• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

The Jewish adult camp experience brings out the child in everyone – J.

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Jun 2, 2022

“What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘sex’?” Claire Perelman interviews the men and women in their twenties and thirties seated around her, in a tent open on all sides – what is called the “Zen Zone” of Camp Nai Nai Nai.

“And what’s the first thing you think of when you hear ‘Jew’?” after a round table, she invites responses that range from wacky to hilarious.

It was the opener for “Kosher Kink,” a 75-minute session called Playshop that Perelman led as camp specialist for the latest iteration of Camp Nai Nai Nai, a Jewish summer camp experience for adults that takes place over long weekends, mainly in spring and summer.

At the most recent gathering, May 6-8 at Camp Newman in San Rafael, half a dozen other gaming workshops offered campers the chance to relive their childhood camp experiences with games such as gaga , unleash their inner artist with arts and crafts workshops, and explore difficult topics with their peers, such as vulnerability.

Such was Shabbat morning at “Camp West” – the West Coast’s first camp event since August 2019. Nearly 80 people attended, hailing from the Bay Area, Arizona and as far afield as the Canada and Brazil.

Camp Nai Nai Nai was started in 2017 by Moishe House, an organization that seeks to engage young Jews around the world in peer-led programs at community houses, retreats and more.

“There really is nothing else like it for people in this age range,” said Greg Kellner, director of Camp Nai Nai Nai. “There was a gap for people between college and when they had kids, so the camp and the other programs at Moishe House really engage people in their 20s and 30s.”

The camp provides a unique way to connect relatively unaffiliated Jews in this age group to each other and to Jewish life, as well as a fun place for them to “disconnect from the daily hustle and bustle of life,” said said Ali Gugerty, Moishe House. director of immersive experiences.

At Camp Newman, it doesn’t hurt that there is virtually no cell service and wifi is for staff only, for camp purposes.

Nai Nai Nai’s next camp weekend will take place September 2-5 in Pennsylvania, and the organization will host its first-ever Midwestern camp experience October 28-30 in the Chicago area.

For many participants, Camp Nai is an opportunity to relive their childhood camp memories.

Moishe House ‘has done such a good job of making us feel like kids here – it’s not corny and nobody thinks it’s weird,’ Jenna Feldman said as she waited at the base of a tower multi-storey climbing.

Feldman, who is involved with a Moishe House in San Francisco, grew up attending Camp Newman, which is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. She now works as a customer spokesperson in the technology industry.

David Matten, who lives in South Bay, decided a few days before the weekend to attend as so many of his friends were going. Longtime camp counselor, it feels good to be a camper again, he noted.

“I can connect with new people and hang out with friends,” Matten said.

Especially after two years of pandemic isolation, people really want to reconnect outside of the daily grind in a fun and easy way, Moishe House staff said. Camp Nai experiences often serve as a gateway to deeper involvement in the camp, in Moishe House and in Jewish life, they noted.

The enthusiasm was palpable among the 25-person staff, who greeted campers as they arrived with shouts and cheers.

“We are more than staff, we are family,” said Elina Kurakin, Camp Nai Nai Nai’s program coordinator. “It’s the same with campers: they all have their camp family.”

Camp Nai Nai Nai West personnel at Camp Newman in San Rafael, May 2022. (Photo/JTA-Yoav Magid)

From the start, there was a clear focus on inclusion throughout the weekend. Friday night opened with a traditional Shabbat service as well as a more musical service infused with singing and guitar. Additionally, there was also a Saturday morning service, meditative yoga, a Shabbat hike, and text-based Torah study.

Aaron Malki, who works in real estate in San Francisco, visited the service led by the song. “I love embracing a Jewish communal space like this – nostalgic and warm,” he said.

Saturday activities ranged from crafts and reflection, like mezuzah-making, tie-dye, and “Believe: The Torah of Ted Lasso,” to physical activity, including slip’n’slide kickball , archery, Latin-Israeli dance. and yoga.

Even during Saturday night’s “All-I-Days Dance Party” which was supposed to last until 1am, there was a quiet corner to hang out, a silent disco, and stations to tie your own bow tie (in l honor of National Bow Tie Day), paper airplane or ice cream sundae.​

“We try to create different spaces for people to feel comfortable here,” Kurakin said. “No matter who you are, what your background is, what your job is – you are welcome here.”

For attendees who might have been intimidated by the social component of the camp experience after more than two years of social distancing and isolation, Kellner said the camp provided a safe environment.

“After the pandemic, people don’t realize they have social anxiety, so camp is a great way to get things going,” Kellner said. “We know people come with different levels of comfort.”

Josh Schwartz, a camp counselor returning for his third experience at Camp Nai Nai Nai, said, “What Moishe House does so well is be inclusive.” Describing the Saturday night dance party as an “adult bar mitzvah,” he noted, “If you don’t want to be on the dance floor, you can be at the pickle-making station.”

A cybersecurity consultant by day and a Jewish community organizer by night, Schwartz is a resident of NoMa Moishe House in Washington, D.C. and will be the chief counselor at the upcoming camp, in Pennsylvania, on Labor Day weekend. When his colleagues asked him how he stayed so energized, he replied, “I always have energy because my battery is recharged at camp.”

During the two-hour block of free play on Saturday afternoon, there were options for everyone: people took a nap in the Zen zone, practiced archery, took part in a tasting local wine or strolled the 500-acre Camp Newman grounds.

Sunday ended with an intense color war, giving campers one last chance to let loose and play like kids again.

Kellner said he considers it a victory if someone leaves the camp just with the practice of saying the Hamotzi blessing on bread a few times a week or adopting a Jewish practice that is new to their life. They may even go so far as to marry another camper, as former camper Abby Eisen did last April, exchanging vows with the partner she first met at camp several years earlier. In true Camp Nai fashion, Abby returned to San Rafael as a staff member.

“Getting out of their comfort zone and coming back to camp, where there’s such a sense of community and togetherness, is so powerful,” Kurakin said. “I call it people’s ‘happy place’.”


This article was sponsored and produced in partnership with Moishe House, which builds meaningful and welcoming Jewish communities around the world. This article was produced by the Native Content Team at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.