Submission #332 by Beth El Synagogue Center Men's Club - New Rochelle, NY (1807)

Submission information
Submitted by ralevine
Tue, 2013-04-30 22:31
I have read the General Guidelines, "Nuts and Bolts" and Program Advanced Planning (Excel Spreadsheet) Documents
Club Name
Beth El Synagogue Center Men's Club - New Rochelle, NY (1807)
Family Campout / Campin
Club Representative
Person completing form
Club President at time of Convention
Club President Now
Programming for Young Men

Page 1

Beth El Men's Club partnered with the Families Initiative Committee to develop an overnight, on campus, camping program to reach out to younger men via creating a fun activity involving their families. As younger men tend to have family commitments that keep them from other Men's Club activities, we saw this as an opportunity to get them acquainted with our club and the young fun guys who are in it. We planned and executed a family campout on the synagogue grounds with a campfire, family activities, and an overnight sleepover in tents which became a "campin" due to the weather.
The family campout was originally run by the Men's Club and Families Initiative committee at Beth El in 2010 as an opportunity to build community and attract younger members to the Men's Club. Based on the initial response, the core team of the President of the Men's Club, head of the Families Initiative (also a Men's Club member) and a member of both organizations decided to rerun and expand the program in the summer of 2011. Our original intent was to establish a "campground" in the playground area behind our shul. Ultimately, inclement weather forced us to move the program indoors. The event has since been known as the “Campin.”

Initial Planning
The core team began discussions about holding the event in the beginning of June seeking a date in the late summer. We targeted a date after our summer day camp had completed so as not to have space conflicts on Friday afternoons. We worked with our executive Director to identify August 6-7 with a campsite setup on Friday August 5.

Event Planning
Planning was done through e-mail and telephone communications in and among the team and followed roughly the order documented in the Advanced Planning document; dates, when noted, are actual based on e-mail evidence. As the synagogue had just hired a new Youth Director, we brought her into the planning after her start date with the role of developing some programming for the kids for Sunday morning.

We took into consideration our neighbors on the property, three homes on one side and a small convent on the other, and developed a schedule that would allow us to be quiet when they would most want us to. Detailed areas of planning are described below.

Other synagogue coordination issues included identifying where we would be allowed to place the fire pit for the campfire and insurance considerations.

In order to market the event, we took a multi-tiered approach. We developed a flyer that was posted on the bulletin board, left in our notice stands so they could be taken away, distributed via day camp children, and sent to the congregation via e-mail. We also put a notice in the synagogue’s monthly printed bulletin, and posted notices in the weekly e-mail bulletin for the each of the three weeks prior to the event. We also talked up the event to our friends and other interested parties.

Families registered for the event through the synagogue’s web site and were billed through the synagogue’s billing system. The core team had access to the registration list, including e-mails and phone numbers, and tracked participation so that we ensure we purchased enough supplies. The contact information proved critical when we realized that weather would not be in our favor.

Camping Gear
We expected that there would be families who did not have tents or other camping gear of their own. One item we specifically tracked was whether a family had a tent of their own. Some of our members had extra tents and we matched families needing a tent with those extra tents.

We also provided advice on an ad hoc basis on some basic gear to bring, sleeping bags or blankets, flashlights, evening clothes, etc. to make their evening more enjoyable.

We did not create a formal budget for the event. As part of the planning, we did a quick calculation based on the materials that we needed and decided to charge $18 per family. Expenses included Havdallah candles, food, and other incidental expenses were picked up by the Men’s Club, Families Initiative, or personally. Our biggest single expense was a portable fire pit that cost about $36 and was paid by a member.

Health & Safety
The campout is an outdoor event and was intended to be held in the playgrounds used by the day camp and nursery schools. There is also a small pool fenced off in the space, as well as parking lots on either side of the play area. With adults and children running around, we needed to establish some rules and take actions to ensure the safety of the group.

The pool remained locked to our use, the parking lot was to be blocked off to traffic after the cars arrived and parked, and parking lot lights were to be left on at night. We established a “campmaster” role who was responsible for maintaining the first aid kid, getting people in and out of the building (which was to be locked) to use the restrooms, etc. overnight.

As we were having food, we also needed to make sure there were garbage cans available. And develop fire safety protocols with the intended campire.

Religious Observance
One of the challenges in holding an overnight campout is the observance of Shabbat which prohibits our putting up our tents on the Holy Day. We discussed with our Rabbi how we could set up camp and agreed that we would arrive before sunset to set up our tents. As the area would not be guarded, we would not leave any gear and would bring it with us on Saturday when we arrived back at the camp.

This year had the additional complication of being 9 days prior to Tisha B’av, resulting in some dietary restrictions. Again, we consulted with the Rabbi to determine what we could and could not serve during the program.

The program was scheduled to begin after sundown with a Havdallah service “under the stars.” We purchased enough Havdallah candles so each family would have one and arranged for wine (grape juice) for the ceremony.

We planned for three sets of “meals” to be provided. First, snack food to be available when people arrived late on Saturday afternoon to finish setting up camp. Second was campfire food including marshmallows (sticks as well), graham crackers, chocolate, and other snacks. Last was breakfast in the morning including bagels, cereal, milk, granola bars, etc.

Program Activities
Program activities were designed to be both formal and informal. As families settled in on Saturday, we planned to have a ping pong table and some balls available for the kids and expected that they would also use the playground. We would set out snacks (chips, dip, pretzels, etc.) for people to nosh on as dusk approached.

After sunset, we would hold our Havdallah service. Each family would receive a Havdallah candle with an aluminum foil holder to catch drips. We would pour the wine, pass the spice box, and share in the ceremony.

After Havdallah we would light the campfire, sing songs and tell stories until bedtime, around 8:30pm. We recruited our new Hazzan, who only moved to the area the week before to attend with his children and read stories at the campfire.

The children would change into their pjs and we would march them into the building to brush their teeth and prepare for bed. The children would be put to bed and the adults would stay up around the campfire for a while longer and then join their children in the tents.

Through our planning discussions, we recognized that some children and adults get up very early, and others do not. We made sure there were some activities available for the early risers and gave some on the team the responsibility to organize breakfast.

Sunday morning was to begin with breakfast. Youth activities were planned to keep the children occupied so that the adults could take down the campsite. When all was done around 10:00am, people would say goodbye.

Watching the Weather
As the day approached, the team watched the weather very carefully. There were early projections for rain so we began planning for moving the event indoors. We identified the space that we could use, spaces we should not allow people into, and lined up the maintenance staff to set up the indoor space, if necessary. Our synagogue has a large covered space under a terrace which we identified as a safe place to have the campfire.

Friday Afternoon
Although Friday was a clear day, we realized that the likelihood of rain on Saturday was high and made the decision to shift the event indoors. We notified the executive director so that all synagogue actions (setting up tables, plates, cups, napkins, games, etc.) could be started and sent an e-mail notification to all the participants that we would be setting up in an assigned room.

Around 4:00pm the first participants began to arrive and were directed to the right place. Those who knew how to set up their tents did so and we helped those who did not know how. One challenge was that the wives came over to set up the tents with their children as their husbands were still at work.

All tents were set up before sundown, and families were home in time for Shabbat.

Saturday Afternoon
Late Saturday afternoon, families began arriving with their gear and brought it to their tents. Group supplies were also brought in and snacks were set up for people to eat.

Evening Activities
After sunset, we all went out under the overhang and had our Havdallah ceremony outdoors as planned.

Some parent started setting up the food table while the fireplace, which had been set up earlier, was lit. Marshmallow sticks were passed out to the children. With and without their parents assistance, marshmallows were toasted, and matched with graham crackers and chocolate for smores. Other desert items and beverages were also available.

After everyone was full, we sat the children down around the campfire and had our new Hazzan read stories. Then we went inside to get the children ready for bed. They changed into their pjs, brushed their teeth, and were tucked in. At this point, many of the mothers chose to go home, seeking the comfort of their warm beds over the cold hard floor. This allowed the men to have time to themselves.

With one or two parents staying with the children, the men went off to another part of the synagogue, chatted, and enjoyed each others company as well as the leftovers from the evening. This turned out to be a great bonding opportunity and some new relationships developed.

Early Risers
Some children were up as early as 5:30am and so were we all. Some of us tried to roll back over, with little success. We sent some men to start preparing breakfast (as well as to buy bagels and coffee!), while the rest stayed in the campsite and started getting ready for the day. Fathers (and a few mothers) and their kids started organizing their gear.

When breakfast was ready, we all went to eat. Breakfast included: bagels and cream cheese, muffins, fruit, orange juice, and coffee. When we were finished we had a short service for the children and those who wished to pray. This was the beginning of a series of activities designed by the Youth Director to keep the children occupied.

Taking down the Tents
We needed to keep the children occupied so the adults could take down the tents and clear the “campsite.” This was both a logistical and safety decision (imagine taking down 15-20 tents with 30 children running around, over, under, and through them!). Again, we helped each other disassemble our tents and put them away, as well as bring our gear to our cars while the children were kept busy.

Closing down
After all gear was removed, we did a final inspection of the campsite, the kitchen, and outdoor area to verify that we did not leave anything behind and that everything was cleaned and in good physical condition. All the families went home, perhaps a bit tired, but happy.

Final Thoughts
Despite the fact that many families travel at that time of year, we attracted 15 families and over 60 people to the event. It succeeded in bringing out men who would not normally attend a Men’s Club event, some of whom are now active in the club. And just as importantly it was a great PR opportunity having such a unique, visible, and successful event that helped some of the synagogues new professionals have their first interactions with the congregation.

However, the greatest achievement of the program is that we created a demand to do it again, having another Campin the following winter. Scheduling conflicts prevented running the event the following summer, and illness prevented the event from developing this past winter, but we hope that this will be an ongoing program to connect young men and their families to the Men’s Club.

Page 2

Self Assessment
This event was considered extremely successful by the Men's Club, Families Initiative, and the synagogue as a whole.
Positive impacts for the Men's Club included:
1) Increased visibility and association with a successful program
2) Improved relationships with the existing professional staff
3) Great initial interaction with new Hazzan/Program Director and new Youth Director which have positively impacted our ability to work with them since then
4) Building relationships with and between younger men leading to...
5) Greater participation from younger men in future programs.

For the synagogue, it was a great introduction to new clergy who had only moved in the week before, and a new Youth Director who had started about 6 weeks earlier. It also established a core group that eventually brought a Jewish Cub Scout Den to the Synagogue. For all, it set an example of different constituencies working together, something that has accelerated since the event (with due credit to the Executive Director, Hazzan/Program Director, Youth Director, etc.) and was somewhat lacking in years prior.
This event exemplifies that "Jewish Life" is term that is independent of what we do. By taking and activity that we can share with our families, we brought younger men together without making them sacrifice time away from their loved ones. By following Jewish law and setting up our tents prior to Shabbat, having a havdallah service, and a morning service, we set an example for our children that Jewish living and fun go hand in hand.

This program relates to each of the three pillars of leadership, innovation and community. By leading a new initiative and bringing multiple groups and new professionsals together we show leadership. Having a campout on synagogue property, inside or out, with tents visible to all who attend on Shabbat is innovative; it is unexpected and generates (positive) conversation about the Men's Club for the weeks to come. But most of all, it builds community; it brings individuals and families together for a unique shared experience that they remember and continue to talk about today. The (indoor) event has been rerun over the winter with great success, bringing new people out and allowing new relationships to form and hopefully to grow.
Original Program
This program was originally developed and first run in 2010 by the same core team and not submitted for an award. After consultation with Martin Melnick, it was determined that this program would be eligible due to it's having been run during the award period.
Previous Submission