Josh Niehaus

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November 29, 2018
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Few people have dedicated as much of their time, energy, heart, blood, sweat, and tears, to Camp Solomon Schechter as Mike Schiller. Mike first arrived on the Schechter scene back in 1973 and he continues to be an integral part of the CSS community. Mike has dabbled in just about every aspect of camp life, first as a camper and Oded, and later as a kitchen staff, board member, Open House Chair, 60th Gala Chair, and camp parent. Mike’s two children, Karli and Marcus, worked at CSS last summer, and his family sponsored a cabin in honor of Mike’s mother, Babette Schiller, a longtime supporter of CSS (look for Bubbe’s Bunk on the boys side!). As if all that wasn’t enough, Mike just donated a new electric boat to camp last week, so we can get around our new aqua park more quickly. We sat down with Mike to find out why he has dedicated so much of his energy to supporting CSS.

CSS: How did your Schechter journey begin?

Mike: I started out as an Aleph camper back in 1973. Back then, there were certain age crossovers that made it possible to go for two sessions in one summer. I always went to two sessions when I could, as I had friends from multiple age groups. In fact, I was an Oded in 1980 and oddly stayed on after the Oded program ended and attended Gimmel session as a camper. That was a bit weird as I was friends with all the staff. But I didn’t want to miss out on time at camp!

In 1982, I worked as the camp cook (I didn’t plan meals, I just cooked them).  It was a hard summer as I was up at 5:00 AM everyday, and didn’t leave the kitchen until after evening dishes were done.

CSS: Wow! That sounds like a long day. I’m surprised you still wanted to give more time to CSS after that! When did you join the board?

Mike: I joined the board in 1991, and served for fifteen consecutive years. I left the board in 2016, and today I am just happy to be a camp parent, as both of my kids now work at camp. Karli was the Mental Health Professional at camp last summer, and Marcus was the Sports Director.

CSS: Tell us about a favorite memory or two from your years as a camper.

Mike: I loved just sitting on the hill and hanging out with friends. I also loved that moment when the bus first arrived at camp, and you would run down to the office to see what cabin you were in.

CSS: How has CSS impacted your life?

Mike: I found my Jewish identity at camp. It wasn’t about learning about Judaism, it was about immersing myself into Judaism. I didn’t love services, or some of the “classes”, but I did love being surrounded by Jewish youth from all over the region. Shabbat was special and the evening ruach sessions made me love and appreciate my culture. I am still extremely close with campers I met in 1973. Camp is and will always remain an important part of my life. (And I hope, some day, my grandkids’ lives!) Today, one of the Boy’s Side cabins is dedicated to my Mom. It will forever be Bubbe’s Bunk.

Thanks Mike and we can’t wait to see you at camp next summer!

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October 25, 2018
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This week we take a look at a truly beloved member of the community and champion of CSS, Karen Twain! Karen began her CSS journey at the age of eight, and never missed a year as a camper thereafter. Karen went on to be a counselor, sports director, board member, board president and camp parent! Karen is now in her eleventh year as a CSS board member. We are so grateful for her continued support, advice and ruach (spirit). We asked Karen to share some of her favorite memories of her time at CSS.

CSS: How did your CSS journey begin?

KT: My mom and dad decided to send me to Schechter when I was eight, which was the best parenting decision ever made! I won the Bible Quiz at Neveh Shalom (I think I answered one or two questions right) and received a small scholarship to go to camp. I never looked back. I went every year I could as a camper and then I was a counselor and the sports director.

CSS: What are some of your favorite memories from your camper years?

KT:  I loved the ruach sessions. I loved hearing the bell ring and running to the canteen for ice cream. And, of course, dominating on basketball courts and in the gaga pits!

CSS: Did you have a favorite staff member?

KT: I am eternally grateful to my mentor Rabbi Stampfer for having the vision for CSS – where Judaism and joy are one!

CSS: Now, as an alumni, board member and camp parent, what do you appreciate about your CSS journey?

KT: I had many life-changing events at CSS – my first kiss, learning to read Hebrew, having an impromptu Bat Mitzvah, becoming a leader, and establishing a lifelong community. My closest friends are from camp and we have remained tight-knit for over 40 years. We attend each others life events – births, b’nai mitzvot, weddings, funerals – and even an occasional road trip together. In fact, two of my best friends from camp were the witnesses at my wedding. After they signed the ketubah (before the actual ceremony), we broke into a ruach session that sounded like Shabbat at camp! My kids, Marian and Oliver, have gone to camp since they were eight years old and have recently been on staff. They have established the same kind of community that I had, and I love their friends and treat them as family. If you ask any of us “where’s your happy place?” We all say the same thing – CAMP SOLOMON SCHECHTER!

Thank you Karen, for your ruach and dedication to CSS. With people like you guiding our community, we know that Judaism and joy will be one for many years to come!  

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October 18, 2018
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Introducing Schechter Spotlight, a new series that takes a look at individuals who have been impacted by Camp Solomon Schechter, and who, in return, have left their mark on our community.

This week we are spotlighting Dan Brown of Vancouver, BC. While this Dan is not the famous author of the Da Vinci Code, he has his own rich storied history with CSS. Dan started his Schechter journey as an Aleph camper in 1989 and was a part of the Oded class of ‘95. He went on to work as a counselor for two summers, Waterfront Supervisor, Head Staff, and, as of 2018, joined the CSS Board of Directors. We asked Dan to share some of his favorite memories of his time at CSS.

CSS: What’s your favorite memory as a camper?

DB: I have fond memories of Chef Al “The Kook” Bragga announcing that we’d be having lasagna for dinner. He would serve it on big metal trays right on the floor and the counselors would dish it up to campers from there. Right before he’d bring out the lasagna he’d shout, “It’s hot! Don’t step in it!”

CSS: We know lots of people have great memories of Al, and the famous lasagna dinners. We’d also like to add that we never serve anything off of the floor anymore! 

What’s your favorite memory as a staff member?

DB: One summer (around 1999), I painted my entire body red and rode a bike down the hill and off the end of the dock to kick off the water sports portion of Yom Sport. It’s probably still down there. Also we pulled off one of the most epic pranks one summer, where we moved Ben Sadeh’s car into the dining hall and set it up as a cabin’s table for breakfast.

CSS: Any other fun facts you’d like to share?

DB: Executive Director Zach Duitch and I were in the same cabin together in my very first year at camp, Aleph 1989. To this day, almost thirty years later, I’m still good friends with five of the ten members of that cabin. Also, I played the role of the Chehalis Rebbe for the first time this past summer. After being away from CSS for years, I found I could jump right back in!

Well Dan, we’re sure glad you jumped back in! And thanks for being the guinea pig in our new Schechter Spotlight series.

Check out the photo slideshow below! 

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October 9, 2018
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Bissel (bisl) – Noun: A little bit.

E.g. “I only speak a bissel of Yiddish.”

Now that we’ve finished our Yiddish lesson for the day, we are excited to tell you about a new overnight program at Camp Solomon Schechter — A Bissel of SchechterA Bissel of Schechter is a two-day, one-night Shabbaton, for current 1st-4th graders. Prospective and returning campers are invited to come down to camp to meet our amazing camp staff, play gaga, create art projects, sample a variety of sports activities, braid challah, celebrate Shabbat, eat in our new dining hall, sleep in our comfortable cabins, and sing and dance the night away! A Bissel of Schechter packs the magic of camp into two days!

The program will begin as campers board buses with our staff members and travel down to camp on Friday afternoon. Campers will meet the counselors, take a tour of camp, make new friends, and play lots of games. We’ll enjoy bringing in Shabbat together with singing and a delicious meal of Schechter’s famous matzah ball soup, fresh challah, chicken, rice, veggies, and a vegetarian option as well. Saturday will be packed with fun camp programs like a nature hike, boating, scavenger hunt, games and sports.

We invite A Bissel of Schechter families to join us Saturday late afternoon for a family program, dinner, and a moving havdalah service before we say goodbye! Parents will need to pick their campers up, as transportation will only be offered to camp.

Registration: If you have a child who has attended a Camp Solomon Schechter summer program before, you will login to your same CampInTouch account (if you forgot your password, there will be an option to reset it). Select “A Bissel of Schechter” as the session, and continue with the application. Questions? Give us a call at 206-447-1967.

Cost: $118 per participant, which covers transportation from the Bellevue/Seattle area or Portland area to camp and all meals and programs throughout the weekend, plus A Bissel of Schechter T-shirt! To discuss transportation options from other areas, please contact Carolyn, Camp Registrar at 206-447-1967 or by email.

This year A Bissel of Schechter will take place on March 1-2, 2019. See you there!

Register Today!


September 7, 2018
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Shalom CSS Community,

We wanted to reach out before the final Shabbat of 5778 and wish everyone one last Shabbat Shalom, and a heartfelt Shanah Tovah! We both really miss picking up the campers from their cabins on Friday evenings and singing songs as we walked together as a community down to the amphitheater to bring in Shabbat. Shabbat is a magical time at camp, and we hope your campers have brought some of that magic back with them.

As we turn our focus to the High Holidays and 5779, we are more dedicated than ever to learn from the past and strive to reach new heights. The central mitzvah (commandment) of Rosh Hashanah is to listen to the blast of the shofar. There is a great discussion in the talmud about this mitzvah, which centers around the difference between listening and hearing. The conclusion is that commandments must be accompanied by intention. In the same way that small-talk can be elevated to deep conversation by active listening between two people, an ordinary ram’s horn can be transformed into a spiritual instrument that can shake a listener out of complacency. In this way, the shofar is kind of like an alarm clock for the soul. It reminds us that we need to wake up, not just physically, but spiritually as well, and reach for a higher purpose in life.

For us at CSS, this lesson on the importance of listening is doubly meaningful at this time of year, because we also receive the CSI survey results for the previous summer. The survey, much like the shofar, reminds us that we must not become complacent. We must take a break from the routine of daily life to reflect and to listen to those around us, so that we can recalibrate and continue on towards our higher purpose.

We are so grateful to be working at a place where we can make a positive impact on the lives of children. We are thrilled to be able to create immersive and joyous Jewish experiences for our campers. We are so thankful for the many voices that have shared their thoughts, suggestions, and gratitude, to keep us moving forward in the right direction. In the spirit of Rosh Hashanah, we promise to listen with intention to our community, take time to reflect on our journey, and then get back to the sacred work of running a Jewish summer camp.

Shanah Tovah,
Zach Duitch, Josh Niehaus


August 31, 2018
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One of my favorite chuggim (activities) at camp is Hippie Chug. While it’s true that our campers missed the boat by about fifty years on the hippie heyday, something still resonates about that iconic era and all of the brightly dressed people strumming guitars and singing groovy folk tunes about peace, love and understanding. In fact, Hippy Chug is a perennial favorite at camp and usually draws in about 10-15 campers. Although most campers probably sign up to make friendship bracelets or tie-dye shirts, it’s not long before concepts like the Age of Aquarius, events like Woodstock, and the all-important social justice movements become a topic of conversation.

This summer, Karli Schiller created a week-long curriculum for the chug, which gave campers a brief overview of the era, an introduction to notable individuals, and some of the goals and causes that hippies believed in and advocated for. Of course there were also plenty of hands on crafting activities. Our wonderful staff members Rachel Coskey, Naomi Meyer and Jordan Zwetchkenbaum helped bring the curriculum and activities to life. One of the first activities was finding a new hippie name for each camper (my personal favorite was Celestial Harmony). It became evident pretty early on that our campers were most interested in the social justice aspects of the hippie culture, as they decided to hold an impromptu protest at the basketball courts over the pay disparity between WNBA and NBA players.

Not content to put down the protest signs and call it a day, our young hippies decided that they wanted to take on a cause and show support for it outside of camp. It was incredible to see how this group of motivated young people already understood the power they could have by joining together and sharing their voices. The first amendment guarantees all citizens the freedom of speech and assembly, and our campers wondered what that basic right might look like when put into action. After careful consideration the campers decided to take on single-use plastic straws, which are so prevalent in our fast-food chains and coffee shops. They made signs, created cheers, rewrote lyrics to “Blowin’ In The Wind”, and marched on the Washington State Capitol building to sing and cheer about reducing the amount of trash that ends up in the oceans.

After we cheered for a while we went inside the building to look through the chambers where our lawmakers work. The security guard told us that our megaphone would have to stay outside. This led perfectly into a discussion about how even if they took everything else away from us, we would still be left with our voices. And how it is our great fortune to be born into a country where are voices matter, and it is our duty to ensure that we never forget to use them. After a few moments of contemplation inside the spacious rotunda, we all headed back to the van.

In Judaism there is a tradition of rewarding new knowledge with a sweet treat, so we decided to thank our campers for their newfound civic engagement with a trip to Starbucks. Of course there was one condition… no straws!

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