How do you raise kids who understand and value being Jewish? Who have a greater chance of giving you Jewish grandchildren? And what is special and Jewish about the number 36.5?
Most evidence points to four primary factors:
- Family affiliates with a synagogue and remains members and involved AFTER the youngest child becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah
- Children participate in Jewish Youth Groups and study Judaism through High School Confirmation programs
- Family has a Jewish home, which includes vigorous home celebration of holidays and attendance at services monthly
- Children attend Jewish summer camps and go on teen Israel programs
Thus Congregation Or Ami kvells (shares its pride) even more that our delegation to the URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California rose to 36.5 people. Led by Rabbi Paul Kipnes and his wife Michelle November, our Or Ami delegation gathers primarily in the first sessions at camp, bringing light and energy to the camp community.
This past Shabbat, most of us gathered at the Mosaic (an outdoor hang out area) for what our kids like to refer to as “Torah study.” In fact, the gathering is an Or Ami Shabbat party, where our Or Ami children can share stories, connect with their rabbi, and enjoy the sweetness of Shabbat (in the form of their favorite cookies and candy snacks).
Our youngest participants include Jake Oliner in the 4th-5th grade Bonim session, while the oldest include counselors Rachel Kipnes and Sarah Sherman as well as Rosh Eidah (unit head) and former Mishpacha teacher Jonathan Rothstein-Fisch (known to all as “Fish”). Between bites of cookies and sips of soda, Or Ami participants spoke about their favorite parts of camp:
- making new friends
- climbing the 50 foot tower
- the peacefulness of Shabbat
- camping overnight in the Treehouse
- just being able to “be myself”
- Judaism that is so relevant and spiritual
- getting to spend time with their rabbi
- hashkavah (late night, pre-bedtime activities)
- swimming at the pool
Rabbi Kipnes, who serves during the year as the Rabbinic Camp Committee Chair and over the summer as Dean of Faculty for the first session, has worked vigorously with the Foundation for Jewish Camping and Camp Newman itself to provide substantial scholarships for those who need it. Says he, “Where else do we find Jewish kids immersed in Jewish living for extended periods of time, all the while being cared for by great college and grad-school age positive Jewish role models?”
Michelle November, a social worker by training, serves as Camp Mom. Part of a team led by a licensed, practicing psychologist, the Nefesh Team (Nefesh means “soul”) help the counseling staff handle camper issues that have ranged from providing a hug of a camper with simple homesickness to bringing parents and counselors together by phone to help campers struggling with depression or others facing the death of a grandparent or dear friend.
Why do we bring a group of our Or Ami young people to Camp Newman every summer? Why, in the middle of the Rabbi’s sabbatical, is he spending two weeks at camp? Because the Jewish future is built around poignant, positive Jewish experiences which sear into the heart and soul a love for Judaism. Jewish Camp – and especially Camp Newman – more than almost any other place, provides that intense Jewish heat to make kids more and more Jewishly-connected.
So who is the “.5” member of our delegation? Six month old Julian, son of former Or Ami Rabbinic Intern (and now Rabbi) Jordana Chernow-Reader, who is gaining first-hand experience of Jewish camping as he revels in being passed from hand to hand amongst the staff and faculty of Camp Newman.
Interested in learning more about Jewish camping?