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Readers of this blog may have noticed a theme—my great interest in Jewish camping.  The Jewish Education Project shares this interest. 

In today’s “Adapting the Future of Jewish Education” webinar, host David Bryfman spoke with Julie Finkelstein, Director of Leadership Development at Foundation for Jewish Camp.  She shared important ideas about why camp is magical, about what virtual camp programs might look like, and thoughts about why it is so important to include people with disabilities in Jewish camping.  But the part that made me smile and cry at the same time were the numbers she shared.   These numbers help us understand both the tremendous impact Jewish camping has on children, college age staff members and parents, and also the extent of the loss experienced by the closing this summer of so many camps.

 

Have a look at these numbers:

160:     overnight (nonprofit) Jewish camps in North America

150:     day camps

94:       overnight camps who have suspended or canceled camp this summer (as of May 26, 2020)

300,000:          number of Jewish children who attend Jewish camp each summer

18,000:            number of college age staff who work in Jewish camps each summer

 

I am crying because there will be so many people of all ages who will miss out on Jewish camping this summer.  I am smiling because Jewish camping is truly magical.  Julie quoted the phrase so often used by lovers of camp: “10 for 2” –camp people somehow manage to get through the other 10 months—as long as they will get their “2.”  (Julie has heard some speaking these days about “22 for 2”—waiting 22 months—due to Covid-19—before returning for those beloved “2.”).

Julie spoke about just what is so magical about camp.  She eloquently noted that camp is a bubble, it is parent free and technology free, it is an environment for learning independence (from bed making or problem solving), one learns to be resilient and creative, build friendships and relationships, and to find one’s voice on critical issues.   Finally, it is a pipeline to the Jewish community and the Jewish world.

Hopefully, the summer off from in-person camping will not really be a year off.  Camps are working on virtual engagement opportunities—for campers, families, and staff.   We need all of you in our pipeline!


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Families across the country are in a real bind this summer.  Not only are most overnight and day camps cancelled, but summer vacations are up in the air as well.  Will families feel safe flying, renting cars, and staying in hotels?  Of course the travel industry is taking precautions and changing protocols—even down to how guests check in to hotels, undergo wellness and temperature checks and changes, eat  breakfast and receive room service orders. [see:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/hoels/2020/05/04/coronavirus-hotel-industry-issues-safety-guidelines-summer-travel/3074991001/; https://www.ahla.com/sites/default/files/safestayupdated.pdf; https://www.ahla.com/sites/default/files/safestayupdated.pdf]

What options exist for families who don’t own an RV or feel comfortable tent camping in the great outdoors?  This is where beloved summer camps come in! 

A May 25 New York Times Opinion piece by Seth Herschthal, owner and director of Blue Star Camps in Hendersonville, NC is entitled, “How to Save Summer Camps During:  A Plan to Transform Camps Into Safe Retreats for Families.”  [ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/opinion/summer-camp-coronavirus.html] suggests a novel use of summer camps which can benefit famliies.

Herschthal suggest a way for family units to thoughtfully, and safely use his 500-acre camp property.  The camp, which usually serves 1000 people during a camp summer, will be repurposed to serve 40 vacationing families. He has thought of nearly everything: 250 people max, 5 days sessions with two days between sessions for thorough disinfecting, health questionnaires, daily temperature checks. meals offered as take out or in in 3 separate dining rooms honoring social distancing, and one counselor assigned to each family—he or she will interact with only that family for the week.  Not only will Herschthal offer families an opportunity to get away to the great outdoors—he may recoup a lot of the money he will lose due to the cancellation of the regular camp session.

Rabbi Eliav Bock, Executive Director & Camp Director at Ramah in the Rockies, is advertising FreshAir BnB Summer 2020 Rentals, on the beautiful Ramah Outdoors site in Colorado, from July 7-August 16th

The camp website is quite forthcoming: “Given the Covid-19 Pandemic, we have cancelled all Ramah in the Rockies run programs. We are now left with a significant budget shortfall, and are hoping to recoup some revenue through rental of our site to individual family units (or up to two families who are socially distancing together). We are launching our FreshAirBnB site rental program from July 7 to August 16. Rentals include a clean sleeping area with beds and mattresses, private bathrooms and showers, and refrigeration or ice for food storage.”

This a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, but it won’t feature Jewish summer camp programming visitors might be expecting.  The website is playful and clear:

“What programs, activities, and equipment is Ramah providing? We promise to have incredible concerts of chirping birds, awesome sunrises and tranquil starry nights. Depending on the time of month you might even see the beauty of a full moon or the magic of a night under a new moon. Walk towards our creeks and you will hear the soothing sound of rushing water. Aside from that please do not expect our regular Ramah style programs. In the midst of the Covid 19 outbreak we are taking extra precautions to safeguard our community. As such we will not be lending any equipment to our guests. So If you want to play basketball, please bring one from home. If you need a yoga mat, bike or frisbee, please bring those too.  You will have full access to our biking & hiking trails, basketball court, and fields.  The bouldering wall will not be open.”  http://www.ramahoutdoors.org/freshairbnb/

Be on the lookout for other camps and camping movements offering similar arrangements for families.  Just tonight, Hazon sent out the following exploratory email to gauge interest in potentially visiting the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center this summer, as part of “Isabella Freedman Getaways.”

“It has become increasingly clear that retreats are unlikely to be able to run with the same participation numbers and pricing that they have in the past, even as Covid cases have begun to fall. As a result, we will be cancelling all retreats through the end of 2020. But even as we cancel retreats, we are hard at work trying to ensure that other programs can still take place at Isabella Freedman.

Our campus is beautifully located. We exist to serve our clients, to offer rest and renewal outside the city, and to do so in a way that nourishes and inspires people. We can’t do that, this year, with our traditional retreats. It may not be possible to do anything at all. But we are exploring whether we can enable at least some people safely to come up to Freedman. If we can do so it will be good for those who are able to come to Freedman, and good also for the institution and for our staff in this time of transition.

So with the understanding that there are many factors that may make it impossible or inadvisable to have guests at Isabella Freedman, we are sending this email to gauge your interest in a socially-distanced option that we are exploring. Please read below and then reply to me or email simone.stallman@hazon.org to let us know if you’d be interested.

Each family / group would get a suite of two rooms that would include a living and sleeping space and would sleep 4 comfortably. There will be no official programming, and no access to the main building. We expect to offer an optional outdoor “Avodat Lev” service in the morning, and yoga in the late afternoon, in both cases done outdoors and at appropriate distance. Other than that, and some Shabbat programming, this is simply an opportunity to ‘Getaway’ and enjoy the grounds, trails, and lake at Isabella Freedman (we are not currently allowed to open the pool until at least June 20, if at all), as well as the local area – while eating our farm-to-table kosher cuisine. Weekly linen service and light housekeeping will be included, as well as three meals per day, seven days per week, in an open-air tent, with take-away options for lunch.”

There are still a lot of uncertainties ahead, but it is likely that Jewish summer camps will make it possible for families to take a vacation this summer where they will hopefully enjoy the great outdoors—and each other!


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Imagine this rookie blogger’s excitement after learning that 246 people had visited his most recent blogpost—in under 24 hours.  The excitement intensified when I realized that the blog was yesterdays’ spotlight on Uriel Levitt, the Tikvah Ramah New England Voc Ed participant who has designed a t-shirt, with the creative slogan, “Earth Strong:  Holding Each Other in Our Hearts.” A large percentage of the proceeds going to four organizations Uriel and his family care about.

I am delighted to see how sales have skyrocketed. Mother, Dina, writes, “Before you posted the blog, we were around 56 I think. When Uriel went to bed last night, we were close to 80. This morning, we are past 100!!.”

Father Matt’s colleague purchased a shirt, and Dina’s high school friend bought.  Ramah friends purchased shirts, posted nice comments on Facebook, and encouraged other friends to do the same.  It worked!

Dina was pleased with the orders—and the “really sweet comments”

“Awesome job Uriel!”

“Ordered! What a beautiful thing to do!

“What a beautiful spirit Uriel has, and also great talent. I will be very proud to wear a T shirt with his artwork on it!”

The Levitt’s remind everyone that 50% of Uriel’s profits are going to the incredible organizations that have provided meaningful activities and community for Uriel during this challenging time.  “Thank you to Camp Ramah NE, VisAbility Art Lab, Spirit Club, and Friendship Circle of MD for all you do for Uriel.” There is still time to order!  We are placing the order for the t-shirts on Sunday.  (there is a link to order within the blog  below):

https://howardblas.com/2020/05/24/turning-sadness-about-no-camp-into-giving-back-one-tikvah-entrepreneurs-t-shirt-venture/

The Ramah community, and friends of Uriel and the Levitt’s have come together as all good villages do—to show their love and support—and to offer ideas of what to do during these difficult times—both to engage creatively and to give back!

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Uriel Levitt was devastated.  Late last week, he received the news there will be no camp this summer.  Uriel, 24, a Silver Spring, Maryland resident is a longtime participant in the Tikvah camping and vocational education program at Camp Ramah in New England.  The Ramah camping movement has been including people with disabilities in its camps since 1970.

Uriel participates in weekly year round activities like the “Shabbos is Calling” video chat with counselors and friends, and he has participated in many virtual programs set up by Ramah New England and the National Ramah Commission in recent weeks to keep campers engaged during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Uriel’s parents, Matt and Dina, wrote in an email of appreciation to camp director, Rabbi Ed Gelb, and Tikvah Director, Dr. Bonnie Schwartz, that Uriel showers and dresses early for Shabbat so he can join the Ramah New England community in their pre-Shabbat Kabbalat Shabbat programming, and he “pushes” the family to quickly finish their family havadalah on Saturday nights so he can join Ramah Havdalah.

Uriels’ parents know how what a summer of no camp will be like for Uriel. “This is very hard news.  Uriel will be really upset, but that reflects the beautiful truth that Camp Ramah in New England is so beloved.  We’ll just have to find ways to inject “Ramah-ness” into Uriel’s summer experience, in whatever ways we can.”

Uriel is artistic.  He and his parents quickly came up with an idea.  “Uriel and we decided that this would be an amazing opportunity to give back to Ramah and the three other organizations that have been providing him with activities and a sense of community during this difficult and isolating time.”  Uriel sat in his room and designed an inspiring t-shirt and will be donating 50% of the profits from the sales to these four organizations.   

On the first evening after the order form went “live,” Uriel received orders for more than 20 t-shirts– half chose Camp Ramah New England as the place they would like their donation to go.  The Levitt’s add, “We know it will be a small dent in Ramah’s “Need Bucket” but it will be delivered with infinite love and gratitude for everything that Ramah has given to Uriel and by extension the Levitts over the years.”  Please support Uriel’s efforts, and his kind support of organizations making a difference. Order t-shirts here: https://tinyurl.com/EarthStrongTshirtForm

It will surely be a tough summer without camp—for Uriel and for thousands of campers and their families. Thank you to Uriel and the Levitts for offering one way to find opportunity in an otherwise tough situation.  Everyone appreciates your love of Ramah and Tikvah!  We look forward to seeing you back in person next summer.


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