This summer I was blessed to be able to send my kids to our local Jewish day-camp, Silver Gan Israel, and I spent some time photographing the goings-on.
the campers take on their counselors in an epic rope-pulling contest.
despite the groaning and moaning about art class (rare is the 8 year old boy will admit to liking art), they always end up enjoying it (but won't admit it).
members of the "blue bunk" wait patiently for their appoitnment with their dresser. tuesdays and thursdays are always trip days, so the campers have to (as parents it's more like "get to") wear camp-shirts.
life imitates art in this nail-biting dodge-ball competition.
once a week (or maybe every other week), they would have hands-on lesson about G-d's beautiful creations and how he gives them each exactly what they need to survive and thrive.
as a kid I spent many summers in this camp, much of that time was spent dodging balls. I was pretty good at it, but I did get my jaw broken by a hockey puck...
"...and you shall teach it to your children and you shall speak of it, when you lay down and when you wake up..."
this would be the laying down part.
for most camper there is this sort of love-hate relationship with the camp bus. it's hot, yet fun. bumpy and boring, but you finally have some quiet time to just chat. and those sticky seats... but again, you're probably going somewhere fun.
football is somehow much cooler when you can do the whole "snap to quarterback" thing. even if it gets dropped half the time.
I have so many wonderful memories of hockey in camp. we used to play in the multi-purpose-room (until they figured out that it doesn't have to be an "all purpose room") and half the time there were so many sticks and sneakers around the action that no one even knew where the puck was.
things have evolved since the "peanut butter on celery" days. who liked those anyways?!
from what I gathered there was a sort of holiday theming to the cooking. here they were making hamantaschen, a triangle shaped, jelly (or chocolate) filled cookie, traditionally eaten on the holiday of Purim.
although slightly outnumbered, frank (not her real name), mounts a ferocious offensive against the stormtroopers (who seem to have horrible aim).
"play is the highest form of research"
one thing is not like the others
for years growing up I thought gaga was a Jewish camp game. I mean the name is so silly, that it just had to be a made up thing, right?
The bunk names change every year, but there's always a theme (this year was building), and each bunk gets a name from that theme along with a rhyming or corresponding hebrew/jewish theme (pushka is the yiddish word for charity box).
summer is hot. the days are long. not even camp can be 100% fun 100% of the time.
growing up, camp was loud, all the the cheers and such. but I had no idea what it was like over on the girls side. holy moly they are loud.
they (you know, "them") brought some ponies (and a whole petting zoo along with it) to camp for some rides and such. they said I was too big. shame.
young seekers in training.
"what happens if I let go?"
"Just don't let go."
I would have made a horrible counselor.
don't judge my homemade glasses.
"yes, I know you are the defense, you still need this face paint. hold still!"
as a kid the best part of camp wasn't so much the actives but the little games that were made out of the activities.
kids can go so quickly from "this is boring" to having the time of their lives. all that is needed is a little imagination...
they brought these huge (air-conditioned!) busses with huge game consoles for the kids to play tetris or Mario Brothers or something on.
I don't know who started the whole fire-side custom of telling scary stories, but I wholly approve of it.
if you ever need something, these are your guys.
bigger is better, don't you know?
for some reason, the third grade boys, every year, are the most active and competitive bunk. counselors must be assigned wisely.
he was watching the clock for to see when his timeout was out. turns out a watched clock doesn't tick.
there was this comically grotesque stick man video of how dangerous it can be to jump on the trampolines while not following instructions. the kids thought it was funny, I winced everytime another stick leg cracked in two, or the stick head fell off.
there are 12 verses that the Lubavitcher Rebbe chose as principles for the Jewish faith. During line-up (beginning of the day and the end), campers, entire bunks, counselors, or whatever grouping the staff think of, get to lead the camp in chanting (more like screaming) them.
One day bards & noblemen (and women) will pen poems and songs about the epic pajama-limbo battles of 2015.
"the world says, 'If you can't crawl under an obstacle, try to climb over,' but I say, 'At the outset, one should climb over!'"
rabbi shmuel, the 4th lubavitcher rebbe
something was funny. obvbiously.
it's been updated (downgraded in my mind) from stand-up arcades to x-boxes and nintendos (or whatever the cool kids are playing these days), but the fun is the same. and now it's air-conditioned!
the allure of watching others play video games will forever ellude me.
working on his next gaga-ball victim, while the sun-baked spectators wait for him to get out.
every morning the little 'uns would fill up this trough-looking this with water and a bit of color dye, dunk in a bunch of toys, and go to town.
will be quiet for $100
tomatoes, peppers, onions, whatever else is growing in the camp/school garden. chuck it in a blender and serve it. wasn't too bad either.
reading to kids > almost anything
once a week there was a really nifty dance lesson/party/situation for the young 'uns. there's not much out there sweeter than watching the dances of those who don't yet care what they look like, or how well they are doing it.
biblically, any 4 cornered garment needs special fringes, called tzitzis. many have the custom of specifically wherein those garments just to fulfill the commandment. here the ones who wear them are sharing with their friends.
milk a cow
mimic a dog
it's not only how much you give but often. giving a little every day strengthens our "giving muscles" making it easier to share what we've worked so hard for.
every friday the campers would shape and bake challah, the classic braided bread for the shabbat meal
as a counselor I remember that I enjoyed the whole challah baking process as much or even more than the campers. in general I think thats the way it is. we can't wait until we are in charge of children or even have some of our own so we have an excuse to act like one again.
post challah baking discussions.
pens on popsicle sticks on the bottom of the challahs. it's been the same since I was a camper here.
it's hard to see here, but they came down this thing really fast. from talking to the kids it was always this or game room that they said they enjoyed most. (what kids say they enjoy most and what they realize later they enjoyed most are very often two totally different things.)
it was some sort of silly game in which a counselor would come in with a shirt over their head and everyone would have to guess who it was. kids are remarkably observant and generally knew from their other clothes or even from the way they walked, but that didn't seem to lessen the excitement of guessing correctly.
in 1956 the lubavitcher rebbe started the gan israel camp network as a way to for children to have an immersive healthy jewish experience in a way that schools couldn't really provide.
now, almost 60 years later it is the largest network of jewish camps in the world, with location in over 40 countries serving over 120,000 children annually.
jose has been a bus driver and in charge of the custodial work and upkeep of the camp and school since, well, I don't know, but he was there when I was a camper over 20 years ago. this was his last summer working there.
dreams of cheers and slides, and games, and fun. as of now they don't really have camp for adults, but we can always dream...