Thursday News Chum: Summer Camps, Rental Cars, Plus-Size Reality, Crocs, and Odorless Kimchi

Some selected news items, gathers over the lunchtime perusal of the papers:

  • From the “Kramer Krud” Department: Swine Flu is impacting more than just the workplace. It’s having a big impact at summer camps, as reported by the NY Times. In Maine, there are 33 camps with outbreaks, and another 10 in the pipeline being tested—and some have 70 to 100 kids in isolation, so they’re running shadow camps for them! In Georgia, Camp Coleman canceled its first session because so many counselors got sick right before camp started that it seemed impossible to provide a good program. In Vermont, Camp Killooleet had one or two sick children on a Monday soon after camp began, according to its director, Dean Spencer, but that grew to 12 or 15 on Tuesday — so on Wednesday, Mr. Spencer sent all 100 campers home for a week. What about locally? Here the Jewish Journal has a report. As of the end of June, Camp Ramah in Ojai has one confirmed case of Influenza A and has sent home 26 campers and staff. Camp Alonim at American Jewish University’s Brandeis Bardin campus in Simi Valley has had six confirmed cases of Influenza A, and those campers all were sent home. As for the Wilshire Camps, they’ve had a small percentage. All Wilshire Boulevard Temple campers were required to take their temperatures before going on the buses headed for Hilltop or Hess Kramer. Camp Alonim also took campers temperatures upon arrival and sent anyone home who had a fever above 100. (update on SoCal camps here)
  • From the “We Try Harder” Department: The decline of the Big 3 automakers in the US has affected more than dealers: the composition of rental car fleets is changing. No more are the fleets composed of the poor sellers of GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Now they have the poor sellers of Nissan and Kia. At least this improves your chance of renting a Toyota.
  • From the “Television Reflects Us” Department: One problem in the past with reality shows is they haven’t reflected reality: you’ve seen model-sized wannabe-actors going after wannabe-model-actors (that was even true with the “Geek” show on the CW). According to CNN, that is changing: more reality-shows are casting plus-sized contestants, obstensibly because they look more like the audience. Of course, the point is far too often to make fun of them for their size, and encourage them to lose weight.
  • From the “Ugly Shoes” Department: Remember Crocs, those super ugly shoes. They are so last year. The LA Times is reporting on how Crocs have lost their popularity, and no one is buying them anymore. Of course, part of the problem is that they didn’t incorporate planned obsolescence: if your shoes are indestructable, no one will replace them. Crocs seem to be destined to go the way of Earth Shoes.
  • From the “We Are What We Eat” Department: Lastly, in a story that talonvaki would like, the LA Times is reporting how an enterprising Korean scientist has created an odorless kimchi. Just what the world needs. Next up: Limberger.

Monday News Chum

It’s Monday, the election is over (but for the electoral college)… this must mean it is time for a mostly non-political news chum:

  • From the “Gift that Keeps On Giving” Department: A reminder for those giving gift cards this year: Be careful about the retailers you use, because if the retailer goes belly-up, the gift card may be worthless. This happened to folks with The Sharper Image earlier this year, and given today’s news, I’d spend that Circuit City card sooner than later.
  • From the “Room 222” Department: The economy is not only affecting gift cards. Schools are also feeling the pinch–private schools in particular. Parent’s can’t afford the tuition, and the income from and value of the endowments are way down. Will the parents move to public schools? Unknown, but if they do, the budgets there will be tighter as well. Further, fundraising won’t be as easy… as bake sales are now subject to school nutritional rules. That’s right: no more selling those homemade or purchased cookies or brownies or cupcakes. Food served at school must be healthy and nutritious. So keep your eye out for more carwashes.
  • From the “Pata Pata” Department: Today’s news also brings the report that Miriam Makeba has died. I learned of Ms. Makeba when Pata Pata became the new dance at CHK/GHC in the early 1970s. What I never understood was why an African song became popular at a Jewish summer camp… and it is still popular these days!
  • From the “Sorry, Tiffany” Department: There’s a hot new name for babies: Barack. Evidently, this is something that happens most election years: there were lots of Dwights and Lyndons (although I’ve never met a Lyndon) back in the 1950s and 1960s. We haven’t had odd names for president’s in a while; after all, John, James, Richard, William, Ronald, and George are always popular. Folks also use last names as first names, so there is also a rash of “Obamas”. This explains why Clinton was also a popular first name. Still, some names just never caught on, such as Nixon or Bush.
  • From the “Another Sign of the Economy” Department: Lastly, want to get your child a classic toy, something just inducted into the toy hall of fame. Go outside and get him a stick. Yup, the humble stick, as well as the skateboard and the baby doll, have been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. Previous inductees range from the bicycle and Mr. Potato Head to Crayola crayons and the cardboard box. The stick is a special addition. Curators praised its all-purpose, all-natural, no-cost qualities and its ability to serve either as raw material or an appendage transformed by imaginations into something else.

And speaking of toys, a popular toy is the toy train… and a popular toy train is Thomas the Tank Engine. You could have seen a full-size Thomas last weekend at OERM’s Day Out with Thomas. But don’t fret. You can still see Thomas tomorrow, Veteran’s Day, as well as next weekend November 15-16. As an added bonus — no extra charge — if you come tomorrow you can see me and nsshere as we work as Thomas Car Attendants (alas, you won’t be able to see gf_guruilla, as it looks like she has to stay home with pneumonia). So if you’re in SoCal, and not working (or able to take a vacation day), come on out to OERM in Perris, CA and say “Hi”. Go for an early or late ride and save $4 off the tickets.


Tuesday News Chum

  • From the “I’m Not Dead Yet” Department: This just in… from CNN… Abe Vigoda is not yet dead.
  • From the “They give us those nice bright colors, They give us the greens of summers” Department: However, Kodachrome may be dead. According to CNN, there is only one processor of the color film left, and they are only manufacturing one speed (ASA 64) left, and they only have one 35mm format left, and they only do one production run a year, if that. It has been supplanted by digital and by easier to develop color film (evidently, Kodachrome gives you those night bright colors by being purely black and white when exposed. The three primary colors that mix to form the spectrum are added in three development steps rather than built into its micrometer-thin emulsion layers). Kodachrome is one of those famous films (after all, is there a park named after Ektachrome, or does Paul Simon sing of Tri-X). So, Kodak, don’t take our Kodachrome away.
  • From the “Did you wash your tie?” Department: Your mother always taught you to wash your hands, and you always make sure your doctor does. But that may not be what does you in. According to the New York Times, it may be your doctor’s clothing. In 2004, a study from the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens compared the ties of 40 doctors and medical students with those of 10 security guards. It found that about half the ties worn by medical personnel were a reservoir for germs, compared with just 1 in 10 of the ties taken from the security guards. The doctors’ ties harbored several pathogens, including those that can lead to staph infections or pneumonia. Another study at a Connecticut hospital sought to gauge the role that clothing plays in the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The study found that if a worker entered a room where the patient had MRSA, the bacteria would end up on the worker’s clothes about 70 percent of the time, even if the person never actually touched the patient. Thus, it is to your advantage if your doctor wears a short-sleeved T-shirt than looking professional in long sleeves and a tie.
  • From the “No, It’s Not From The Onion” Department: WPTZ NBC 5 is reporting that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, cofounders of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., urging them to replace cow’s milk they use in their ice cream products with human breast milk. PETA officials say a move to human breast milk would lessen the suffering of dairy cows and their babies on factory farms and benefit human health. PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman is quoted as saying “Everyone knows that ‘the breast is best,’ so Ben & Jerry’s could do consumers and cows a big favor by making the switch to breast milk.”
  • From the “But Why Are They Building Houses Now” Department: Lastly, an item of personal interest. The Ventura County Star is reporting that a proposal to build as many 13 homes off of Pacific Coast Highway at the southern edge of Ventura County cleared its last government hurdle Tuesday when it was approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. The proposal adds four homes to the nine that are already permitted on vacant land near Neptune’s Net restaurant, near the Ventura-Los Angeles county line. In exchange for the Coastal Commission’s permission to build, the owners agreed to pay for 11 camping cabins at Leo Carrillo State Beach. They also gave up their request to privatize Ellice Street and put a gate on the road. Now what caught my eye in this article was Neptune’s Net, which is at Yerba Buena Road and PCH… across the street from Camp Hess Kramer. The mention of Ellice Street confirms it.

(Now to figure out why my turkey and cheese sandwich just gave me a niacin flush. Ouch!)


Special Places

Last night, I was thinking about special places and what makes them special. I’ve had a two special places in my life: Orange Empire Railway Museum and camp. Of these, camp is the more special place, because it is where I spent my childhood (from 1969 to 1978). As to what makes the place special, I think it is partially that the people there become a loving family. You notice their changes; they notice yours.

What brought this thinking about was that last night I was up at one of the camps, Gindling Hilltop Camp for an Alumni Summer Shabbat visit. I left work around 2:30 PM, making it up to camp by 5:00 pm. My first thought upon driving into camp was “the tents are gone — the field is back to normal”. You see, about three years ago there was a disasterous fire that destroyed the dining hall. They replaced the dining hall with two large tents on the field (dining hall and activities). You can see the tents and the dining hall a buildin’ on this page. It wasn’t until October of last year that they replaced the dining hall. So walking onto the field, it was as if camp had been healed and was back to normal. I’ll note that Gersh Lazarow, the resident director, told a story later that evening about newer campers coming up and being disappointed that the tents, which they had grown up with, were now gone. It just shows that things change at camp, just as a family changes and grows. More on that later.

It was a wonderful Malibu afternoon, which made for a perfect Shabbat service. Sitting on the benches, swaying to the music, looking out over the ocean, as well as the sea of counselors and campers who had become one family… it’s an unspeakable feeling. We’ve been members of many synagogues (and we’re changing synagogues yet again), but camp is one of those few places where you just feel the spiritual connection. It comes to you on the breeze, on the look in the face of a deer, in 8 bars of music, in the stars at night. You just feel as if your prayers are heard a bit better there (so yes, ixixlix, I did think some good and healing thoughts your way).

After services we had the traditional camp Shabbat dinner: chicken, noodles, zucchini, and turnovers. The new dining hall was much more spacious than the tent was. They also provided more options: there were vegetarian options, kosher options, salad bars. Much nicer than the old days, where if you didn’t like what was being served, you could have peanut butter.

After dinner, while the camp did a song session, many of the alumni gathered with Gersh to walk around camp. He highlighted some of the recent changes, and talks about some long range master planning and ideas they have. First, he talked about how camp had changed from our era. In our era, it was much more of a camp of Jews, with self-driven Jewish themes powered by the folk music of the day and the music of Debbie Friedman. It was still in the “Classic Reform” mold. Gersh noted that a number of years ago, the decision had been made to move from being a camp of Jews to “A Jewish Camp”. This led to major changes in programming, bringing in daily prayer, much more Hebrew, and a planned and well thought out curriculum that dovetails with that of the Reform movement. But change is natural in a family, as is growth.

In terms of growth, we saw a number of things that were new this year. As I mentioned, the new dining hall/pavilion was opened (Gersh noted that they can’t turn off some of the lights in the dining hall as the coastal commission has defined the hall as a coastal beacon). This necessitated adding two more water tanks to provide sufficient wet-pipe pressure, so the camp is now well supplied with water. They added an overnight camping area with platforms and a fire pit that each cabin uses one night a session (they share with CHK), which has its own staff. Machon park was turned into Melissa’s point, and is now a mini-chapel built by the Mitzvah ‘08 team, with benches and a tiled platform, overlooking the coastline towards Pt. Mugu. A beautiful spot looking into the sunset. They’ve added two more activities to the ropes course, and lighting all around the camp (so the dancing plaza is no longer dark).

But wait, there’s more. Gersh also talked about some of their dreams for the future. The additional water will have a big impact. It will enable them to add four cabins (bringing the capacity to 160 or 180, vs. something like 240 for CHK)–these will be built below the existing cabins. They would like to add green to the field, basically turning the area on the girl’s cabin side of the field into a green park. They will rework the entrance, making a road loop onto the field and back to down the hill, and moving the flagpoles there (thus moving the “center”). They want to resurface (or finally properly surface) the basketball courts, and build a shaded dance platform. They want to add two staff cabins up near the “pink palaces” in the old equestrian area, and potentially build tennis courts there. They are tearing down the Lodge (built in 1968) as soon as the summer ends and rebuilding it (which is sorely needed). Basically, they are developing a master plan to help sustain the programming and increase year-round utilization. They would also like to make some changes at CHK in the same vein, improving the entrance and working to hide the service areas from day to day camp life, as well as revitalizing the 50 year old facilities. Lastly, there was talk of a fourth facility across Yerba Buena Road that would be more suitable as a conference center, with appropriate breakout rooms and such. One would imagine this would be timed to a rework of the Breuer conference center at CHK, which is centered around what was the original dining hall (Gildred Hall). It’s an ambituous plan, but I think if any group can do it, they can… simply because of the love this place engenders in those that have grown up there. They want to see it preserved and growing for their children and their children’s children.

During the friendship circle after the Shabbat Chill, Gersh talked about the quote from Achad Ha-Am: “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews”. He noted how the sprituality of Shabbat at camp just because a part of you, and how the camp experiences cement ones Jewish sense of being. This is what makes camp a family member, one that remains part of your life, one that you must visit every so often just to recharge from the experience.

I have, and will, get up there any chance I get. It is that special of a place.


The Dining Hall is Back at Hilltop

As most folks know, I grew up at the Wilshire Blvd Temple Camps: Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp. Two and a half years ago, two weeks before camp was to open for the summer, a cigarette was tossed into a refuse bin… and the dining hall/pavillion burned down. For the last two years, the functions of these buildings were replaced with tents (“Ha Tof”) while reconstruction occurred.

Today I went up to Hilltop for the dedication of the replacement dining hall. I thought I would share some pictures of the new hall and explain what has changed and what hasn’t:

Read More …


Recharging The Batteries

The summer camp I went to when I was young is a very special place to me, and always will be, and thus I jump at the chance to go there, even for an evening. This evening I was invited to an Alumni Shabbat at Hilltop, and so… I spent Shabbat at camp (arriving a little late… grrr… over 2 hours from El Segundo to just north of the Ventura County line near Malibu). Some observations from tonight…

  • They are still in ha tof (the tent) for dining, but progress on rebuilding the dining hall is going well. Most of the walls are up and the roof is on, but they still need to finish it, complete the wiring, lighting, floors, and windows, and of course, reequip it. Gersh indicates it must be done by September 14th; I know they are planning a dedication sometime in October.
  • Gersh also indicated that they had 10 celiac campers at CHK this session, and had a separate dining line for them. They are looking at exploring that as another market, which I think is great. Alas, he didn’t think the kitchen at Hilltop would be able to support it.
  • You realize it has been almost 30 years since I was last a camper? That’s almost two generations of campers!
  • They’ve erected a large wooden menorah at the Hilltop chapel. I guess the rivalry with Kramer isn’t dead yet. But do they still sing “We are Hilltop, Mighty Mighty Hilltop”?
  • The song and dance sessions get louder and louder every year. Where do the kids find the energy? I remember I had it once, but we did song sessions around the tables.
  • I made the suggestion to the resident director that it might be nice to invite the alumni to lead a Shabbat Chill, sharing stories about the past days at camp.
  • My how the dance sessions have changed. Where we had record players with the main amplifier system, they now just connect an iPod to speakers. Of course, we had to change the records and they would wear out over a summer. That doesn’t happen with the digital music.
  • Liability takes some of the fun out of camp. I remember going to the beach in the back of a hot stakebed truck, and going to either Leo Carillo or Pt. Mugu. They use buses now, and take the kids to Zuma.
  • I also remember the campers leading Shabbat services. It now seems to be lead more by counselors. Were creative services a product of the 1970s?
  • But with all the changes, some things never change. The joy of a Shabbat service, in a chapel under a clear blue sky, looking out over the ocean and the miracles of creation, sitting in a space shaped by the joy and love of thousands of campers over almost 40 years does create a communion with God, and does refresh the soul. Spending a Shabbat in a Jewish community, singing and dancing and watching a full moon reflecting over the ocean is true ruach. It just makes one feel good. This was topped off driving down the hill, listening to a soft jazzy version of Hatikva (sample) from Ruach 5767

Shabbat Shalom.

[Crossposted to cahwyguy and ghc_for_life]


26 Miles Across The Sea

There is an article in today’s Daily News about how the Glendale YMCA has lost their lease on Camp Fox, on Catalina Island. The Glendale YMCA will end 80 years of running the camp on Dec. 31st, when management will be handed over to Guided Discoveries, a science-education group. It is worth noting that Guided Discoveries‘ one-year lease with the Catalina Island Conservancy requires it to give the Glendale Y priority use of the 3½ acre, 30-cabin campground on Buttonshell Beach, which will allow some 1,700 Glendale kids to continue to use it for their summer program.

Why did the Glendale Y lose the lease? According to the article, $1.2 million in repairs piled up in recent years. A landfill nearby required a cleanup, and a septic-system problem led the county Department of Health to cite the camp in 2003, though it was allowed to reopen at half capacity – about 9,000 campers per year. It does look like there was an effort to save the camp; I have no idea if that effort continues. The Glendale News-Press reports that despite negotiations throughout the year, the YMCA could not reach an agreement with the conservancy for a lease renewal. [I was there in March of 2003, and the beach-side cabins were closed] But each side is blaming the other: The Glendale Y said the push by the conservancy to open the camp year-round strained equipment and facilities, while the conservancy blamed the Y for letting the campground fall into disrepair.

The YMCA is negotiating with the incoming operator and the conservancy on how to best tackle the repairs. The Glendale Y has already spent some $200,000 on repair plans. It is worth noting that the lease with Guided Discoveries – for 8% of the camp’s annual gross income – will expire Dec. 31, 2007. Guided Discoveries would consider running the camp after 2007, but Glendale Y officials said they would not at this time. Any camp operator will still have to grant the Glendale Y priority access.

I see a problem with this. The Glendale Y is not the only YMCA to use the facility; a quick web search shows lots of local Y’s using it: Anaheim, Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Triunfo… it is in use on weekends year-round by the YMCA. I spent a number of years at Camp Fox with Y-Guides (2001 pictures; 2000 pictures). It was my first time to Catalina, my first time fishing. I shared these firsts with my daughter, who also had the time of her life jumping off the pier, sleeping on the beach, and creating memories. I do hope that all local YMCAs can continue to use the facility, not just Glendale’s summer program. The YMCA does operate a camp at Two Harbors, but I don’t know if that is Glendale YMCA as well.


You Know, I’m Not A Kid Anymore…

…and my body likes to remind me any chance it gets!

Last night, I went up to Gindling Hilltop Camp (“We are Hilltop, Mighty, Mighty Hilltop”) for an alumni Shabbat. It was a delighful evening. After doing a Shabbat Walk to gather the campers, we went up to the chapel, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. We had a delighful, mostly musical service. Very peaceful. Very relaxing. We then walked back to the dining tent (as the pavillion is still pending rebuilding). Dinner was chicken, pasta, and veggies, followed by an apple fritter. I made a number of connections with folks at the table: I was sitting with Marla (the current A&C lady) and some other alumni… one of whom turned out to have roomed with my parents (perhaps with me as well) when I was back at UCLA. The other fellow does copyright clearance for music, something related to DRM stuff (turns out he used to run Napster!). I also ran into the daughter of one of the Krinsky boys; her uncle, Jeff, was a counselor in the cabin next to mine in the 1970s. I also had fun talking to Gersh about changes at camp. They evidently had a fun summer: in the first session, bed bugs were found in four cabins, so they had to take those kids back into town, camp at the Wilshire Grand during Miss Universe, and take them to places like Disneyland, a Dodgers game — he said it was a supervision adventure. We also talked about how they have introduced a down year between Mitzvah and CIT: this is to encourage the kids to go to Israel for a year, as well as to get older counselors to handle the more mature kids.

After dinner, the Shabbat Safety Squad was then called out to move the tables to the back of the room, sweep the room, and get us ready for what came next.

The Zmirot then started. Imagine 160+ kids and adults screaming and singing at the top of their lungs, bouncing and dancing, for just over an hour. That’s what the song session was. And I was in there screaming and singing with them, having a grand old time. I didn’t bounce, tho…, but I did loads of energetic clapping. Only about five songs were from my era, and none were “Chuck” favorites. No matter: I knew the newer stuff from the URJ Ruach albums, and the words were projected on the ceiling (ain’t modern technology great).

We then moved to the plaza for another hour or so of dancing. Really loud modern Israeli dance music. I danced the ones that I knew, but it was loud. Again, technology changes: Whereas in my era we had a record player connected to an amplifier, last night it was all run from a single iPod.

My daughter had a grand old time. She started out shy, and wanted to hang by me. But then she ran into a friend from temple, Shayna, as well as her AC from last year, Allison. At the start of the song session, Shayna came over, grabbed her, and told her she was dancing and singing with Shayna’s cabin. This is camp: she was accepted immediately. She also had loads of fun making other friends for the first time. Folks are friendly at camp! It made her a little sad, as she really wanted to go this year, but the temporary dining hall and kitchen couldn’t handle gluten free. Next year… with the rebuilt pavillion… she’ll be there.

It was interesting observing the difference that the director makes. In the early days of Hilltop, under Steve Makeoff and Chuck Feldman, song sessions were done in the Pavillion. We sat and pounded at the table as we sang Justice, Al Tirah, This is the Day, and songs written by campers, Cherish the Torah, It Was Good, Reaching Out, with the “new” Debbie Friedman stuff and songs from NFTY. Dancing was mostly the older, yeminite-style Israeli dancing, perhaps with the occasional Pada-Pada or Yellow River. There were creative services, with lots of English. Perhaps this is what might be called “Classic Reform Camping”. Now, camp reflects the increased sprituality that is Reform, the increased Hebrew found in modern Reform. Meals are Kosher-style. There is lots more Hebrew, with slightly more traditional renditions of prayers. Certainly, there is more emphasis on modern Israel and the connections to it. This reflects the influence of the new camp directors, Doug and Gersh. Do I wish camp was what it was? No. It needs to be today’s Judaism to connect with the kids, who soak it up with the same energy that we had. The energy is there, the spirit is there, the love of being Jewish is there — that will never change (and must never change). The trappings do, but camp is camp.

We got home around 11:15pm, fully relaxed. Went to bed around midnight.

Got up at 3:00am with a killer headache in the back of my head, above my neck. Took ½ T3, went back to bed. Woke back up at 6:30a with the headache still there. As I have to drive today, took 2 Excedrin. I think this is a tension headache combined with sound poisoning; my shoulders are sore as well. Much as my mind would like to be 14 again and be up at camp… my body is reminding me that I’m 46, thankyouverymuch, and that sort of energy is for young joints and brains.

Perhaps I’ll take my wife’s suggestion and see if some swimming will help loosen this up.

To the current generation of campers reading this in the camp community: appreciate the energy you have and your days at camp. I was discussing this with Marla during the dancing. Camp changes you in innumerable ways you don’t even realize. It is so much more important to your Jewish integral spirit than Temple life. It becomes part of your soul, so much a part that as you get older, you take any chance to go back up there and recharge your spiritual batteries. I’ll take this pain I’m feeling this morning for the recharge that was a Shabbat under nature’s canopy and the infectious energy of the campers during singing and dancing.

When I reach out to you and you to me,
We become b’tzelem Elohim.
When we share our hopes and our dreams,
Each one of us, b’tzelem Elohim.

[Cross-posted to cahwyguy and ghc_for_life]