Jewish summer camps: Director’s cut

At age 8, when Molly Hott stepped off the bus to complete her first summer of overnight camp, she told her parents she was going to “do this forever.”

She wasn’t kidding. Hott spent the next 14 years of her life as a camper, waitress, bunk counselor, group leader, events specialist and division head. As a college student, she pursued an independent study on camp programming and camp’s influence on children. Now, she is director of the 92nd Street Y’s Passport NYC camp in New York.

To fully understand the Jewish summer camp experience, it’s helpful to listen to directors like Hott—whose own camp experiences shaped their lives and careers. Why do camp directors do what they do?

“I do what I do because I have the chance to change lives, positively,” Hott told JointMedia News Service. “The impact that camp can have on a child or a teen is significant. You discover yourself at camp. I hope that summer after summer I can enable that same discovery for others.”

Many Jewish camps offer traditional activities such as field sports, aquatics, drama, arts and crafts, outdoor adventure, nature, sports, music, Israeli dance and culture, field trips, playground, swim lessons, photography, and cooking. But under this umbrella of fun are deeper things.

Take Passport NYC’s mission. It provides teens entering 9th through 12th grades opportunities to explore culture, community, and creativity through Jewish values-driven specialty camps: fashion, film, culinary arts, music industry and musical theater. Hott said teens are encouraged to explore their personal connection to Judaism while immersing themselves in the camp’s programs.

“They explore New York City through a Jewish lens by framing each and every experience in a way that leads to asking ‘why’ or ‘what’ or ‘how,’” she said. “When our group visits ‘Top of the Rock’ at Rockefeller Center, they receive two pieces of paper with Talmudic quotes. The piece of paper in their right pocket says, ‘The world is created for me,’ and the one in the left pocket says, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ The focus of this experience is to find balance in our lives.”

Hott added that each teen has the opportunity to earn up to 30 hours of community service credit by giving back throughout different areas in New York City.

Like Hott, Stacy Budkofsky, director at the Neil Klatskin Day Camp in Tenafly, NJ, has been a camper all her life.

“When I was younger I started as the youngest camper and left as the head of the girls’ camp at Tranquility Camp in upstate New York,” she told JointMedia News Service. “The motto in the camp world is 10 for 2, which means we live ten months out of the year for the two months of camp. There’s a lot of planning that goes into the eight weeks of camp.”

The Neil Klatskin Day Camp, Budkofsky said, is a place for a child to have fun while maturing through interactions with others. Staff members create a “communal group” where campers and staff participate to provide experiences that challenge the body, mind and imagination. Parents can expect campers to progress, not only through physical activities like swimming and soccer, but in the realms of social and emotional growth, according to Budkofsky.

“Children spend 10 months out of the year in a school setting and there are opportunities for socialization but they are different than what we provide at camp,” she said. “At camp it’s a much more social environment. They are not sitting at a desk all day. There’s a lot of team building and more freedom than in school.”

According to Mallory Saks, assistant director at Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village, Penn., staffers have been enriching the lives of campers for over 60 years. During that time, the camp evolved into one of the premier Jewish overnight camps in the U.S.

“We are very proud of all of our amazing traditions, beautiful facility, dedicated staff, core Jewish values, and incredible culture,“ Saks told JointMedia News Service. “We offer a wide variety of athletic, waterfront and arts programs for campers in second through eleventh grades.“

Mallory Saks, assistant director at Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village, Penn., said this Jewish overnight camp unique because it has two separate camps—Poyntelle and Lewis Village. Second through 7th grade campers live at Poyntelle and engage in age-appropriate activities and programs there, and 8th through 11th grade campers live at Lewis Village, where activities and programs are more challenging and appropriate for teenagers.

“We function as one whole camp during special times like Shabbat,” Saks told JointMedia News Service. “We do our best to continue our relationship with our campers long after they leave the gates of their summer home.” 

How has the camp industry changed over the years? Phil Liebson knows. His best memories and friends are from growing up at camp. Today, he is director at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center’s summer camps.

“When you work with kids and they experience or complete things, their happiness is amazing and it hits you,” Liebson told JointMedia News Service. “Camp is an ever-changing environment. Years ago there was a push to keep camp rustic and outdoors and now they have transitioned into electronics and specialty camps. It’s great. Every kid should get to go to camp but not every camp is for every kid. When you find the one that fits your child you will know.”

Liebson’s camp integrates Jewish learning and Jewish living by incorporating Judaism through song and activities.

“We like to make it fun and exciting and not in a top down or lecturing way,” he said. “Learning through games or art projects is the best way for kids to learn and they have so much fun with it they don’t even know they are learning.”

Liebson said he is a Jewish camp director because he wants to “provide the same experiences for future campers” that he had as a camper himself. The same is true for Passport NYC’s Hott.

“I had been given the greatest experiences, friendships, community and love of myself through my summer camp opportunities—and I had to do that for others,” she said.

The Bittersweet Meaning of Mud


I had been waiting seven years, and my machon summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai was finally here. It would be different from every other summer, because we would finally be the oldest group, and camp domination would be ours. I knew it would be bittersweet, and I looked forward to making every moment of this incredible summer count.

Natalie KatzThere is one program in particular that embodies all of the emotionalism and meaning of machon summer: Tza’adah. Tza’adah is a five-day, four-night overnight trip that takes campers far from the boundaries of camp and into the nature of Northern California, where we bond with friends, while experiencing the outdoors. I was a little skeptical about not showering for five days, but before I knew it, the day finally came — we were ready to embark on a wild adventure.
We drove for what felt like a lifetime to Big Sur in Northern California. The next morning, we had our first day — and only day — in Big Sur. The morning started with a bowl of Rice Krispies and some scrambled eggs. Following breakfast, we were given the choice between a hard, medium or easy hike.

Assuming the hard hike was going to be well, hard, I set off with the rest of the adventurous campers on the hard hike. We trekked all the way up a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, singing songs to pass then time and admiring the scenery.

We walked along the beach and came to an astounding discovery. Earlier that day, a beached whale had died and was now lying on the sand. Staring with amazement at the gargantuan creature, we developed one of the verses of our machon song, “This Tza’adah of Mine,” sung to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Later that evening, after arriving at Lake Casitas, our campsite for the next three nights, we sat around the bonfire and sang cliched camp songs, aided by packets of the best songs hand selected by our wonderful counselors. We could all sing along and learn the words. I will keep the songbook forever as a memento of this journey.

The next day, we took a bus to a beautiful beach. As my two friends and I were walking along the shore, we found a rock shaped like a heart. We took it with us, promising to start a new tradition of passing the rock, along with a letter, among us so we can keep in touch after camp.

The last day, we were given a choice between kayaking, rock-climbing and mountain-biking. I chose kayaking.

The group leader gave us the task of fitting as many people in one kayak as possible without it tipping over. This may not seem to be difficult, but it was unbelievably hilarious and so hard! Try to imagine people laughing hysterically while squeezing their way onto a little kayak. Meanwhile, it’s sinking, and we’re desperately trying not to tip it over.

I was sitting near the front, and after the ninth or 10th person climbed on, the kayak flipped over. Everyone fell in the water — and to top off a perfect day, the water was the perfect temperature.

Then we had one last task: To stand up straight on the kayak and paddle it like a gondola in Venice. I succeeded after falling in a couple of times!
Tza’adah had finally come to a close, but we were not going to finish without a huge hurrah. As is tradition at Camp Ramah, the machon campers run into the chadar ochel, the dining hall, at the end of lunch, giving mud hugs to friends and family. On our last day, we trudged eight miles back to camp from Lake Casitas, singing, laughing and stopping for POWERade along the way, a necessity in the sweltering heat.

We finally got to camp, jumped in the mud pit and got ready to run into the chadar. I will especially remember being the first to do a belly flop in the mud.

Once everyone was finished getting muddy, we formed platoons and began to march to the chadar. The platoons lined up at different entrances. I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.

The counselors yelled, “Charge!” and we sprinted for the doors. It was complete pandemonium inside. I ran around yelling, cheering and giving mud hugs to all my friends, making sure to squeeze extra tight to ensure they were truly covered in mud.

Looking back
is so hard, because I know I will never again have the chance to run through the dinning hall covered in mud. Tza’adah defined my camp experience, and I know that even though I will never be a camper again, the memories I created this summer will last forever.

Natalie Katz, a 10th-grader from Manhattan Beach, has attended Camp Ramah for seven years.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15; Deadline for the Ocotber issue is Sept. 15. Send submissions to

Israelis Bring Situation Close to Home for Campers

When news of Israel filters through to Camp Hess Kramer, the kids do what is only natural — they turn to the Israelis who are spending the summer with them to make sense of what they’re hearing, and to bring it home in a way that is intensely personal.

“Because my campers know actual Israelis, they can make that connection in a way that they can’t by just reading a news story or going through an intellectual exercise,” said Doug Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Camps, which includes Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop, both in Malibu.

Like most camps, Hess Kramer, has a staff of Israelis who work as counselors and educators. This summer, 1,400 Israelis, most of them between the ages of 19 and 22, are staffing 200 Jewish day and sleep-away camps, according the Jewish Agency, which coordinates the stays.

Some Counselors Return to Israel

While no Israeli staffers have been called to active duty while already here for the summer, several who were close friends or family members of bombing victims went back to Israel.

In a normal summer, the Israeli staff’s mission is to bring Israel closer to the kids, and that has become more powerful this summer, as rockets rain down on Haifa in Israel’s north and pound Sderot in the south.

The Jewish Agency has been offering the shlichim, or Israel emissaries, programming ideas to help the kids understand the situation, and camps have modified and developed their own programs.

At Hess Kramer, kids took the opportunity to learn about the wider conflict in Israel and engage in informal conversations with Israeli staffers. At Camp Ramah in Ojai and at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, campers recited psalms and wrote letters to Israeli children in areas that were being attacked, an effort coordinated by The Jewish Federation. Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss will deliver the letters in Israel this week.

Younger campers can use the opportunity to talk about emergency preparedness, and in that way relate to Israeli children in bomb shelters, said Ariella Feldman, who coordinates Israeli volunteers for the Jewish Agency. Older children can dissect the intricacies of conflict resolution, on a personal level and on a magnified national level.

Anxiety Affects Campers, Too

But beyond these formal opportunities, it is simply feeling the anxiety and commitment of the young Israelis in camp that is affecting the campers.
At Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, the assistant director is from Haifa, and his mother flew in for the summer to be camp mom. The program director, a fighter pilot in the Israeli army, was supposed to arrive this week but was called up for duty. The camp has about 20 Israelis, including staff and some children.
The camps are all focused on providing comfort and support to the Israelis who are summering with them. Many are young and fresh off — or in the middle of — their own military duty, and have friends and siblings being called up to fight. Most know they will likely be called up when they get back to Israel.

Camps, normally stingy on allowing phone calls and access to electronic media, have allowed Israelis constant access to news and phone calls to Israel. Some camps have purchased phone cards for their Israeli staff.

Still, the Israeli counselors feel torn about where they are.

“Their families are under house arrest, they are stocking up on food, they are under attack — and they are here at camp,” said Feldman of the Jewish Agency.
Aside from the moral support they are getting from American campers, what is helping the Israelis is that this summer, the mission to educate and to personally touch American kids is even more vital.

“They are vacillating between feeling guilty about being here, and really understanding on a deep level why they are here,” Lynn said. “They are making these connections with Reform Jewish kids in a way that cannot be done unless they are here, so they are recognizing that at times likes these, their job here is even more important.”

Class Notes

Get Packing
It was weeks before camp started, but on Sunday, June 11, Gear Up for Camp Day brought 1,700 people — including 500 campers and their families — to The Federation’s Camp Max Straus, run by Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Campers filled laundry bags with camp necessities — sunscreen, T-shirts, hats, socks, towels — most donated by local businesses. Federation staff and volunteers, as well as staff from Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Camp Max Straus, helped distribute the goods.

This was the first time the event was held at the nonsectarian overnight camp in Glendale, giving parents a chance to see where their kids would spend the summer. The day also featured carnival rides, live entertainment and food.

The Federation is helping 1,100 underprivileged kids go to camp this summer, including those who will attend Max Straus — which offers one- and two-week stays to at-risk youth from the L.A. area — and some Jewish children, mostly immigrants from Iran and Russia, who will attend Jewish camps on Federation scholarships.

For more information, call (323) 761-8320.

Arts in L.A. Gets a Push
Arts Education in L.A.-area public schools is getting a boost from the Jewish community, as the Jewish Community Foundation and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation recently announced support for Los Angeles County’s Arts for All initiative. Adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2002, Arts for All seeks to restore arts education slashed with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

The Jewish Community Foundation, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, launched the Arts in Schools Giving Circle to try to raise $100,000 from individual donors by the end of 2006.

The Giving Circle hopes to provide matching grants to fund more than 150 arts residency programs serving approximately 4,000 K-12th grade students in 14 Los Angeles County public schools.

Seeded by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Giving Circle is the first opportunity for individual donors to participate in the Arts for All Pooled Fund, a consortium of foundations and corporations.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation announced a $100,000 gift to the Pooled Fund in May. Of this, $50,000 will support the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District’s plan over the next three years to hire an arts coordinator and to develop arts curriculum and arts education training for district teachers. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation supports initiatives involving healthcare, access to college, Jewish programs in Los Angeles, and established a chair in Israel studies at UCLA.

For further information about the JCF Giving Circle, call program officer Amelia Xann at (323) 761-8714 or For information on the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, call (310) 449-4500. For information on Arts for All, visit

Birthright Reaches 100,000
This month, the 100,000th 18- to 26-year-old will participate in a free, educational trip to Israel, thanks to Taglit-Birthright, a 6-year-old program supported by United Jewish Communities, the Israeli government and 14 philanthropists.

Internal research has shown that the program is meeting its goals of solidifying participant’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel, and has also generated more than $182 million in revenue for the Israeli economy.

But the program might be a victim of its own success: This summer, 15,000 applicants were turned away, when a record 25,000 youth applied for just 12,000 spots.

For information, call (888) 994-7723 or visit

Teens on the Beltway
Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue in Brentwood accompanied the synagogue’s confirmation class to Washington D.C., to participate in the L’Taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism last month.

The study and action program was attended by 250 students, who culminated the conference by meeting with congressional staffers to advocate on behalf of issues such as Darfur, immigration and the death penalty.

Also attending were teens from Temple Beth Torah of Ventura, Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Israel of Hollywood.


Fleeing Nazis Breaks His Father’s Spirit

My father, rarely impetuous, married my much younger mother when he was 46, and he was 49 when I was born.

When I was a toddler and we went occasionally together to the Berlin zoo, people came up and congratulated my father on his cute grandson. So there was this age gap, to begin with. We went on vacations together to a Baltic Sea resort or Denmark, but we never kicked a soccer ball around (who knew about baseball?).

My father, Dr. Gustav Tugendreich, was a well-known pediatrician and a pioneer in infant health care who had served as a frontline medical officer for four years in the Kaiser’s army during World War I.

He was profoundly steeped in German culture, could probably recite most of Goethe’s and Schiller’s works by heart and was an enthusiastic classical music buff.

As in most upper-class German Jewish families, the upbringing of my older sister and I was left largely in the hands of a devoted governess.

Typical of the time and class, my parents were completely assimilated, much more so than American Jews of that era. My earliest recollection of any religious rite was standing around the Christmas tree with the servants and singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”).

Yet, my father’s assimilation had its limits. When he was offered the directorship of the Berlin municipal hospital, on condition that he convert to Christianity, he refused.

Everything, of course, changed in 1933, when Hitler came to power — but only gradually. First, my father could no longer treat his “Aryan” patients. Then our beloved governess had to leave under a new law that no Aryan woman under 45 could work in a Jewish household.

For me, living in cosmopolitan Berlin, the change was hardly noticeable. I had gone to a private Montessori school, so didn’t have to switch. Now I was sent to a suburban Jewish boarding school, where I had the time of my life, the best teachers I have ever known and lived in Albert Einstein’s summer home, which he had donated to the boarding school.

In the beginning of the Nazi era, my father, thanks to his international reputation, was offered various positions abroad, including, oddly enough, at the main hospital in Tehran, but he couldn’t conceive of leaving Germany. Like many old-time German Jews, he looked on Hitler as a temporary aberration, which the good sense of the German people would soon reverse.

We still spent our family vacations abroad, the only prolonged stretches of time I recall with my father.

It’s odd what sticks in your mind. In 1935 or 1936, we vacationed on the idyllic Danish island of Bornholm, staying at a boarding house. One morning, a German man and his family arrived, and when the Danish host tried to introduce him to my father at the breakfast table, the German bowed briefly and stiffly but did not shake hands. My father responded in kind.

What puzzled me at the time was why the German wouldn’t shake hands, and later, how he knew immediately that we were Jews.

Finally, in 1937, two years after the Nuremberg laws consigned all Jews to third-class status, my father reluctantly agreed that it was time to leave. As in most families faced with life-changing decisions, it was my mother who was the more flexible, resolute and pragmatic.

But by now, all potential countries of refuge had pretty well closed their borders, and there was a line stretching ahead for years to get an American visa.

We were saved, in retrospect, by one of those odd happenstances that determine our lives.

Back in 1919, British and American Quakers sent missions to defeated Germany to help feed its hungry children, and my father was appointed liaison to the Quakers by the German government. Now my father recalled the brief relationship and tracked down the Quakers.

By a quirk of the U.S. immigration laws, academicians who had taught at a foreign university before emigration, and were guaranteed a one-year position at an American college, were granted a “nonquota” visa and skipped the immigration line.

Though my father had never been a professor, the British and American Quakers went to work and arranged a lectureship in public health, first at the University of London, and then at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia.

So it was decided that my father would go ahead, spend 1937-38 in London and 1938-39 at Bryn Mawr, at which time the rest of the family would join him.

My mother was then head of the German WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) and reluctant to leave her post, and, anyhow, what was the hurry? Everybody in Germany knew that Hitler was so shrewd that he would get what he wanted without a war, and of course, anything like a Holocaust was beyond imagination.

My father was always a bit of a worrywart, and I clearly remember how we chuckled over his increasingly urgent letters, especially after the 1938 Munich pact, begging us to forget about bringing the furniture and money and come to America right away.

So we took our time and left flag-bedecked Berlin in style on April 20, 1939 — Hitler’s 50th birthday — flying from Tempelhof Airport to London, and then traveling on a German passenger ship from Southampton to New York, arriving in the middle of May.

We were met at the harbor by my father and some old Berlin friends (I believe we skipped Ellis Island), but I have no emotional recollection of the reunion.

I do remember that a few weeks later, the reunited family left for a couple of weeks for New Hampshire’s scenic White Mountains. There the Quakers had set up a camp with young American counselors to introduce the new refugees, mainly Jewish, to the native customs of their new country.

One lesson was that after each meal, the assorted ex-professors, doctors and lawyers and their wives and children had to bus and clean their own dishes. You have to know the ingrained European class distinctions to realize what an absolute shock this request represented.

My father, who had a great sense of humor, laughed the whole thing off and complied readily. But as I was carrying my dishes, an elderly refugee came up to me to express his shame and horror that the son of Herr Doctor would be asked to perform so menial a task.

Of course, the “yekkes” — German Jews — who arrived in Palestine in the 1930s had to undergo similar adjustments but perhaps with less sympathy from the old-time inhabitants.

Three months after that experience, and to my immense astonishment, Hitler invaded Poland, and World War II was under way.

My father tried hard but unsuccessfully to overcome his heavy Teutonic accent, but, in truth, the forced emigration had broken his heart and spirit. After his Bryn Mawr lectureship expired, he was too old, too ill and too weary to start from the beginning and try to study for an American medical license.

I was then a pimply teenager, completely self-centered, trying to cope with a new culture and language. I was of little help and solace to my father and happily enlisted in the U.S. Army as my first chance to get away.

My father died in 1948 at the age of 71. I recently received a very polite letter from the German Association of Pediatricians, mentioning my father’s name and expressing remorse for the treatment of Jewish physicians by their Aryan colleagues during the Nazi era.

It was a little too late.



We Love Israel

Come Party With The Jewish Journal at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7. Answer the Kein v’Lo question on a separate sheet of paper, attach the completed entry form and bring it to our booth at Woodley Park, which will open at 10 a.m. Every family that turns in a completed answer will get a prize, but the first 10 families will get four tickets each for the upcoming “Sesame Street Live” shows at either the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza or the Terrace Theater in Long Beach. (Tickets to each location are limited — so first come, first serve. Limit one prize per family.) For more information on the festival, click on yeLAdim at

Kein v’ Lo:

Summer Camp

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about camps. Should Jewish kids go to Jewish camps or other kinds of camps?

The Kein Side:

• Studies have shown that going to a Jewish camp — either a day camp or for overnight camp — increases kids’ connection to Judaism and the Jewish community, regardless of their background.

• Jewish camps have the backing of synagogues, schools and — sometimes — entire religious movements, so you and your parents can trust that you’ll be safe and learn interesting things. (You also won’t spend all day hiking in the woods, eating bugs and sleeping on rocks.)

• At these camps, you learn fun and important Jewish things, like songs, rituals and prayers that you might not at school or anywhere else.

• It’s fun to find a way to be Jewish WITHOUT your parents around.

The Lo Side:

• It is important for kids to become well-rounded by making friends of different backgrounds, races and religions, which can happen at a non-Jewish camp.

• Not everyone is comfortable being religious at a summer camp.

• It’s fun to do other things when you go to a camp. You can learn about religion at home and in the synagogue.

• If you love sports, performing arts or science, there are camps that spend the entire summer on one subject, so you can learn a lot while having fun.

We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Attach this completed form with your answer on a separate sheet of paper.

Name: _____________________________________________________________

Age: ________________________________________________________________

School: _____________________________________________________________

Grade: _______________________________________________________________

Phone Number: _____________________________________________________

E-mail: ___________________________________________________________

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim. And whether you’re heading to day camp or overnight camp — yeLAdim wishes you a rockin’ summer!

Reach Out and Touch Faith


When Elizabeth Cobrin goes to Israel this winter break with Birthright Israel, she and her friends have devised a plan to find each other when participants in all the different Birthright trips get together.

They are going to sing their camp songs really, really loudly, until they hear each other and can sing together.

Remembering the songs won’t be hard, since Cobrin will spend a week before she goes to Israel in Winter Camp at JCA Shalom in Malibu, her summer home for five years.

Cobrin, a freshman at CSUN, says that her experience at camp, from camper to counselor, has been central to her Jewish identity, and that it stays with her year-round.

“Now that I am a counselor and I’m teaching kids about Judaism and can influence them, it is an even more central part of camp for me,” Cobrin said.

For many kids and counselors who attend Jewish summer camps, these winter months bring a Diasporic separation from a source of spiritual and social life. Camp gives a 21st century context to Judaism, cements Jewish identity and perhaps, most importantly, introduces children to lifelong friends, colleagues and even future spouses.

E-mail, instant messaging and weekend cell phone minutes now play the role that stationery and stamps used to in sustaining relationships. Many camps hold weekend reunions or winter camps, and, of course, some campers return together as counselors to continue spending summers on the same hallowed grounds.

The trick seems to be to weave the threads of camp life into the cloth of daily existence. Jill Zuckerman Powell, director of admissions at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, has no trouble keeping in touch with her friends from Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley more than 30 years ago.

“I’m related to them!” she laughs, explaining that her husband, brother-in-law, pediatrician and veterinarian are all camp pals. “I see them all the time, so it’s easy to stay in touch.”

Jewish camps are known to be one of the best tools of a Jewish education, with their emphasis on multidimensional teaching of values, Hebrew language, culture and religious customs. Young Judaea, a Zionistic youth organization with six camps across the United States, reports in a 1998 survey that 59 percent of alumni light Shabbat candles as compared to 20 percent of the whole Jewish community polled in a 1990 National Jewish Population Study.

The Limud Report, a research project conducted by an independent firm concerned with Jewish life at summer camps, found that 85 percent of Jewish camps conduct Friday night services and that campers cite it as the No. 1 source of spiritual and personal satisfaction in the camp experience. Many recall the magical feeling of standing with the entire camp dressed in white for Shabbat, and walking hand in hand to Friday night services.

For Cobrin, Shabbat services are the most powerful factor in building unity among campers.

“My favorite Jewish activity is Havdalah,” she said. “I think that after such a busy week, it is nice to get the whole camp together in one place…. Knowing that [it] could be the first time all week all the age groups are together and participating in the same program.”

A former camper notes that whether or not you enjoy services, you are there with everyone else with the single purpose of honoring Shabbat.

But it might be the informal weaving of Judaism into day-to-day activities that provides camp’s most powerful impact. Powell points to Alonim’s dancing, music and games that all have elements of Jewish culture. In this way, the construction of kids’ Jewish identity is not even conscious. It is not until they have time to think about all they have learned in the week or the summer that they notice the change in themselves.

“All my identity as a Jew is through camp. Hebrew school and Sunday school were negative experiences for me, as I think they are for many kids,” Powell said.

She met her husband at camp, has sent her two daughters to camp and recommends the experience for every child.

“I wanted to give my children that love,” Powell said, emphasizing camp’s pivotal role in fostering attachment to a Jewish heritage.

She has a tradition that started when taking her 8-year-old daughter to camp:

“You turn off the radio when you get there. It’s almost a spiritual experience, driving down the road to camp.”

And it is that experience that lives on throughout the year. Even in the darkness of winter, campers reach to reconnect with spiritual roots that lie dormant, knowing that the warmth of summer, though a few months away, never really recedes.


Sweet Days of Summer at Day Camps

Local synagogues, Jewish centers and other cultural organizations are holding day camps throughout the summer months that expose children to Jewish culture, popular culture and even pre-Columbian culture.

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Orange County operates two camps in two different locations that cater to different interests and age groups.

For 2- to 4-year-olds, JCC’s Camp Yeladim offers a playful and creative environment in five sessions, with activities including water play days, cooking, sing-alongs, messy art play, puppet shows, family activities, science, oceanography and Judaic exploration.

Each week, Camp Yeladim has a different theme to help the young children experience the world through travel. The themes are: “Traveling America,” “Traveling and Camping,” “Traveling to Hawaii,” “Traveling to the Circus” and “Traveling and Tasting the World.”

Camp Yeladim is held at the JCC at 250 Baker St., Costa Mesa. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays; half days from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The cost for a week is $350 a for members and $455 for nonmembers, or $240 for members and $315 for nonmembers for three days.

For more information contact Roberta Deutschman at (714) 755-0340, ext. 113.

Camp Haverim for kindgerarten children through ninth grade is offering four weekly summer sessions on the grounds of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine. Younger campers can participate in field trips, overnights, beach and swim days, sports, arts and crafts, music, drama, nature, dance, Jewish theme weeks and Shabbat programs.

The older campers have the same programs, but there will be extra activities, including amusement park outings and camping trips. Campers also may choose a one-week specialty sports or theater camp, where they receive coaching by sports experts or rehearse and perform “The Music Man.”

Camp Haverim’s hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with costs ranging from $240 to $400 for members and $340 to $560 for nonmembers. Kosher lunches, Dippin’ Dots, T-shirts and camp pictures can be purchased for additional fees, and scholarships are available to qualified campers.

For more information call (714) 755-0340 ext. 126 or go to

Silver Gan Israel offers a combination of Jewish life and culture, along with summer activities such as sports, arts and crafts and nature hikes. The camp is offered in two locations: the Hebrew Academy at 14401 Willow Lane, Huntington Beach, and Morasha Jewish Day School, 30482 Avenida de Los Banderas, Rancho Santa Margarita.

Both camps are open to children entering kindergarten through seventh grade and have a counselor-in-training program for students 13 to 18.

The camp’s focus is Jewish heritage and instilling appreciation for Jewish culture. Weekend Shabbatons, Israeli dancing, challah baking, stories and contests will be overseen by Jewish counselors brought to the camp from all over the world.

“All of our counselors come from working with children or in children’s programs within their local Jewish community in different parts of the world,” said co-director, Bassie Marcus. “Jewish spirit and identity is very important to every counselor with Silver Gan Israel.”

About 200 campers are expected to enroll at both locations. The camp schedules three two-week sessions, and campers can attend either all five days or just three days a week. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.

For campers in fourth grade or higher, an overnight and getaway trip to Big Bear in the San Bernardino mountains is offered in early August.

Cost per session is $350 for five days and $260 for three days. There are extra fees for T-shirts, baseball caps and tote bags.

For more information contact Joelle at the Morasha camp office at (949) 770-1270 or Rabbi Yossi Mentz at the Hebrew Academy campus office at (714) 898-0051.

Morasha is also offering a summer camp program for preschool-age children who can attend two-, three- or five-days a week for full- or half-day sessions. Activities include art, music, drama and storytelling, daily water play in an inflatable pool, weekly themes and Shabbat every Friday.

“Each week is a different theme like bubbles, circus, sand and red, white and blue that includes art, music and stories that go with that week’s theme,” said program director Lin Goldman.

Camp hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with an hour of quiet time after lunch. The program lasts eight weeks and costs $155 a week, $100 for three days and $75 for two days.

For more information contact Goldman at (949) 459-6330.

Congregation B’nai Israel holds Camp B’nai Ruach at the synagogue, 2111 Bryan Ave., Tustin. The camp’s programs are designed to teach Jewish heritage to grade schoolers.

The camp is divided into five age groups: kindergarten, first- and second-graders, third- and fourth-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders. Seventh- through ninth-graders serve as counselors-in-training.

The camp meets weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in six one-week sessions. Campers go to the beach on Tuesdays, cool off at the pool on Wednesdays and take a field trip Thursdays related to the week’s theme. Field trips range from the Los Angeles Zoo to Carlsbad’s Legoland.

Cost for Camp B’nai Ruach is $195 a week for synagogue members to $225 for nonmembers. There is a $10 discount for extra children per week and additional costs for registration fees and camp T-shirts.

For more information on Camp B’nai Ruach contact Barbara Sherman at (714) 730-9693 or go to

Temple Beth Sholom operates Camp Sholom at 2625 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana. Camp Sholom offers daily activities integrated with Jewish values. Campers’ grades are kindergarten to sixth, while seventh- to ninth-graders take part as counselors-in-training.

“All of our activities are based on Jewish living 24/7,” said camp director Rabbi Heidi Cohen. “We dedicate all day Friday to Shabbat at the temple, and at the end of the day, we imagine lighting candles and drinking from our Kiddush cups in observance of Shabbat.”

Every day is opened with Jewish songs and morning blessings, and Hebrew is used continually in the camp. Campers refer to staff members in Hebrew as madrichim meaning leaders, and each group is given a Hebrew name like rishonim, which means the “first ones”; chalutzim, “pioneers”; and habonim “builders.”

Sholom campers can attend camp five or three days a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are off-campus days, with trips to the beach or local theme parks; Wednesday afternoons are for swimming. Camp hours are weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended morning hours from 7:30 a.m. and evening hours to 6 p.m.

Camp Sholom costs $194 for members and $221 for nonmembers for the first session; $184 for members and $210 for nonmembers for the second session; and $168 for members and $194 for nonmembers for the third session. Prices are less if parents choose only three days a week per session. One T-shirt will be provided with the cost of camp, and there is a $30 nonrefundable registration fee for each camper.

For more Camp Sholom information contact Rabbi Cohen at (714) 628-4600 or go to

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana offers a day camp through its Kidseum that introduces children to foreign cultures. Kidseum offers seven weekly sessions for children 6 to 8 years old and 9 to 12. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, with extended hours available for an extra charge.

Each session has a distinct theme or explores a different culture. Themes include a “Historical Journey,” “Pacific Rim Odyssey,” “Art of the Pioneers,” “Art of the American Indian,” “The Americans,” “Pre-Columbian Art Adventure” and “African Safari.” All programs include visits to the Bowers’ galleries, theme-oriented art projects and interactive music and dance periods.

Kidseum has space for only 30 campers each session. Cost per session is $165 for nonmembers and $150 for members.

For more information contact Genevieve Barrios Southgate
at (714) 480-1522 or go to

Rabbis’ Tact Puts Sex Victims First

David Schwartz, who pleaded no contest last year to charges associated with child molestation at an Orthodox summer camp, has been released from a yearlong stay at a residential treatment facility and is now living in the Pico-Robertson area. Rabbinic and mental health professionals are taking steps to help the victims and their families, as well as the community at large, feel safe and protected from a man who allegedly sexually brutalized and psychologically tormented 4-year-old boys at a Culver City camp for the arts in summer 2002.

Despite his plea, outside of courtroom proceedings Schwartz has maintained his innocence. His wife Nitzah, a preschool teacher at Yeshivat Yavneh in Hancock Park (where Schwartz himself used to teach), has stood by him throughout, saying to rabbis and others that there is no way the father of her children could have committed the lewd acts attributed to him.

While some rabbis who know the family have quietly supported Schwartz and his family, many prominent rabbis and community leaders have been strident and outspoken in their support for the victims — an indication that the Orthodox community has overcome its historic hush-hush approach to abuse. Taking its lead from Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, a group of rabbis has attended hearings, counseled the victims and inserted itself into the case.

Several high-profile cases in recent years — both locally and nationally — have helped foster a newfound willingness among rabbis to work with mental health professionals not only to handle crises, but to take proactive measures as well.

"The families see us there and the community knows we’re there, and I think that it’s an important factor for them to know we are not just going to sweep this under the rug," said Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, chair of the Rabbinical Council of California’s (RCC) Family Commission and a member of Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board — groups that often collaborate and have overlapping membership.

In a plea bargain reached in January 2003, Schwartz pleaded no contest to one count of committing lewd acts with a minor under 14. Eight other charges were dismissed, and Schwartz received a six-year suspended prison sentence and one year in a treatment facility, and is now on probation for an additional four years. He must undergo another year of therapy, cannot work as a teacher or with children and must register as a sex offender for life.

Upon Schwartz’s release in late January this year, Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader at the Airport Courthouse ordered Schwartz to stay out of an area roughly encompassing the Pico-Robertson and south Westwood neighborhoods. Schwartz, his wife and their three young children reportedly live just east of Robertson Boulevard, one of the boundaries, but have been ordered by the court to move east of La Cienega Boulevard. In addition, Schwartz must stay 100 yards away from a list of synagogues and schools where some of his victims may attend.

In a letter filed with the court March 2, RCC’s Goldenberg and Rabbi Avrohom Union recommended the judge also prohibit Schwartz from attending any synagogue where children are present and only allow him to attend synagogues populated mostly by senior citizens. They also asked that Schwartz be ordered stay away from all schools and be prohibited from using the mikvah (ritual bath). Mader rejected those recommendations.

"The court has commented that the victims need to step back and let the man lead his life," said Vicki Podberesky, Schwartz’s attorney. "The court put on restrictions it feels are appropriate and the DA thought those restrictions were appropriate."

Podberesky said that while she can’t comment on the Schwartz case, in general the criminal justice system is imperfect and innocent people do get convicted. "Sex offense can carry a life sentence and people make decisions many times about how to handle their case based on the fact that they want to ensure that they will see their family again," she said.

The rabbis say their job is not to retry the case, but to accept Schwartz’s plea and treat him as a sex offender. The RCC, together with the Halachic Advisory Board, oversees a beit din (rabbinic court) to deal with such issues. Schwartz has been invited to sit down with the beit din.

Goldenberg, who is also principal of Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes, said that the beit din’s aim is not to penalize Schwartz, but to protect the community and to work with Schwartz to help rehabilitate him — perhaps help him find a job and a synagogue.

"In one sense we want to be harsh and tough and make him understand that he is going to be monitored," Goldenberg said. "On the other hand we are here to help and we are willing to come to an agreement. If we can tell the victims’ families that he is going to follow what he is supposed to do and be where he is supposed to be, we can help make things better for him and his family."

The most likely scenario, many acknowledge, is that Schwartz will leave town, which he can do with proper permission from the court. Jewish sex offenders have been known to resettle in Israel or other Jewish communities.

Such was the case with Rabbi Mordechai Yomtov, who divorced his wife and left Los Angeles soon after he was released from prison about a year ago. In February 2002, Yomtov pleaded guilty to two counts of committing continuous sexual abuse on a minor and one count of lewd act on a minor at Chabad’s Cheder Menachem. He was in prison for a year and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

While both Schwartz and his victims would likely be happier with him out of Los Angeles, the beit din acknowledges its responsibility to keep tabs on him. "There is no question that theoretically the ideal situation would be for him to leave town, assuming he could be monitored," said Rabbi Shalom Tendler, a member of the Halachic Advisory Board. "It would be entirely wrong and irresponsible for us to just push our problem on somebody else."

The Halachic Advisory Board has taken a strong stand on issues of abuse. Aside from working directly with Aleinu Director Debbie Fox to respond to crisis situations, the board helped draft and implement guidelines for schools and camps to prevent, recognize and deal with situations of abuse.

Those guidelines have set a national standard in the Orthodox community, and have since been modified and adopted by schools throughout the country.

"That is the beauty of our community — the rabbonim and JFS and Aleinu work together on crises and we provide advocacy and support from a spiritual as well as a mental health model," Fox said.

The victims’ families will need that support, now that Schwartz is back in the neighborhood. One mother of a victim said her son had been doing better but is now having nightmares and acting out again.

She plans to take him to the Culver City Police Department, where detectives have been helpful all along, so they can explain to him how Schwartz is free but the child will still be safe.

"He’s always been so worried about other kids getting hurt, so the police made him a special junior detective," the mother said. "Now they’ll give him one more badge and promote him."

For more information on Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, call (323) 761-8816.

Time to Transition From Day to Night

This summer, Jacqueline Berlin, 7, will leave her mom, dad
and younger sister to enter the world of overnight camp for the first time.

“As soon as she found out that she would be old enough to go
[to Camp Ramah in Ojai] this summer, she wanted to go,” said Jacqueline’s
mother, Robin Berlin of Beverly Hills, who attended the Jewish residential camp
for 10 summers as a child and teenager.

But is Jacqueline, who will be 8 by summertime, really ready
to be away from home for a whole week?

“I don’t know,” Berlin said with a sigh, “but I think it’s
good that it’s coming from her.”

According to the American Camping Association, more than 10
million children and adults attend an estimated 12,000 camps each year. Of
those facilities, approximately 7,000 are residential camps and 5,000 are day
camps. While experts agree that camp can increase self-esteem and foster
independence and lifelong friendships, finding the right time when a child is
ready to transition from day camp to overnight camp is challenging.

“The two major issues for kids are being comfortable with
sleepovers and having the desire to go [to camp],” said Wendy Mogel, a local
clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant.

Still, the therapist says that the older a child is, the
more likely he or she is to adjust to living away at camp. Having an older
sibling at camp or going with a friend can also make the transition easier.

After spending several summers at day camp in Malibu, as
well as frequently sleeping over at friends’ houses, Andie Natis of Mission
Viejo knew her daughter Blaine, 14, was ready to attend overnight camp.

“She’d been ready for years, but I just didn’t have the
money,” said Natis, whose daughter attended Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu for the
first time last summer.

“I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know anyone else
going, but I met people on the first day,” said Blaine, who will return to the
camp for a second summer this year. “In the end, I made lots of best friends
and had the time of my life.”

Blaine was so enthusiastic about the camp that her younger
sister, Brooke, 12, decided to go with her this summer.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute — Camp
& Conference Center said that most campers tend to make the switch to
overnight camp in fifth or sixth grade.

To ease the transition, Camp JCA Shalom offers minicamp programs,
which usually appeal to first- through fourth-graders. In these short sessions,
campers stay for five days. The hope is that the exposure will prepare them for
a longer camp session down the road. JCA Shalom also offers weekend camp
programs during the fall and spring.

“We find that it’s a great way for kids to transition
without committing for a one-week or two-week session,” said Kaplan, who added
that most weekend campers sign up for longer sessions or they realize that they
are not ready for overnight camp just yet.

Zach Lasker, assistant director of Camp Ramah, believes that
the experience of settling in depends on the child.

“There are kids who are loving it from the time they get
here, kids who take a few days to transition and kids who struggle throughout
the session,” Lasker said. “As an educator, I see more growth from the kids who
struggle and end up making it and finding out what they’re capable of.”

Berlin is anticipating that her daughter will struggle with
a bit of homesickness during her time at camp.

“I would be very surprised if she wasn’t homesick at all,”
Berlin said. “I think it’s just getting to the other side of missing the
comforts of home, being able to comfort herself and knowing it’s OK.”

Lasker noted that the summer separation can be just as hard
on parents as it is on campers.

“One mom said to me, ‘My daughter wants to go to camp for
four weeks and she thinks she’s ready, but I don’t know if I am,'” Lasker
recalled. “We talked about what the camp involves and handling the separation
from her daughter.”

Still, not every child is suited for residential camp.

“There are few kids where camp is a bit overwhelming for
them and it gets to the point where it’s not the right match and we might have
a camper who goes home early,” Lasker said.

Kaplan advised parents not to give their children the option
of coming home.

“For a child to transition, he or she needs time,” said the
administrator. “Camp JCA Shalom starts on a Tuesday. If the child doesn’t [feel
better] by Shabbat, we’ll contact the parents.”

In the meantime, Kaplan advises concerned parents to send
their children care-packages and letters reassuring them that they will have a
great time.

While Berlin is nervous about Jacqueline’s first summer away
from home, she is still confident that it will be a positive experience.

“I think she’s ready for a change,” Berlin said. “I think
she will feel a certain sense of accomplishment if she goes and has a good
time.” Â

Trauma Triggers Camp Funds

The summer he attended a Christian day camp for free made a lasting impression on Allen Alevy, age 7 at the time. “They said I’d go to hell,” he recalled of an attempted conversion.

His father, a naval shipyard laborer, could afford little else. The nonobservant family of second-generation Russian immigrants lived in a subsidized housing project, Truman Boyd Manor. None of their neighbors were Jews.

Having pulled himself out of poverty through hard work and two California real estate booms, Alevy, 67, said he doesn’t want other cash-poor Jewish families, particularly those in the military, to be guided by their pocketbook this summer.

Alevy is a 25-year financial supporter of Huntington Beach’s Hebrew Academy, which in summer becomes one of the area’s most affordable day camps. In June, he established an open-ended fund for full or partial camp scholarships to permit the children of Jewish military families to attend camp, which has a second location at Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

Over the course of five two-week sessions, about 850 children, ages 2 to 14, enroll between the two locations. Traditional camp activities include sports, swimming, drama, dance, cooking, computers, ceramics and fabric art. Each week also has a Jewish theme. The cost is $150 per week.

Last year, about 20 percent of camp enrollees received some financial help, amounting to about $20,000 in subsidies, said Rabbi Zalman Marcus, director of the south county camp.

“There are plenty of Christian camps, and every Jewish institution is short of money,” Alevy said. “I may as well spend it while I’m here.”

The number of requests for camp assistance “is a silent epidemic afflicting our community,” says a financial appeal issued in May by Marcus, also rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center of Mission Viejo. “It’s definitely more desperate than in the past. I didn’t realize how widespread it is.”

His appeal describes the long summer tedium confronting two sets of young children, their parents buffeted by desertion, job loss and injury.

“Those are true stories,” said Marcus, about working parents for whom camp is not an indulgence or enrichment, but an unaffordable necessity. Parents will typically forgo work rather than leave their children alone, he said. “They’re really up a creek.”

“The kids will go out of their minds,” with both boredom and envy, Marcus said.

Many of their more affluent playmates confront a different dilemma: scheduling and selecting from among the ever-increasing array of specialty day camps locally available. These include the Jewish Community Center’s day camp held at Irvine’s Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day School. For nonmembers, its cost ranges from a three-day, $310 kindercamp to $700 for a three-week theater camp.

The needy are not so obvious here because many people superficially retain an image of affluence, Marcus said. “People are embarrassed; they are in cars they can’t afford or don’t have health insurance. They’re just making it; they’re not going into the street. But camp is a luxury.”

The Camp Quest

While the summer is still a good four months away, the race
to register for Jewish overnight camp has already kicked into high gear.

“A lot of families don’t realize that you’ve got to act
fast,” said Stacey Barrett of Sherman Oaks, whose daughter has attended
Brandeis-Bardin Institute’s Camp Alonim in Simi Valley for seven summers. “One
year I mailed in the application in February and my daughter was placed on a
waiting list.”

A 1995-1997 study by the Foundation for Jewish Camping found
Jewish camps significantly increase Jewish identity, affiliation and practice,
while decreasing the likelihood of intermarriage. Unfortunately, getting into a
local Jewish camp is not as easy as finding a reason to go. With only a handful
of Jewish residential camps in the Greater Los Angeles area, parents must act
quickly or find another summer activity for their children.

Each summer, administrators at Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling
Hilltop Camp in Malibu, both run by Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles,
must turn away 25 to 40 prospective campers. Enrollment begins in December and
experienced parents know to send their deposits right away.

“You’re pretty much out of luck if you wait to turn in your
application in February,” said Cheryl Garland, the office administrator for the
Reform residential camps. Like other camps around the city, even getting a top
spot on the waiting list is not easy. Wilshire Boulevard Temple congregants get
first priority, returning campers get second preference and new campers are the
low men on the totem pole for securing a place once wait-listed.

Admittance to Camp Ramah, which has seven overnight camps
around the United States and Canada, including one in Ojai, has gotten so
competitive that administrators now accept applications as early as September.

“I was lucky,” said Janet Urman, whose son and daughter will
attend Ramah for their second and fourth summers, respectively. “I have nieces
and nephews who went to Ramah, so I was told I had to get [the application] in
the day [I received it in the mail] or soon as possible.”

The Los Angeles resident said that some Ramah parents drive
their applications to the camp offices the day they receive them to ensure that
their children will get in.

While cabins for certain age groups fill up faster than
others, Camp Ramah’s Assistant Director Zachary Lasker said that some children
miss out on the experience because parents take for granted that Ramah is full.

“The big myth is that Ramah in California fills up right
away and certain parents think, ‘Why bother trying?'” said the camp

Currently, Ramah’s seventh- to 10th-grade cabins are filling
up fast, but there are still a number of slots open for fourth-, fifth- and
sixth-graders. Ramah officials are also in talks about referring families to
other Ramah camps around the country that might have more availability.

Ramah, which runs seven overnight camps and five day camps,
is the only Conservative Jewish residential camp on the West Coast. In fact,
Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is the next closest. The National Ramah Camp
Commission, Inc. is considering building another camp in San Diego or Northern
California to accommodate more West Coast families looking for a Conservative
summer environment. Ramah will be opening a day camp in Berkeley this summer.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute:
Camp & Conference Center, which runs Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, anticipates
that his camp will begin a waiting list in March when he expects enrollment to
reach capacity. As the camp is affiliated with The Jewish Federation of Greater
Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Centers, Camp JCA Shalom finds most of its
camps through those groups. Camp scholarships are available through The
Federation and 30 percent to 40 percent of campers receive financial aid. Even
though the camp is able to attract enough campers, Kaplan noted that many
families are unaware of the scholarship program.

“There are families that aren’t applying to camp because
they think they can’t afford it,” he said.

Camp Alonim, a non denominational camp celebrating its 50th
anniversary in June, is also filling up. Jill Sava, the camp’s assistant
director, said that while many slots are taken, there is availability within
some of the sessions.

“It depends so much on age group, session and gender,” Sava

Apparently, the older age groups and girls’ cabins fill up
faster and most campers seem to prefer the middle sessions as opposed to the
first and last of the one-, two- and three-week sessions.

Only one local Jewish residential camp claims to have a
number of openings for this coming summer: Camp Gilgoa in West Hills, which is
a Labor Zionist Youth Movement (Habonim Dror) camp that operates like a
kibbutz. “We have lots of space and would love to have more kids,” said camp
recruiter Natalie Stanger.

Stanger said that Camp Gilgoa is less popular because it
doesn’t directly draw from a synagogue.

“There’s not this huge organized force behind [Camp Gilgoa]
like some of the other camps,” she said.

The urgency to sign up for camp has become both a learning
experience and a fact of life for many L.A.-area Jewish parents.

“I’m not the type to let things sit around,” said Wendy
Bachelis, a Calabasas resident whose daughter has attended Hess Kramer for five
summers. “I knew from [sending my daughter] to day camp that the good
[sessions] fill up first.”

Barrett said she only made the mistake of holding off on
registration one time:

“Once you get an e-mail saying your kid is on the waiting
list, you learn your lesson and fill out the application immediately.”

For more information on Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling
Hilltop Camp, call (213) 388-2401. For Camp Ramah, call (310) 476-8571. For
Camp JCA Shalom, call (818) 889-5500, ext. 1. For Camp Alonim, call the
Brandeis-Bardin Institute at (805) 582-4450. For Camp Gilgoa, call (818)


Programs Continue at Valley JCCs

Programs will continue at the various Jewish Community Centers (JCC) around the San Fernanado Valley, albeit not all under the same umbrella. The new North Valley Jewish Community Center, Inc., (NVJCC) a nonprofit organization created after the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) divested itself from the Granada Hills site, is still in negotiations to purchase the site, and is temporarily relegated to using only part of the property. But it still opened its summer camp July 1 with 10 children.

The organization hoped to use the entire property by September, NVJCC board member Andrea Goodstein said, noting that discussions with the JCCGLA toward that end were going well.

As for the other two Valley centers, the West Valley JCC is fully functioning and remaining a part of JCCGLA for the time being, according to JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi. Valley Cities JCC’s preschool ended the school year with an enrollment of more than 100 children, Giladi said, so both the site’s preschool and after-school programs will open in the fall as usual. Programs for seniors at Valley Cities are also continuing in a limited fashion, despite the cuts made following the JCCGLA’s declaration of near bankruptcy last December.

Enrollment has begun for preschool and after school programs at the NVJCC with a message line set up for both at (818) 594-4075. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

West Valley Community Health ExpoDebuts

Shomrei Torah Synagogue will join forces with co-sponsors Temple Aliyah, Valley Outreach Synagogue and the West Valley Jewish Community Center to present the very first West Valley Community Health Expo, a daylong fundraiser benefiting Magen David Adom West, on Aug. 4.

The concept behind the Health Expo evolved as a vehicle for an idea of Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi Richard Camras to raise the $54,900 needed to purchase an ambulance for Israel. The Expo will feature a variety of medical screenings, a blood drive and health- and safety-related exhibits. Scheduled speakers include: Judy Ziedler, who will lecture on the joys of kosher cooking; Jerry Guon, liver transplant recipient, who will speak on Jewish perspective on organ donation; Dr. Rena Falk, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who will talk about genetic screening; and representatives of Stroller Power, a group that teaches exercise workouts for new moms.

“I’m hoping that people will come to the Expo to learn about their own health,” said Nedra Weinreich, Health Expo Committee chair, “as well as do something that will help the health of those in Israel. You can help save lives here and as well in Israel.”

West Valley Community Health Expo will take place from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Aug. 4 at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. Blood drives will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be encouraged. For information, call (818) 346-2721; or visit

— Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Need a crock pot? Or would you prefer to donate your old one? If so, you’ll want to know that one of the San Fernando Valley’s most popular thrift shops has moved. The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) celebrated the opening of its Canoga Park store on June 11.

The store replaces the one previously located in Reseda. Harriet Baron, executive director of NCJW/LA, said she hopes the change will attract even more customers and donors.

“Quite simply, we felt that there was a market in the West Valley we were not reaching,” Baron said. “We know we have many constituents there.”

Baron said the new location has the advantage of being within the radius of a stretch of antique stores and thrift shops. The Canoga Park store is more spacious than its predecessor, with furniture housed on one side of the store and racks of clothing, mostly for women, on the right. There is a limited amount of children’s clothing but plenty of bric-a-brac for the kitchen and the prices are very reasonable. The store is easy to spot from the street due to its distinctive blue-and-white mural. The mural is based on an original design by Burton Morris in Pittsburgh, Pa., and was painted by a local artist known as Chase, who does all of his artwork for NCJW using spray paint.

Altogether, NCJW operates six thrift shops.

The store is located at 21716 Sherman Way. Hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Monday through Saturday) and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sunday). For more information, call (818) 710-7206. — WM

How the West Was Jewish

Historical figure Solomon Heydenfeldt, a Jewish justice on the California Supreme Court from the Gold Rush era, ruled on California water laws and cases involving religious freedom. Donning black-and-purple robes, an old-fashioned bow tie and his best southern accent, law professor Peter Reich brought Heydenfeldt to life for fourth-graders at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino this past spring.

As the school’s fourth-grade social studies curriculum includes the California Gold Rush, Reich’s presentation brought a Jewish element to the study of American history during this period.

For the last 12 years, Reich has taught property and environmental law at Whittier College, as well as a legal history class at UC Irvine. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer