Silent Disco under the Stars at Camp Neshama. Photo- Jonah Light

What are They REALLY Saying About Camp Neshama?

Camp Neshama is summer camp for Jewish young adults, running Sept. 1-4th, 2017, in Running Springs, California, and generously sponsored by The Alevy Family. The retreat may be the best Jewish young professional weekend in America. (Full disclosure – my wife Rachel Bookstein and I started the camp 6 years ago.)

We asked some of the participants of last summer’s camp to tell is what they REALLY thought.

She found the ring in the pudding, in 7 seconds.

These are the unedited comments. The writers are from all kinds of backgrounds and each one had an amazing time. One of them also got married to a person they met last summer – can you guess which one?

I feel sad that it’s over! I’m in USA 1 year and in the first time I had an amazing time that made it so special for me. Spiritual w amazing people and helped me to be connected to my roots w keeping Shabbat and the nature , could not ask more than that. Thanks!

Azy from Encino wrote, “I enjoyed every minute of the retreat! From the food to the participants and activities!!! What a great place to make connections and new friends!”

Julian, from South Africa said, “Super happy that I have many new people in my life!”

A Jewish woman from Reseda, “Sad to leave, looking forward to the next one…It was wonderful. Beyond our expectations. My friends and I had a blast”

Field day competition heating up!

A 33 year old woman who grew up in LA said that, “It was a truly unique, reviving, fun, sweet and soulful experience”

A 29 year-old professional from Newport Beach told us, “I expected to experience spirituality being close to nature and share it with Jewish peers. I felt that I worked on my mind to my breath often during the program, which was easier to do since I focused in it when everyone was doing it during yoga or meditation. I feel that I kept active and attended programs I was interested in without having to wait too long for a program in the day-long agenda to do what I wanted to do.”

Ronen climbing up the tree for the Zip Line

Miriam from LA said, “It was a wonderful experience. The setting is lovely. The retreat center is comfortable, enjoyable, interesting. I loved talking to the young people. They were so open and serious about sharing and being heard. Everything was well planned. The meals were fun and delicious. The staff was efficient and very pleasant. The religious services were meaningful. The Booksteins and the volunteers were very accessible. The talks were interesting. We were observers of the sports events, and that was fun. We want to help in any way we can to make more Shabbatons/Retreats successful.”

Shloyme, an artist and businessman from LA told us, “It’s was so Amazing, Relaxing and got me closer to nature H’Shem and to some people in my community.”

Shante from Tarzana, “One of the most amazing Shabbaton I have ever been to. There was so many different activities at all times. All the staff were really helpful and friendly. The accommodations were great as well. “

Esther, who met her husband on the retreat, told us, “I’m blown away by the positive energy I experienced. Such wonderful people.”

Archery? Yes, archery!

An anonymous participant said, “I had a blast!! Literally the time of my life!”

Judy from LA said, “Expected a relaxing, fun event. The program far surpassed my expectations. It was INCREDIBLE!

Ronen, originally from NY, now in LA, said, “It was a very fun and beautiful experience. I enjoyed all the activities, the people who were there, the atmosphere. All in all it was a really great time. Now that I am back to LA it feels a little weird, however I realize even more that I want to marry a girl who has a strong connection and understanding of Judaism.”

Saar, who came from San Jose, told us, “It was incredible meeting everyone at camp and engaging with them even though I knew only one person prior to coming. I enjoyed having a plethora of activities to chose from at every point in the day. Hope to come to future camps like this.”

Yoga with Yogi Marcus

A participant from Irvine, “I had the best experience of my life. spiritual, socializing, relaxing, meeting new friends and the activities were awesome, and food was delicious. I enjoy the nature around the camp.”

Julia, from LA, had a lot to say. “I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to attend your wonderful Shabbaton! I enjoyed the incredibly kind, thoughtful new friends I met, the beautiful campus, and the wide range of activities that balanced out our spirituality and athleticism 🙂 I thought it was a wise choice to not limit attendance to Singles — this added a pleasant family atmosphere in which one could get to know others in our community without the relationship label. The table decorations and Shira’s flowers made meal-times sweet, and the smartly-paced schedule gave everyone something to do at each hour of the day.”

Spaces are limited for this program, so people interested should apply ASAP!

For more information visit

Photos by Jonah Light

Lag B’Omer celebrations take place Wednesday evening throughout Los Angeles

Pico Shul and JConnect invite you to celebrate their annual Lag B'Omer bonfire at Dockweiler State Beach on Thursday, May 7. Bring blankets, food and alcohol (no glass bottles) and join this group at 6:30 p.m. for a night of music and fun! Feel free to grab your guitars, tambourines or bongos to take part in the jam sessions. Parking is $15 dollars; if you park along the highway, you risk being towed at 10 p.m. sharp. The exact location of this magical night will be posted on their website on that Thursday afternoon. For more information visit Dockweiler State Beach, 12501 Vista Del Mar, Playa del Rey.

Join Nashuva for their Lag B’Omer Beach Bonfire on Wednesday, May 6 at 7 p.m. There will be BBQ, music and s’mores! Nashuva will provide hot dogs and all the makings for delicious s’mores but you are encouraged to bring other food for the kosher potluck, such as non-dairy appetizers. Also, bring some warm clothes or a blanket and your guitar if you play! Please RSVP to as soon as possible so there are enough hot dogs for all. This night is for everybody so invite your family and friends! For more information visit Dockweiler State Beach between lifeguard stations 52 and 53, Playa del Rey.

The Lag B’Omer Jewish Unity Concert is on Thursday, May 7 starting at 10:30 a.m. with performances by The 8th Day and The Twins from France. General admission tickets are $16. For school group reservations, call (310) 208-7511. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W Eighth Street, Los Angeles.

The Chabad of Pasadena is having a Lag B’Omer BBQ on Thursday, May 7 at 5 p.m. There will be a moonbounce, a bonfire, music and BBQ of course! This will be fun for the whole family. It is $10/person or $40/family. For more information, visit or call (626) 564-8820. 1090 East Walnut Street, Pasadena.

Chabad Israel Center is hosting a bonfire at Dockweiler Beach on Wednesday, May 6 at 6 p.m. until the beach closes at 10 p.m. There will be a BBQ with steaks, burgers and much more! For more information visit or call (310) 271-6193. Dockweiler State Beach, 12000 Vista del Mar, Playa del Rey.

Join the Chabad of Studio City on Wednesday, May 6 at 4:30 for an evening of BBQ and relay races with Rachel Victor! There will be several different competitive games including a mummy wrap and potato sack race. For more information visit or call (818) 508-6633.

Celebrate Lag B’Omer at Robertson Art Space on Thursday, May 7 from 6-9 p.m. There will be a fire pit to enjoy and vegetarian food for purchase. In the main space there will be a showcase of local songwriters featuring Josh Warshawsky, Brock Pollock and Kira Rappaport & Jennifer Paskow. There will also be artwork by Hillel Smith, Jared Ross and Ilan Laks. $10 per person. $5 for kids under 10 and kids 2 and under are free admission. For more information visit or call (424) 245-4011. 1020 S Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles.

Join the Jewish Community Center on Thursday, May 7 at 5 p.m. for an evening of fun, food, music and entertainment in Hermosa Beach. This event will feature a Bonfire and Drum Circle! For more information call (310) 214-4999. 2521 Valley Drive, Hermosa Beach.

Kol Tikvah invites all families to join for a Shabbat service with live music and a Lag B’Omer celebration on Friday, May 8 at 6:30 p.m. There will be socializing, coffee and sweet treats following the service. For more information visit or call (818) 348-0670. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Join the Kabbalah Centre Los Angeles on Wednesday May 6 for a full night of celebrating Lag B’Omer. This is an adult friendly experience where many students gather at Kabbalah Centres around the world, making it a meaningful and global experience. Doors will open at 10:30 p.m. and the event will conclude at 4 a.m. Tickets are $25, teens ages 12-17 are free. For more information visit or call (310) 657-5404. 1062 S Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles.

Building Our Mishkan: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

The ancient sages teach us that the Torah is exceedingly careful with language. No phrase is superfluous. Each word or letter is part of the intricate unfolding mysteries concentrated in the Torah.

In Parshat Terumah, a few chapters ago, we read about the entire construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which the Jewish people used as a sanctuary during their journey from Egypt. So it comes as a major surprise in this week’s double parasha of Vayakhel-Pekudei that the Torah repeats the elaborate construction of the Mishkan. If the Torah is so particular with words, how is it possible that we repeat everything again just a few chapters later? Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Hakohen Pam, the great 20th century sage, asked this question and offers a beautiful insight into human nature.

The first time that the God lays out the intricate plans for the Mishkan the Hebrew reads, “And you shall make.” In the second recounting of the construction of the Mishkan, in our parasha, the Torah says, “And he made.”

Each Rosh Hashanah, every New Year, during times of great inspiration and creativity, or periods of searching and isolation, we dream up plans. In our minds we can see how this will all work out. We are going to change our lives for the better in myriad ways. We are going to launch a new and prosperous venture. We are determined to learn, to do, or explore. But so often these dreams and grand plans never come to fruition.

What is one of the common reasons that these plans don’t come about? It is not that we are too unrealistic, or that our ideas lack merit. Rather, all too often it is because we were unable to follow through with these plans. Grand plans happen one step at a time, but it is often difficult — each step may be a hurdle to overcome.

The intricate vision of the Mishkan in Parasha Terumah inspired the Jewish people to build it. The solid metal footings of the beams formed the base of the exterior walls. Fine gold handiwork fashioned the menorah. The intricate woven patterns on the tapestries and the clothes worn by the High Priest during the service were made to exacting standards. The entire vision took many hands, many hours and likely many mishaps along the way.

The recounting of the Mishkan here in Parasha Vayakhel-Pekudei, reminds us that to get from point A to point Z there are many stops in between. It is important that we make great plans, and to follow through with these plans requires us to take small steps at times and involve many people.

When making plans that involve the future of Jewish community, we cannot hope for a quick fix, but rather addressing all needs of a disappearing generation of young people will require a concentrated effort of many hands, many hours and a vision of what can be achieved. It will require the construction of a contemporary Mishkan that binds young Jewish people together and to the Jewish future.

Yonah Bookstein is the executive rabbi of JConnect and founded Jewlicious Festivals ( in 2005 as a gathering place for young Jews of Southern California. Jewlicious Festival 9 takes place this weekend at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Rabbi Bookstein is also the author of “Prayers for Israel” and conducts seminars internationally about solving the problems affecting young Jewish adults.

Neither rain nor snow keeps Jewlicious from its appointed sounds

Matisyahu performs every year at Jewlicious, the three-day Jewish learning and music weekend that takes place at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach and this year drew some 900 college students and young professionals. 

A friend to JConnect, which organizes the event with Beach Hillel, the Chassidic reggae star has a habit of drawing his audience into his feverish musical frenzy. He did so again this year, but this time, due to snow, he was stuck in a hotel in Canada, while his guitarist was on stage at the Long Beach JCC. Didn’t matter — he Skyped in his performance.

Although the Internet connection cut off several times, the audience was patient and enjoyed the tangential conversations Matisyahu had with friends in the crowd. In what was perhaps the most exhilarating moment of the show, Matisyahu beat-boxed while hip-hop artist Kosha Dillz rapped on stage at the JCC, the two somehow keeping in time with one another.

“Make noise for Skype!” festival director Rabbi Yonah Bookstein said afterward, and the audience actually did. 

There was a lot to cheer about all weekend. Now in its seventh year, Jewlicious uses the Coachella Music and Arts Festival as inspiration, offering an extensive lineup of talent and places for attendees to sleep overnight. Organizers keep the recession economy in mind, offering reasonable ticket prices for students — $40 to $50 for full-time undergraduates, which covers all three days as well as meals — and they aim for inclusivity for Jews of all denominations. 

“Always, our goal was to be able to draw all parts of the Jewish world,”  Bookstein said. “We want it to be a weekend where your political, religious or ethnic background is not a barrier for participation.”

Matisyahu’s wife, Tahlia Miller, a speaker at this year’s festival — she has been involved with Jewlicious the past six years — noted that this year’s festival drew a greater number of less-observant Jews than in previous years.

“I think it’s great because it means that the festival … appeal[s] to a wider audience of college students,” she said.

Live comedy is always an component of Jewlicious, and this year, Randy and Jason Sklar, the sibling performing duo known as the Sklar Brothers, headlined on Saturday night.

“Every time we tell a joke, a tree is planted in Israel,” was among their lines in a 30-minute set. Fools Gold, Soulfarm, Aharit Hayamim and Kosha Dillz were among the musical acts performing between 9:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. on Saturday night. Fools Gold, a five-piece band from Los Angeles, combined lengthy guitar and percussion jams with Hebrew and English lyrics, rousing the crowd into a dance circle, with couples taking turns venturing into the middle.

“That movement is just what we’re looking for,” said lead singer Luke Top. “In other words, you guys have good taste.”

Attendees came from as far away as Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Louisville, Kentucky. 

Larry Forman, 23, a law student at the University of Louisville,  had his trip paid for by the Jewish Federation chapter in Kentucky.

“This is like a mini Israel community,” Forman, who lived in Israel for 10 years, said.

Other colleges represented at the festival were Occidental College and University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).

“A lot of my experiences going to other big Jewish events when I was in BBYO … made me look forward to this,” said Jessica Grenader, a sophomore at Occidental. “It has paid off. I’m so glad I came.”

The folk rock band Moshav played an acoustic set on Sunday afternoon, as UNLV students and members of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi hung out in the sun by the JCC pool and scarfed barbecued hot dogs. David Bayley, 24, who is studying hotel management and enjoyed playing basketball much of the weekend in the JCC gym, had driven in from Las Vegas.

The festival wasn’t all hot dogs in the sun, though. On Saturday, Matthew Mausner, editor-in-chief of the New Jerusalem Talmud, an online Wiki-type site for controversial social and political topics, such as assimilation, or what to do in Afghanistan, led a discussion about the recent revolution in Egypt and the unrest in Libya.

Activism and politics were in the mix elsewhere, as well. In the JCC’s long main hallway, pro-Israel organization Stand With Us and Livnot U’Lehibanot, which offers one-week volunteer-oriented trips and four- to six-week fellowships in Israel, were just two of the several organizations with information tables. Even Jewish Free Loan Association was there, trying to get the word out about its student loan programs.

At the booth for Repair the World, which promotes Jewish volunteer service and social action, Max Patera, 23, an information technology student at California State University, Channel Islands, asked about overseas volunteer opportunities.

It was Patera’s fifth Jewlicious. “It’s different every year,” he said. “This year, I came with someone who isn’t Jewish. It’s been interesting introducing him to all these Jewish concepts.”

No Jewlicious is complete without a Shabbat celebration, and though the weather was cold and drizzly on Saturday night, that didn’t stop a crowd from dancing and singing outside for a musical Havdalah jam.

Still, whatever the performers and programming, many said they came to Jewlicious for one reason — to meet other people and reconnect with old friends.

I’ve “run into people I haven’t seen forever,” said Evan Fordon, 24, who lives in Los Angeles and works with the autistic. “That’s what’s cool about [being here].”

Rabbi Now Connects L.A.’s Young Jews

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein knows how to excite Jewish youth. He’s been the guiding light behind the annual Jewlicious Festivals in Long Beach, which bring together youth from all denominations to celebrate their spirituality with raucous concerts mixed with some serious learning; he’s been a highly popular campus rabbi at Cal State University Long Beach Hillel, and now, he’s just moved to Los Angeles to head up JconnectLA, which presents social events for young Jews. Bookstein (or Rabbi Yo, as he’s known to his followers) and his wife Rachel have also worked hard on behalf of Jews living in Poland. He talked with The Journal recently about what being a rabbi at JconnectLA means to him.

Jewish Journal: It’s no secret that JconnectLA is primarily a social organization. What’s a rabbi doing there?
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein: I am not a typical rabbi. I see myself available to any young Jew who doesn’t have a rabbi, whatever their denomination or background. I feel, personally, that we have a desire to connect with other Jews and to connect with Jewish things. I don’t mean bagels and lox, I mean something deeper than that. I see my role as helping Jewish people connect.

JJ: Why is JconnectLA important to the Los Angeles community?
YB: The statistics show that young Jews in Los Angeles are one of the most unaffiliated groups of young Jews in the country. In L.A. there are more than 10,000 people who have been on Birthright, and those are old statistics. You’re talking thousands of Jews in L.A., and most of them are not connected to a synagogue or to Jewish groups. Hopefully they have some Jewish friends, but I think that for young Jews to really fulfill themselves they can have a great time connecting with other Jews.

JJ: Why should people come to JconnectLA instead of going to synagogue?
YB: We aren’t trying to replace synagogues. We are trying to be a place where people can come together and expand their Jewish horizons socially and culturally. JconnectLA is a place where people who don’t have a home in the Jewish community are accepted and feel at home. The Jewish Federation has done a study where they invested thousands of dollars into trying to figure out how to keep the next generation of Jews Jewish. Before JconnectLA started, young Jews in L.A. didn’t have so many options of stuff to do, and they didn’t want to go to a synagogue for a mixer.

JJ: You have been working with young Jews for a number of years, first at a college campus and now with young professionals. How would you characterize the current generation?
YB: Young professionals in L.A. are looking for a meaningful Jewish experience, but on their own terms. Whereas, sometimes I felt college students would put being Jewish as maybe the last thing on their agenda, young professionals are looking back to see what’s in the Jewish community for them, and the unfortunate thing is that there’s not very much. They want to carve out something new for themselves — a customized Jewish identity.

JJ: You work with Jews at an age when most of them are dating or looking to marry. You and your wife have been open about the fact that you were shomer negiyah [halachically observant, including not touching] before you were married. How do you reconcile your Jewish values about dating with the reality of raging hormones?
YB: I want young Jews to meet, date, fall in love and get married.  My favorite part of my job is doing weddings. I don’t tell people what to do unless they ask me for advice. I am not going to tell somebody who grew up Reform, don’t hug and kiss. They are going to look at me like I’m from Mars. What I like about my background is that I didn’t grow up Orthodox.

JJ: I have read that your wife, Rachel, shocked students at Long Beach when she was candid answering questions about sex. What’s the best relationship advice you have for people in their 20s and 30s? 
YB: You know, it is interesting. When do people call rabbis? When someone dies or is getting married. Judaism is very sex positive, but also believes that sex is holy. To fulfill yourself sexually and to have a great sex life, you need to respect it. It is just like having self-respect. I see a lot of couples who are acting as husband and wife and haven’t really made a commitment to each other. When people have a commitment together they connect deeper and have a better intimate life.

JJ: What kind of impact do you hope JconnectLA has on the people involved? 
YB: We want to be a unifying force in the Jewish community. If I had a vision, it would be that every young Jew in L.A. is connected to something Jewish. You don’t have to leave your Jewish star at the door. You could live an exciting, fun life and live an exciting, fun Jewish life as well. They’re not a contradiction.

JJ: Is there anything else you want to add?
YB: My home is going to be open to people for events and Shabbat dinners. I am available 24/6 online through instant messaging, Facebook and my blogs. I look forward to connecting with as many young Jews as I can in Los Angeles. I’m really excited.