There were s’mores, but this was no ordinary day at camp.
Camp Moshava in Wild Rose, Wis. hosted a bar mitzvah for the first time. The camp, which was teh scene of a bris last summer, was also the site of Sheva Brachot (celebration and festive meal for the week after a wedding). Moshava, which is sponsored by the Religious Zionists of Chicago and Bnei Akiva, seems to be getting a reputation as a place to hold lifecycle events during the summer, camp director Josh Zwelling says. And that’s fine with him.
The bar mitzvah came about because the young soon-to-be man, Ben Kaplan of Skokie, “wanted to start doing things like putting on tefillin and reading his Torah portion on his real birthday,” his father, Ed Kaplan, said in a recent phone conversation. Ben has been a camper at Moshava for the last two years, so “we decided to have a little celebration there. That was his official bar mitzvah,” he said. Ben later had a more formal celebration back home for relatives and friends.
For the camp event, Ben’s parents brought food for a barbecue the night before the bar mitzvah, then treated the campers to a breakfast of doughnuts the next morning after the ceremony. “The kids danced around, and it felt very real and wonderful. We didn’t have any fancy speeches or a fancy dinner, but we all really enjoyed it. Ben found it very meaningful as well,” his dad said.
Ben’s mother, Tammy Kaplan, noted that “there is a tradition to be called up (to the Torah) on your actual birthday, and his birthday happened to be while he was at camp. We brought food for a barbecue, had s’mores, the children danced around (Ben) and had a great time. Josh (Zwelling) gave a speech, and it was very meaningful. It was simple and lovely.”
Ben’s sister Michelle Kaplan, 21, agreed. “It wasn’t a bar mitzvah like we know it. He just read the Torah and we had a little campfire. It was very nice,” she said.
Also during the summer, newlyweds Jack and Marnina Gottesman, on their way back from their wedding in Toronto, flew into a small airport near the camp and spent the evening and next day at Moshava. The campers had already left but all the staff was still there to celebrate with them, Zwelling explained. Jack Gottesman, who grew up in Lincolnwood, had been a camper and later a staff member at Moshava for many years, and the bride attended a similar camp in a different part of the country, he said. The couple now lives in Israel.
“When Jack got engaged and they picked the date, we said, is there any way we could help you celebrate?” Zwelling said. Having the Sheva Brachot at camp was the result.
Both events, as well as the bris (ritual circumcision) that took place last summer demonstrate how “the camp is a place for life cycle events,” Zwelling said. “Many times people talk about camp so fondly, like a home away from home, a place where they’ve grown up, and it really becomes like their second home.”
Now, he said, “camp takes on new meaning when you experience events like this. It’s the concept of Camp Moshava as a special place not just for the camping season. People continue to visit and celebrate happy occasions. It’s a unique place where the Jewish life cycle takes place on a daily basis.”