I went to family camp for Passover. I headed there with my sons, their dad (my ex-husband), his mom (whom I still refer to as my mother-in-law), and my mom.
In case you don’t know, we Jews like summer camp. It traces back to the early 20th century when the push for a Jewish state began to take hold. Camps focused on skills which would be needed to ‘make the desert bloom.’ And there’s also a rich history in the US when it comes to summer camps for kids and adults alike.
During Passover, observant Jews don’t eat out because of all the various food restrictions, so regular travel can be difficult. Some Orthodox Jews (who can afford it!) often go away to special Passover hotels and resorts during the eight-day holiday. These places are true getaways during this holiday that can be easily consumed with cooking and cleaning. You can eat, spend time with friends and family, and go to synagogue, all in one place. I have many friends who do this yearly, and it sounds intense but also kind of amazing to be with your family and not have to host everyone. You don’t have to do dishes, and there is programming for kids and… it’s actually always sounded appealing to me.
So this year we finally decided to try something similar out. We did something many Reform and Conservative Jews have taken to doing at Passover: family camp! Ours took place at Camp Ramah in Ojai, where about 250 of us Jews gathered for Seders, activities, synagogue and relaxing time. The entire facility is Kosher for Passover, and while most families stay the entire holiday, we went just for the weekend.
Family camp like this makes you feel like a kid. Everyone greets you with huge smiles and there are matching T-shirts (no, we did not wear ours for the family photo—too weird to frame that, I think!), and you get a room with a cute little bed and a map and a schedule, and you get to choose your activities and eat together for communal meals. Just like a kid at camp!
Here’s how it shook out:
My ex and I had separate rooms on the same floor. I got my older son, while my younger son slept in my ex-husband’s room. The ex had the fridge, so I stuck my vegan goodies in there and only bothered him twice for them.
I have never not hosted a Seder, with the exception of the year my father was in hospice (my ex-husband hosted). So it was kind of weird to be celebrating Passover and not hosting. The first night, we participated in an 80 person musical Seder. It was lovely, but it very different from the way our family does it. There were different melodies, different foods, and different pacing. The second night, we had our own table and used our own Haggadahs from home. It felt more like… us. I think it was a good mix to do something new the first night, and then something comforting and “old” the second.
This was kind of hard for me. At first, my sons were a little trepidatious about socializing with all of these kids and counselors they had never met, but they actually acclimated quickly. They went on a group hike and played a ton of gaga (Israeli dodgeball). Like, a TON. They loved the freedom of being at camp where you’re safe and free to roam about. I loved that they were able to have that experience.
I attended services a few times and napped a lot. I needed sleep and I got it. I wanted to go to the yoga and meditation classes but I slept through them so that was that. I did some reading which was great—I’m re-reading “Siblings Without Rivalry” and it hit home and was really good to remember the things I’m doing to make my kids bicker so they can now hopefully stop! I’m not terribly social in new environments but I spoke to an old friend from college, Yiftach, whom I haven’t seen in that long and I got to meet his wife and kids and get to know them a bit. That was lovely. Ultimately, I got to relax and not be on my phone for two glorious days. I loved that. I needed it.
I was asked to give a speech in the camp synagogue on the second day of the holiday. Because I was not writing or typing (religious restriction during the first two days of Passover), it was a challenge to speak with no notes for sure. I spoke about accepting being in the right place at the right time, and how Moses was in the right place at the right time many times, and how his whole story was the beginning of so many miracles for him and the entire Jewish people.
I discussed what it would be like for us to see ourselves—even in times of distress, suffering, and calamity—in the middle of some sort of miracle, even if it’s too hard to see at the moment.
Ironically, this was also the lesson I received during this weekend of firsts (which were not always comfortable). Things are constantly happening in this universe and in our lives. It all has a purpose, even if we can’t see it now. For the rest of the holiday and beyond, my hope was to find comfort even in discomfort and to see that even as my life is constantly changing a lot remains the same, and that’s good.
Ultimately, we are all in the middle of so many miracles. Let’s hope for the strength and open heart to find out what they are.