A Suburban Problem With a Summer Camp Solution
My wife Robin and I have a suburban problem. We recently bought our first house, and it features both a formal living room, which I call the living room, and a “family room,” which I also keep referring to as the living room. It gets confusing.
Our new solution: We’ve renamed the two rooms the beit am and the moadon (loosely translated: the community room and the clubhouse). At URJ Greene Family Camp, the summer camp where I served as assistant director, the beit am and moadon are two large rooms at the center of camp with murals on the walls painted by campers, where important camp activities like arts & crafts and roller hockey take place. Outside, the courtyard outside has a fabulous view of Lake Jake and a zipline. The names seem like a natural fit: Robin and I don’t have a lake, but our beit am also features Jewish art in the form of our ketubah, or marriage contract, and our friends also come to hang out in the moadon.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Robin and I would use camp as a model for our house. We were both campers at Reform Jewish summer camps. We’ve been counselors, activity specialists, unit heads, and Birthright Israel tour leaders. We met at a Jewish youth group conference when I was assistant director of Greene Family Camp and Robin was assistant director of a sister Jewish camp, and it seems our camp friends conspired to introduce us to each other.
We’re now a few summers removed from camp, and our careers have taken us away from the Jewish world, yet lessons from camp continue to affect our lives. Robin owns an international eco-tourism company, and when her clients enjoy an awesome trip, it’s because of the programming techniques that she learned as a counselor and unit head. My current boss hired me because my resume said “certified ropes course instructor” – a skill I learned at camp, of course.
When I was 9 years old, I went to Jewish summer camp for my first summer for mundane reasons: My older brother had gone the summer before, and ga-ga ball (an Israeli variant of dodgeball) seemed pretty cool. At the time, I was not seeking a good job or a Jewish home; honestly, as I became an older camper and later a counselor, I was not seeking those things, either – camp just seemed like a fun place. Somehow, though the Jewish lessons and values just happened to me, without my even trying for them, and I’m very thankful my parents sent me to camp.
With all of the benefits Robin and I have received from camp, it’s only fitting that we continue to bring camp into our home. My beit am and moadon are still missing one thing, but I have plans to rectify the situation: Next week I will be petitioning the neighborhood association for clearance to construct a zipline in the backyard.
Joe Pollak grew up in Tulsa, OK, and is a former assistant director of URJ Greene Family Camp, a Reform Jewish summer camp. His wife, Robin Weber Pollak, is a former assistant director of URJ Camp Harlam, another Reform Jewish summer camp. They now reside in Ann Arbor, MI, where Joe is an admissions officer for the University of Michigan Law School and Robin is president of Journeys International.