Summer camp isn’t just a place for kids. Ask Lori Brockman, a mother of two who recently took part in a family camp in Malibu.
“It’s a great balance of family time and adult time,” she said. “[It’s] so much fun being with the other families, and the kids just love being at camp.”
Family camps are held over the course of various weekends throughout the year in the Los Angeles region. Brockman of North Hollywood found herself at Camp JCA Shalom over Mother’s Day weekend, where all the traditional camp activities were on tap.
“We tie-dyed, we did the zip line, there was a picnic, there was a talent show, nature hike, playing and bonding with the animals,” she said. “The kids made a picture frame for me, and then we took a photo during the weekend, so that was nice.”
Family camps feature separate activities for adults and children, as well as programs where kids and parents come together and enjoy each other’s company. It’s often an opportunity for parents to introduce their children to the idea of summer camp and for kids to partake in summer fun before the season even begins.
It’s also an important chance to take a deep breath, said Rabbi Joe Menashe, executive director of Camp Ramah in California.
“In this day and age, we are all so busy and distracted by crazy schedules, as well as pressures at work, in the community, and at kids’ various in- and out-of-school activities,” he said. “When you go to family camp, you connect with yourself, your family and other families in a very sacred way.
“It’s worth the energy and resources to give families this opportunity,” he said.
Family camp has been held at Ramah, a Conservative Jewish institution, for decades, Menashe said. This year, it occurred during Mother’s Day weekend, May 9-11, and was run by Rabbis Aaron and Penina Alexander, a husband and wife who work at American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and IKAR, respectively. The camp is situated in Ojai, a small town nestled in the hills about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The annual weekend started with a Friday night celebration to welcome the Sabbath and communal kosher meals. Children 2 and older created art projects and participated in other typical summer camp fare, while adults socialized with one another. The fee to enroll for adults was $350 to stay in a cabin and $400 for hotel-style accommodations; children 2 and older cost $185.
Families are welcomed to Ramah at other times throughout the year as well. More than 300 guests were invited for Passover, and individual synagogues such as Sinai Temple and Temple Beth Am hold family camps there, too.
In Malibu at the Shalom Institute, Camp JCA Shalom’s family camp costs $170 per adult staying in cabins or $205 in a private room and $130 for children ages 4 and older. Any kids 3 years and younger were given free entry and daycare supervision. Like Ramah, the camp welcomes synagogues to host their own family camps at the facilities.
At its 18th annual family camp this year, JCA Shalom, which is just minutes from the Pacific Ocean and about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, provided a slew of activities: Shabbat services, arts and crafts, hikes, a talent show, swimming in an Olympic-sized pool, collective singing times and softball games. On Saturday, families ate together at an outdoor picnic.
What makes the program stand out, according to camp director Joel Charnick, is that it’s offered a few times per year to various types of families.
Although the main one took place Mother’s Day weekend, another one, hosted by the Shalom Institute May 2-4, focused on LGBT families. It gave children the opportunity to discuss what it’s like to be raised in a gay or lesbian home, and parents talked about the same issues from their perspectives. In August, the site will host a family camp focused on toddlers, and a single-parents weekend is in the works.
Charnick said that during these weekends, children older than 6 can stay in housing quarters separate from their parents, which helps them get used to the idea of going away for the summer.
“People want to spend time with their families, and kids want to get a taste of what the summer and separation are like, so we have both,” he said.
Camp Alonim, located on American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin Campus, celebrated family camp from Feb. 28 to March 2. It was spearheaded by Rabbi Sara Brandes of Moving Traditions and featured Israeli dancing, kosher meals, prayer, singing, yoga, archery, horseback riding and hiking. Families could take in the natural landscape and the grounds, which cover 2,700 acres in Simi Valley.
The camp is held early in the year so that parents still have time to register their children for summer, according to camp director Josh Levine.
“People have a great time at family camp and decide to enroll in camp for the summer,” he said.
The camp “showcases what the Alonim experience is to families, many of whom are coming for the first time,” Levine said. “It’s for families to connect with one another in meaningful ways and to meet different kinds of people.”
The theme for Alonim’s family camp this year was “Experiencing Judaism Through the Senses.” It cost $335 per adult, and kids 14 and younger could attend for free. Any child in the first grade or higher was able to stay with counselors in separate houses and see what it would be like during the summer session.
“Everyone feels more comfortable,” Levine said. “Sending kids to camp is a big step for parents. It helps parents get comfortable with that concept and [persuades] them to do it.”
But that’s just one of the benefits, he said, explaining that one of the best parts of going to family camp is the fact that adults and children alike can be introduced to new people and communities.
“A typical family camp is a different mix of people, and they get to meet one another and have a taste of that. Families can stay in touch with one another. A lot of friendships are formed at family camp.”
Michelle Chernack contributed to this story.
Photos: Many families gather for camp at the Shalom Institute in Malibu, above and below. Camp Alonim in Simi Valley, bottom left, also offers opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors and each other.
Credits – Clockwise, from top-left: Photo courtesy of Camp Alonim, / Photo courtesy of the Shalom Institute / Photo courtesy of the Shalom Institute