Summer camp love


Every summer for the last three years, staffer Naomi Elman, 23, and her fiance, Mitch Gelfand, 29, have stood on the stage at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley, exchanged rings and said their I-do’s. “Every session at camp there’s a carnival, and at every carnival there’s a fake marriage booth,” Elman explained. “So we’ve gotten married five times on that stage already — three the summer we met, and one every summer thereafter.” 

Naomi Elman and Mitch Gelfand getting practice-married at the marriage booth set up every summer at Camp Alonim. Photo by Tracie Karasik.

Next spring, the couple will go for a sixth try, but this one will be significantly more official: Leo Baeck Temple’s Rabbi Ken Chasen will officiate, and the rings will be made of something a little more durable than plastic. 

Getting married at Alonim has been Elman’s plan as long as she can remember. “Luckily, the groom agreed,” she said. Elman even asked Chasen to officiate when she was 16 — a few years before Gelfand rejoined the summer staff after a hiatus and caught her eye during their orientation.

Camp romances are a hallmark of the American summer. The setting is usually beautiful and idyllic, and with a limited pool of people in constant contact, connections forged are intense and intimate. Not all of these romances last — Gelfand and Elman are both veterans of prior relationships that had succumbed to real-world pressures after the summer’s end — but when they do, the happy couple has a ready-made wedding venue.

The marriage booth at Alonim also played a role in Sara and Hyim Brandes’ 2001 engagement as well — or that was the plan, anyway. Hyim’s idea to get down on one knee with a real ring at the booth was dashed when he discovered that Sara’s coveted time off was scheduled during the festival, and her plan was to be anywhere but in the middle of her campers. Luckily, there was an easy plan B: He offered to accompany her on a hike, and proposed on the ascent.

“I think camp couples get married all over the place,” Sara said. But she and Hyim chose Alonim because of its role in their history as a couple as well as for their families, both of whom have strong ties to the camp. “That we chose to get married there just speaks to the centrality of the place in both of our families’ lives,” Sara said. 

During the ceremony, their rabbi talked about how “this place was created for just this union, just this moment,” she said. “We had that feeling, that it was appropriate in that it was a culmination.”

The camp romance is short-lived much more often than it turns out to be long term: The bonds forged in unusual circumstances and close proximity have trouble adjusting to the strain, distance and business of life in the outside world. But the relationships that do last are often the most resilient ones — and on their wedding day, many couples are thrilled to return to the fantasyland where they first fell in love. 

David Ross and Lauren Schmidt, for instance, said they considered other venues “for about two seconds,” according to Schmidt, before deciding on Camp Ramah in Ojai, where they had met briefly as staffers in 1992. The couple ran into each other again and again over the years, eventually connecting at a different camp, Camp Young Judea near Austin, Texas, nearly a decade later.

“Camp Ramah has always been a foremost source of my identity, my spirituality and my commitment to Judaism. What better place to share this passion than [at Ramah,] with my future bride, our family and friends?” Ross asked.  

One of the biggest threats to the camp romance is simply age — not many people end up married to the object of their tween affections, after all. Not so for Eric and Alexandra Spitz. They met at Camp JCA Shalom in 1993 as 12- and 13-year-olds, respectively, and were each other’s camp crushes — and eventually shared their first kiss. It took another 13 years before they reconnected, but when they did, the chemistry of those early summers was still very much alive. They started planning to get married on their second date. 

When they did, there was no question that the couple would marry at JCA Shalom in Malibu. They also incorporated a few fun camp traditions into the wedding, Alexandra said: “On Shabbat at camp, we would write ‘Shabbat-O-Grams’ to our friends. I found one from Eric from when we were in camp that was signed, ‘I love you.’ We framed it and displayed it with our guest book.” 

There were other festive camp touches as well: “Our tables were numbered as cabins, and each person’s place card was attached to a mini s’mores kit that could be roasted with the lanterns placed on each table. Our favors were flashlights, so everyone could return safely to their cars at the end of the night in the pitch-blackness of camp,” Alexandra said. 

The best of all, though, is when weddings beget more of their kind, as was the case when Rena Kates met her husband Max at the Los Angeles wedding of her cousin, Samantha, to Mike Auerbach in 2009. Mike and Samantha had met at Ramah; Max and Rena, being two years apart, had never had the opportunity to connect at camp. Not so this time. 

“Max saw Rena hanging out with [her brother] Ethan, and casually asked Ethan who she was. Ethan said, ‘Oh, that’s my sister Rena’ and moved on to another topic. But Max didn’t forget!” the couple wrote in an email.

Three years later, Max’s day-long proposal involved printouts of emails he had sent Rena over the course of their relationship, a tour of their favorite places — which, of course, included Ramah — a slice of strawberry shortcake and the joyful blessings of family and friends. When it came to venues, the Kateses agree with Ross and Schmidt: “It was a no-brainer,” Rena said. “What other place has gorgeous mountain views, a special place in our hearts and can accommodate 400 people?”

Finding the Goldbergs: A Catskills mystery unraveled


The moment I kicked in the door of the abandoned house in the heart of the Catskills, I felt like I was in an episode of “The Twilight Zone: Borscht Belt edition.”

In some corners it appeared as if the residents were just out for the afternoon. Pictures and tchotchkes adorned the walls. A mezuzah with the parchment still inside was affixed to a doorpost. A working upright piano sat in one corner. Ironing boards were open. Mattresses lay on beds; in one room the beds were still half-made.

But elsewhere, things were in a state of advanced decay. The roof over the kitchen had caved in. The sink was overflowing with rotting leaves. In a bedroom, vines poured in through the window and spread over much of the ceiling. Mold was having its way with the walls.

I had come to the Catskills hoping to get one last look at Kutsher’s, the last of the great Borscht Belt resorts, after hearing the news that its demolition was imminent. For much of the 20th century, Kutsher’s and other Jewish hotels like it helped make the Catskills the summer destination of choice for New York Jews.

But when I reached the mountains a few days later, I found the roads leading to Kutsher’s blocked by chains and sawhorses posted with warnings against trespassing into the hard-hat zone. I tried to make my way on foot, wading through wet, overgrown grass, but three burly construction workers spotted me and I was forced to beat a hasty retreat.

Which is how I found my way into a crumbling bungalow colony at the edge of Kutsher’s 1,500 acres.

Aside from the main house with 10 bedrooms and side building with a dining room and kitchen that I had broken into, there were a handful of bungalows, a pool and a lake. The buildings all were vacant, in varying states of disrepair and overcome by nature.

One room had half a dozen ovens and refrigerators. Opening one fridge, I half expected to find a cold can of Tab. No dice. In the corner of what appeared to be the living room, there was a public telephone. I picked it up. No dial tone.

Most of the bedrooms were disheveled or empty, but in one I found toiletries and a shoeshine kit carefully arranged on the dresser, three drab but clean dresses hanging in the closet, and a shelf filled with unused legal pads and blank paper.

Then I spotted the first clue to who may have lived here.

Tucked into the mirror was a photograph of four happy-looking elderly couples posing in front of the lake out back now obscured by foliage. Their names were carefully inscribed on the back: Nat & Sylvia, Herman & Eleanor, Milton & Norma, Jack & Charlotte. There was also a date: August 2001.

Who were these people and why did they leave? What purpose did this odd house serve? Were the people in the photo still alive? When was the house last occupied?

This being the age of the Internet, it took less than an hour of sleuthing, a credit card and $3.95 to unravel the mystery of this strange Catskills time capsule.

The simple part was figuring out who lived there. An address label affixed to some shelves in the bedroom with the shoeshine kit read Goldberg. That matched the name on a Jewish National Fund Tree-in-Israel certificate posted on the wall in another room. Along with the photograph I found, I had my target couple: Nat and Sylvia Goldberg.

Combing through online directories and death notices, it didn’t take long to locate family members. Soon I had Nat and Sylvia’s daughter, Judy Viteli, on the line.

She almost cried when I told her where I had been.

“Ah, the kochelein,” she said wistfully.

The what?

“The kochelein,” she said. “It’s a Yiddish word.”

Over the course of several conversations, including one in which we went through old pictures at her kitchen table, Judy and her sister, Paula Goldberg — now 60 and 63, respectively — told me the story of what had transpired half a century ago in that house, why it represented the best years of their lives and how it all came to an end. This is their story.

The kochelein — a term that literally means “cook alone” — represented a particular kind of bungalow colony: a place where several families shared a house but where everyone was responsible for their own food. That’s why there were half a dozen fridges and ovens in the kitchen: Each of the 10 families was allotted half a refrigerator and a shared oven to prepare meals.

A pharmacist from the Bronx, Nat Goldberg began bringing his family to this kochelein, called Fairhill, in 1953, when Judy was still in diapers and her sister Paula was 5. The rest of the house was filled with cousins and close friends, all from the same working-class Bronx neighborhood. Everybody, of course, was Jewish.

There was practically no privacy: Parents and their children slept in the same room, all the families shared only two bathrooms and everyone ate their meals in the shared dining room.

From a kid’s perspective, the summers were idyllic. Days were spent hiking in the woods, swimming in the lake, picking wild blueberries, playing hide-and-seek, trying to sneak into the resort at Kutsher’s and waging endless girls vs. boys wars. On rainy days they’d pack into the dining room with their parents to play mah-jongg or a variation of rummy, gambling for split peas. After the rain stopped, the kids would run outside to hunt salamanders.

Once the Goldberg kids turned 10, they were allowed to hitchhike into Monticello; their mother would wave goodbye as they climbed into strangers’ cars. On weekends they might catch rides with their father en route to the racetrack.

On Saturday nights, when the adults went out, the kids left to their own devices smoked, played kissing games and did whatever else they could think of that their parents had forbidden.

“Every one of us will tell you it was the best time of our lives,” Paula said of those summers. “Our mothers never knew where we were and didn’t care.”

For the adults, the bungalow colony was both an extension of and a break from their lives in the crowded Jewish enclaves of the Bronx. It was mostly the same people, but there was cleaner air, less privacy and less testosterone: The men, who worked Monday to Friday, came up only on weekends; the women and children stayed all summer.

“It was a total matriarchy,” Paula said.

It was the 1950s, before three major factors destroyed the Jewish Catskills: air conditioning, which made staying in the city more palatable; declining discrimination against Jews, which opened up previously unavailable summertime alternatives; and the rise of the working woman, which made moving away for the summer untenable.

The bungalow colony was not for the wealthy. Accommodations were simple. Water came from a well. When it went dry one summer, the families went days without showering and walked around with divining rods. The swimming pool — now cracked, overgrown and shrouded by trees — wasn’t built until sometime in the late ’50s.

With the exception of Nat Goldberg, none of the men at the kochelein had gone to college, and they all worked blue-collar jobs. Jewish families with more money went to resorts like Kutsher’s, where meals, entertainment and a wide range of recreational facilities were included. At Kutsher’s, residents of bungalow colonies like the Fairhill kochelein were referred to derisively as “bungees.”

Entertainment at the kochelein was mostly homemade: Someone would play the piano or the adults would hold silly parties where everyone wore their clothes backward or husbands and wives swapped clothing or held mock weddings or soup-eating contests.

The men were constantly pranking each other. In the mornings, the first thing everyone would do was get in line for the bathroom, toothbrush and soap in hand. With as many as 40 people sharing just two bathrooms, dillydallying was severely frowned upon — not least by your stern, socially conscious mother.

“Everything happened in front of everybody else — all the babying, all the disciplining,” Judy recalled. “There was no private place to yell at anybody.”

One morning when she was 11, Judy had to conceal a hickey she said a boy had forced on her neck the night before.

“It was the summer, you couldn’t wear a scarf,” she said. “So I put on makeup before I came out from the top of my head down to my neck thinking nobody would notice.”

To no avail. As soon as she walked into the dining room, a girl named Arlene spotted it and broke into peals of laughter. Judy was humiliated; her mother made her wear pancake makeup until the hickey subsided.

The food was kosher — to some degree. At home in the Bronx, Sylvia would let her kids have milk after meat, but at the bungalow colony she was stricter because Aunt Faye was sitting at the next table.

“We used to pretend to be kosher,” Judy said. “It was shameful if you weren’t kosher. But people were different degrees of kosher.”

Because the ladies didn’t drive, the mothers would list the groceries they needed in a spiral notebook hanging from a hook in the dining room, and the Polish Catholic family that owned the property — Alex and Mary Chicko — would go to town every day to buy the provisions, adding a penny or two to each item as a delivery fee.

The families all shared a single public telephone. If Milton should phone from the city to speak to his wife who was down by the lake, whoever answered would get on the P.A. system and make the announcement, summoning Norma to the receiver.

If the kids misbehaved, the parents would punish them by dragging them along to Kutsher’s shows instead of leaving them behind with their boyfriends and girlfriends.

For Paula, one kochelein relationship proved to have special staying power: with Mark Goldberg, a boy whose family had been coming to the Fairhill kochelein since the 1920s. She was 5 and he was 6 when they met, and they began “going together” in the summer of 1959.

That was when 13-year-old Mark asked Paula to a movie theater in town to see “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” and the two kissed during the film — with their eyes open, Paula says.

He was fresh; he was a bad boy,” Paula said with a mischievous smile.

The two broke up at the end of every summer and then got back together the following July. Some summers Mark’s family didn’t go up to the mountains, but Mark always came — even if it was in the care of someone else’s parents. That is, until the summer of ’66, when Mark’s father collapsed at the kochelein of a heart attack and died. Mark was 19.

When Mark was 22 and Paula was 21, they married. The couple recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.

By the 1960s, things had begun changing at the kochelein. A pool had been built. Two more bathrooms were added to the main house. There had been three or four bungalows onsite at least since the early ’50s, but in the ’60s the owners decided to build several more, enlisting the summertime kids to help.

Most significantly, the owners cut a deal that traded the use of part of their land to Kutsher’s in exchange for nightly passes to the resort’s shows. Kutsher’s eventually bought the bungalow colony outright.

“That changed our lives,” Paula recalled. “Our parents could get dressed up and go every night and see all the Borscht Belt comedians. They could go dancing on the stage. Our little bungalow colony had very special power based on the land.”

Judy says she enjoyed the shows, except for one thing: “The comedians would tell their joke, and then the punchline would be in Yiddish. I’d ask Mom what he said and she’d say, ‘I’ll tell you later.’ ”

When she was old enough, Judy began working summers at Kutsher’s as a camp counselor. It was hard work, she says: 12-hour days, six days a week, for just $15 per week. At the kochelein, the traditions continued.

At summer’s end, when each family finished packing up the car to leave, the remaining families would assemble for a parting ceremony. They’d all bang pots and pans and sing a song to the tune of the “The Farmer in the Dell”:

We hate to see you go
We hate to see you go
We hope to heck you never come back
We hate to see you go

The Goldbergs were usually the last to leave.

“We left a day later than everyone else because God forbid we should get stuck in traffic,” Paula recalled.

As they graduated high school and college, the number of kids at the bungalow colony dwindled. Some went up only for weekends, some not at all.

Even as the Catskills fell into decline in the ’70s and ’80s, the adults kept going to the Fairhill kochelein — relishing the space without kids, according to Paula. They stopped only when they couldn’t physically do it, obstructed by illness, death or retirement to Florida.

By the 1990s, most of the kochelein’s rooms were empty.

But not the Goldbergs’; they were diehards. Even when Nat and Sylvia took a place in Florida for the winter, they would return to Monticello for the summers. Sylvia kept three separate bottles of moisturizer so she could travel lighter: at her bedside at the kochelein, in Florida and in Yonkers, where the couple moved when they left the Bronx. (Snooping around the abandoned property, I spotted Sylvia’s bottle of moisturizer.)

With the surrounding area growing shabbier every year, the Goldberg kids tried to convince their parents to stop going to the kochelein — or at least get a room for the summer at Kutsher’s, which by now they could afford. But Nat and Sylvia wouldn’t budge.

“To me it was depressing to go up in those later years,” Judy said. “My mother’s sister used to bring up all her money for the summer and hide it in her room. When she had a stroke in the middle of one summer, her son asked us to find the money and we couldn’t. Eventually someone found it.”

The last few summers the Goldbergs spent at the bungalow colony, they were the only couple there.

“It was eerie,” Judy said. “You would go upstairs and all the other rooms were abandoned looking.” Nat and Sylvia would spend their days at Kutsher’s — Sylvia in pottery classes making tchotchkes that she’d take back to the kochelein and hang on the walls, Nat outside organizing shuffleboard games. At the end of the day they would go back to their big, empty house at the bungalow colony to eat and sleep. Though there were half a dozen refrigerators, they still confined themselves to the same half-fridge they always used.

“It felt like the ‘Twilight Zone’ to me,” Paula said. “Dad was 92. We were scared already. They were living alone in that big house and crossing over to the dining room for meals. They were anachronisms.”

Finally, in the summer of 2002, after 50 years of summers at Fairhill, the Goldberg kids managed to convince their parents to forego the kochelein for the following summer, and they booked rooms at Kutsher’s for 10 weeks starting in June 2003.

But when Nat and Sylvia left the kochelein at the end of August 2002, Sylvia was complaining about feeling tired, and she spent that fall in and out of doctor’s offices. She was diagnosed with cancer.

“After we booked them into 10 weeks at Kutsher’s, my mother felt like a very rich lady,” Paula said. “Even when she was in hospice, she thought she’d spend the summer at the hotel.”

Sylvia never made it. She died in July 2003.

Nat, 10 years her senior, held on for nearly another decade, living until the age of 100. He died in June 2010.

Today, the Jewish Catskills is largely a relic. There are still a few bungalow colonies scattered about, and some haredi Orthodox camps have put down stakes, but all the great Jewish hotels have been sold off or abandoned to nature and decay.

Kutsher’s, the last holdout, was sold in late 2013 for $8.2 million to Veria Lifestyle Inc., a company owned by Indian billionaire Subhash Chandra. He plans to build a new health and wellness resort at the site.

Decades on, the kochelein still maintains a hold on the Goldberg sisters — and many of the others who spent their childhood summers there. In 1996, when the sisters held a 50th anniversary party for their parents at Paula’s Westchester home, many of the old kochelein kids showed up for the occasion.

“They were like family,” Paula says.

At Paula’s insistence, she and Mark used to drive to Monticello every year on Aug. 2, the anniversary of their first date. Then last year, for the first time, Paula decided she didn’t want to go anymore. It was just too sad and spooky.

From what I saw on my foray there, it’s also dangerous. There’s no telling when a floor might collapse or the roof cave in. The property is a wreck.

But it’s also full of artifacts – enough for an enterprising visitor to decode the mystery of the copious fridges, the half-full bottle of moisturizer, the piano in the corner of the dining room. Enough, that is, to tell the Goldbergs’ story.

 

 

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.

Shorter summer challenges camps


“Early-start” is finally starting.

After delaying implementation of a new, earlier school calendar last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will begin classes three weeks sooner this fall for the majority of students.

Caught in the middle are local summer camps, which are once again working to accommodate the change without compromising the quality of the camp experience. Jewish camps in the Los Angeles area are offering families stopgap deals to make overnight camp feasible for LAUSD students who will have a shorter summer vacation.

At many camps, the problem is twofold: Not only are students squeezed by the early start of school at summer’s end, but as the last academic year on the old calendar wraps up this June, those same kids might have to miss the beginning of camp, too.

“This summer, it hits us on both ends,” said Josh Levine, director of Camp Alonim at American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus in Simi Valley.

The L.A. Board of Education voted in September to move forward with the early-start plan, which members approved in 2010 but then scrapped in early 2011 due to concerns over start-up costs. The district will call school back to session on Aug. 14 and end instruction in early June in 2013, a schedule proponents say is more beneficial to students academically and places high schools in line with college calendars.

LAUSD schools on traditional calendars (not year-round) are scheduled to finish instruction on June 22. But Camp Alonim and Camp JCA Shalom both start their first overnight sessions on June 19, while Alonim’s CITs (counselors in training) are asked to arrive June 18. Camp Ramah and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps’ first sessions start on June 20.

Alonim lets campers whose school schedules conflict start camp a few days late — even CITs, who are required to be present all eight weeks. Around 10 percent of Alonim’s CITs typically arrive late because of school, Levine said.

“We’re actually looking forward to the beginning of our summer not conflicting with LAUSD” in 2013, when the new school calendar liberates kids for summer break on June 4, he added.

As for the end of summer 2012, Alonim’s third and final session ends Aug. 12, two days before L.A. public schools begin. “We haven’t heard any significant issues from our families this year and we haven’t seen an adjustment in enrollment,” Levine said. 

The transition won’t be as easy for Camp JCA Shalom. The Malibu camp plans to run a one-week mini-session Aug. 14-19, which now coincides with the first week of school.

“For those kids in LAUSD, that’s not going to be an option anymore,” JCA Shalom director Joel Charnick said. “We’re looking at the registration very closely to see if that week will even happen” if there aren’t enough sign-ups.

The last of the camp’s three full sessions, traditionally the most popular, clears the start of school by two days. But many families are still concerned that the window to prepare for class is too short. “We’ve heard from a number of parents who are saying it’s very hard and some who have requested they pull their kids out early,” Charnick said.

Still, the camp is discouraging parents from making children miss out on the fanfare and bonding that traditionally marks the last day of camp, he said: “That’s like playing four quarters of football and leaving in the last minute of the game.”

The fact that a “good chunk” of JCA Shalom campers attend LAUSD schools will necessitate talks about shifting the camp calendar for future summers, Charnick said. “If need be, our camp, and probably many others, will have to make the very tough decision of moving sessions around to accommodate that [early-start] schedule. We’re willing to do what it takes to keep our kids coming to camp. Having to miss part of camp every year because of a school change — we’re going to make sure it doesn’t come to that.”

School board members have pushed for the early-start calendar because it will give schools time to complete the first semester of classes before winter break, meaning students won’t have to spend their vacations studying for finals. Superintendent John Deasy had urged delaying implementation of the calendar last fall due to a one-time extra cost of $2 million to $4 million. But board members, including Tamar Galatzan and board president Monica Garcia, said the time to enact the change was now — 18 LAUSD schools already on the new schedule, many in the San Fernando Valley, already have shown academic improvement, they said. 

At Camp Ramah in Ojai, the second of the camp’s two four-week sessions ends Aug. 15, the day after LAUSD’s school year starts.

“Any change of timing in any school district will put pressure on families to enroll in a specific session of Ramah,” said Rabbi Joe Menashe, the camp’s director. “But we have not felt a drastic switch this year because it’s only a short overlap at the end of the summer.”

The camp will let families pick up their kids on or after Aug. 12, after campers spend their last Shabbat together. But Menashe is suggesting that parents bring their children back for the end-of-camp banquet the night of Aug. 15. “That way they can still be part of this nice end-of-summer experience,” he said.

Charnick, who was a JCA Shalom camper himself in the 1980s and ’90s, still recalls “every minute” of his last weekend of camp as a CIT — the final Havdalah as a group, hugs between friends, tearful goodbyes.

“Those last few days are just critical to kids’ experience,” he said.

Happy wallet, happy camper


The economy is bad. Money is tight. And yet the news isn’t all negative for youngsters hoping to attend Jewish summer camp this year.

“The truth of the matter is, most of the summer camps have increased their financial aid,” said Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “We’ve increased financial aid. So a lot of the challenges of the economy so far have been mitigated. We invest close to $1 million in summer camps.”

Local attendance is down slightly but has been pretty consistent. Over time, though, he said, “We would love to see the number of young people going to camp go from 4,000 to 8,000. Our goal in the medium term is to find ways to double it.”

That goal may seem far-fetched, considering the stranglehold the economy has over so many people and the fact that private, non-Jewish camps have seen national attendance decline by 10 percent or more over the last three years, according to Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC).

But figures from the New York-based organization indicate that Jewish camp enrollment is holding steady or even slightly increasing. Fingerman expects this past year’s final numbers to be up more than 3 percent nationally.

Get the Grants

Foundation for Jewish Camp Grants and Scholarships – ” title=”jewishla.org/pages/jewish-camping” target=”_blank”>jewishla.org/pages/jewish-camping

“I think it’s been viewed as a communal imperative to make sure that kids have the ability to go to camp in the face of these economic times,” he said. “Federations have stepped up to the plate and increased scholarship assistance, and the camp communities themselves have their own scholarships.”

More than 70,000 kids went to Jewish, nonprofit overnight summer camps this summer, paying an average of between $700 and $1,000 per week, Fingerman said.

To help, FJC distributed more than 10,000 grants this past summer, totaling about $6.5 million, through two programs in particular. One Happy Camper offers $1,000 incentives to youths attending their first summer at a nonprofit, Jewish overnight camp. FJC partners with local Federations, camp movements and sometimes camps for these programs. Then there’s JWest, which is funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and offers incentive grants for the first and second summers.

In Los Angeles, Federation gives out camper incentive grants to close to 1,000 youths. Some are based on financial need while those in conjunction with One Happy Camper focus on first-time campers.

At Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, fundraising efforts have gone into overdrive since the recession hit. As a result, more attendees are on financial aid — 42 percent last summer compared to 29 percent a few years ago — but more are enrolling, too.

“Our goal is to get every kid into camp, so we’ve raised the money,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which is home to the camp.

Now the camp, which usually hosts 800 youths over the course of a summer, gives out $250,000 in scholarships based on financial need. Some campers receive assistance from other sources as well. The cost of attending Camp JCA Shalom generally is between $900 and $1,000 per week, Kaplan said.

There is a new challenge, though: Some potential campers simply aren’t asking for help.

Josh Levine, director of Camp Alonim, part of American Jewish University, said, “There are families out there who don’t send their kids to Jewish camp because they think they won’t qualify for financial aid, or they don’t know that financial aid is available. It is available, there is certainly no stigma in applying for financial aid, and it exists for a reason.”

Still, summer enrollment at the Simi Valley camp has increased to more than 900 overnight campers and 270 day campers. On average, overnight camp costs $850 to $900 per week and day camp costs $250 per week. Increased financial aid has certainly helped attendance.

“We have been raising more for scholarships,” Levine said. “I think the community is responding in knowing that there’s been an increased need out there, which is very heartening.”

Finding ways to get kids into Jewish camp despite the recession is incredibly important to the Jewish future, Sanderson said.

“If you go to camp for two or three years minimally, your Jewish identity is solidified,” he said. “Almost everybody I know, including myself, among the most meaningful experiences we had in terms of Jewish engagement was camp. That’s where lifelong friends are met. It’s where love of Judaism happens.”

Summertime picnic


Summer is a perfect time to share a picnic meal with friends. There is something exciting about eating outdoors, even if you are only heading to the local park.

We have had season tickets for the Hollywood Bowl for as long as I can remember. Friends meet up with us there and we enjoy an entire evening sharing a picnic dinner and music under the stars.

One of the most interesting salads we have had was when a guest was asked to bring a Caesar salad to the Bowl. The ingredients were packed individually; when we got to the Bowl, our friends put the romaine, grated Parmesan and anchovy dressing into a plastic bag — shake, shake — and served. It was delicious.

Your picnic meal may be nothing more than tuna salad and a selection of cheeses, but you’re still likely to have a good time, which is probably why many of us remain devoted to the same picnic foods we’ve eaten forever.

Here are some ideas for a successful, frustration-free picnic, which you can enjoy at the Hollywood Bowl, the Santa Barbara Bowl, the Libbey Bowl in Ojai, the beach, a park or in your own backyard.

Begin with Roasted Peppers prepared in a simple, foolproof method and served with anchovies. When not planning to serve the peppers immediately, cover them with oil and garlic, and store them in a bowl in the refrigerator. The olive oil serves as a preservative, and the garlic actually brings out their flavor. Although people may bring store-bought roasted peppers in the jar, they cannot compare with peppers prepared at home.

Meatloaf is a favorite and can be made with ground beef, chicken or turkey. Serving is no problem —  heat it in the oven just before leaving for your picnic. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, wrap in several layers of newspaper or a towel, and it will stay as warm as if you just took it out of the oven. During the preparation, I include hard-boiled eggs that I place in the center when shaping the meatloaf. When you cut the loaf, it is very festive to see them in each slice.

Don’t forget to include Potato Salad, which traditionally goes with meatloaf as well as it does with most picnic foods. Spoon into Tupperware or a similar snap-top plastic container, and place on a plastic bag filled with ice to keep cold.

Rich, chewy Chocolate Pecan Brownies covered with a creamy chocolate frosting are a perfect take-along dessert — they can be baked in advance and are easy to transport.

A fast last getaway


We all head excitedly into the first days of summer with visions of epic beach days and star-worthy bronzed skin. Yet after weeks of long office hours and errand-filled weekends, the end of summer is already in sight. Before the flurry of back-to-school and the High Holy Days, grab all the fun getaway items below, and get outta town!

1. Are you more the book-by-the-beach than the scuba-diving type? No problem — you can bring a splash of aquatic life to your spot on the sand. The Ralph Lauren Sea Horse Print Beach Towel ($13.99), with its plush terry cotton, is just as much fun to look at as it is to lie on. ralphlauren.com

2. Be it sand or chlorinated pool water, you’ll need some resistant material between the elements and your outdoor essentials. The Kenneth Cole Go Go Logo Tote ($49.98) will keep your stuff looking cute — and dry. kennethcole.com

3. Hasbro’s Soaker Wars Shot Blast Super Soaker ($19.99) should keep the kids — the ones with the Energizer Bunny-like stamina — busy and away from a napping mom and dad. hasbro.com

4. DKNY’s printed triangle bikini top ($38.99) and string tie bottom ($37.99) pay perfect homage to the bright colors of the sea, and the ultra-feminine cut leaves your bare skin free to soak up just enough rays to get glowing. dkny.com

5. These funky Calvin Klein Luxe Reversible Board Shorts ($49.99) will attract some attention poolside — not just for the cool patterns, but also for how well they flatter that beach body of yours. calvinklein.com

6. Hopping on a jet for a quick overnighter? Pack light and pretty with this compact, sleek Samsonite Silhouette 12 Softside Boarding Bag ($89.99). There’s even a bottom compartment for your shoes! csnstores.com

7. Even the hottest bikini loses its appeal when it’s hidden under a ratty T-shirt, so spice it up with the bright coral Zuza Cover-Up from Diane Von Furstenberg ($136.50). The deep V-neck is perfect for showing off that gorgeous suit. dvf.com

Families Look in Own Back Yards for Summer Fun


Each summer, Erica Groten saves money on summer camp for her son, Ethan, by enrolling him in an exclusive program with only one opening: Camp Mom.

Groten takes Ethan, 6, to places like the Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo, and organizes beach days with other families and their children. She plans to reprise her role as camp director this summer, creating educational trips for her son.

“We decided that financially, it didn’t make sense to send him away for the summer,” said Groten, of West Hills. “I think he would have a great time at camp, but it just doesn’t work for us. I can create a summer experience for him that would be on par with the camps.”

More parents this year are opting for low-budget alternatives to supplement or substitute for traditional summer camp, turning to backyard camps, mommy camps and round-robin groups where participating families take turns programming for their kids. The move lets families cut the often-hefty cost of tuition from their budgets and allows parents to give their children what some feel is the added benefit of a personalized schedule with mom.

Many Los Angeles mothers turn to Kids Off the Couch, a Web site and free, weekly e-mail newsletter, for tips on inexpensive summer adventures and kid-oriented “staycations.” Co-founders Sarah Bowman and Diane Shakin test-drive all of the day trips outlined on the site with their own children, often using favorite movies or current events as a springboard for educational outings that broaden kids’ horizons.

“Every week, it’s a movie or a book or something to get your kid’s attention, and then we tie it to something to do in the city,” said Bowman. “We’re connecting it to a theme, or to something that’s going on in the world.”

These so-called “popcorn adventures” might involve watching “Little Shop of Horrors” in preparation for a visit to the Conservatory Lab at The Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, or watching the documentary “Paper Clips” before a visit to the Museum of Tolerance to learn about Yom HaShoah. The Web site also offers suggestions for creating a “home curriculum” based on the themes explored in each field trip and conversation-prompters to make sure kids soak up the educational value.

“You could do a vacation in your own city, and not spend a lot of money, and have a lot of fun,” Bowman said. “You can pick and choose locations and create a pretty neat itinerary for exploring parts of your city you don’t really know.”

Kids can also have just as much fun doing activities at home, said Esther Simon, a professional home organizer and mother of seven children who hosted mommy camps at her Santa Monica house for more than a decade.

Erica Groten and her son, Ethan, picked vegetables and strawberries at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark last year as part of Groten’s “Camp Mom.”

Families should first settle on a budget and then make that figure stretch throughout the week with reasonably priced outings and projects, she said. One day could be dedicated to paid activities such as going out to museums, movies or miniature golf. Another day could be reserved for in-home arts and crafts, such as making birdhouses, pencil boxes or beaded jewelry.

Holding a weekly cooking class for kids is entertaining and teaches life skills, said Simon, who would often let her children write up a menu of simple items — macaroni and cheese, pizza and cookies, for example — and then invite friends over to share the meal. “It’s fun to make your kitchen into a little restaurant, and it teaches independence,” she said.

Other mommy camp activities could include holding scavenger hunts at the mall or on the beach, playing games with sidewalk chalk, planting a garden or holding relay races at a local park. Families can even incorporate tikkun olam (repairing the world) into their camp curriculum by having kids volunteer at a hospital or home for the elderly.

“You have to start out the activities with them, and as much enthusiasm as you show, that’s how much they will get into it,” she said.

If both parents in the family work, Simon added, they can hire a local teacher or teenager to host a backyard camp for them. Five of Simon’s six daughters have hosted backyard camps — both for their siblings and for other neighborhood children.

One backyard camp with an educational bent will be offering themed, weeklong camp sessions this July for preschool-aged kids. Karyn Saffro, who founded the in-home preschool Berwick Buddies at her Brentwood house in January, is letting parents sign up for a full month of summer programming or take it week by week for a cheaper alternative.

Weekly themes include Aloha Paradise, in which kids will learn about Hawaii, the ocean, and make volcanoes as a science project, and Pirate Adventure, which will feature scavenger hunts and water play.

Saffro — a 14-year teacher who spent half her career at Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School — incorporates the Reggio Emilia instructional method, in which learning is directed by the students. Whatever kids want to explore — be it octopi or fire trucks — she facilitates their educational desires with books, projects and experiential activities.

“The fact that it comes from the kids keeps it interesting and ever changing,” she said. “Our Hawaii week could be all about hula dancing, if that’s what they’re interested in, or fish or surfing,” she said. “There are things I’ll offer and show them, and we’ll see where they take it.”

The whole month costs $900, and a single week is $250. The price includes a full day of programming and healthy snacks.

Parents still seeking a traditional camp experience have a range of options available to help defray the cost. Most local overnight camps offer need-based scholarships, or “camperships,” and discounts for early registration and sibling enrollments. In addition, incentive grants of up to $1,500 are available to families of first-time campers through a partnership between The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the national Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). For families who still feel they can’t make overnight camp work in the current economy, day camp is increasingly seen as a viable, less-pricey option.

Most of Erica Groten’s friends enroll their children in summer camps, but she maintains that not everyone should follow the flock.

“Every parent needs to find what’s right for them and their child,” she said.

To learn more about Kids Off the Couch, visit www.kidsoffthecouch.com. To learn more about Esther Simon’s mommy camp tips, visit ” title=”www.berwickbuddies.com” target=”_blank”>www.berwickbuddies.com.

Solar panels, radio station keep Jewish camps current


It was a given that Benjy Rabin, 9, would spend part of his summers at Camp Ramah as soon as he was old enough. His father is a Ramah alum, and so are his older brother and sister.

“That was the plan we made when we decided that Jewish day school was not an affordable or appropriate option for our kids,” said Benjy’s mother, Ellen. “All the research says that going to summer camp is just as significant as day school in promoting Jewish identity.”

But Jewish overnight camps can’t rely on families like the Rabins to fill their cabins. A study done in 2006 for the Foundation for Jewish Camping shows that Jewish kids in Southern California attend secular camps at about double the rate at which they attend Jewish camps.

“Parents don’t feel they’re getting bang for the buck by sending their children to Jewish camps,” Gerrald B. Silverman, president of the Foundation for Jewish Camping, said of the study. “Part of that has to with facilities not being competitive.”

The study, by Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, calls the “limitations in facilities and in quality of recreational activities” one of three areas needing attention, and Los Angeles area Jewish camps seem to be taking note.

Climbing wall at Alonim
Climbing wall at Alonim

Camp Alonim in Simi Valley is constructing a new, 15,000-square-foot dining hall scheduled for completion in fall 2008, as well as rebuilding an adjacent dance pavilion that will be ready for this summer’s camp sessions. The new facilities will replace structures erected in the 1960s.

“In order for Jewish camps to do what they do — which is help preserve the Jewish future — we need to help convince parents, families and kids themselves to choose their camp,” said Gary Brennglass, executive director of American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin campus, home to Alonim. “Part of Alonim’s efforts to continue to make it an attractive alternative relate to the physical plant. And the Campus Center and Dining Hall really are key elements in terms of any camp’s physical plant.”

Alonim also added a batting cage and started a mountain biking program last year. This year, the camp is introducing its own radio station and has added Krav Maga (an Israeli martial art form) and water polo to the menu of activities. The camp also redesigned and upgraded its Web site, adding blogs and an extensive photo gallery to attract visitors.

At Camp Ramah in Ojai, campers will be greeted this summer with a new pool featuring two corkscrew-shaped water slides. This complements the existing 25-meter pool, which has been renovated with a new deck, bathrooms and two diving boards. Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber said the new pool will allow Ramah to offer more extensive aquatics programs, such as water polo, advanced swim training and possibly scuba diving.

Several years ago, Ramah purchased 22 additional acres of adjacent land that includes an orange grove. A residence located on that property is being converted into a retreat center, which during summers will be used to host guest coaches, artists, scholars and other specialists. Gifts to Ramah have also enabled the camp to expand the hiking trails on its property and build remote overnight campsites.

“The larger picture is that we’ve done a master plan and are in the middle of a capital campaign and looking forward to a whole host of other projects to reinvent and reenergize our program facilities,” said Greyber.

Camp JCA Shalom’s physical changes reflect its environmental bent and are part of its “True to Nature” campaign. Three of the facility’s buildings are now powered by rooftop solar panels, and about half of the camps’ bunks are made from recycled plastic.

“We know that greening is one of the trends people are looking for nationally,” said Camp Director Bill Kaplan. “It fits into our values system in terms of what we’ve been doing with the kids at camp and in connecting to our Jewish tradition.”

The campus also features the Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center and Garden, a year-round interactive learning center that teaches organic gardening and farming through the lens of the relationship between Judaism and the environment. And last summer, Camp JCA Shalom introduced its Pioneer Living Center, an area dedicated to teaching historical skills such as how to build a log cabin, make candles and throw a tomahawk.

This summer will initiate the third season for Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, which just received accreditation from the American Camp Association. To address the need for greater capacity (enrollment increased 60 percent from the first year to the second), the camp is in the final stages of constructing a 10,000-square-foot building that will serve as dining and meeting hall. The structure includes dairy and meat kitchens and two large bathrooms.

Camp director Gershon Sandler said that although the camp is run by Chabad and is therefore a comfortable option for Orthodox children, the majority of campers come from non-observant homes. Sandler, who was at one time a fellow for the Federation for Jewish Camping, is well aware of the recent study on Jewish campership.

“We are giving parents what they want — helping their child to move ahead in life, not just providing a warm and fuzzy experience.” At the same time, he said, “there’s something about our spirit that the parents and kids love.”

Most camp directors stress that the emphasis on a camp’s physical features or its ability to offer bells and whistles are of only part of the picture.

“We’re a different summer camp to begin with,” said Rachael Sevilla, executive director of Camp Gilboa. “We’re more tailored to Israel education, which is itself a specialty. We’re not about to become a sports or drama camp any time soon.”

Although Sevilla says that Gilboa’s facilities could use some upgrading (the camp rents a YMCA facility in the San Bernardino National Forest), enrollment has nevertheless grown 30 percent in the last two years.

Loud and clear reasons for a cell phone-free Summer


One of the hardest rules to enforce at camp is not no gum-chewing, no graffiti or even no late-night sneaking out. It’s camper cell phone use.

Everyone is so used to being in constant contact that even our kids can’t seem to hang up the phone for the few short weeks of summer camp.

Camp administrators confiscate all the phones we find and, as the session goes on, more appear. The latest trick is bringing two cell phones to camp: one to sheepishly turn in on the first day, and the other to hide under your bed.

Cell phones are an inherent part of our culture — why fight that at camp?

In addition to being a place for fun, making friends and becoming more connected to Judaism, camp also has the potential to build self-esteem and encourage independence in a safe environment, but that potential is lost when a cell phone is introduced.

Let’s look at an example, a conversation I had last summer:

Mom: The girls in Jessica’s [not her real name] bunk are picking on her, and the counselors aren’t doing anything. If something doesn’t change, I’m coming to pick her up.

Me: I’ll look into that right away! Today is the second day of camp. Did you already get a letter?

Mom: No … she called me on her cell phone.

Me: We don’t allow cell phones.

Mom: I know. I told her to call me if she had any problems. I told her I would come pick her up.

This is a loving mother who wants her daughter to enjoy camp. Unfortunately, this is also a parent who has made it impossible for her child to succeed at camp.

Becoming a Self Advocate

Jessica had fallen into the habit of how she would have handled this situation had it happened at school — she told Mom. An opportunity for growth was missed, because Jessica was not forced out of her comfort zone. Learning to advocate for yourself is one way to practice independence.

Richard Mullendore, a former vice president of student affairs at the Universities of Mississippi and Georgia calls the cell phone “the world’s longest umbilical chord.”

We know that a parent’s job is to teach children life skills, so why, according to Mullendore, are parents of college students calling Residence Life directors to mediate arguments between roommates? At camp, kids learn to get along with bunkmates, rather than waiting to learn this lesson with college roommates.

Citizenship

When Mom told Jessica to hide the cell phone in her bag, Mom wordlessly taught her daughter that it is permissible to break the rules. Why should Jessica abide by the rules if her mother does not? Author and psychologist Wendy Mogel teaches that even how you navigate a carpool line can teach your children something: “When you cheat in line, you signal that you don’t care about rules or other people.”

Citizenship — being a positively contributing member of a community — is another value that is powerfully taught at camp. Having a cell phone that your parent encouraged you to hide destroys that lesson.

Building Confidence

Mom also taught Jessica to have anxiety about going to camp. Children pick up on their parents’ anxiety, even if they do not know what it is about. The cell phone is a symptom, indicating that either the parent or the camper is not viewing camp as a trusted authority.

Once a camp is chosen, both the camper and the parent will reap more benefits from the camp experience if they can commit to the decision wholeheartedly. When a camper calls a parent from a hidden cell phone, the opportunity to address the problem and salvage the child’s remaining time at camp is likely lost.

If there is something about the camp that is causing doubt, parents should not hesitate to contact the administration directly.

Life Skills

If Mom made sure that Jessica left the phone at home, she could have shown Jessica that she had confidence in her daughter’s ability to survive at camp without her input. If Mom had not offered to pick her up from camp at the first sign of difficulty, she could have shown her daughter that she believed Jessica could work through the problem or endure it.

When do we allow our children to truly rehearse decision-making skills, become problem solvers, practice advocating for themselves and make safe mistakes from which they can learn valuable lessons? If children are trained to call Mom or Dad every time they hit a snag in life, they miss the opportunity to develop crucial skills. Camp is the perfect place to develop these skills within a safe, supervised, enclosed environment.

Every camp has multiple vehicles for keeping in touch, such as letters, one-way e-mail, calls to the parent liaison or the director and online photo galleries. Camp works when a partnership is formed among the camp, the parents and the camper. It is only when all three do their part that the camper can be successful. Camps strive to create a safe and wholesome environment, but they can only do this alongside their parent partners. So please, this summer, leave the cell phones at home.

Jordanna Flores is the director of Camp Alonim at the Brandeis Bardin Institute, Peers give Orthodox teens lesson in drug use and abuse

How to choose an Israel summer program


Josh Ungar will never forget the first time he laid eyes on the Western Wall.

“It was right before Shabbos and [the tour leaders] led us to the Wall and had us close our eyes and then open them when we were right in front of the Kotel,” remembered Ungar, 16, of his experience with Ramah Israel Summer, which is affiliated with Camp Ramah. “It was an amazing feeling, after hearing and reading about this place for all this time and finally being there.”

After spending last summer touring Israel with his peers, the Playa del Rey resident feels a stronger connection to the country and his Jewish roots.

Ungar is not alone. The Jewish Agency of Israel reports that in 2006, 7,870 high school students participated in Israel programs. But while the decision to go may be an easy one, the process of selecting a program is not always so simple. Countless organizations offer a variety of different types of programs, making overwhelming the task of finding the right fit. So, how can a prospective traveler narrow down the options?

“First [interested teens] should think about their goals in going to Israel,” said Sara Polon of Tlalim Tours, a Washington, D.C.-based company that creates tours for the Passport to Israel summer program of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). “Are they looking for a religious experience, a more outdoorsy adventure, an educational experience or maybe a community service experience?”

Teens can also start with programs aligned with the branch of Judaism with which they affiliate. Another consideration is the amount of time the youngster is willing to spend on his journey, as the programs range from a quick 10-day excursion to six weeks or more.

Jewish youth movements like USY (United Synagogue Youth), BBYO, Young Judea, Habonim Dror, NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) offer a variety of programs that are often open to both members and nonmembers. In fact, 50 percent of BBYO’s Passport to Israel participants are not affiliated with the organization.

In general, these trips offer a combination of sightseeing, outdoor adventures, community service and Jewish education. But some of the youth movements also offer programs that emphasize just one of these aspects. USY offers Etgar! Outdoor Adventure Israel for teens who would like to spend the summer hiking and exploring the outdoors. Similarly, NCSY’s G.I.V.E. program focuses on community service.
In addition, some of the youth movement trips include Eastern Europe. Participants often visit concentration camps before making a pilgrimage to Israel.

The highlight of 16-year-old Daniella Kaufman’s NFTY trip last summer was a re-enactment of the liberation from Terezin, a Prague concentration camp, and then a cruise to Israel, mimicking the boat ride refugees took.

“We had a chance to arrive in Israel just as so many Jews did so long ago, and experience the feelings they felt when the port of Haifa, their gateway to freedom, came into view,” remembered the Valley Village resident.

For students in search of an academic experience, there are plenty of options. The Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, a five-week program for high school juniors, selects 26 applicants from diverse Jewish backgrounds to study Jewish texts and explore Israel.

InnovationIsrael is a four-week program in which students take courses at Tel Aviv University and visit environmental, high-tech, bio-tech, medical, art and film studio facilities. For those looking for religious academia, NCSY offers Kollel (for boys) and Michlelet (for girls). Both programs focus on Torah study. NCSY also offers “Shakespeare in Jerusalem,” an Israel experience coupled with an “on-the-road” English literature course.

Students who want to spend their summer doing community service can explore Sar-El (the National Project for Volunteers for Israel), an Israeli non-profit that offers adults and teens 17 and older the opportunity to work in Israeli army bases and hospitals. Camp Tawonga, a Jewish summer camp based in San Francisco, is offering a Teen Service Learning trip to Israel where participants will work four days a week with locals on important community projects.

While programs vary in cost, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) program offers financial aid for many teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 26 who have not yet visited Israel.

“We want to help every young person go to Israel for the first time,” said Deborah Dragon, The Federation’s vice president of public relations. ICE offers grants and scholarships with the help of more than 80 local Jewish agencies. The group funds 250 to 300 trips per year. The Jewish Free Loan Association, also a Federation agency, offers interest-free loans for Israel trips.

No matter which options young travelers choose it is clear that a summer in Israel makes a profound impact in the life of a Jewish teenager.

After her USY trip last summer, Daniela Bernstein, 16, of Los Angeles is already thinking about returning. “The trip cultivated my love of Israel and the complete realization of how crucial Israel is to Judaism and the Jewish people,” said Bernstein. “I am already planning my next visit.”

For information on financial aid and referrals for a variety of Israel programs, call The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE) office at (323) 761-8342.

For information on Ramah Israel Seminar, visit www.ramah.org.il

For information on BBYO’s Israel programs, visit www.passport2israel.org

For information on USY’s programs, visit www.usy.org

For information on Young Judea, visit www.youngjudea.org

For information on Habonim Dror, visit www.habonimdror.org

For information on NFTY in Israel, visit www.nftyisrael.org

For information on NCSY’s summer programs, visit www.ncsysummer.com

For information on the Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel, visit www.bronfman.org

For information on InnovationIsrael, visit www.innovationisrael.org

For information on Sar-El, visit www.sar-el.org

For information on Camp Tawonga’s programs, visit www.tawonga.org

For information on the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Israel Connections/Experiences (ICE), visit www.jewishla.org/lajewishteen/html/iep.html

Mark the New Year with late summer harvest menu


A recent trip to Italy made me aware of the wonderful possibilities of growing your own lush, flavorful garden-fresh food. The villa where we stayed was entirely self-sufficient, with magnificent varieties of produce, eggs gathered from the hen house and the proprietors even making their own wine and olive oil.

 
If you have a garden, you know the pleasure of eating the freshest of salad greens, tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. And since the weather is still warm as Rosh Hashanah arrives at sundown on Friday, Sept. 22, take advantage of the healthy garden bounties and prepare a light menu featuring the late summer harvest of fresh vegetables and fruits to celebrate the New Year.

 
If you’re not a gardener, visit some of the local open-air farmers’ markets. The Wednesday morning Santa Monica farmers market is one of the largest, and there is an organic Saturday market as well, where the selection and variety is very impressive.

 
After a special round challah and apple slices dipped in honey, start the dinner with a simple salad of avocado and tomato slices served on a bed of pungently flavored arugula and dressed with a tangy orange vinaigrette. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to make it with full-flavored tomatoes from your garden; nothing compares with vine-ripened tomatoes. If they are not available, your local farmers’ market will have a selection of the tasty heirloom tomatoes.

 
Arugula is not only trendy and delicious, but very easy to grow, and seeds are available at most nurseries.

 
Next, serve a chilled beet borscht, my version of gazpacho, and pass around bowls of chopped cucumbers, green and yellow bell peppers, and chives, for a colorful do-it-yourself garnish.

 
The main course is a whole roast chicken that has been butterflied and baked on bed of fresh vegetables — a combination of garlic, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, squash and potatoes, and garnished with fresh herbs from your garden. With this dish we will drink a special toast for a peaceful year with a glass of young, fruity chardonnay.
 
For dessert, late summer pl
ums, arranged in colorful circles on a light pastry dough make a delicious eye-appealing tart. Serve a sweet late harvest wine or hot tea with lemon, and let the children choose their favorite fruit juice.

 
Cold Puree of Beet Borscht
4 medium-size beets, unpeeled
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Diced cucumbers
Diced green and yellow red peppers

 
Scrub the outside of the beets using cold water, place in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until a fork inserted in the beet is tender, about one hour. Cool. Remove the beets, but reserve the liquid. Peel the skin, which should come off easily, and discard.

 
Dice the beets and return to the liquid. Place half of the diced beets and liquid in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a bowl and repeat the process with the remaining beets and liquid. Add lemon juice, sugar and salt to taste and mix well. To serve, ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with cucumbers and peppers.

 
Makes eight to 10 servings.

 
Avocado, Tomato and Arugula Salad

 
Usually avocados are served mashed or chopped. For this dish, simply slice the avocados and tomatoes, which enables them to harmonize with the pungent-flavored arugula.

 
2 avocados, peeled and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large tomatoes, sliced
3 cups loosely packed arugula, coarse stems discarded
Vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds for garnish, optional

 
Cut each avocado into nine to 12 lengthwise slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. Slice tomatoes and set aside.

 
Wash arugula and dry. Slice and mound arugula on chilled plates, fan the avocado slices around the mounds and arrange the sliced tomatoes in the center.

 
Spoon enough vinaigrette over each salad to coat leaves, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve immediately.

 
Makes six to eight servings.

 
Vinaigrette Dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup walnut oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper

 
Place mustard, vinegar, lemon juice in a processor or blender. Add oil in thin stream and blend until slightly thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 
Butterflied Roast Chicken With Medley of Vegetables
1 (4-pound) or 2 (2-pound) whole chickens
1 onion, sliced and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium potato, diced and steamed
2 tablespoons minced parsley
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

 
Marinade
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, thyme and rosemary, crushed
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 cups dry white wine

 
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Split the chicken along the entire length of the back, removing backbone from tail to neck. Open it out, skin side up. With a mallet or the heel of your hand, flatten the chicken, fracturing the breastbone and ribcage, so it lays flat. Arrange vegetables on a foil-lined large roasting pan, and place the chicken on top, skin-side up.

 
Mix garlic and rosemary together. Working with your fingertips, separate the skin from the meat of the chicken, beginning at the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin. Place sliced garlic and rosemary under the skin, including the drumsticks and thighs. Mix together the olive oil and herbs and rub it on the top of the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

 
Pour the marinade over the vegetables and chicken and bake for l0 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for 45 minutes to one hour longer, depending on the size of the chicken. Baste every 20 minutes. If chicken browns too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. If the marinade cooks away too quickly, add more. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown.

I Was Kid Free and Guilt Free! For A Week!


My children were unexpectedly away for a week this summer, and I didn’t miss them a bit. Apparently, that’s grounds for expulsion from the Good Mommy Club.

My husband, 8-year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and I were on our way back to Los Angeles from a trip to Squaw Valley, and we’d stopped in the Bay Area to stay with family friends overnight. As we were packing the car the next morning and getting set for the long ride home, our hosts suddenly invited our two children to stay for the week.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “That’s way too much work for you.”
But they insisted that it was the perfect week for such spontaneity. Their own two kids, who are very close with ours, had nothing to do: no school, no camp, no anything.

“Let them all be together and have one last summer fling,” the mom said.
After a bit more requisite protesting on our part, my husband and I fished our children’s bags out of the trunk, went online to buy a pair of one-way airplane tickets for the following Saturday and found ourselves headed back to Los Angeles in a most unfamiliar position: just the two of us, alone.

At first, we felt more strange than giddy.

“Miss them yet?” my husband said after we had been rolling for, oh, three or four miles. But about halfway down I-5, it started to sink in: We realized that we’d been talking for hours and that no one had interrupted us to ask that we turn up the music (if it was theirs) or turn down the music (if it was ours). Or to tell us he was hungry. Or she was thirsty. Or had to go to the bathroom. Or to ask us when we would be arriving home — over and over and over again.

The next day I wasn’t even unpacked before I boasted to a friend — a bit smugly I admit — that we were child-free. She answered back: “You must miss them, though.”

“No,” I replied, “I don’t miss them at all.”

“Oh,” she said. “Wait a few days. You will.”

But I didn’t. Not then, not in a few days and not even on my last day of freedom. Frankly, I enjoyed every moment of it.

My husband and I dined out all but one night — and without the slightest consideration that my daughter doesn’t like Thai food or that my son won’t try Indian. We ate late, lingered over our last sips of wine and took long evening walks.

I slept in for a solid week, drank coffee and read my morning newspapers uninterrupted. When I sat down at my desk to work, my computer was not set on RuneScape, my son’s favorite online game. And my scissors, pencils and pens, pencil sharpener, dictionary, notepads and Scotch tape were exactly where I had left them the last time I used them. Miracle of miracles!

When I went to take a shower, no wet towels littered the floor, and I didn’t have to step over my daughter’s housecoat, blue jeans or discarded shoes to get there.

And every time I looked in the refrigerator or freezer for some juice, a piece of fruit, a bowl of ice cream, whatever, it was there because the hordes of teenagers that usually hang out at my house had not emptied it out five minutes after I’d returned from a $200 grocery store run.

I spent no time on the phone arranging carpools for my daughter or schlepping her to sleepovers, the mall or movies. My son did not noodge me for countless play dates, complain of being bored or pester me to buy him comic books or a Game Boy for his next birthday (still six months away). It was heaven.

I bragged to just about everyone I ran into that we were without our children for the week. Almost all of them asked if I missed them and almost all of them seemed surprised — some even slightly horrified — when I said no.

My husband asked me several times, as well, if I missed the kids, though he seemed more amused than shocked by my response: “Not even a little.”

Now, before you get your knickers in twist, know this: I love my kids deeply. And I was thrilled to see their sweet faces when they arrived home. But for goodness sake, they were gone for a blink. Next summer, I think I’ll try to convince them to go away for two weeks. Or maybe even three.

By then, after 51 weeks of togetherness, my Good Mommy credentials should be reinstated, my membership in the club renewed.


Randye Hoder is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, The Wall Street Journal and others.

God Was With Us That Night in the Negev


Our bus driver Boris had been navigating the roads of the Negev for at least an hour when the whole bus suddenly shook, rattled and rolled. As we gazed out the window, we saw that Boris had left the road. All we saw was rock, dust and a little more rock. It took about two more hours of off-road driving for us to reach our destination for the night.

I stepped off the bus and asked our counselor, “Where is the bathroom?”
“Follow me and I will demonstrate,” she said. “Girls to those rocks on the left, boys to the right.” Enough said.

I had just arrived in Israel that week for a four-week tour with 34 other California teens in Group Three of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) summer Israel program. And we were about to spend three nights in the middle of the Negev Desert with nothing but food and sleeping bags — definitely a sight to see.

Not only did we do it, but so did 12 other NFTY groups in Israel this summer, and we would soon find out that the experience of sleeping on our ancestors’ land would set the tone for our whole trip.

We unloaded the materials from the bus including dishes, food supplies, sleeping bags and our own personal bags. Once dinner was made and served, our group began to gather for Maariv, the evening prayer service.

This was by far the most spiritual moment in my life. I gazed up at the stars as I chanted the V’Ahavta prayer with amazing new friends, standing around the same rocks that our people had wandered past thousands of years before. My eyes couldn’t help but tear up as we moved on to the Mi Chamocha, the song of freedom. At that moment I felt as though God truly was with us.

We ended the night with our usual closing circle, where we sang Hashkiveinu and the Shema, with the words: “Keep us safe throughout the night, until we wake with morning’s light.” But that night, I felt as though we didn’t even need to ask for safety, that this ground and these mountains would keep us safe.

As morning woke us with its light, we found ourselves at the beginning of a long day of hiking in the Negev and then swimming in Eilat.

On our last day camping out, Boris took us to a Bedouin tent. We were warmly welcomed and introduced to the interesting Bedouin culture. We experienced their music, cultural food and hospitality — especially when they invited us to use the tent’s bathrooms, equipped with actual showers. I would have to say that the next task might have been even harder then the previous day’s four-hour hike. This was the situation: four showers, 20 girls, 30 minutes.

That night I was in a Bedouin tent celebrating Shabbat like I never had done before. This was our third and final night sleeping on the ground of the Negev, so we were both excited and upset.

The next day we arrived at Kibbutz Yahel near Eilat. Our tour guide, Sivan, took us on a very short hike on the outskirts of the Kibbutz. As we all sat in a circle in the middle of two mountains — a lot like our accommodations for the past three nights — Ellie Klein, our madrich, shared some words that I will never forget. She told us that by successfully making it through this Negev experience, whether we knew it our not, we had already changed and grown.

This campout was our chance to be with the land of Israel, nothing else. Just the land with all of its components. Through the tasks that we had completed and the experiences we had, we had assured ourselves that we could do it again.

Ellie asked us to grab a rock and gather them all in a pile in the center of our circle. I found a rock and felt the firmness of it and dropped it in the center, feeling as though I had just left a piece of myself in the desert. Not only a piece of myself, but a newly grown, solid and firm me. The words she said about us and the natural land still echoes in my mind because I really felt that for those few days, I was at my true quintessential state — and so was the Land of Israel.

We left the rocks in a clump on the ground as we made our way back to Kibbutz Yahel. This experience was the start of a treasured summer traveling with the most incredible people. I was finding my true Jewish identity not only among the historical sights, but among the millions of rocks that make up Eretz Yisrael.

Daniella Kaufman is an 11th grader at New Community Jewish High School.

The Bittersweet Meaning of Mud


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 julief@jewishjournal.com.

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.”

Summer Tours to Israel Rerouted, But Not By Much


Most summers, the trip to the Naot Sandal factory on a kibbutz close to Israel’s northern border is a highlight of the teen tours run by United Synagogue Youth (USY). But this summer, with the north under constant threat of rocket attacks, the 400 USYers stayed in the central and southern part of the country, and Naot came to them, with a special sale near USY’s base in Jerusalem.

That was one of the easier adjustments to a constantly changing itinerary for USY kids and the other estimated 6,000 American teens on tours in Israel this summer.

“All of us that have kids in Israel are trying to make the best of the situation,” said Jules Gutin, international director for USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, which has about 50 California teens in Israel this summer. “We want the experience to be worthwhile and positive, as well as safe.”

So while kids may be missing out on trips to the Golan Heights, to the kabbalistic city of Tsfat, the Banias natural pools or Maimonides’ grave in Tiveria, tours are making up for it with extra time in Jerusalem and challenging hikes through the Negev.

Few Kids Have Returned Home

Most tours departed the United States before the violence escalated in Israel, and most of the teens have stayed. USY reports that as of early this week, three kids went home, and Young Judaea has a similar count, with six kids out of 470 being summoned home. Three of the 390 students on NCSY’s Europe and Israel trip did not continue on from Europe to Israel.

The Orthodox Union canceled a trip scheduled to leave this week with its Yad b’Yad program, where 15 developmentally and physically disabled adults were to be accompanied by 35 teenage counselors on a four-week tour of Israel.

Administrators worried about heightening participants’ anxiety, and about difficulties rerouting the group, or moving it quickly in case of emergency. The day before the trip, it was recast as a West Coast tour.

Israel Experience, the educational tourism arm of the Jewish Agency for Israel, coordinates programming and security for most of the trips that leave from North America.

“Trips are being rerouted based on the current situation, and it’s an hour-by-hour reevaluation,” said Rachel Russo, director of marketing for Israel Experience.

IDF, Police, Jewish Agency Monitor Tourist Itineraries

Israel Experience adjusts the groups’ schedules according to recommendations it gets from a situation room staffed by representatives from the Israeli army, the Israeli police, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Jewish Agency. Each teen tour group that signs up with Israel Experience — and most do — is tracked by GPS.

“They are really fluid in moving the groups when they need to move,” said Russo, whose daughter is in Israel with Ramah Seminar this summer.

Program operators have also been working overtime to keep in constant communication with parents. Young Judaea is sending out three email updates daily, in addition to photos and journals on its Web site. USY increased updates from the usual weekly to daily, and someone is available to answer parents concerns at all times.

Most teens also have cell phones with them, so parents are kept in the loop. So far, while parents have expressed concern, few are panicking. And by all reports, the kids themselves seem to be having a great time.

Bonnie Sharfman, whose 16-year-old, Zach, is on a trip with Nesiya, says she hopes the visit will have a lasting impact.

“We are choosing to look at this situation as an amazing learning experience for Zach and hope that he will return home in a month with much to say regarding the social, political and economic realities of Israel and the region,” she said.

— JGF

The Perfect Reads for Those Lazy Days of Summer


I read and write during several days of rain in New York City, and I think about Los Angeles beaches, bleached with sunshine. So reclining on a couch isn’t the same as stretching out on a blanket and listening to the surf, but there’s a certain similar lazy quality, with pockets of time best filled with books.

This season brings engaging reading in a mix of genres: literary fiction, comedy, love stories, detective novels, memoirs, historical fiction and books that break genre boundaries; books by veteran authors and others not-yet well-known.

After not publishing fiction for a decade, Hilma Wolitzer makes a fine comeback with “The Doctor’s Daughter” (Ballantine). Wolitzer’s 17th novel is a lively and poetic novel about a 51-year-old book editor who wakes up one morning with a strong sense that something is amiss — beyond the facts of her troubled son, faltering marriage, halting career and the increasing needs of her father in a nursing home.

Her father, who was once a top surgeon, is losing his memory, as she is combing through hers for clues about her family history, her marriage and the choices she has made. Wolitzer, the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, captures ordinary life with tenderness and humanity.

In the opening pages of “The Attack” by Yasmina Akhadra (Talese/Doubleday), a suicide bomb is detonated in a Tel Aviv restaurant, as a children’s birthday party is taking place and other diners sit down for what they assume will be a pleasant lunch. Many are killed instantly, and scores are wounded. Dr. Amin Jaafari, an accomplished surgeon, is called into emergency service in his hospital, which echoes with wailing and screaming.

The son of Bedouins, Dr. Jaafari has become a naturalized Israeli citizen and leads a life that’s well-integrated into Israeli society; he’s much respected by his medical peers.

The hospital is quickly crowded with the terrorist’s victims. Just as soon as Dr. Jaafari finishes with one patient, another is wheeled in and by the end of the night, he has lost count of how many people he has operated on. Soon after leaving the hospital thoroughly exhausted, he is called back and asked to identify a body: It is that of his wife, and authorities are convinced that she was the suicide bomber.

Dr. Jaafari is confounded that his wife, with whom he shared a close, loving relationship, who was equally integrated and comfortable with their Jewish friends, could have had a secret life — that something unknown to him could have driven her to this most heinous act. Ostracized by the community for his wife’s action, he sets out to understand why she would sacrifice herself for a cause that seemed to have little place in their life together and, from what he’s aware of, in her life.

This fast-paced novel is provocative and well-written, leaving the reader with powerful questions. Yasmina Akhadra is the feminine pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former Algerian army officer living in France who is the author of five other books published in English, including “The Swallows of Kabul.”

On her blog, Village Voice sex columnist Rachel Kramer Bussel names Santa Monica author S. Hanala Stadner’s new memoir the most offensive book title of the season, “My Parents Went Through the Holocaust and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” (Matter Inc.). But once readers get over the title, they may be struck by the author’s clear and honest voice. Stadner continues to shock as she unravels her life story of a Montreal childhood shaped by her parents’ Holocaust experience, her efforts to leave home for Hollywood and their world behind her.

Her journey takes her into the world of drugs and alcoholism, obesity and anorexia, all of which she details, along with her failed relationships and her efforts toward recovery and healing. Her humor is on the edge. Stadner is known around Los Angeles for her popular cable access television program; this is her first book.

“You Gotta Have Balls” by Lilly Brett (Morrow) is another book that might have been served well by a different title. The Australian author whose last book, “Too Many Men” was a best-seller, Brett sets this comic novel in downtown Manhattan, where she now lives. In that novel and this one, she touches lightly on the lingering psychological impact of the Holocaust on the second generation with humor. Here, Roth Rothwax — the heroine of “Too Many Men” — is at first skeptical about the latest project undertaken by her father, a survivor.

He backs a Polish friend with a skill for making variations on meatballs in a new restaurant, and the place becomes an overnight success, the kind of New York restaurant where people make reservations weeks in advance. The book title is the name of the restaurant, and the novel features recipes.

“Adverbs” by Daniel Handler (Ecco) is about people trying to find love. The publication marks the return to adult fiction by the author of a number of popular children’s books written under the name Lemony Snicket, collectively titled “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Here, the chapters are titled, “Immediately,” “Obviously,” “Collectively,” “Truly,” and 13 other adverbs; the interconnected, inventive stories about searching for love in its many forms are set in a taxi, courtroom, diner and back in a taxi, among other places.
As the author says, “It is not the nouns. The miracle is the adverbs, the way things are done.

In “Triangle” (Farrar, Straus, Giroux), Katherine Weber creates a novel revolving about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City. The author of several previous novels including “The Little Women,” Weber tells of the granddaughter of the tragedy’s last survivor, as she tries to unravel the facts, while a feminist scholar gets in her way as she tries to do the same. This absorbing novel probes the borders between memory and history. Weber’s own grandmother finished buttonholes for the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1909.

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 axann@jewishfoundationla.org. For information on the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, call (310) 449-4500. For information on Arts for All, visit www.lacountyarts.org.

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 www.birthrightisrael.com.

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.

 

God Is Gray


“This is heaven,” I announced Sunday afternoon.

Cruising the city (the absence of traffic in itself celestial), sunroof open, exposed shoulders browning. Wild poppies glistening, swaying in a soft breeze scented by orange blossoms; singing along to KOST 103.5 FM:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone,

I can see all obstacles in my way.

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.

It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiney day.

“Heaven,” I said. “Yep,” everyone agreed, celebrating under flawless sapphire sky — free from even the teeniest speck of a cloud — “this is paradise.”

Heaven, paradise — choose a synonym: ecstasy, bliss, rapture. We use such words to describe experiences of perfect, supreme happiness, God on earth. The conditions on Sunday merited all such descriptions, especially that immaculately blue sky. Skies like that burn gloom away.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Gray days certainly have a subtle beauty. But no one calls Seattle paradise, and if Fritz Coleman reported that a cloud was going to remain interminably over Los Angeles, a mass exodus to South Beach would certainly ensue.

I’d probably go, too. I mean, who wants to live under a cloud forever?

How dull. How boring.

Those are the synonyms for “cloudy,” along with: hazy, murky, gray, obscure — not the ideal forecast, to say the least.

What would inspire my sermons in such weather? How would I instill faith in God if I were denied its experience? Because the experience of the Divine is an ecstatic one, right? It is the feeling of rapture, bright, glorious bliss, isn’t it? I mean, no one prays in hopes of reaching an enhanced state of hazy obscurity.

And yet, this week’s parsha tells us that from the day the Israelites erected the tabernacle (the place of Divine presence made manifest on earth) a cloud covered it. Seems they weren’t singing much about sunshiny days, for, “so it was always: The cloud covered [the tabernacle] by day and the appearance of fire by night” (Numbers 9:16).

No need for sunglasses or flashlights near God’s house. More like a mobile home than an estate, the cloud was the original built-in navigation system: When it moved, the people picked up the tabernacle and followed it, “and in the place where the cloud abode, there [they] encamped.”

Meaning, the closer we get to the experience of God on earth, the more overcast it is, and if it starts to clear up, we should move away from the brightness and follow the clouds. Always.

And so I must ask: Are you kidding? What, so heaven is hazy? God is gray?

Maybe. At least, the ultimate experience of God is gray. As in not black nor white, not agony nor ecstasy, not seasonal affective disorder nor carcinoma from sun overexposure; it is the subtle obscurity at the nexus of all those extremes.

According to the portion, God’s presence is made manifest in the middle. We call that dull, murky or boring — or, we can call it balance. See, the ultimate Los Angeles Sunday might be our human definition of heaven, but it is one that is inherently dependent on a day of equivalently dismal, mud-sliding gloom.

Here on earth, that’s how we see things: in terms of their polarities. The big Chief set that up in Genesis: light opposed darkness, day defined night, man contrasted woman. God created all the highs and lows in precise opposition to one another as the essence of our human experience — to be tempered with our spiritual experience. But we lost our way and got stuck in the duality, where our delusional aspirations for perfection and delight led to swings toward equal and opposite desperation. Lost in the realm of heroes and villains, beauty and ugliness, we still think that bad feelings will disappear when bright, sunny days come back around.

From this human perspective, it makes sense that we would equate a Divine day with dazzling, untainted perfection. But God is beyond our mundane experience. He is the source of it. She is the containment of it all. And in recognizing that God is One, we head for the clouds — we welcome the haze.

A cloud sheltered the Divine’s residence among the Israelites every day, and fire illuminated it by night; it is never fully dark nor light in the presence of what is most holy. Always a bit obscured, for how could we possibly apprehend everything or nothing?

God is gray. God is the opaque place in between all of our yearnings for some ultimate and definitive extreme. And while I am still “in heaven” that summer has finally descended upon La La Land, I am well aware that it is only as glorious as it is because it contrasts the nasty cold I kvetched about all winter.

Sunday was a temporary ecstasy for which I will pay with my grief in the fall. But if I can remember to set my sights on the clouds, as few or many as they may be, I will be sheltered by their subtle and eternal protection, predictably guided back to my own center. It may not be rapture, but it will certainly be peace. Wholeness. Shalom. That is paradise. A cloudy day.

Karen Deitsch is rabbi at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge.

 

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.

 

The Circuit


Doctor in the House

On Sunday, April 9, American Jewish Congress, StandWithUs and Beth Jacob Congregation welcomed Dr. Raanan Gissin, strategic analyst, international spokesman and senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister, to Los Angeles. More than 150 people learned about Israel’s next course of action regarding West Bank disengagement and consolidation; the move to create defined, defensible borders; the Hamas election; and subsequent prospects for peace. Gissin stressed the urgency of making aliyah and increasing Jewish population in Israel to keep it the majority. Gissin is a fifth generation Israeli, born on Kibbutz Hasollelim in 1949.

Wine and Wishes

The historic Beverly Hills Post Office, future home of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, was the setting for a multivintage wine tasting hosted by Beaulieu Vineyard, the Peninsula Beverly Hills and Eunice and Hal David.

There to see a preview of the new architecture, guests sipped wine, schmoozed and nibbled goodies as they discussed the endless possibilities for the soon-to-be-a-reality long awaited project.

A dramatic multimedia preview of plans for the Performing Arts Center slated to break ground in 2007 was the evening’s highlight. Guests included Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb and wife, Bonnie; Bram Goldsmith, and Vicki and Murray Pepper.

Kudos for Dr. Katz

Music, laughter and everyone dressed up and determined to have a great evening, sums up the recent Junior Philharmonic 69th anniversary Concert Spectacular.

Rainy weather couldn’t deter these die-hard fans that showed up en masse to celebrate the evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that paid homage to Dr. Ernst Katz’s extraordinary accomplishments over seven decades.

In addition to the melodic strains of Mozart, John Williams and Tchaikovsky, the annual Celebrity Battle of Batons brought levity and some show business legends to the stage. A cocktail party in the founder’s circle began the festivities and Wink Martindale served as host for the evening while, Army Archerd led the Battle of the Batons.

Participants included Peter Graves, who also narrated “The Impossible Dream” with the orchestra; June Lockhart; Mark Kriski, and Linda Gray. But local KTLA morning newsman Carlos Amezcua took home the honors and received the golden baton from last year’s winner, Florence Henderson.

Amezcua won over the audience with his spirited dancing (in the style of Zero Mostel) as he led the talented musicians in the strains of “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” while a stirring violin solo by Smbat Atsilatsyan had everyone enraptured.

Henderson presented a rendition of the score from “The Sound of Music,” which actually had the audience singing along. (Hard to resist that “Do Re Mi.”)

The evening really was specia,l and Katz really deserves all the kudos for his tireless work keeping this amazing group of talented musicians playing.

Time for Tikvah

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program will be have a new leader this summer.

The one-of-a-kind Tikvah program for special needs children will now have Elana Naftalin-Kelman, a Columbia University and Bank Street College trained social worker and educator at its helm. This follows the announcement of the resignation of previous director Tara Reisbaum, who led the program for eight years.

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program is especially designed for Jewish adolescents, ages 11 to 18, with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities. The Ezra program, Tikvah’s counterpart for young adults, offers participants a summer vocational training course at cCamp.

Throughout its 34-year history, Tikvah has sought to create an environment of inclusiveness for special needs children, adults and their families both at Camp and in the greater Jewish community through education, exposure, socialization and fun.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the Tikvah program, call (310) 476-8571.

Yiddish Spoken Here

What could be better? An evening of Yiddish poetry, a nosh, interesting guests. It was all a wonderful evening of “tom” when Pen USA, a club for writers, recently presented one of its entertaining salons organized by Helen Kaufman.

It was like channeling Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and the members of the Algonquin Roundtable as Miriam Koral delighted attendees with Yiddish poetry readings from such noteworthy poets as Fradel Shtok, Rosa Gutman and Avrum Reisen, among others.

Koral, an expert in all things Yiddish also read one of her own selections. And although we know it is always lost in translation, the essence, the tone and the wonderful reading had everyone mesmerized. Literary notables like Dr. John Menkes, author of “After the Tempest,” sat eyes closed as Koral read or played some of the pieces set to music.

Everyone’s presence seemed to say, Yiddishkayt is very much alive and well and appreciated in Los Angeles, and can we please have more?

 

yeLAdim


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 www.jewishjournal.com.

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!

The Year Ahead


We have had a sad ending to 5765 — devastating hurricanes and a continuing war in Iraq. Here is a blessing for the New Year, 5766: May we all experience an end to war and a new beginning for the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and all those who have suffered. And let us keep finding ways to help those in need with our tzedakah and our love.

Young Hearts

For the next few weeks, I will highlight the wonderful projects created by our very own Jewish day schools to help the Hurricane Katrina victims. This week’s page belongs to Temple Israel of Hollywood.

The students at Temple Israel have raised funds from bagel sales as part of their Katrina relief effort. In addition to this, they are collecting coins in cooler-size water bottles. When the bottles are full, they will send them off to the hurricane survivors. If you would like to donate sheets and towels to survivors, please contact Temple Israel of Hollywood at (323) 876 8330.

Don’t Blow It!

Rosh Hashanah Riddle:

I wear a crown

If you cut me I’ll bleed,

But the rubies inside me

Are sweet treasures you’ll need!

Who am I?

Congrats

Aaron Rifkind, 11, answered Abby’s Amazing Summer question. Josh Field won the Amazing Summer Essay Contest.

He wins a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble.

Kids Page


Josh Fields, 8, of Thousand Oaks, won the “My Amazing Summer” essay contest.

He wins a gift certificate to the store of his choice.

I went to Yellowstone National Park two days after school ended. It took two days to drive all the way to Yellowstone. We drove through beautiful scenery in five states that I had never been to before, including Idaho and Montana.

In Yellowstone, I saw bison, moose, elk, a bear, trumpeter swans and baby bald eagles. I saw geysers, mud pots and hot springs. I became a junior ranger, which made me very proud. I saw the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Lower Falls, Mystic Falls, the Prismatic Springs and Excelsior Geyser. I also went to Virginia City, which is an old gold mining town. I had a tour of the town and I went gold mining.

After I got home I went to an acting camp called Kids Acting Out West, and we did “Cinderella.” I was a bodyguard. I made lots of friends at the camp. This is the process of what I went through: First, I had auditions. After that I got assigned my part. I practiced and played with my part. We had two successful shows. All in all, I had a great summer!

 

Israel – Tourists Unfazed by Gaza Pullout


For visitors to Israel this summer, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip proved hard to ignore.

“Everybody’s orange,” said Rebecca Kaminski, from Berlin, with a laugh, referring to the color adopted by the anti-disengagement activists. “I’m on the blue side, I guess.”

Sitting on the beach in Netanya, the 22-year-old was working on her already impressive tan with a group of girlfriends, all students at a six-week summer ulpan, or Hebrew-language immersion course, in Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon.

They have not been deterred from visiting Israel during its exit from the Gaza settlements and parts of the West Bank.

In fact, Kaminski is thrilled to be here right now.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We’re in the middle of a country that the whole world is watching. It’s historic.”

Her friend Sharon Asscher, 20, from Amsterdam, was not about to let the idea of trouble thwart her visit here.

“I haven’t come to Israel for five years because of the intifada and I missed it,” she said.

Alona Van t’Hoog, 25, from The Hague in Holland, is also a firm supporter of disengagement.

“I knew that, of course, it was going to be a hard time, but I have faith in the State of Israel and the army so I thought it would be OK,” Van t’Hoog said.

Sitting next to them on the sand, Melis Taragano, from Turkey, was less enthusiastic.

“It’s going to be bad for the Israeli people, I think, because here it’s going to be one big terror,” the 18-year-old said.

Tourism in Israel has yet to return to pre-intifada levels, with native Israelis still the dominant presence on beaches and boardwalks. But visitors are slowly returning as the threat of repeated suicide bombings fades. And with terror on the rise around the world, some vacationers reckon they may as well take their chances in Israel as anywhere else.

“They thought New York City was safe in 2001, and terrorists are blowing up London now, so is anywhere safe?” asks 30-year-old Marquis Cross from Baton Rouge, La., biting into a huge hamburger alongside his cousin James Yage at the Tel Aviv pub Mike’s Place, itself the site of a 2002 suicide bombing that killed three people.

Non-Jewish tourists, the pair have visited Jerusalem and taken in the Tel Aviv beaches, with the Dead Sea still to come.

“These are nice people. This is a fun city,” said Yage, 35, shaking more ketchup onto his fries.

And as for the political situation, “they’ve been going through these problems for years, and it seems pretty calm now,” he added in his Southern drawl.

“It’s pretty interesting, but I don’t have much of a view so I just turn on the sports,” Cross admitted sheepishly.

Dramatic television scenes of orange-clad settlers battling Israeli police and soldiers were ignored by retirees Samuel and Jutta Rosenblat, from Boca Raton, Fla. They were visiting the resort town of Herzliya, along with numerous members of their extended family, as they have for many years. Undeterred by terror in the past, they saw no reason why the disengagement — which they both support — should put them off this year.

“A lot of people in Florida are afraid to come every year because of the suicide bombings,” 82-year-old Jutta said. “It’s important to show that we’re not afraid and we have to support Israel.”

Her 83-year-old husband, a Holocaust survivor who was in five different concentration camps, agreed that showing faith in the Jewish state is vital.

“If we had had Israel before the war, then not so many Jews would have been killed,” he said. “We would have had somewhere to go.”

The disengagement has also provided an unexpected bonus to the tourism industry, especially in the southern parts of the country. Although most Israelis may be avoiding vacationing in the coastal region around Gaza, with the military imposing many restrictions on travel, journalists have flocked to the area.

Thousands of foreign journalists and TV crews snapped up every room in the vicinity, and kibbutzim close to Gaza rented out not only their bed-and-breakfast accommodations but all available spaces in their dining rooms, schools and community centers.

 

Kids Page


The Summer Fast

In the middle of summer, when it is the hottest, we are told that we cannot eat or drink for one whole day. It was on the ninth of Av that the Romans burned Jerusalem and destroyed our Temple. Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av) falls this year on Sunday, Aug. 14. The fast begins the night before at sunset.

The rabbis say that the Temple fell because of “senseless hatred” among fellow Jews. Solve the word search and discover the hidden message. It will tell you what senseless hatred is. Put the words you need to find together in the right order so that you will know what not to do.

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

SPREADING

EXCLUDING

GOSSIP

MAKING

MOUTHING

RUMORS

bad

FUN

Cool Collages

What you need:

1. Photo of someone or something dear to you: a family member, a pet, a friend, a teacher, a place, a favorite activity.

2. Magazines

3. Scissors

4. Construction paper

“Love Me Later” is a storybook about a Jewish boy named Abe. He spends an afternoon discovering life — exploring his backyard. The author, Julie Baer, has illustrated her book by creating intricate collages. You, too, should spend an afternoon exploring this book and then doing the collage activity that Julie has created just for you.

Kids Page


Share the Fun

Have you been having fun this summer?

Our rabbis say that we should give up to 10 percent of what we own to tzedakah (charity) every year.

What percentage of your fun can you give to another person?

Dr. Doolittle I Presume?

In this week’s Torah portion Balak, the sorcerer Bilam discovers that his donkey can talk. Here are some more places you can find talking animals:

Unscramble the names of the books below and match them to the picture of which talking animal can be found in its pages:

H C I O C N E R L S FO A N R I N A

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

__ __ __ __ __ __

L I A C E N I O N W L A D E R D N

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

T A U S R T T T I L E L __ __ __ __ __ __

__ __ __ __ __ __

A R O C L T E S H T B E W

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

__ __ __

My Amazing Summer Contest

Send me your stories and pictures of an amazing thing you did this summer. First-, second- and third-place stories will be published on this page, and winners will also receive prizes. Deadline is Aug. 26, 2005.

E-mail your story to abbygilad@yahoo.com.

My son, Amit, spent a week of his summer on the Tole Mour, above, sailing around the Channel Islands and learning about marine biology.

 

Mensch Seeks Shayna Maideleh


The search is on for “a nice Jewish boy” — and no, this time it’s not your mother who’s looking.

A team of scouts is scouring the Diaspora for the ideal single Jewish man for a new Israeli reality television show. Once selected, the bachelor, who according to producers preferably will be good looking and “financially secure,” will come to Israel for the summer, when 15 young Israeli women will compete to capture his heart.

“We all grow up in Jewish houses and we know the dream of Jewish mothers is that their son finds a nice Jewish girl,” said Gadi Veinrib, a producer for the show, to be called — what else? — “A Nice Jewish Boy.”

The bachelor will be sent to Israel “to meet the nice Jewish love of his life,” he said.

The show’s producers will be holding casting calls for the show in New York, Los Angeles and a European city in the next few weeks. There may be teleconferences in Australia as well.

Producers are trying to get the word out via Jewish organizations.

Already they have been flooded by hundreds of queries from the United States, Europe, Australia and South Africa, many from Jewish women offering their brothers, friends and cousins for the job.

In Israel, there also has been a huge response from women hoping to be among the pool of bachelorettes. Scouts also are searching for female contestants at university campuses, clubs and bars. The show is also considering including Jewish women from abroad as contestants, said Veinrib, who was among the production team of the hit Israeli reality TV show “The Ambassador.”

The reality series is to take place over the course of three months. It will be set in a luxurious villa, complete with a pool and a lush garden, in central Israel. The young women will live there, and — as in the American ABC show “The Bachelor” — will be courted by the man on individual dates. Every week another bachelorette will be eliminated, and by the end of the show, producers hope, the man will have found his future mate.

The producers are looking for women in their early 20s to mid 30s and for men from their mid 20s to mid to late 30s. Interested? Send photos and a C.V. to the show at kuperman@hot3.co.il.

Â

Hoop Star Scores On and Off Court


Aulcie Perry is a tall man — and a man who stands tall in Israel. At 6-foot-11, the former professional basketball center would stand out in a crowd anywhere in the world. In Israel, Perry draws crowds of fans, especially youngsters.

“I’ve been here a long time,” said Perry, an African American born in Newark, N.J. “Israel has been good to me.”

Perry has been good to Israel as well.

After a successful career with the country’s top basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Perry, 54, opened summer basketball clinics for children 7 to 14 years old in Tel Aviv. And he’s about to open another one — a camp set up to attract teens from all over the world, especially observant Jews.

This focus on teaching basketball in an Israeli and Jewish context began eight years ago, when Perry and Greg Cornelius, an American hoopster from East Carolina University who played professionally in Israel, developed plans for a summer camp. The result was the Basketball for Stars summer camp at the Wingate Sports Institute near Netanya.

“It is a very, very high-quality affair,” Perry said. “I bring the best coaches, and also coaches who are Israeli and were star players here in Israel. I also bring in the top players from Maccabi to come in and talk to the kids.”

Maccabi, Perry’s old team, just won the European championship for the second year in a row. And Perry was a key figure in Maccabi’s original rise to basketball prominence. Perry appreciates his old team’s consistent dominance, but he’s personally focused on the next generation.

Perry’s new venture, open to children from all over the world, will feature Jewish sports heroes, such as Tal Brody and Tamir Goodman, Perry in a three-week sports camp called Sal Stars (Hoop Stars in English).

Perry came to Israel in 1976. He was a player rejected by the NBA who was trying to improve his skills on a summer league team. In Israel, he impressed representatives from Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“I came to Europe to work on my game, and then go back and try again with the NBA,” Perry said. “Maccabi came to me. I signed up for two months. We won the European Cup. Things never looked the same again. Maccabi has been the top team since.”

Brody, from Trenton, N.J., was a college All-American in the 1960s, and was picked in the NBA draft. However, he chose to go to Israel.

“Tal Brody is ‘Mr. Basketball’ in Israel,” said Perry, who played with him on the Maccabi Tel Aviv team that won the European championship in 1977, Perry’s first year in Israeli basketball.

The win put Maccabi “on the map to stay,” Brody once said.

During his career, Perry led Maccabi to victory in the 1981 European Cup, the 1980 Intercontinental Cup, nine league championships and eight National Cups.

“It’s going to be something special,” Perry said of Sal Stars, explaining that it will teach not only basketball but tennis and soccer, too.

The program is open to Jewish youngsters from around the world, although it’s aimed at Torah-observant Jewish teens. It will be based in Givat Washington, a religious sports university near Ashdod. Givat Washington has world-renowned sports facilities and some of Israel’s best athletic trainers.

According to Perry, “the three-week camp will give them the highest quality of coaching and training in sports, as well as give the Israeli experience.”

“They’ll travel. They’ll see the country, the historic sites. It’s going to be something special,” he said.

The clinic will run from July 7 to July 28.

In March, Perry, who also is a sports agent, looked for potential players for international leagues. He scouted young talent from black colleges during the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Basketball Tournament in North Carolina.

While Perry was with Maccabi, he would bring traffic to a halt as fans jockeyed for a view of a man who then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin said helped bring “honor to the people of Israel.”

Perry played high school ball at West Side High in Newark and college ball for Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla. In 1975, he had a short stint with the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association.

But it was in Israel that Perry found his game and his home, he said. Today, Perry, who is unmarried and has a son, observes Jewish holidays, but said in an e-mail that he “doesn’t like to classify” himself religiously.

“In Israel, they are more concerned about what you can do than what color your skin is,” he said. “You’ll have the opportunity if you’re capable and have something to offer.”

For more information about Aulcie Perry’s summer camps, visit