JCA Shalom Color Wars for adults who are kids at heart

Each summer, thousands of gleeful children at Jewish summer camps everywhere split into color-coded teams and compete against their peers in water balloon tosses, three-legged races, baton runs and the inevitable sing-off.

But why should they have all the fun?

Grown children who still pine for those days of spirited one-upmanship can relive their summer memories Oct. 23 at the first Adult Color Wars, taking place at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. Locals in their 20s and 30s are invited to sign up for what organizers hope will be one totally rad day at camp.

“It’s a chance to come and meet like-minded people who want to get together and remember how to play,” said Jennifer Rheuban, sales manager for a California winery, who came up with the idea based on her own nostalgia for her time at summer camp. “To do this, you can’t be afraid to get dirty, and you have to want to be a kid.”

Participation in the event is a double bonus, Rheuban said, because in addition to reconnecting with the joy of Jewish camp, a portion of the proceeds from each ticket will go toward the Camp JCA Shalom scholarship fund for 2012, ensuring that more children next year will have the same formative experiences to look back upon as adults.

For Rheuban, the memory of those experiences is still fresh. The Los Angeles native attended Camp JCA Shalom for 12 summers, ascending the ranks from camper to CIT — counselor-in-training — to counselor. “By my third summer, I was begging my parents to [let me] go all summer long,” she said. “I became completely involved and made some incredible friends. Camp has probably been one of the things that has been the closest to my heart.”

Last year, newly single at age 33, Rheuban considered the usual modes of socialization among young professionals and found them wanting. Neither the bar scene nor online dating sounded appealing. She wanted to meet other people in a Jewish setting that wasn’t a synagogue, and in a way that could benefit the community as a whole.

“I wanted to meet people, and I wanted to get back to my Jewish roots,” Rheuban recalled. “I thought, ‘What can I do to give my life more meaning and feed my soul and get back that warm feeling inside?’ ”

Naturally, her thoughts drifted to camp. The memories came rushing back: Shabbat-o-grams on Fridays, best friends, tie-dyed shirts, swimming relays, Color Wars. She always loved Color Wars, also known at some camps as Maccabiah Games — dividing into teams, getting to know and compete alongside peers with whom campers might not normally interact, joining together in the name of fun and making new friends.

“I thought it would be a great idea to do this for adults,” Rheuban said. “A lot of what we learn to do as we get older is about leaving ‘playing’ behind. We spend so much time proving to people that we’re not children anymore. Maybe it would be nice to stop for a day and get back to that.”

Set to take place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the unique event will feature a standard Color Wars itinerary of group activities and contests among the rival red, blue, yellow and green teams. Participants will be assigned to teams in advance of the big day and are expected to come dressed in their team’s colors and ready to cheer their compatriots on. A barbecue lunch will be included in the $25 ticket price.

At the end of the day, when everyone is tuckered out from relay races and singing, they will gather around a campfire to bask in the spirit of newfound camaraderie.

“It’s amazing that Jenny put this together — it’s such an organic way for young adults to give back to camp,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute and a former director of Camp JCA Shalom.

Somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of proceeds from the event will go toward the campership fund for next summer. “If they raise $1,000, a child will be able to afford camp,” Kaplan said, adding that 40 percent of camp families — around 300 children — typically receive some level of financial assistance.

Plus, he said, “it’ll be hilarious” to watch activities like potato sack races performed by grown doctors and lawyers.

Rheuban, a self-professed “camp dork,” said she usually asks her parents to make a donation in her name to the camp scholarship fund for Chanukah. “I see how much it defined my life and my core values,” she said. “It’s important to carry on that tradition.”

She still gets a “warm, fuzzy feeling” when she thinks about her camp memories, she admitted. “Camp does that to you.”

To learn more, “like” the “1st annual adult color wars” page on Facebook, e-mail jennyban1@gmail.com,  follow “Adultcolorwars” on Twitter or register at 1stannual