility
Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA has long been committed to accessibility for individuals with special needs and their families. We have a webpage emphasizing our accessibility to Jews with Disabilities. Our Brandon Kaplan Special Needs Fund helps us integrate people with special needs and their families into all aspects of our congregation. We are also the synagogue for Chaverim, a program of Jewish Family Service, for developmentally disabled adults, age 18 to 88. I blog regularly about the intersection of Judaism and Jews with Disabilities.
Our national Reform Jewish movement – especially the Union for Reform Judaism – has a long history of working for full inclusion and openness for people with disabilities and special needs.
URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA has a dedicated Nefesh team comprised of psychologists, therapists and social workers who are at camp all summer. The Nefesh team helps the counselors and roshim (unit heads) integrate and support all children with unique situations (including emotional, physical, psycho-social and other “special needs”). Read about Ethan’s experience at Camp Newman.
Meet Ethan through the eyes of his Mom:
Since his diagnosis of autism at age 2, we have worked hard to “mainstream” our son Ethan into everyday activities, schools, sports teams and social situations. At times it has been a struggle for him and for us wanting him to be a normal kid. With a lot of hard work on his part, as well as with the help of a team of behaviorists, speech therapists and a lot of supportive friends and family members, Ethan has blossomed into friendly, outgoing, and independent almost 13-year old.
With his Bar Mitzvah service less than 6 months away, it seemed almost natural for him experience sleepover camp. Thankfully, and with the blessing of our Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Rabbi Erin Mason (Associate Camp Director at Camp Newman), this experience became a reality for him (and us) this past summer, as he spent two weeks at URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA.
Kvell with Ethan’s Mom about Ethan’s fantastic experience at URJ Camp Newman:
Dear Camp Newman,
My son, Ethan Epstein, was a camper in the first session of the summer at Camp Newman in the Tzofim eidah (unit). You probably remember that we spoke in the spring about his enrollment this summer, as Ethan has special needs that may have been a concern. My husband and I felt that he was more than ready to attend overnight camp and were thrilled with the opportunity for him to attend with his friends from our congregation as well as with Congregation Or Ami’s Rabbi Paul Kipnes and his family.
Needless to say, the experience was more than we ever imagined. From the minute we arrived at the airport (he flew with the camp delegation from Burbank) to the minute he stepped off the plane on his return, the entire experience was a HUGE success! Ethan loved every minute that he was there, and has already informed us that he is planning to attend for a MONTH next year!!!
I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without letting you know how much I thank you and your wonderful staff at Camp Newman. While it is always our hope to integrate Ethan into mainstream situations, we are aware that sometimes certain accommodations need to be made, and we thank you for that. Our goal was for him to make new friends, gain independence, and mature in a loving and spiritual environment, and he achieved (and surpassed) all of these.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for a wonderful and successful overnight camp experience. We look forward to next summer at Camp Newman!
Shalom, Ethan’s Parents
Reform Judaism – especially the Union for Reform Judaism – has a long history of working for full inclusion and openness for people with disabilities and special needs.
Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA has long been committed to accessibility for individuals with special needs and their families. Our Brandon Kaplan Special Needs Fund helps us integrate people with special needs and their families into all aspects of our congregation. We are also the synagogue for Chaverim, a program of Jewish Family Service, for developmentally disabled adults, age 18 to 88.
URJ Camp Newman has a dedicated Nefesh team comprised of psychologists, therapists and social workers who are at camp all summer. The Nefesh team helps the counselors and roshim (unit heads) integrate and support all children with unique situations (including emotional, physical, psycho-social and other “special needs”).
|Josh Friedman sings along with Dan Nichols|
Torah Reveals the Power of a Song
Eric Moraly and I sat in the Chadar Ochel (dining hall) after lunch, working on his Bar Mitzvah d’var Torah (speech). [Eric is one of the 34 members of our Congregation Or Ami delegation to Camp Newman.] We read the translation of his parasha, stopping along the way to elucidate challenging words and ideas. A bright young man, Eric articulately summarized and interpreted his section: God knew that when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they would begin to follow false gods and forget Torah. So God instructed Moses to write a song – called Ha’azinu – which would remind the people of important Jewish values.
What a concept from Torah: the power of the song.
At Camp Newman, Music Sets the Stage for Everything Else
At Camp Newman, music sets the stage for and permeates everything. We sing at mifkad (morning exercizes), before and after we eat, in the middle of the day, and when it ends. Jewish songs mix with contemporary music which are combined with prayers and eidah (session) songs. It’s as if when we sing, we affirm that we are alive. It is how we express our love of life and it’s blessings.
At the Dan Nichols concert, 600 kids shined with inspired energy. It could have been a concert of any teen idol, except that our kids were jumping around to Jewish songs about tikun olam (fixing the world), tzedek (justice), Israel, and emunah (faith).
Come Quick… It’s Josh
Early in the concert, one of my kids ran up shrieking, “Come quick, it’s Josh!” As I ran down the steps, I caught a glimpse of our congregant Josh Friedman standing up on stage, right next to Dan Nichols. Apparently Dan invited Josh to help lead the community in singing the harmony.
Yup, this 10 1/2 year old kid was “living the dream.” He was up onstage with Dan Nichols – Jewish music idol – helping him lead a full amphitheater of people in song. It was like being bat boy in the final game of the World Series, pressing the button in Times Square to lower the ball on New Year’s Eve, and starring in your own TV show, all rolled into one. As meaningfully, his bunkmates, rather than being jealous of Josh’s good fortune, joined in to celebrate this moment of simcha (joy). When the highlights of life involve music and singing, we all are that much more inspired!
We Sing Because our Hearts Need It
I thought about our own Congregation Or Ami, whose vision statement declares the centrality of music within its first sentences. Our Cantor Doug Cotler brings original music/lyrics as well as new and traditional Jewish music to our services and celebrations. Doug’s singing invites us into Jewish spirituality; it inspires us, and transforms us. We are regularly inspired to sing even more intensely by the participation regularly of our Or Ami Chorale and our Shabbat Band Jew-bacca.
At Or Ami, we sing because our hearts need it. We sing because our faith demands it. We sing because we know that music can transmit connection to community and the Holy One, and we desperately desire those connections.
Singing Brings Forth the Best In Us
Like Josh did, like Cantor Doug does, like Dan Nichols is doing, like Moses was instructed to create, music and song so often brings out the best in us – of our values, of our energy and of our joy. Thanks Camp Newman, Congregation Or Ami and Torah for bringing it all together.
Congregation Or Ami, our Reform synagogue in Calabasas, CA, receives high marks from our congregants and guests alike for the warmth of our community, the creativity of our learning, the depth of our Jewish spirituality, and the intensity of our musicality. As one of the rabbis at Or Ami, I am often asked what is the secret to our success? I’ll point to our amazing Cantor Doug Cotler, the warmth of our Henaynu caring community, and our extensive social action efforts.
As significant – yet less well-known as an influence – are the weeks I spend up at Jewish summer camp.
Every summer for the past fourteen years, my wife Michelle and I have chaperoned a delegation of more than 30 young people up to the URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA. I serve as on rabbinic faculty, chairing the West Coast Rabbinic Camp committee, while Michelle develops creative alumni programming for the upcoming year.
Something amazing happens at Jewish summer camp
Camp Newman has a lasting influence on ensuring that Or Ami is an innovative, inspiring Jewish community. At Camp, I teach collaboratively with creative rabbis from all over Southern California, and with motivated college students. Fast paced daily schedules demand creativity, innovation and high levels of responsiveness to the Jewish and interpersonal concerns of the participants. Services must be engaging, learning must be meaningful, and the community it’s must be warm and welcoming. Conversations about Jewish identity and Jewish values permeate the community. Teens dialogue regularly about the reality (or not) of God in their lives and ask that services reflect those struggles. Young people feel loved and accepted (no matter what); older youth buddy up with younger campers. Song sessions and Shabbat services are energized and uplifting.
Each summer, I come home from Camp Newman armed with new stories, creative lesson plans, and implicit (and explicit) critiques of synagogue life. Questions raised by campers form the basis of sermons; they ask everything that most of us are too embarrassed to ask. The unconditional love and acceptance becomes the impetus for inclusivisity at temple for special needs kids, interfaith families, multiracial and multiethnic families, LGBT individuals and families.
Why is Or Ami so successful as a congregation?
For many reasons, including and especially because Camp Newman continues to rejuvenate and inspire me, Or Ami’s rabbi. Yes, I believe that all of us – Jewish professionals working in synagogues and Jewish organizations – are better and more effective because camp models creative Jewish living.
Dispatch from Camp Newman, Santa Rosa, CA
Early dinner is over (we have two seatings), and I can rest easy having checked in with every one of our younger campers. From a distance, I watched their interactions with other campers and their counselors; I made sure they are eating (everyone seemed to like the spaghetti and bread sticks; some even had full plates for the fresh salad bar). I look for smiles (there are so many). Then a quick hello, a hug for many of them, and a reassuring “Michelle and I are here and look forward to having fun with you.” (We similarly checked in with the Or Ami campers and staff at late dinner. All are well.)
Now I’m sitting here in the Beit Tefilah (outdoor amphitheater) where the whole camp community has gathered for the All Camp Welcome. After a heartfelt welcome by Camp Director Ruben Arquilevitch, each set of rashim (unit heads) introduced themselves and their eidah (unit). The energy was electrifying as campers broke out into cheering and dancing.
The directors countdown how long everyone has been at camp. They elicit special cheering as the first year campers rise up and are welcomed. As they call out from second summer campers up past ten summers and more, my wife Michelle and I quickly count up our years at Camp. Michelle counts 30 summers at Camp Newman (and its predecessor Camp Swig), which is improbable since she only just turned 34 years old (not really)!
Then, as the energy begins to peak, my ear drums almost burst amidst the cacophony as campers shout out passionately, “I love being Jewish!” It is music to my ears to hear so many young people (and high school and college students) declare the centrality of being Jewish to their lives.
Great summertime experiences.
Yep, that’s what camp is all about: vibrant youthful energy, passionate Jewish experiences, and good, clean fun.
Music is like that. Electrifying, exhilarating, intoxicating. Music can transport us to higher planes of existence. I notice it whenever we go to a concert. Or go dancing. When just sitting in the sanctuary listening to Cantor Cotler when he is in the groove.
Connecting Teens Thru Music
If you want your kids to connect Jewishly, bring them to a Jewish Rock Concert. Watch them interact with their peers, even those they don’t know, as the music transforms them and transports them.
Watch Dan Nichols singing Redemption.]
A Mosh Pit in the Sanctuary
So we invite you to connect or reconnect your kid to Judaism and Or Ami in a uniquely energetic way. Bring them (yes, you should attend but like me will sit toward the back and sides, while the kids are in a mosh pit in the center of the sanctuary). The concert is appropriate for all ages, but every 6th-12th grader should be at or Ami for that 1+ hour experience. Adults should come too.
Music speaks louder than words. Make sure your kids and their friends are at Or Ami for this Jewish Rock Concert.