I’m not Jewish, but my kids go to a Jewish sleep away camp. Here’s why.

Cubby cubes balance against duffle bags on the highest shelf of our darkest closet. Packing lists and labels are filed away. Tans have faded, mosquito bites healed. Fresh cuts replace the summer shag.

Sleep away camp may be well over for our two boys, but their experience is not quite a distant memory. This might have something to do with the recurring chirp of a “camp peeps” group chat on my older son’s phone or the flagged email with next year’s registration link sitting in my in-box.

When my husband who, unlike me had gone to sleep away camp as a child first floated the idea of sending our children, I was ambivalent. The thought of shipping my flesh and blood off to be cared for by strangers didn’t feel right.

My grumbles followed me to work at our Temple’s preschool where I shared them with a teaching colleague. Instead of taking my side, she went on about a camp run by the Union for Reform Judaism where her children had spent their summers. She said it was a special place.

We’re an interfaith family. Before they were born, my husband and I decided to raise our children in the Jewish faith, like him. They attend religious school and will become Bar Mitzvahs, like he did. When I heard my coworker say “Jewish camp,” my brain went into defense mode. Hebrew school, Bar Mitzvahs, holidays. I even work at a synagogue. Haven’t I agreed to enough? Camp should be neutral territory.

I left work even less sold on the idea.

But I kept seeing this camp’s poster in the Temple hallway on route to my eldest son’s preschool and eventually, Hebrew school classroom. Years later, long after countless husband and wife debates about religious identity, honoring tradition and balance, after we had changed Temples because of a move and as the decision loomed, the same camp kept coming up in conversation, the same poster kept showing up in our new synagogue’s bulletin.

As a parent raising children in a tradition different from her own, I’ve made it a priority to expose them to situations and people who would give him the religious education I could not. In the end, Jewish camp filled a void, and so we sent our big guy when he was a rising fourth grader. This past summer was his fourth year, and for our little guy, his first.

Today, I look forward to opening day. Yes, because sleep away gives me a break from parenting. And yes, because it still fills a void. But there’s more. Through its Jewish lens, camp is teaching universal values and laying the foundation for them to:

1) Take care of themselves

Camp offers the typical experiences which build confidence and resilience. Little ones learn to pour their own orange juice and picky eaters taste new food. Everyone takes a turn cooking over an open fire, folds laundry, sweeps the cabin floors, cleans their bunk’s toilet and for better and worse, lives with roommates. Campers risk trying a new sport, art or game, pursue hobbies, navigate campus on their own and get unplugged.

But here, nourishing one’s soul is also a priority. Children are given the opportunity to work on self-awareness, intention and maintaining a balanced perspective.

Each week, a unit prepares and leads Friday night services and every day, all campers and staff practice mindfulness and gratitude during meals and through movement.

When 500 campers come together during mealtime, a collective blessing is said before and after they eat. Children are taught the meaning behind traditional blessings as well as write individual statements of gratitude. Once a day, one of the personal statements replaces the traditional prayer and is shared with the entire community.

The leadership also promotes wellness through movement. This year, art teachers commenced class with breathing exercises and the schedule included early morning sessions like yoga, lap swim and fitness as well as small group nature hikes.

2) Take care of others

All families and children are valued and respected. Younger kids are assigned older buddies to help them acclimate. There’s a no package policy so no child feels less than or left out. Staff does not distinguish between which campers have Jewish parents and which ones do not, embraces its LGBTQ community and expects counselors and campers to do the same.

Community building is thoughtful, deliberate and starts on day one when the entire camp attends an opening day service during which campers pass a Torah scroll through the crowd from the oldest to youngest camper symbolizing their connection to Judaism and to one another. Later the same day, each cabin huddles together and with guidance from counselors, writes down the rules and expectations they have for their bunkmates that summer.

Throughout the season, adults teach children how to relate to all people using the “I-it” to “I-thou” approach to relationships from Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. In addition to helping kitchen staff serve the starving, campers are expected to look them in the eye, offer appreciation and ask meaningful questions. The goal is for the children to move away from associating those who work at the camp only with their job and get to know them as people with exciting and interesting lives.

Young people show support and build bonds day in and day out in less and more formal ways. My teen always returns home with a repertoire of new card games as well as a perfected Frisbee toss thanks to the generosity of a friend or counselor and a trove of memories to share like bringing his little brother a carton of milk during each lunch, midnight escapes to the GaGa pit, bunk pranks and leaning on a go to buddy during a rough day. Our little guy beams when he retells the tale of the older camper who catapulted him off the blob and into the lake, the time he and his pals lathered up and slid down a muddy hillside and how his favorite counselor helped him handle a disagreement.

In addition to scheduled meals and services, the lower and upper camp come together for Israeli dance, a DJ party, the Fourth of July Carnival, International Day, theater productions, an art show and The Maccabiah Games. At Jewish camp, the Games are more than an end of summer color war. Each of the four teams represent a different pillar in Judaism: Torah, prayer, acts of loving kindness and community as well as a value: truth, awe, compassion and responsibility. At the start of the week, leadership explains how no pillar can stand without the support of the other. Teams are challenged to bring the values assigned to their group to life and carry out the camp’s mission statement, Hineini or Here I am by striving to be the best they can be as individuals, to their peers and to the community through song, dance art, drama and sports.

3) And repair the world

The motto of the camp is Be the One; be the one person to make a difference, to do the right thing and to help make the world a better place. In doing so, campers are performing the Jewish commandment Tikun Olam or repairing the world.

On campus, children care for animals at the farm, tend to the garden and give left over trip day money to a local food shelter. Rising 7th graders research a cause and host a camp wide Tzedakah or charitable giving fair. This year, they raised awareness and money for causes that fight discrimination and support the environment, people with cancer and animal welfare.

Campers also participate in volunteer projects during Make a Difference Day. Younger children bake challah bread for Friday night dinners, do spring cleaning around campus and write to senators. Older children go out into the community. This summer, they volunteered at a facility that works with women with disabilities, a housing organization, a senior center, local garden and a youth empowerment center. Some even traveled to New York’s state capital to meet with lay leaders and political advocates where they discussed voting rights, reproductive rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ+ rights, hunger and clean energy.

At Jewish sleep away camp, our boys get to connect with one half of their family’s heritage. They get a taste of old fashioned summer fun. And they get to be surrounded by people committed to helping them become more independent, just, involved, balanced, compassionate and loving humans.

My former colleague described her children’s camp experience as special. For our family, it’s been a blessing.

Advertisements

What Really Happens Inside a CrossFit Gym

Courtesy: Lynda Shenkman

An excavator sits outside the ashen structure awaiting the command. A welcome sign still hangs above the door. The garage, once home to our local CrossFit gym, now a cement cavity of memories will soon be demolished, replaced by apartments.

On the last day of class, each attending member took a minute to reminisce during an icebreaker. I was absent, but watched the video on Instagram. The stories shared never highlighted the achievements of self. Members wanted to talk about their classmates; who made them smile, who broke through barriers, whose shirtless chest turned heads.

I replayed it a few times. With every rerun, my heart swelled. Change is bittersweet.

Nonmembers sometimes ask, What goes on inside those CrossFit gyms? I hear it’s a cult. I can assure the skeptics no one is fixing alters from barbells or sacrificing protein shakes to the fitness gods. Not yet, anyway. But a lot does happen.

Dreams happen

A man in his twenties left a budding corporate job to pursue a passion for training. He opened a CrossFit gym. Honed his skills. Built a team. Expanded a business. Stayed humble and kind. And in doing so, inspired clients to achieve little goals and big dreams.

Millennials quit secure careers to do what they loved. Young athletes competed alongside elites. A determined high schooler proved to her soccer coach she was good enough to make the team and an unsure peer found himself wrestling and winning. Many embraced healthy choices and most found their voice.

Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers learned to squat, clean and jerk. They climbed ropes for the first time, stood on their heads and jumped up on a box. They completed races, joined rock bands, sported bikinis, founded companies, sat for tattoos and concluded that age doesn’t define ability and intimidating does not mean impossible.

Love happens

As a new member, my friend was surprised at how fast she warmed up to people from the gym. “Is this normal?” she asked.

“Pretty much,” I told her.

Amid the pull up rigs, weight racks and wall balls, there’s no time to fear vulnerability. When the clock counts down, social norms go out the window. Strangers are thrown into a mental and physical predicament with a common goal; get it done and support a neighbor.

It started with fist pumps and cheers. Small talk came easy; CrossFit’s a built in conversation starter. Together, we rehashed workouts, movements, personal bests and rough spots until the non CrossFitting community told us to shut up.

In time, we stopped squawking about fitness, opened up and asked about a sick parent, a new job or a cranky toddler. And it didn’t take long before we were offering hugs, helping a teen find an internship, editing a college essay, buying from a buddy’s local business, sharing professional expertise, moving boxes, supporting a cause, hosting a dinner, celebrating a milestone or lending an ear.

We met for 4 years in the same space, during the same hour, several days a week. Friendships developed, spouses connected, siblings bonded, relationships bloomed, babies grew and grandchildren were born.

Fun happens

In an interview at Harvard Divinity School, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman explained how CrossFit gyms emphasize camaraderie, which was once described to him as “agony coupled with laughter.”

I am inherently lazy. The first four decades of my life were spent avoiding exercise. But even when I’m feeling uninspired, CrossFit keeps me coming back because the people make it fun.

Beyond the crazy tights, silly tanks and occasional costume, our gym is a safe, happy escape. I can let curse words loose, chuckle at a double-entendre, lip sync to my heart’s content, whip out dance moves and laugh alongside friends who brighten my mood and let me be me.

Struggle happens

We failed lifts, lost to a workout, questioned our strength and ran out of gas. We agonized through divorce, mourned death, endured surgery and disease, emptied our nests and fought mental illness. But we did so side by side.

Perspective happens

We learned. To teach, coach and manage. About different cultural and spiritual traditions. To leave political divides at the door. To be students again. We learned about decency, respect and gratitude. That we are better as a team.

We strived. To find balance. To do our best. To try and to not be too tough on ourselves.

We recognized. The benefit of breathe, pace and letting it out of the tank. The value of stretching, the stupidity of sugar (even though we may indulge) and how, when done right, food is fuel.

We grew. To rethink Beauty, Age and Limits. To ignore scales and diets. To complain less and smile more. We grew to believe in ourselves. To know our bodies can generate power, that we can do anything for a minute and what it means to be a champion.

The closing doors were not a goodbye. The owner moved us into new, spiffy digs. Right up the block. With an open floor plan. Natural light. Fresh paint. Even showers. Just in time for the New Year.

The parking’s different. The entrance is different. The setup is different. But the faces gathered around the white board to receive the daily challenge are the same.

It’s during this accepted routine our surroundings seem to fade. As the coach speaks and we listen, one thing is clear – family happened.

DARLENE BECK JACOBSON SAID WHAT?…2017: A Year To Be Kind

can-u-be-nice

Darlene is a freelance writer, educator, Speech Therapist and Children’s Book Author. Her first middle grade novel, Wheels of Change was named a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2015 by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC) as well as awarded Honorable Mention from the Grateful American Book Prize for 2015 for an outstanding work of Historical Fiction for children. Darlene’s website is chock full of articles, activities and recipes for parents and teachers. It also serves as a resource for writers and illustrators of children’s books.

Her post, “2017: A Year To Be Kind” offers resources for adults and young people who want to share stories, engage in acts of kindness, or learn about the importance of and scientific benefits to being kind.

I have one addition to make to Darlene’s list: Can U Be Nice?

Can U Be Nice? is a new platform created to capture our stories and “spread awareness for the need to be nice to one another.” Its goal is to empower people to choose nice over negative, kind over cold.

Can U Be Nice? is the brainchild of Bill Carter, a husband and father of 3 grown sons who spends much of his day observing the world from behind the wheel of his delivery truck.

One chilly morning in 2015, Bill was waiting on a loading dock for a freight elevator. Thinking about his wife, Dianne, a veteran teacher in the public school system who he blissfully describes as sincere, genuine and loving, Bill heard a commercial on the radio for an upcoming charity walk. He thought, “That’s something nice to do.” Then the idea struck him. He wrote the words, “Can you be nice?” on a nearby box. He changed the YOU to a U with a smiley face and said, “That’s it. That’s the message.”

Bill’s mission is simple. He believes “we all have it in us to be kind and if we make a commitment to bring this side out each day, the world will be a better place. A small act of kindness can change a person’s life and have a chain reaction. One small, nice deed can lead to another. Make a decision to look for your inner kindness. Then express it to those you meet without hesitation. You will feel better and people will react positively.”

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “…Stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

So the next time you are or see someone being kind or nice, share a story with Can U Be Nice? If you’re in search of ideas, please check out Darlene’s wonderful post. And if you know of a hub for kindness we overlooked, feel free to join the conversation.

Let’s make 2017 the year to be kind.

Darlene Beck-Jacobson

According to a poll by Kindness USA, only 25 percent of Americans believe we live in a kind society.  In another survey of 10,000 teens, 4 out of 5 said their parents are more interested in achievement and personal happiness than in caring for others.  There is definitely less kindness in public life.

With so much harshness, negativity, hatred and meanness that seems to populate discourse in our society, it was very encouraging to see a recent article about BEING KIND.  The article, by Paula Spencer Scott in PARADE MAGAZINE, lists ways we can change this discourse and make kindness a priority in our lives.

1.You can join PARADE and the RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS FOUNDATION in this year’s challenge: Write 52 Thank You Notes – one each week to a different person for a year.  Besides bringing kindness and joy to the recipient, this gratitude boosts happiness and well-being…

View original post 313 more words

Why CrossFit Is The Right Fit (Right Now) For My Tween

crossfit-teens

huffpo-blog-badge

Not every child takes to traditional team sports. Our son, Bubbe is one of them.

Despite growing to have a strong arm, solid shot and height, our now 11 year old prefers to play a tennis match over a baseball or basketball game.

My husband, Mac and I have mixed feelings. While we’re happy to see him connect with a game, the man to man style of tennis doesn’t encourage the socialization, camaraderie and team work to the extent we feel young people need.

Since Bubbe was a little guy, we insisted he dabble in a variety of sports, fantasizing that by the time he got to middle school, he would’ve embraced one which fosters self esteem, teaches assertiveness, tests limits and encourages community.

Well, Bubbe made it to middle school. He’s concluded the sports tweens are supposed to love are “not his thing.” And Mac and I are coming to conclusion during this temperamental time when boyhood and adolescence cross, our parental push has done more damage than good.

As the children in our town age, their sports are shifting from recreational to competitive play. More is expected: time, skill and understanding of the game. Our son has been fortunate to have kind and balanced coaches who’ve helped him to improve over the years. Nonetheless, he’s had a tough time keeping up with the pack.

Bubbe is the child who steered clear of rebounds because he didn’t want to get or hurt others, became overwhelmed by the pace of play and felt slighted when teammates didn’t pass the ball. He’s the boy who struggled to stay baseball ready for lengths of time and who, despite finding a glimmer of glory when the coach gave him the chance to pitch, felt defeated when he wasn’t put on the mound more than a few innings. Game after tournament after season our son was the one who came home repeating, “I’m not good enough.”

What’s a parent to do? Sign him up for between season clinics? Tell him to suck it up, practice and pay attention? Make him play?

Mac and I confess we tried a tough love approach. But our son’s tween ego is fragile; the current cracks are deep and require more than a little filler. In an effort to support him, we turned to the material we know from experience can restore structural integrity from the inside out: CrossFit.

Our CrossFit box is not a new environment. Bubbe’s taken plenty of kids’ classes. CrossFit Teens however, is a different animal. The sessions are structured like adult classes. The coach works these young people hard.

Three weeks in, the CrossFit compound is already starting to stick.

Week 1

Bubbe knows what Olympic weightlifting looks like but never touched a barbell; until his first class when the power clean was the movement of the day. Picking up a weighted bar from the floor, flipping it onto one’s shoulder blades and returning it down in a fluid motion requires focus, coordination and guts.

When I came for pick up, I found Bubbe with crimson cheeks and in the zone, cycling through a series of power cleans, burpees and push-ups. At the buzzer, I heard the teacher say to him, “You’re very coachable. Great job.”

On our way out I asked, “What was the best part?”

With his breath caught, the post WOD endorphin inspired chatter commenced. “The barbell. I liked learning the power clean. How much can you lift? What about Dad? What about the coach with all the tattoos?”

That afternoon, Bubbe wasn’t worried about getting hurt, willingly went out of his comfort zone, followed complex directions and after only 45 minutes, felt empowered, strong and connected to a community.

Week 2  

The air was moist and still; the gym hotter inside then out. Bubbe and I read the white board where the coach had outlined the day’s program: medicine ball clean, burpee box jump, slam ball, farmers’ walk and plank holds. I kissed his forehead and left, excited for him and thrilled it wasn’t me.

This time around, Bubbe was in a full blown brow to toe sweat when I showed up. His clothes were drenched, skin caked in chalk and rubber.

“It was really hard, Mom,” he threw his glasses my way and grabbed a water bottle. “So hard I wanted to cry.”

“Did you?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Did you stop?”

He looked up from his drink. “No, I kept going.”

A boy with a sensitive soul who can harness mental strength is one who holds a big heart.

Week 3

I heard Justin Timberlake blaring on the radio before I could see Bubbe. When I made my way to the workout space, he was on the rowing machine pulling like a mad man.

After class, his coach approached me. “I told him to row 350 meters in 2 minutes. This kid went and rowed 400 meters,” he boasted.

Bubbe beamed.

“When Coach said row 350, did you try to beat it on purpose?” I later asked.

“Yeah, Mom. I always try to get to a number and then do more.”

Sometimes, digging deep, beating personal goals and competing against yourself is just as rewarding as getting the rebound or throwing a strike.

Right now, the team sport route isn’t working for our son. Mac and I are grateful CrossFit Teens is there to help mold Bubbe’s character and fuel his confidence.

In time, we hope he‘ll apply the work at the box to the tennis court, classroom, friendships and maybe even the ball field. But more than anything, we hope Bubbe comes to realize he is without a doubt, more than good enough.

My ABCs of CrossFit

Photo cred: Lynda Shenkman Curtis

Photo credit: Lynda Shenkman Curtis

School’s out but this teacher is still thinking about her ABCs; of CrossFit.

Yes, I’m one of those folk who sit in the dentist’s chair visualizing toes to bar to distract me from the grind of the drill, rehash snatch progressions while stuck at a red light, and strategize the following day’s work out when I really should be writing.

Here’s my take on an experience that leaves me plotzed in a puddle of sweat on the floor of a place I consider my 60 minute respite and second home; not from the perspective of Trainer or a Games Athlete, but as a forty something, part-time working wife, writer, teacher and mother of two trying to stay strong, sane, fight mid-life sag, and eat food deemed unhealthy with but a fraction of guilt.

My ABCs of CrossFit

Attitude. Leave it at the door

Builds a badunkadonk booty

Community is key. Cliquey is sticky

Diet, much to my dismay does wonders

Each movement can be modified

Form. Learn proper technique

Give progress time

Hello. Say it. Especially to someone new

Intimidating-yes. Impossible-no

Jokes and jargon are best kept dirty

Keep consistently coming

Lifetime personal records can erase a lifetime of insecurity

Mental toughness changes the game

No rep yourself

Oly shoes and fitted jump ropes make a difference

Potty breaks, strategically timed do too

Quality coaches warm up, watch carefully and address woes

Rest. Roll out. Retest

Strict before kip

Tatas in tanks sometimes fall out

Underestimate ability; undermine potential

Variety is the spice of life

Write down results

X-tra practice when possible

You are the machine

Zealots who bond at the box become family beyond fitness

Ready to give it a go? Already a Crossfitting, fire jumping, power lifting cobra posing, soul cycling, triathloning, marathoning, coccyx curling enthusiast?

Then what keeps you coming back for more?

Take Away One

Courtesy Little Rock Family

Courtesy Little Rock Family

ML_published_badge_red_Mamalode

“I hate Thursdays,” Bubbe barked.  “I wake up early for band, go to school, spend two more hours in religious school, come home, and do homework.  I need a break.”

“You’re right,” I sighed.  “But education is not an option.  Band is a commitment and you need to finish what you started.  Please put your clarinet away, get one homework sheet done, and pack a snack for Hebrew school.  We’re leaving in twenty minutes.”

Later that evening, I scrolled through registration emails for the upcoming season’s optional extracurricular activities:

Baseball: League 1 and/or League 2.  Travel team.
Tennis, soccer, swim, lacrosse
Martial Arts
CrossFit Kids
Lego Engineering
Hip Hop
Drama, drawing, Junior Chef…

and thought about the last line of my response to Vicki Abeles’s New York Times’ Sunday Review piece, “Is School Making our Children Ill?”

Let’s resolve to take a step back and give children back their childhood.

In my Letter to the Editor, I complimented the Irvington High School community in Fremont, California for taking steps to rescue students from their high-stakes childhoods by limiting homework requirements and encouraged parents of young learners like me and those of my students to be brave, take ownership and embrace such efforts by curtailing after-school and evening enrichment in an effort to preserve the social, emotional and physical health of our children.

I often fantasize about what might happen if children, from toddlers to teenagers who live in a community laden with a multitude of well intended non-school related activities gave them up.

Would the children be lost; bored and confused by the lack of structure?  At first, until they learned how to organize and occupy themselves.

Would they stare at screens instead of reaching out to each other?  Probably, until an observant grown up or precocious peer stepped in.

Would their resumes suffer, leaving them unable to prosper in a society fixated on success, competition and career?  On the contrary; extra time and space would give them a chance to practice the socialization, thinking, and problem solving skills needed to thrive later in life.

After the initial shock wore off, I think the children would forget how busy their lives once were.

I imagine they would pack the playgrounds,

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

pick up the sport they previously raced off to play with whoever was nearby,

Courtesy Alan Zale for The New York Times

Courtesy Alan Zale for The New York Times

put on shows,

Courtesy Bored Panda

Courtesy Bored Panda

hang from trees,

Paul McDonough Courtesy Sasha Wolf Gallery, NYC

Paul McDonough Courtesy Sasha Wolf Gallery, NYC

visit with friends,

Coney Island Teenagers Harold Feinstein

Coney Island Teenagers Harold Feinstein

relax with family,

Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

get more sleep,

Courtesy Bored Panda

Courtesy Bored Panda

and take that necessary break.

And I’m pretty sure the adults in their lives would come to welcome the change.

Perhaps if these young people had scaled back schedules, their schools would not have to revamp homework policies like in Fremont, delay start times to accommodate the sleep deprived like in Seattle, and implement mindfulness training to battle the growing epidemic of childhood anxiety and depression as did New York City.

While the educational system has a responsibility to promote childhood wellness, we parents and guardians do as well.  Children schlepping from class to practice to workshops and back again offsets the effort made by teachers and administrators and puts additional stress on kids and families.

Still, my under-scheduled fantasy is a daunting reality for this worried mom.

What if my boys are the only ones who opt out?  They’ll feel excluded and alone.

What if they lose a competitive edge?  How can they impress college admissions let alone make any high school team?

Doesn’t formal exposure to the arts, technology, and team play breed well roundedness?

It’s healthy to take risks; sample new and different things.

Besides, Bubbe and Skootch seem happy when they are busily in the mix.

But their childhood is not mine, nor is it about my parental goals, expectations, angst or insecurities.

With that, I marked the registration emails as unread and approached Bubbe.

“Here’s the deal,” I explained.  “You know school and band are a given.  Think about the three other activities you participated in this time last year.  Rank them.  Keep the top two.”

“I definitely want my tennis lesson,” he said.  “And I’d like to try baseball again.  So I guess I’ll stop CrossFit for now.”

I cringed.  Bubbe nixed the one extra I believe physically and mentally benefited him most and chose a sport that requires a greater weekly commitment.  “Okay,” I said.  “Sounds like a plan.”

Gaining a free afternoon may not reflect the childhoods of yesteryear, but it’s a start.

Let’s bring back rest, play, and old-fashioned fun.  This season resolve to take away one.