Camp Counselors on Birthright

camp birthright

By Emily Allen
Two of my favorite places are camp and Israel, so when Capital Camps and Camps Airy and Louise decided to offer a camp staff Birthright trip, I couldn’t imagine a trip more fitting for me.

Four other Capital Camp staff members and I, along with 10 Airy and Louise staff members, were able to travel to Israel together through Israel Experience. I found that despite not knowing everyone prior to the trip, camp connected us in so many ways.

With the collaboration between Birthright Israel and The Associated we were able to participate in a service project in Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon. After a tour of the city, our group went to an educational farm where students from the area spend a portion of their school day learning and working. The goal of the farm is to teach kids that food doesn’t just show up in the grocery store, but is instead cultivated and grown by people in the community. At the farm, they follow a specific process: planting, watering and harvesting.

When we arrived at the fame, we danced with the kindergartners, and despite the language barrier, we connected and had fun together. Next we moved to the fields where we met and worked with some of the middle school children, picking potatoes they had planted themselves.

I personally connected this experience to camp because of the school’s inclusion of special needs children in the projects on the farm. The special needs kids were able to participate in projects with the other children and it was clear to see how much joy this brought them. Meeting children in Baltimore’s sister city created a deeper connection for me with Ashkelon that I did not have previous to Birthright.

As for the trip in general, traveling with 14 other camp counselors from this area truly meant that there was never a dull moment. At any given moment you could expect a sing-a-long on the bus or a typical camp game of “sheep” or “wah” in a park. One night we had a talent show, and in typical camp-fashion, a Camp Airy staff member wrote a song about our Birthright experience to the tune of “Let It Go” and printed out copies for everyone to sing along.

Our trip was full of amazing friendships and lifelong memories. Thanks to Birthright Israel and The Associated for their collaboration creating a trip specific to our interests as camp staff members.

Learn more about Jewish campaing at The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping.

Emily is a Baltimore native who grew up at Capital Camps, and is celebrating her 11th summer at camp, second on staff.

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Preparing for A New School Year

back to school blog

By Rachel Turniansky
Coordinator of Special Needs Programming
Macks Center for Jewish Education

For some parents the end of the summer is the most wonderful time of the year. For others it’s a bittersweet time where the low-key routine of sleeping in a bit and unplanned fun slips away into the hustle and bustle of the routine of back to school. For families with special needs this time can be one of anxiety for parents as well as children.

The start of the school year coincides with the start of the new Jewish year. Many similar themes can be expressed as we get ready to start another year of learning. The start of the Jewish year is a time of reflecting on the past and thinking ahead. The new school year is the chance for a fresh start full of potential. With simple planning and a few tips, the transition can be smoother.

Start with a positive attitude. The new school year is one of possibilities. Even if you know there will be challenges, try to project an air of hopefulness and positive anticipation to your child. Talk about all the great things to look forward to.

Take care of business. Review back-to-school packets. Take care of forms or tasks as early as you can so as to avoid any last-minute scrambling. Buy school supplies early. Checking off items on the list can be a fun way to stir up enthusiasm for the first day of school.

Establish an open line of communication with your child’s school and teachers. Set the stage for working as a team. Arrange a conversation with the teacher(s) to let them know as much about your child as you can. Not only does this give valuable information to the teacher, it lets him/her know that you’re an active, involved parent who is willing to be a strong partner.

Visit the school before classes begin. If you can arrange for your child to meet with the teacher, even for a short time, that would be ideal. If your child is starting a new school or even a new classroom, this will give your child the chance to have a mental image of the physical space. If it’s not possible, set aside time to drive past the building so your child has some frame of reference.

Social stories can be a great way to set the stage for a smooth start to the school year. Social stories are written by parents and/or teachers to describe social situations and help children understand what to expect in unknown situations. For more information about writing and using social stories, see  You can also find books about going back to school and include them in your regular summer reading routine.

Arrange play dates with classmates. If your child will be returning to school with old friends, this can be a way to get him/her excited about going back to school. If s/he will be meeting new classmates, and you can meet them before class starts, it can be a great way to support a new friendship.

Ease back into structure if your summer has featured a relaxed daily routine. It’s a good idea to get back into a more structured schedule before the first day of school. Wake up a little earlier and stick to a consistent bedtime routine. Create a visual schedule for the morning routine by using pictures, icons and photographs to show your child what steps s/he needs to get done each morning.

Create a family calendar for all to see with everyone’s events marked: back-to-school night, first day of school, etc. Using this visual aid can cut down on chaos. Take the opportunity to look at a Jewish calendar and talk about how the cycle of holidays works throughout the school calendar. Making a family calendar a useful tool throughout the year can be a lifesaver.

Set up the environment to make things run as smoothly as possible. Select a spot to keep backpacks, lunch boxes, coats and shoes to avoid scrambling around in the morning. Check to make sure school clothes from last year fit. Even if last year’s clothes fit, getting a few new items can give your child something else to look forward to. You and your child can take the opportunity to say the Shechianu blessing, a tradition when wearing new clothes.

The night before the first day, plan ahead. Set the breakfast table as you clear the dinner dishes, and plan what breakfast foods will be served. Have the kids lay out their clothes the night before. Make lunches the night before. Leave plenty of extra time in the morning to start the day off on a calm note and allow for any last minute things that might come up. Keep that first week of school simple, both at home and work, to allow for flexibility and make things more relaxed.

Get involved in your child’s school. Volunteering can be a way to develop a good relationship with the teachers and staff as well as building connections between school and home. It’s another way to show your child that you care about his/her learning environment.

Extracurricular activities can be a great opportunity to have fun, learn new skills and develop social skills in a low stress setting outside of the classroom. Choose one or two worthwhile activities. Shared experiences with friends and classmates can help maintain interest in the activity and build connections that deepen the friendship.

Whether it’s the first day of school or the last, one of the most important keys to success is open communication between home and school, as well as between you and your child. By building a relationship and working together towards the same goal, the year ahead will be sure to be one of not just learning, but real growth.

Learn about CJE’s special needs educational programming.


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Hillel’s Role in the College Search

eli goucher

By Eli Kaufman
The college search process can all be quite overwhelming. Should I pick a big or small school?  Should I choose a school in the city or in a more rural setting? Do they have my major? Can I study abroad?

These are all questions that go through the minds of many students during this stressful time, and I definitely thought about every one of these questions during my search a little over four years ago.  But I also had a few more questions. I wanted to know if there was a strong Jewish community on campus and if I could get involved with the community.

I visited 10 schools in six states and Washington D.C. and as it turns out, I found my dream school:  Goucher College. Goucher, a school with an undergraduate population of roughly 1,500, has a Jewish population that sits above 30 percent.

At every school that I visited, the first question I would ask was about Hillel. ‘Does the school have a Hillel?’ ‘Is it active?’ ‘What are some of the different leadership opportunities available to students in Hillel?’

Every school had their answer, but there was just something about Goucher’s answer that grabbed my attention.

Goucher Hillel is a place where students can learn and grow Jewishly, but it does not stop there. Outside of the Hillel space is where Hillel seems to thrive. There are so many amazing opportunities to get involved in the community, more than I ever could have imagined.

Goucher Hillel has an impact locally. Students take part in CHAI’s Good Neighbor Day where they weatherize homes and do yard work for those who cannot do it themselves. Students volunteer at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. And students serve food in local soup kitchens.

Goucher Hillel has an impact internationally. As a first year student, I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua with Hillel to build a school at a place that teaches locals how to farm organically and sustainably.

I said before that Goucher Hillel’s Jewish population sits above 30 percent, but that population does anything but sit.  Hillel is one of the most active groups on campus and goes above and beyond anything that I originally thought when Rabbi Josh Snyder told me that it was very active. From handing out apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah to discussing Israel advocacy, Hillel is always in the public eye. If there is ever any conflict on political or social issues on campus, Hillel is at the forefront promoting open and engaging dialogue.

eli goucher blog

Hillel also has its fair share of fun/social programming as well. Sushi in the Sukkah, Build-A-Bear donations, and Challah for Hunger are all events that have been huge successes in the past year. Hillel’s balance of programming keeps everyone interested, involved and engaged.

Now, as I begin my senior year, I can firmly say that Hillel has been the reason why Goucher continues to be so special. It has become a home away from home for me. I spend hours doing my homework on the couches. I eat meals there with my friends. And I celebrate holidays with Goucher Hillel.  It has been everything I thought it would be and more.


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Talking to Your Children About the Situation in Israel

boy israel

By Amalia Phillips
Director, Israel and Overseas Education at the Macks Center for Jewish Education

As we read and watch the news coming out of Israel and Gaza, some of us who are parents are wondering how to talk to our children about the situation and what we should tell them. The first thing to be aware of is that while our youngest children may not be allowed to watch the news at home, they may have heard something while out of our care.

Even very young children listen to and understand adult conversations. They may also listen to their older siblings – or their peers = and they may absorb information from social media. Many of us remember our surprise at hearing our children’s first inappropriate words picked up at recess, or their proud boasting that they know about the “birds and the bees.” We might be surprised by what our children have heard about Israel and the current conflict.

It is important to find out what our children already know. As parents, we should ask questions, listen carefully to the thoughts and feelings our children express and then validate those feelings as normal and proper. Furthermore, we should observe our children for non-verbal cues such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, extended periods of anxiety and other physical symptoms. If a child has experienced personal trauma or loss in the past, s/he may respond more severely to current events and will need extra support and reassurance.

Discussing violent acts appropriately does not increase children’s fear as much as the burden of having to keep their fears to themselves. So while we, as parents, want to shield our children from scary or upsetting news, having a conversation is always better than having our kids keep their worries to themselves. Fear does not go away just because it is ignored.

It is normal for children to see their parents sad, anxious or angry about the events in Israel. We should share these feelings with our children so they are not left wondering whether it is their fault that their parents are upset/sad/worried. A simple explanation such as “I’m sad because some people were hurt in Israel today” may be all that is needed. However, burdening children with a litany of concerns and/or seeking your child’s support for your anxieties should be avoided. Parents should use simple and concrete language that is easily understood by their children, and should keep in mind that children may not fully understand the situation, even after it has been explained.


israel pj
Keep children’s routines as predictable and normal as possible. This signals that while rockets are falling in Israel, their own families remain intact.

Limit and control media exposure. At this age, children may not fully comprehend what they see. Scenes of destruction may seem like a cartoon or computer game to some but may be terrifying to others. If children are terrified, their fears usually manifest themselves in contexts that are familiar to them. At this age, for example, they may be worried about not being picked up from school or camp on time. Reassure them repeatedly. You may find that you need to repeat information because preschoolers have the tendency to ask the same questions over and over.

Help preschoolers find ways to express their feelings. Preschoolers may not have the language and vocabulary with which to express their feelings. Allow them to draw a picture or play with dolls instead, and use their drawings or play as a springboard for discussion.

Keep it simple. Kids may listen for a few minutes and then want to go and play. This is normal. They may have questions later, or they may not want to discuss current events at all.

Elementary School

Create a quiet place to have a conversation. Use words that are appropriate and accurate.

Share specific information that helps the child feel safe. The need to feel safe is important at this age, so you may want to discuss new technologies that better protect people in planes and buildings (e.g. special reinforced rooms and shelters). If your child is interested in electronics, you may want to find a simple article on the Iron Dome defense system.  It is important to reassure children if they have fears about their parents flying off on a business trip, or the family’s upcoming visit to Grandma’s house for the holidays.

Suggest practical ways your child can access support and information. If your child has questions you cannot answer, acknowledge that things are complicated and confusing and that you do not have all the answers. Suggest some ways you can discover them together. (e.g.. talking to a spiritual leader; finding out information about safety procedures when hearing a siren;  or learning about measures Israel is taking to protect its citizens).

Look for ways your children can be helpful. If they want to do something practical, suggest that they write cards or make something for children in Ashkelon who are sitting in shelters, gather supplies to send to  Israeli soldiers or pray for the safety of Israel and its people. For additional suggestions, check our the Center of Jewish Education website.

Middle and High School

Turn off the television and/or the computer. With 24/7 news coverage, the same news is regurgitated over and over. Your children may not realize it is the same information and may find the repetition of information and images disturbing.

Share a range of opinions. Middle and high school children are more focused on testing boundaries, exploring their newly found independence and asserting the concept of fairness than younger children. Some even have sophisticated knowledge about politics. Help them appreciate the complexity of the issues involved. For instance, show them how to access Israeli media online; have a conversation about bias and how to detect it; reinforce their critical thinking skills by suggesting they read reputable sources with whom they are likely to agree and also those with whom they are likely to disagree. If your children are active on social media, you may want to help them post appropriate comments and monitor their activities.

In conclusion

In addition to thinking through the way we communicate with our children, we can consider some particularly Jewish responses. For example, for generations Jews have turned to the giving of tzedakah and the reciting of prayer as ways to connect with each other and find strength in ourselves. Check the CJE resource page for sources. When you are a role model of compassion and introspection, your child will watch you and learn these skills.

Whatever you feel about the current situation in Israel, remember that it is important for our children to be engaged with Israel, to dream of a peaceful world and, most of all, to know that they can bring their questions and concerns to you.


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Does Empty Time in the Summer Spell Trouble for Teens?


By Susan Kurlander
Health Educator, Prevention Education
Jewish Community Services

“Summertime . .  . and the living is easy” — or so thought my teenage daughter. She planned to sleep until noon every day and then just hang out with friends during the summer of her junior year of high school. It was a rude awakening for both of us when I realized I had never set down expectations for what she considered her free time, and she had never dreamt that I would have anything to say about her lack of constructive activity.  We were both remiss in our perspectives.  My sense is that is easy for many parents and their pre-teen and teenage children to fall into the same pattern.

Parents and kids alike need a break from the overscheduled days we have during the school year. We need to catch our breath and enjoy things we don’t have time to do when we’re busy with so many obligations. But if our teens don’t have goals to accomplish or activities to participate in, all that free time can lead to risky behaviors and unhealthy habits.  When parents aren’t around, it can be too easy for kids to engage in unrestricted computer use, to have easy access to medications including prescription drugs kept in the home, to indulge in abusing alcohol kept at home or to watch R rated movies without parental supervision.

So, how do we help our teens find the balance between enjoying their newly found free time and accepting some responsibility to use that time in positive and non-harmful ways?

Communication and trust are key components to making summer a time of growth and appreciation of what we have. Conversations about expectations need to take place, with both parents and teens expressing their thoughts without being judged. Remember, there can be lots of options for how the summer unfolds as long as it winds up being a time to rejoice, rejuvenate and regroup.

Even if your children attend camp, here are some suggestions for how their free time can be used positively and productively:

• Volunteering at senior centers, the zoo, animal shelters, soup kitchens, etc. will look good on college resumes and applications.
• Attending a class or two can give students a jump start on deciding about a future college major.
• Planning a future fundraising project for a worthy cause might insure the success of that project.
• Participating in a recreational sport can help to develop the prowess needed to gain a place on the team in the fall.

Here are some organizations to check out:

American Red Cross (Junior Red Cross) – Help organize a blood drive or participate in knitting projects

The Ronald McDonald House – Collect pop tabs off aluminum cans to donate to the program.

Habitat for Humanity – Help build homes for poor people in the community.

Meals on Wheels – Do craft activities such as making tray favors for delivered food.

Libraries – Plan a themed story time for toddlers; clean and sort books.

Congregations and Schools – Many welcome student helpers to move books, sort materials, and clean up.

A “perk” of all these suggestions is that teens will be building self-esteem and nurturing a sense of self-worth that is critical for making healthy decisions about what they do with their lives not just during the summer, but forever.

Whatever the activity is, encourage and expect your preteen or teenager to do something constructive as well as relaxing during those lazy summer days. The combination of having fun while accomplishing something significant could give your child a whole new perspective on life. Most importantly, your child’s time will be much less likely to engage in risky behavior when summer time is used fruitfully.

Learn more about JCS Teen Prevention Services.


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Jewish Camp: Building Relationships and Identity


By Eli Kaufman

As a young student at a Jewish Day School, I would come home almost every day feeling like I had grown Jewishly. I would learn a new prayer, a new tradition or a new explanation. For many students, June is where the learning stopped. It took a hiatus until late August when school started up again. But for me, June is where the learning really started.

Beginning the summer entering seventh grade until the summer before my sophomore year of college, as both a camper and as a staff member, I attended Camp Ramah in Canada, a Jewish sleep away camp.

A Jewish sleep away camp is a great way to decompress from the school year and a great way to feel refreshed for the next. Even though you can learn so much in a school year, it can be difficult to put it all into perspective. Every summer at camp, there are many Jewish learning sessions. And every year I felt that I was able to contribute more and more to the discussion and as a result, got more from the conversations and activities.

Camp was a great place for me to reflect on what I had learned throughout the past ten months and apply it. Ramah was a place that I could continue my Jewish education and then apply the lessons to my everyday life at home and back at school. Camp is where I learned how to lead services. Camp is where I learned practical Hebrew skills. And Camp is where I learned many Jewish values that stick with me to this very day.

Camp is a place to create, build and sustain strong relationships. I will always remember what happened at the exact moment that I stepped off of the bus on my first day of camp. I had no clue where I was going, and it was all very overwhelming. I was wandering around and got lost and felt super lonely. I felt like finding an adult and asking them to put me back on the bus and send me right home, but one boy walked up to me and asked me if I was alright.

Everyone can remember the days in elementary school when everyone went to lunch, opened their lunch boxes and pulled out their food. If the boy three seats away also had carrots for lunch and the girl that sat across from you also had peanut butter and jelly, you just knew that today was going to be a great day. And for that lunch period, nothing else mattered. You were going to be the best of friends.

Jewish camp is just like elementary school lunch period. Campers are friendly and the staff is fantastic, but it is a different type of feeling. Everyone has one thing in common. They are all Jewish.

I  don’t want it to sound that everything is “all Jewish, all of the time” at Jewish sleep away camp. Campers play sports, swim, boat, participate in arts and crafts and learn many new skills. But camp provides everyone with this special connection that makes friendships and relationships stronger.

I spent two summers on staff at Camp Ramah and that was even more rewarding. Not only could I give back to a place that gave me so much, I was amazed by how much my campers grew during the summer. By the time the summer was over, the campers had gotten into a routine and were much more independent than when they had arrived. It is so easy to see how camp had a role in their maturity.

My friends and I used to say ‘We live for ten months for the two months at camp.’ As soon as camp was over, a countdown began until the next summer.

Jewish camp is an experience that every Jewish child should have. The memories that are created, the lessons that are learned and the friendships that last long after the final Havdalah are just a few of the seemingly endless list of reasons why a Jewish sleep away camp is one of the best ways to spend a summer.

Find out more about Jewish camping at The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping.

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Beating the Summer Heat with CHAI


By Aryeh Goetz
Director of Neighborhood Investment, CHAI

The Farmer’s Almanac predicts this summer will be hotter and rainier than normal, with the hottest periods in early to mid-July and early to mid-August. But knowing ahead of time that we’ll need to stay cool during the summer is only half the battle. What’s the other half? Preparation!

By trying these simple tips, you can keep your home cool and comfortable, while also cutting your cooling costs. It’s good for the environment and good for your wallet!

1. Use ceiling fans
The interesting thing about fans is that they don’t actually cool a room; they just make it feel cooler, by blowing the hot air away from your body. Fans can make a room feel up to seven degrees cooler, and they use much less electricity than the air conditioner. So make sure your ceiling fans are turned on high before you turn the temperature down. Box fans are a great alternative if you don’t already have ceiling fans around your home.

2. Replace the air filter
Clogged filters will limit your air conditioner’s effectiveness and are expensive. Show your AC unit some love and change the filter. You can pick up new, inexpensive filters at a grocery or home improvement store. Remember to check the size of the filter before purchasing. For best results, replace the filters once a month.

3. Cover your windows
Window treatments are not just a design element: they can help keep heat out, thereby reducing your electricity bill. If you have blinds or curtains, keep them closed. If you are looking to purchase new window treatments for your home, know that lighter colored fabrics deflect the sun’s rays better. Insulated curtains will do the best job of keeping the heat out.

4. Turn off heat generators
Running computers and televisions all day will put out a lot of heat. Be sure to turn them off when you aren’t using them and unplug them, too. Using the oven or stove will also heat up your home in a flash.

5. Avoid setting the thermostat excessively low
Sure, it’s tempting to crank the air conditioner down to 65 after spending time outdoors when it’s 100 degrees (or higher). But this won’t cool your home any faster. Even worse, you might forget that you set it extremely low, resulting in unnecessary cooling costs.

6. Smart Ways to Save on the AC

  •  Set the thermostat at 70° to 75°F when you’re home and 80°F when you’re not. Don’t turn it off completely before leaving the house. It can cost more to cool the house back down once it overheats.
  •  Position electric devices like lamps, TVs, or computers at least a few feet away from your AC thermostat. The AC can sense heat from these appliances, which can cause it to run longer than necessary.
  • Place room units on the north side of the house when possible. An AC unit operating in the shade uses up to 10 percent less electricity than one in the sun.
  • Know when to upgrade. In terms of energy use, you may want to consider a new AC if yours is more than 10 years old (window unit) or 12 years old (central air) — and definitely if it’s not cooling as well as it used to. It will save up to 30 percent off your bill.

8. Remember: Heat Rises
Attics can reach temps of 150°F. Take measures to properly insulate this area from the rest of the house: Install sweeps and weather-stripping around the door.

CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. wants you to know that there is help for the hot and weary! With the CHAI Energy Savings Loans, you can receive an interest-free loan of up to $10,000 to use toward home improvements that will help make your home more energy efficient. There are no income restrictions. You can live in the 21215 zip code in the city or in Pikesville, Mt. Washington, Owings Mills, Reisterstown or Randallstown!

Visit to apply for the Energy Savings Loan. You can download the application right from our homepage.

Wishing you an enjoyable, safe and cool summer!

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