Group photo at PJ Library Family Camp
Complete with a petting zoo, bubble pool, and colorful challah, PJ Library Family Camp appears on the surface to be pure fun. But add a Tu B’shevat seder, quality family time, and new friendships for everyone involved, and it becomes something much more.
Recognizing that a child’s early development is essential to their future adult identities, PJ Library® provides children ages six months through eight years old with free Jewish-content books and music every month and additional enrichment experiences such as Family Camp. From February 10-12, 27 families with over 45 children joined together for a weekend of activities and bonding in this meaningful Jewish context. 10 of these families came from the PJ Library Community Connector programs in Culver City and South Bay, which provide neighborhood-specific programming for families.
|Kelson enjoys his bunk bed at PJ Library Family Camp|
“We know that families with Jewish friends tend to make Jewish choices, when looking for a preschool or a camp for instance, especially at the beginning of their journey of raising their children,” said Risa Goldstein, the Federation’s Director of PJ Library. “PJ Library Family Camp is an effective way of building and nurturing the seeds of Jewish identity. PJ Library Family Camp is an immersive Jewish experience, helping these families to develop bonds with other Jewish families like their own and engage in Jewish communal life, if only for a weekend.”
Indeed, Jewish activities were woven into the weekend. Families planted a group pomegranate tree in honor of Tu B’shevat, pushed cloves into citrus fruit they picked from the garden for Havdalah, and sang plenty of Shabbat songs together.
“My son Kelson loved the dinosaur Shabbat song, and kept singing it long after we got home,” said Erin Hart, a PJ Library mother and first-time camp attendee. “He really enjoyed the Havdalah story and at the end asked when it’s going to be Shabbat again.”
PJ Library books provide families with an easy access point for Jewish learning.
“PJ Library books regularly remind us we are Jewish and offer us opportunities to celebrate who we are,” said Sharon, a longtime PJ Library parent. “The books are really enjoyable and not only educate our children about Judaism but educate us as well, reminding us of the details of the holidays we may have forgotten and even teaching us a little Hebrew through some of the CDs.”
Beyond Jewish learning, Family Camp gave parents and children alike a chance to unplug and truly connect. Despite early fears, many parents noted that having no cell phone service was one highlight of the weekend that allowed them to be fully present.
|Jacob Stempel finds a cozy spot to take a midday nap|
The camp also offered programming for parents, such as yoga, while assuring that their children were both safe and having their own fun elsewhere on the grounds.
“Knowing the kids are safe is all that we needed,” said Jen Stempel, a first-time camper and a PJ Library Community Connector in Culver City. “Jacob is super high energy and likes to be outside a lot — at Family Camp he had this sense of freedom and I could let him run off and enjoy himself without worrying. He found every mud puddle to jump in and kid to play with.”
This safe environment helps children campers explore their own independence.
“Everyone goes out of their way to take care of the kids,” said Karen Landsbaum, another longtime PJ Library parent. “It was at a previous Family Camp that our daughter separated from us and went with another adult — one of the counselors — for the first time. This time was the first time she was brave enough to stay at the nighttime kids’ movies without us. She was so proud of what a big girl she was!”
|Fast friends bond over a PJ Library book|
In this setting of freedom and fun, children also found the easy opportunity to make new friendships. Erin Hart recalls how Kelson bonded with his new friend Zack over their shared PJ Library book. Jacob, Jen’s son, particularly enjoyed spending time with older kids. “He doesn’t generally get to spend time with older kids and loved shadowing them. If they jumped he jumped, if they ran he ran,” she said.
Parents also found the chance to bond, whether over meals together in the large dining hall, or by singing classics by the fire after their children went to sleep, Sharon detailed.
She added, “Every moment was special.”
For more information about PJ Library or upcoming PJ Library Family Camps, contact Risa Goldstein at RGoldstein@JewishLA.org.