What I Learned at JFAM Camp

September 11, 2023
Family walking through field of grass and flowers

By Shira Zeliger, J Camps Jewish Life Specialist

My husband and I are both fortunate to be products of high-quality Jewish institutions: synagogues, youth groups, Jewish day schools, Israel programs and Jewish summer camp. As parents, we have been blessed to start giving memorable Jewish experiences and educational opportunities to our three children in these fine institutions. Once our son was old enough to attend day camp, we were in the middle of the pandemic hunkering down. In summer 2022, we felt comfortable enough to send him to day camp and chose to send him to J Camps for five weeks and to Pearlstone’s Tiyul Adventure Camp for one week. He had the time of his life and loved the experiences both of these camps provided for him. I’ll admit that I lived vicariously through him that summer and daydreamed about my own camp experiences as I kept track of his daily schedule and all of the incredible activities he was participating in such as athletics, arts and crafts, zip lining, nature, Israeli culture, swimming and more.

Time outdoors, trying new things, color war, nature discovery, swimming lessons, arts and crafts, celebrating Shabbat, building Jewish identity and making new friends were the memories that I left my Jewish camping experience with and I was glad when my oldest child was able to start making his own camp memories. You can imagine how excited I was when I found out that J Camps and Tiyul Adventure Camp had partnered last September to host JFAM – an all-inclusive Jewish family camp experience weekend at the Pearlstone retreat center. My family didn’t think twice about signing up and we encouraged some friends of ours whose children were also J Camps campers to do the same. We came for the camp reunion opportunity for my son and because as a “campy” person myself I wanted to experience a taste of what both of those fantastic camps had to offer both their campers and their campers’ families. We left more relaxed, more connected as a family and with other families, with new memories and with a deep appreciation for the values that guide both the JCC and Pearlstone.

We experienced a wonderful, pluralistic, inclusive weekend retreat with excellent Shabbat programming for young families, art projects, creek walking, pool time, music, a bonfire and other opportunities to experience nature and community in a beautiful setting. We spent time bonding with old friends and forging new friendships. It was a really nice way to begin the new school year and was a rare opportunity to go on a mini-vacation without traveling too far from home. Fast forward to Summer 2023 where I not only sent my three children to J Camps as campers but I also returned to being a staff member at camp for the first time in nearly twenty years. This past summer, I worked as the Jewish Life specialist at J Camps where I had the privilege to teach campers in pre-K through 6th grade about Jewish values and run a service project that resulted in campers creating hundreds of gift bags and the contents therein which were donated to the child life department at Lifebridge Health. My own children, as campers, and I, as a staff member, experienced eight amazing weeks at J Camps – a place of solid recreational and educational programming, inclusivity, spirit, warmth, diversity, great energy and pure magic all on the extraordinary JCC campus in Owings Mills.

We cannot wait to return to Pearlstone October 13-15 for another JFAM retreat. This time, the JCC of Greater Baltimore will be partnering with the Macks Center for Jewish Connections for what is sure to be another memorable weekend. I hope to see you there!


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