Happy Chanukah

Posted by on December 22, 2011

Happy Chanukah from Camp Solomon Schechter!
 
For me, the Jewish holidays are often about memories: Passover Seders with my family, blowing the shofar, dressing up for Purim, and, of course lighting Chanukah candles and eating oily, delicious latkes.  Memory is such an important part of Judaism, and of life. 

Breaking News: CSS Recieves ACA Accreditation

Posted by on October 26, 2011

 

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The American Camp Association® (ACA) announced today that Camp Solomon Schechter (CSS) has received ACA-Accredited® Camp status for Summer 2012 for the first time in CSS’s 57-year history.


CSS is a Jewel of a Camp

Posted by on September 6, 2011

By Herb Levine, Soundly Jewish Editor
"This is a jewel of a camp," Camp Solomon Schechter executive director Sam Perlin told us, "with a special place in the Pacific Northwest Jewish community." Generations of campers in our region would agree. The lakeside site in Tumwater south of Olympia offers sun, woods, water, and a bit more. "We teach the skills of Jewishness," Perlin said.


Gimmel is great

A little summer footballIn the Pacific Northwest, Perlin said, more parents than on the East Coast want to vacation with their kids, and seem to prefer shorter camp sessions. CSS is unusual because it offers three three-week sessions separated by age, which is "great for programming."
Fun on the waterWhen we visited the third session -- Gimmel -- was in full swing. There were 215 campers from those entering 8th grade to 10th, cared for by 70 staffers and an additional 20 kitchen staff. The 12 cabins each had two counselors. During the first two sessions the younger kids had also had two "Oded" campers, counselors-in-training entering 11th grade, in their cabins.
We were able to speak with four veteran CSS campers enjoying their first experience of Gimmel, all from the Soundly Jewish coverage area.
l/r: Alex Kaplowitz, Danny de JesusAlex Kaplowitz and Danny de Jesus of Olympia are both 13, entering 8th grade, graduates of the Beit Sefer at Temple Beth Hatfiloh. Danny was in his fourth year at CSS. Alex thought it had been about seven years.
How did they like their first summer in Gimmel? They agreed it was great, with fewer rules, and more freedom. "Everyone is more whatever about everything," Danny said, and he liked it that way. In particular, the boys appreciated the greater freedom to decide whether or not to participate in activities.
Their cabin counselors were 17, the boys said, one of them Israeli. What's he like? He likes to fool around with an air horn.
l/r: Emily Blitman, Sarah HaasWe also spoke with two 13-year-old girls, Emily Blitman and Sarah Haas. Emily is from Olympia and affiliated with Beth Hatfiloh. Sarah is from Tacoma and affiliated with Temple Beth El, the granddaughter of current Beth El president Kate Haas. Emily has attended CSS for three years, Sarah for six or seven.
Like the boys, the girls valued the increased freedom in Gimmel, including a bedtime at 10:30 p.m., not 9:30. The were glad there were "no Odeds" and they only had their two counselors in their cabin. They also enjoyed being able to listen to their own music. They appreciated the programming for teenagers, especially the dances.
Although Emily noted that "sometimes the cabins are a bit overwhelming," both girls said generally everyone gets along. Emily said, "You don't get the bullying you may experience in public school." Sarah agreed, and added, "There are no real cliques."


A 'Jewish chick' who rocks
We were able to sit in at the CSS amphitheater as Jewish rocker Naomi Less and her band, on tour from their base in Brooklyn, rehearsed the evening's entertainment. They were working up "Shout 'em Out (1 to 10)," a song about the 10 Naomi Less and her band rehearse commandments (check out the cartoon video). When they took a break, they played "CSS Forever" on the sound system, a collaborative song-writing and production project they'd just completed with some of the campers.
The band includes Less (co-writer, lead singer and guitar), Shahar Mintz (lead guitar), Ziv Shalev (bass and vocals) and Glenn Grossman (drummer, co-writer, music producer and Less's husband). They released their first CD, The Real Me, last March. We caught them in the midst of their summer Jewish camp tour, stopping at CSS between Baltimore and "BB Camp" (B'nai B'rith Camp) in Lincoln City, Ore.
"First and foremost I'm a Jewish educator," Less told us, engaging kids in exploring their identities through music. Through her Jewish Chicks Rock project, she aims to "empower younger girls" as a role model and through a proactive program. She considers herself a Jewish feminist, grateful for the progress made by Jewish women before her. Last Pesach she led a University of Washington Hillel Seder in Seattle, an "inclusive Seder with a feminist lens."


An independent camp with Conservative roots
CSS is "an independent camp with our roots in Conservative Judaism," executive director Sam Perlin l/r: Sam Perlin, Tevasaid. The campers come from many denominations, although most are Conservative. CSS is kosher and Shabbat observant. There are Orthodox campers, but "our halachah is Conservative," under Perlin's own supervision.
This is Perlin's fourth summer at CSS, which he first got to know as a parent. He brought 20 years of coaching and teaching to the job, including stints as the athletic director at Seattle Academy and an Orthodox day school in Baltimore. Perlin is a member of Seattle's Congregation Beth Shalom (Conservative).
Perlin said he will recruit from any synagogue that welcomes him, but CSS has a number of "affiliated" Conservative synagogues, including Congregation B'nai Torah in Olympia, two in Seattle and three in Vancouver. Some 600 campers attend each season, of whom about 125 are Canadian. Most come from the urban areas of Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Spokane.
There are some campers from other regions, and this year there are 20 from Israel, all from secular homes, most from Tel Aviv.
A b'rachah before dinner"We are different from Ramah," Perlin said, and nonaffiliated as a matter of policy. Why? "Conservative Jews of the Pacific Northwest are unique," Perlin explained, and CSS provides the "perfect balance of Conservative halachah and secular camping" for these Jews.


'There are plenty of Jewish kids to go around'
CSS has an annual budget of $1.6 million, Perlin said. In the off season he spends time recruiting campers and staff, but fund raising is a large part of his job.
He noted that for years CSS was the only Jewish camp in this region. Some CSS campers switched to URJ Camp Kalsman once the Reform camp opened in 2007. But "Kalsman is good for Schechter," he said. "There are plenty of Jewish kids to go around." The more kids who attend Jewish camps the better.
"The bigger the pie, the bigger Schechter's share," Perlin said. "We are collaborators in the cause of Jewish Girls stand on top of dining room tablecamps."
CSS has long attracted campers from Tacoma and has a "campership" program set up for Tacoma-area campers, the Robert (Bobby) Rosenthal Scholarship, named after the late son of Rabbi Richard Rosenthal (z"l), the founding rabbi of Temple Beth El. Perlin recruits at Beth El every year.
The ark in the Beit KnessetThe tuition per camper for 2011 was $2,155 for three weeks. Payments from parents were supplemented by support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle for Washington State students, and incentive grants for new campers from the Foundation for Jewish Camp). But tuition from all sources only covered 75 percent of the camp's operating budget, Perlin said.
Camp sign postAnd additional 12.5, percent, he explained, came from CSS scholarship funds, and the final 12.5 percent from rental income during the off season. The cabins are heated, he said, and CSS is available during the non-camp year for rentals of all kinds, including Shabbatons, b'nai mitzvah, and synagogue and youth retreats.


Open to all points of view
CSS has Conservative roots, but recruits campers and staff with other backgrounds. "We are unabashedly Zionist," he said, "but open to all points of view."
"Like your website," he told us, CSS "unites rather than divides."

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My Shabbat at Camp Solomon Schechter

Posted by on August 18, 2011

 

I just finished a beautiful Shabbat at Camp Solomon Schechter in Olympia WA.  It is a wonderful place with small cabins, a private lake and huge trees and marsh land all around. There is a river that runs through the tip of the land by a unique ecosystem of wet lands with tall grass surrounded by trees.
 
But the true beauty of CSS is the people here. Sam Perlin, my dear friend, has turned a camp that was struggling to survive both financially and socially into a haven for Jewish values, Israel enthusiasm, with spirit and Ruach that is unique not only to northwestern U.S but to all Jewish camps around the world.
 
Sam has capitalized on the camp's non-affiliation status to create an environment based on his life experience from the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, two decades of educating kids and an ongoing connection to Israel. The outcome of his vision is very special and his staff and counselors have identified with his vision and that energy is passed down to the campers.
 
I have been lucky to help bring Israeli kids to CSS for this meaningful experience. It is here that Israeli kids can see the celebration of American Judaism at it's best. They learn about religious pluralism while sharing their life in Israel. The Americans make a life long connection to friends in Israel making Israel more understandable and accessible.
 
I had the opportunity to speak to the campers about Alex z"l and share my experience as a new immigrant to Israel and the family story. It was extremely moving for me to speak here and made me feel part of what Sam has done here. I can now go home to Israel and see in my mind and feel the energy of a small camp located about as far from Israel as possible  while being so close to Israel through the spirit of the staff and counselors.
 
This year Sam will begin the first program of CSS campers coming to Israel and close the circle of campers who have heard and felt Israel over the years at CSS. I am sure that Sam will be able to create a unique program among the hundreds of programs that exist today for young Jews coming to Israel.
 
I recommend to everyone I know to be part of this beautiful place and unique Jewish experience by sending your children or grandchildren or by making a donation to the Israeli Camper Fund that helps to subsidize the cost of bringing young Israelis to enjoy and create CSS. The camp is about to embark on rebuilding some of the main buildings after sixty years and preparing the camp for the next sixty years while making it a place that can touch people of all ages around the country not only in the summer months. 
 
Kol Hakavod
 
Benjy Singer
Summer 2011

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Reposted from www.JTnews.org

By: Corey Salka

 
“That’s really what Jewish mysticism says.  What God is trying to do with this world is to figure out who he is through us” Matisyahu offered to the campers at Camp Solomon Schechter.  Matisyahu, known for his fusion of reggae, hip-hop and beat box sounds with the wisdom of Chasidic Judaism performed to 200 enthusiastic campers at Camp Solomon Schechter on Friday July 29th.  Appearing for the second year in a row, Camp Solomon Schechter is the only Jewish summer camp to ever host Matisyahu.
 
“We are so blessed to be able to have him share his message about peace, being proud of being Jewish, and pride in Israel.  I’m thrilled that he feels passionate about Jewish camping; it’s a real joy to see the faces of our kids when he enters the amphitheater.  He is an incredible inspiration to our campers” said Sam Perlin, the camp’s Executive Director.
 
After thunderous welcoming applause, Matisyahu said “It’s great to be back” and launched into one of his most popular hits, “Jerusalem.”  Between songs Matisyahu engaged in a warm conversation with the campers, at times offering humor, as well as serious and deep messages.  Included in the 45 minute performance were his songs “Thunder, “Temple,” “Darkness,” and “King Without A Crown.”  He capped off his appearance with one of his greatest hits “One Day,” which has been the camp’s theme song since his first visit last summer.
 
Beyond the music, however, Matisyahu’s message clearly resonated with his audience.  Before enjoying a swim in Camp Solomon Schechter’s pristine lake with his two young sons, Matisyahu engaged in a personal question and answer session with the campers. 
 
When asked what inspired him to become religious, Matisyahu spoke of always believing in God from the time he was young.  “When I was a teenager and I was going through things whenever I felt alone or down, there were times I felt I needed to come back to myself.  I always felt that I had a certain destiny that I had something important going on inside of me, and I believed that God would help me manifest that.  So in times before I ever thought about religion or Judaism, when I would feel disconnected I would just try to reconnect, whether that meant going down to the water, taking a walk, singing a song, or writing some lyrics.  But it wasn’t working well enough for me to just do it on my own; I needed help with it.  I wanted to foster a relationship with God; I wanted to build it, figure out how to develop it.  So I just started davening.  I felt that somehow there was something real about the Hebrew words and the Hebrew language and letters.  Even if I couldn’t understand them, I felt that saying those words, saying those letters was going to open up some doors.”
 
The lessons of Matisyahu’s youth are a powerful message for today’s Jewish kids.  “It’s really cool to have Matisyahu at our camp” said Jacqueline Schwartz, a 14 year old camper from Seattle.  “It’s not seen as cool to be Jewish; we’re really stereotyped at the public school where I go.  So seeing Matisyahu as a religious Jew who is cool, who rides motorcycles and tells jokes is really cool.  He’s not the stereotypical Jew which most of us are seen as to our non-Jewish friends.”
 
“There are not a lot of Jewish role models who are singers out there right now” said 14 year old Rebecca Kahn of Portland.  “It’s really helpful and awesome to have him visit camp.  I know people who didn’t come last year; they were so upset they didn’t get to see him.  And now they’re here and they’re so happy.”  Lindsey Carmen, a fifteen year old from Portland commented on how Matisyahu has helped bring new kids to Camp Solomon Schechter.  “I think it’s really special that we’ve been able to bring someone in from the Jewish Community that represents so much for us, twice now… which is really cool, it’s really exciting.  It’s definitely a draw for getting new campers.”
Rafael Kintzer, an 18 year old staff member from Seattle reflected upon the impact of Matisyahu’s appearance on the rest of the camp session.  “I think Matisyahu injects amazing Jewish energy and spirit into everyone at camp.  He gives everyone a burst of joy to come to camp being happy from the start.  That’s so important, because Jewish camping opens doors in so many ways.  Jewish camping changes how people think about the world.  It’s much more global than I think a lot of camps can bring.  There is so much emphasis put upon peace, and love, and kindness towards others at Camp Solomon Schechter.”
 
The importance of these values were echoed by the Israeli Scouts, who are attending camp this summer as part of a highly selective delegation.  Ben Oz, a 17 year old from Ashdod said “At first it was kind of weird because we didn’t know anybody.  But the kids are really friendly and now we know everyone.  We were really lucky to get here.  We heard that Matisyahu was here last year, but we didn’t expect him to be here again.”    “He has such amazing music” said Merav Rosenberg, a 17 year old from Jerusalem.  “Seeing him here brings so much spirit and makes the camp experience so much stronger and alive.”  
 
Reflecting upon the origins of his music Matisyahu spoke of the bridge between his music and Judaism.  “My whole life all I really wanted to do is to make music.  When I became religious and went to yeshiva I just let go of it.  I just said that if this is my destiny, if this is what God wants for me then I have to figure out the other parts of my life first.”  
 
For today’s generation of Jewish youth Matisyahu’s message is powerful; to succeed at one’s passions they must be integrated with the rest life.  And at the end of the day this is the essence of Jewish camping: opportunities to grow, learn, and experience nature and the joy of Judaism with friends, and at Camp Solomon Schechter it’s happening with the Chasidic wisdom of Matisyahu.
 
For video of Matisyahu’s appearance, please see the Camp’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/campsolomonschechter .

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A Rabbi's Letter about Schechter

Posted by on August 2, 2011

Dear HNT Camp Schechter Parents,
 
I  just came back from spending the day at Camp Schecter. Your kids and teens all look very happy! Daily prayers started late today ennabling me to get to camp early enough to give a dvar Torah to the kids without having to get up at an ungodly hour. After tefillah, we enjoyed a delicious oatmeal breakfast, and I taught a class on 'Kosher Sex' to the tenth graders. Woa!  I got to see the challenge course and after lunch I furnished the kids with some delicious snacks (soda, chips, red vines) which they got very excited about even though they had just eaten this amazing lunch five minutes before. Today was "Yom Chagim" holiday day, and alot of their activities (including the menu) involved mixing all of the Jewish holidays together. It was pretty funny. As usual, I was impressed by the tremendous feeling of community in the camp. Schechter does such a great job of transitioning their campers into Odedim and then counselors. They give their counselors alot of responsibility and they handle it very well. I also love to watch the camp turn seeminly ordinary moments into opportunities for fun. At lunch, the kids did a 'nikayon' (cleanup) chant, and two bunks were awarded 'great bunk cleaners of the day' acknowlegement, to rousing cheers. It was a small moment, but moments like that are sprinkled throught the day, very effectively. It creates a great feeling of camp spirit. And....it was a beautiful day! The kids were still talking about Matisyahu's second camp visit. Lots going on! 
 
All the best,
 
Rabbi Rosenbaum

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