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Notes from Emma Kaufmann Camp

Posted by Rachael Speck on July 25, 2018

An Exciting Year Ahead

September 9, 2018

by Rachael Speck

Rosh Hashanah presents us with an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and think about what we want for the upcoming year. One of the prayers we say on Rosh Hashanah is that the entire world will come to a deep appreciation of God’s existence, awareness and supervision.

By making this a prayer of Rosh Hashanah, the Rabbis are teaching a critical lesson:  Recognizing the needs of others, seeing ourselves responsible for others, and understanding that the greatest need any of us have is to appreciate reality more deeply, are the most important values to base our upcoming year on.  I wrote this very same thing to our staff in our monthly newsletter earlier this week.  The lesson is so relatable to the work they do as camp staff.  As staff, they constantly put their campers’ needs above their own.  They recognize the great responsibility we have in taking care of children every summer: ensuring their safety, making sure they have fun, helping them through tough times, and being their “parent” while they are away from home.

What resonates with me the most about this lesson, is appreciating reality more deeply.  Camp teaches us to “appreciate reality” – the reality of camp – in a meaningful way that outsiders can’t possibly understand.  Camp has teaches us to appreciate our surroundings, unique experiences, and cultural differences in each other.  As we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, I hope we will all reflect on the value of camp for our children, and how it makes them better people as we strengthen our beliefs and set personal goals for the upcoming year.

At EKC, we are in a time of reflection and transition as we begin to set our own goals for the upcoming year.  We are already looking forward to some exciting changes for summer 2019.  This fall, we will be  breaking ground on new senior staff housing.  Adequate housing for adults and senior staff will allow us to attract experienced teachers and professionals to lead activities and bring their expertise to camp.  In turn, we will be able to add to our program offerings based on the most current interests among our campers and staff, and continue to enhance our specialty areas.  Our lake front is also getting renovated.  Building new docks, moving old docks to create more “play space” in the cove, and purchasing new kayaks and equipment to expand our fishing and boating programs.

We will also be updating our staff training to better focus on equipping our staff to be the best they can be.  We will be working on innovative ways to better inspire, encourage and support them so that they are more likely to do their jobs with patience, compassion and creativity.

I want to thank each of you for being a part of our EKC family this past year and for many years to come.  We look forward to keeping you updated on exciting changes in the year ahead.

From our EKC family to yours, we wish you a L’Shana Tova.

The Magic of Camp Continues

August 17, 2018

By Rachael Speck

On Tuesday, August 7, camp ended.  After the buses pulled away, camp was quiet.  There was an eerie, sad feeling as I looked around at empty cabins, a still lake, and a bare flagpole.  I enjoy my quiet meals in the dining hall after camp is over but would trade them any day for a lunch time dance party or some banging on the tables.

Luckily, camp doesn’t stay quiet for too long.  While the camp experience may be over for your children, for many others it is just beginning.  EKC is very fortunate to have two incredible groups come to camp at the end of the summer.

The first group is called CHIHOPI, Camp Chihopi Liver & Transplant Summer Camp run by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.  This group of 65 kids, various ages, have all had liver and/or intestinal transplantation and are learning to adapt and cope with their medical routines and chronic care.  They come to EKC for 4 days every August to get the full experience of camp.  They zip line, horseback ride, swim, tube, sing, do arts and crafts etc.  Camp provides them an opportunity to get to participate in normal, routine childhood experiences that we often take for granted.  Coming to camp allows them to interact with children of similar medical backgrounds.

What’s so amazing to me is watching the enthusiasm and strength these kids have to participate in activities.  No scar, no medical treatment, no physical limitation slows them down.  They have an incredible team of doctors and nurses that make this possible.  These medical staff “set up shop” and give these kids all the medical care they need so that they can run around camp and participate in any activity like any other kid.   For many of these kids, this is the only fun and sun they get all summer.  How lucky are we that they’ve been calling EKC their summer home for the past 23 summers!

The second group is called Circle Camps for Grieving Children.  This is a group of approximately 100 girls who all have one thing in common – each of them has suffered the loss of a parent.   By experiencing camp, these girls form unbelievable bonds with other girls who share loss.  Camp is often the best place to be for any person when life gets tough or bad experiences happen.  Circle Camps is so special because it creates a supportive environment that empowers girls to address their grief while enjoying the adventures and fun that camp has to offer.  They develop an incredible network of support that they rely on throughout the year.

It’s hard enough to be a kid, let alone be different from other kids because of circumstances you can’t control.  While these kids each have something different about them, coming to camp allows them to feel stronger together with campers who share the same differences they do.

I always say that every kid needs camp.  Our goal is to give camp to as many kids as we can.  That is true whether you get to experience EKC as a part of Chihopi, Circle Camps or as an EKC camper.

This evening will be the first time I have not been at camp for Shabbat since Memorial Day Weekend.  While I will miss being at camp, I will also be reflecting about how rewarding it is to work in a place where I get to see so many friendships formed and be a part of so many life-changing experiences.

Shabbat Shalom,


First Experience & Final Memories

August 5, 2018

By Rachael Speck

Do you remember the very first time you spent the night away from your parents?  Away from your own house.  Away from your own bed.  For our First Experience campers, this week is that first time.  This week is full of firsts for these campers.  First time zip lining, first time horseback riding and first time experiencing a Foam Party!  While all of these are exciting moments, there are even more significant firsts that will happen this week.  For many of these campers, it’s the first time they will make their bed, the first time they will choose their own food at meal time, the first time they will make a friend who doesn’t live in the same city as they do, or their first Shabbat dinner.  These are the unique first experiences we can only get at camp.

And while this week is full of many firsts for our younger campers, it’s a week full of last memories for our older campers.  Camp is about the journey, not about any one summer.  The journey starts in First Experience and ends when you “retire” as a staff member and officially become alumni.  This past week, our campers had so many great experiences along the journey.  Our Spartan Strong fitness program had their final event.  52 campers completed the 13-obstacle course, which included every camper having to get over a 6 foot wall, balance on wooden planks, carry cinder logs down the path, and many other tasks that forced them to work together to complete the course. 

A little heavy dew didn’t stop Kineret from having a “rain party” in Camp Street!  The music was loud and everyone was dancing in the rain and stomping in puddles.   Halutzim and Teens got to bake challah this week in preparation for Shabbat.  Teens went roller skating Thursday night and Halutzim had a casino night and a Foam party this weekend!  We’ve got lots of campers preparing their final night performances.  The horseback riding chug, in addition to riding and taking care of the horses, is busy working on their “boot, scoot and boogy” line dance.  The music chug will be performing a 3-song concert that they’ve been preparing for all week. 

On Friday afternoon we had our Art Show, where campers got to show off all their projects from the session.  We had everything from papier mache unicorns and portraits to jewelry and paper plants designed from recyclable materials. Ceramics made beautiful hamsas.  Arts chug painted the arts deck.  What was a plain wooden deck is now a beautiful work of art. If you haven’t already, check out pictures from the show on our Facebook and Instagram pages. 

For our oldest campers, the Teen 2’s, this past Friday was their last Shabbat ever as campers – a major milestone in the journey.  Their emotions were raw and the energy was high during our final song session.  League semifinals took place on Saturday afternoon.  And campers got to go shopping in canteen for new camp gear!  On Saturday night we had our Variety show and our final Shabbat concert of the summer. 

Tonight will be one of their most pivotal moments in the SIT (staff-in-training)’s journey as they have their SIT Induction Ceremony.  Each SIT will be “inducted” by a staff member of their choice.  This ceremony is a longstanding tradition that both SITs and staff look forward to for years.  Following the ceremony, all of the SITs will be welcomed into the final staff meeting of the summer.  After all the staff are seated in the dining hall, the SITs get ushered in.  Staff stands on the benches, applaud, cheer and scream as the SITs enter the room.  I still get chills every time as I watch them enter the dining hall as newly inducted staff.  It’s the culminating moment of their summer. 

Tomorrow we start packing.  Gosh we hate that.  In the meantime, we will cherish every last moment no matter where we are in the journey.

Shavua Tov,


Maccabi Color War!

By Sam Bloom

August 2, 2018

It used to be just 1 day.  Then it got bigger, and we added more activities, and now its two days.  Two days of relays, competitions, tug of war, rock paper scissors, dodgeball,  sabra “foam-en”, sham battles, dancing, captains climbing the flagpole, final night dances, songs and performances,  plaques, cheers, cookout and even a silent lunch.  That’s right….for 1 meal during the games, nobody talks when they eat.  Or they lose points.  Only at camp!

All in 2 days.

But the real story is at the end.  At the end of the two days, when all of the competitions are complete.  The scores are in.  The video of the experience is watched by all.  Now it’s time to announce the scores.  You’ve never seen anything like this.  We start with announcing the 4th place team, and we work our way to first place. 

“In 4th place, with 11,055 points – the yellow team!”

This team was just told that they had the least amount of points.  They stand up and start cheering like they just won the lottery.  Not just the daily lottery – but the Powerball!  Jumping up and down.  High fiving.  Why?  Keep reading.

So now there are 3 teams remaining….

“For the first time in Color War history, we have a tie for 2nd place.  This means that when we announce the two teams that tied, first place, please hold your applause so these teams can celebrate.”  Why? 

“Tied for 2nd place, with 12,370 points, and just 40 points behind first place” (cue 440 people saying “oh my goodness 40 points?!”)….




Place goes crazy….they know it’s coming.  We have a late wake-up every year after Color War for 30 years.  But they cheer like they again just won the lottery.  Why, because it’s camp!

“Tied for 2nd place, with 12,370 points, and just 40 points behind first place”……

“The Red and White teams!”

Red and White jump up and cheer like they were just told that they were 1st place, while the actual first place team is still sitting, kicking their feet and waving their arms waiting to be called.

“And in first place, with 12,410 points, the blue team!” (Immediately cue “WE ARE FAMILY” on the speakers).

Why?  Here’s why…..“When the great recorder comes to write against your name, it’s not whether you won or lost but how you played the game.”  

This saying is located in our Chadar Ochell, dining hall.  It has been since 1988.  It’s a saying that we live by at EKC.  Our captains say it to the whole camp at the end of every Color War.  It’s really true….it’s actually unbelievable.  Nobody really cares if they win or lose in Color War, because it’s all about how we play.  As a team.  Together.  Having fun.  Creating the experiences that we’ll remember forever.  Isn’t this what we all want our children to experience…

Because we are family.  We cannot wait for the next 7 days of camp!



7-29-18: An Exciting Week 2!

By Brooks Weaver

When I was a camper, one of the most exciting parts of coming back to camp every summer was getting to do a new activity whenever I moved up into a new unit.  When I was in Kineret, I couldn’t wait to get to Halutzim to go roller skating at Swaney’s.  When I was in my first year in teens, I couldn’t wait to be a Teen 2 so I could participate in the Big Brother Big Sister program.

On Thursday night, our Teen 2s returned from Washington DC.  On the trip, they visited the US Holocaust Memorial.  We prepared them before they left by giving them question cards.  These cards gave them ideas for things to look for and think about as they moved through the exhibition.  They also had a conversation about previous experiences with the Holocaust Museum, what they had already learned at school, and their personal connections to survivors.  The night after their visit, the teens did a Sikkum (end-of-the-day wrap up activity) with their quads.  They talked about what parts of the exhibition they found most powerful, and what the significance is of learning about the Holocaust and how it connects to the world today.

This trip is brand new for the teens this year.  It was designed to be a culminating experience for teens in their last year as a camper, and to serve as a prelude to their SIT Israel Leadership Experience.  This trip was the perfect “new and different” activity to add to the teen experience.  It was the perfect mix of fun (they also went to Six Flags!) and meaningful.  It will have a lasting impact amongst all their camp memories.  Over the past few years, not only have we tried to make sure we have new activities every year, but we’ve tried to be more intentional about our program design.

What do I mean by intentional?  At EKC, we take a progressive approach to programming.   Offering something new, different and age appropriate within each unit each summer.  This is what keeps kids wanting to come back to camp.  This is what keeps camp exciting.  Camp is this interesting mix of being so rooted in tradition that no one ever wants it to change, yet no one likes to do the same thing every day.  That would be boring, and boring doesn’t exist at EKC!

We had a great second week of camp full of exciting programs in each unit.  Kineret and Halutzim got the opportunity to participate in Robotics.  Campers got to build their own robots out of recyclable materials and then computer program them to move.  You may be thinking, “What?!  Computers at camp?!”  Yep (only when used for the right purpose)!  Because at EKC, we offer something for everybody.  Because every kid needs camp.   Sabras and Teens went on their Big Brother Big Sister Day trip to Chestnut Ridge where they swam , played Capture the Flag, hiked and had a picnic lunch.  Our SIT’s (staff-in-training) are on their second rotation in cabins and specialty areas interacting, teaching and learning how to be staff.  Five of them are over halfway through their lifeguard training, so that by the end of the summer they will be certified lifeguards and ready to work at the pool or lake next summer.  Kineret baked challah on Friday morning to enjoy at Shabbat!

As we head into Week 3, we have lots to look forward to.  Kineret, Halutzim and Teens start new chugim today.  This week’s offerings include Israeli cooking, fishing, fitness, basketball, wake boarding, waterskiing, art and music room.  Have I told you about our new music room?  This is a brand new space used for singing and camp band (don’t worry, for those of you who know, we still use the gazebo for singing too).  It also has all kinds of cool DJ and recording equipment for campers to be able to create their own music.  Oh, and we have a big surprise program coming this week too.  Some of you might be able to guess.  We will tell you all about it on Wednesday!

Until then…Shavua Tov!


7-25-18: Staff Camp Fire

by Sam Bloom

Let me tell you a story….

Last night at Emma Kaufmann Camp, it was another staff “meeting” night.  However, we affectionately call these “events.”  Because a “meeting” happens in a board room.  We don’t do board rooms at camp!

The staff gets together every Tuesday night in the Chadar Ochell (dining hall).  During this time we reflect on the week we had and get motivated for the week ahead.  We play some games, have some fun and we have a mini buffet.  The best!

Last night we skipped all that.  We turned out the lights and put signs on the doors at the Chadar Ochell (dining hall) that said, “don’t come in, go directly to the main fire pit.”  “What!?”  They were probably saying, “but we always go to the dining hall for staff events, and….it’s raining!!!!”

But this is camp.  Things change at a moment’s notice all the time.  Things we can and cannot control.  Part of the fun of camp, is that we can do things differently and switch it up any time we want.  Truth is, we have to do things differently.  Doing things differently keeps everybody fresh and keeps them on their toes.

So here we are, it’s 11:30 pm on a Tuesday night, and over 100 staff is sitting at the main fire pit.  Sitting.  Talking.  A little light singing.  No phones.  Just being at camp.  In the ‘light dew.’

When it got quiet, I stood up in front of everyone and said “Where in this world can you do what we are doing right now?  Look around.  Smell the fire.  Look at the stars” I know, I said it was raining…just go along with me on this please.  “Tomorrow, we have a late wake up (cue outrageous cheers), probably some cheesy eggs for breakfast, then off to the ropes courses and to arts, robotics, the lake and definitely free swim and 3 free meals and then we do it all over again the next day.  But in 2 short weeks, exactly 2 weeks from tonight, nobody will be here.”  And then I said nothing.  Silence.   You could hear a pin drop….and a horse in the background, and definitely some crickets and frogs.

The saying at camp goes, “the days are long but the weeks are short.”  Bottom line: the summer goes by fast.  Real fast.  The truth is, in all my summers at camp, I’ve never been a part of one that went slow.

There were some smiles.  Because the staff is feeling great about camp.  But there were also a lot of tears knowing that the end is going to be here before we know it.  Yet we still have 2 more weeks to go….or is it that we ONLY have 2 more weeks to go?

My final message to the staff was this – spend the time NOW with your kids.  Create the relationships NOW!  Not later when it’s too late.  Pirkei Avot  says, “if not now, when?”  Rabbi Tarfon says, “even if we cannot complete the work, we cannot desist from it.”  These are valuable Jewish lessons our staff need to hear as we begin our last 2 weeks of the summer.

And then we went to the chadar ochell and had cheese blintz soufflé’s and some real good noodle kugel by Kim…cause really, isn’t that what it’s actually all about?!

We Are Family!


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