November 16, 2018

Everybody’s kosher surfin’, surfin’ USA

Joe Veroba had a vision of starting a kosher surf camp for Orthodox teens, to teach them the beauty of surfing and of Judaism.

A native of Long Island, he lived for surfing and for Judaism, and he traveled the world — Hawaii, Costa Rica, France — surfing the amateur circuit, but he didn’t attempt to become a professional because he was observant.

A few months after he made aliyah, in 2000, he was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and, four years later, died at age 35.

Veroba had a close friend and fellow surfer, Ari Shoshtain, with whom he had dreamt up the kosher surf camp idea, and after Veroba died, Shoshtain decided it was finally time to realize that goal in his friend’s memory.

Last summer, Shoshtain, 34, started JoeV Surf Camp, a five-week sleep-away camp that includes both Torah study and a spiritual approach to surfing. In the first summer, 11 high school boys attended, surfing in Santa Monica and living and studying Torah daily in Pico Robertson.

This summer, JoeV Surf Camp will expand to include a girls’ program, though their activities will remain separate from the boys activities. Shostain hopes to enroll between 10 and 15 ninth through twelfth grade boys and the same number of girls.

A typical day at JoeV Surf Camp begins with morning prayers, then campers move to the morning surf session, which includes a land and water lesson provided by a Santa Monica-certified instructor (one instructor per four campers). Then it’s afternoon prayers with rabbis, kosher lunch and an afternoon sports activity and study session.

After dinner and evening prayers, the kids have a chance to go out for evening activities. During the nine days — the period of mourning for the Temple’s Destruction, when swimming is prohibited — the kids will go hiking in Yosemite.

“When you’re out in the water, when you see the sunrise or sunset, and when you see how small you are in comparison to the massive water, and the current and waves, it humbles you,” Shoshtain said. “Everything in nature connects you to spirituality, if it’s done properly.”

“The Torah talks about how a person has to keep himself fit and healthy; a person who exercises will feel better,” he said.

JoeV Surf Camp is not the only nature/adventure summer camp aimed at Orthodox teens; there’s also Teva Adventure, which offers outdoor hiking and travel adventures every summer (“Explore what nature has to teach us about Judaism and what Judaism has to teach us about nature,” the Web site reads.) And Camp Kanfei Nesharim has two programs for Orthodox teens; one to New Zealand, Hawaii, Australia and California; the other to Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica.

These summer adventure programs are not the first to offer sports activities to Orthodox kids — most summer sleep-away camps do. But they are new in that they are aimed at the Modern Orthodox teenager who wants something more than the standard two-month away-from-home experience in the mountains, with a little more adventure than that offered by traditional teen tours of the United States and Israel.

Observance and Torah study is at the root of all these programs.

“There’s no reason you can’t mix tradition with extreme sports,” Shoshtain said. “Kids need to be occupied. Torah is a great way, but a lot of kids are not into the standard way of learning and teaching. If you use those activities to show them the spiritual end of it, I definitely think it will bring balance to everything they’re doing.”

Torah adventure camps are a way to provide secular activities to children who often come from sheltered environments, closed off from the rest of the world.

“In this day and age, a lot of the outside world has crept into the Orthodox community, and there’s a higher demand to counter it.”

The way to counter it is through learning Torah, he said, but you have to pique kids’ interest, not just explore Ancient Babylon.

“When you mix Judaism with other activities, with things that are fun and cool, and you are able to do that in a kosher way, it shows them you can be frum, learn, surf, have a good time,” Shoshtain said.

That’s what Joe Veroba believed: “Be confident with your heritage and be strong with Judaism.”

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