Title: Mommy Goes Camping
Byline: Debbie Shapiro
Remember those wonderful summers at camp — the midnight sing-a-longs, the spur of the moment dancing, the inspirational shiurim, the heart-to-heart conversations at the lake? We were transported to a different world, a world far removed from the tension of school and homework. Then, as we grew older and our lives became busier, camp became yet another memory — a wonderful, magic memory, to be cherished and treasured, but a memory nonetheless.
For many women living in Eretz Yisrael, however, three to four days in a Mothers' Camp is an integral part of their yearly schedule. Mothers' Camp — or kaytanah imahot, as it is called in Hebrew — has become so common that it is almost an Israeli institution.
Recharging: A Requirement for the Role
Sara Halpert, Vice President of N'shei Agudas Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, explains, "According to the law, a percentage of each salary is designated for vacation expenses and is not taxed as salary. Time to recharge one's batteries is viewed as a necessity, rather than a luxury.
"The law also recognizes that even if a woman doesn't work out of the house, if she has four or more children under the age of twenty, or is taking care of a sick child, or is either or divorced or widowed, she needs some time for herself, and the government provides it to her in the form of a subsidized vacation package. To receive these subsidies, the vacation must meet certain standards, including lectures and workshops on relevant issues as well as entertainment, and yes, government officials do occasionally show up at the camps to check that these standards are being met.
"These mothers' camps are a wonderful opportunity for women to learn new tools for coping with their challenges while having a great time. Away from their many responsibilities at home, they can hear new ideas, learn new skills and gain a new perspective on life, one that, hopefully, they will bring back home with them. It's like putting on a different — rosier — pair of eyeglasses."
Yehudit Lev of Modiin Illit is Coordinator of Volunteer Services for the city's municipality as well as the official community liaison with the city's social services. Every year, the Modiin Illit municipality organizes a highly subsidized camp for mothers of large families. Yehudit points out, "The women here work very hard. Most of them do not have parents living close by, and a large percentage is subsisting on a kollel salary. The apartments are small, money is tight and the work is endless. After a while many women simply get burnt out.
"A few days away from the stress does wonders. The women return with renewed kochos, able to meet their challenges head on. A healthy, happy mother is the basis of every home."
One of the organizers of the city-sponsored mother's camp recalls, "One year one of the women at the mother's camp was recovering from a depression. We watched her slowly unfold, like a flower starting to bloom, as she began to relax and make new friends. At the kumzitz that was held on the last night, she got up and started singing for the other women! I was so moved, that I couldn't control my tears
How does Sara manage to organize something so colossal every year?
She maintains, "I couldn't do it without my devoted staff: Masha Orchikovsky, Mira Barzilai and Soshi Adler. They spend hours ironing out all the details. They organize a wide variety of activities, from handicrafts to lectures to middos workshops to dance classes."
Reb Yaakov Deutsch, head of
's Chen Chareidi, the municipal division responsible for religious cultural enrichment, adds, "People can't imagine the amount of technical work that goes into each of these mothers' camps. We reserve the entire hotel a year ahead of time. A few days before the ladies arrive — all six hundred of them — we kasher the kitchen and make sure the tznius standards are met. It sounds simple, but it involves hundreds of details, from removing the televisions to making sure the pool is properly enclosed to checking the content of the plays we bring in for the women to watch." Jerusalem
Mothers Tell All
As for the affects of the camp — well, the attendees speak for themselves.
Shira* this is the only name that has a star next to it; are the others also pseudonyms? If so, we should put stars there tooyes, put stars next to all, except for Esther Macner, bassya weiss and adina becker /// is a mother of 11 children ranging in age from less than a year to 23. Her husband is a maggid shiur, while she is a stay-at-home mom. “My husband insists that I take a vacation twice a year," she explains. "He sees it as a necessity. In the same way that our family must have food, I must have some time away to recharge. My husband claims it's an investment in my sanity — and our shalom bayis."
Chedvah, who returned to the workforce after marrying off all her children, explains, "When my children were small, it was a matter of mental health. The first time I went, I was recovering from minor surgery. I spent hours at the meals, schmoozing with the ladies or lying on the grass, singing in harmony with my friends. I came home a different person, and after that, I was hooked! I looked forward to mothers' camp all winter long, and then reminisced about it throughout most of the summer."
Mindy sees these camps not only as an opportunity to recharge her batteries, but also as a way to connect with other women. "I'm a stay-at-home working mom; during the day I'm with my children, and in the evenings, I'm on the computer transcribing medical records for an American insurance company. Without family nearby, I often feel isolated and lonely. I've made some of my closest friends during the three to four days that I go away with the ladies."
Grinning, Shira portrays how the women spend their time during the getaway. “We get to eat, drink and be merry! Well, not exactly, but food is definitely a major part of it. The meals are extraordinary, and most of the women take full advantage of them! It's so much fun to sit around the table, talk, eat, and then talk some more.
"Depending on where the camp is held, in addition to the organized programs there's a spa, a pool, a lake, the ocean. I know," she laughs, "the word ‘camp’ conjures up a primitive cabin in the mountains. But these camps are held in five star hotels.”
Shira continues describing the programs offered at the mothers’ camp, and how she has learned to pick and choose in order to make the most of her vacation. “Some programs are fantastic; others don't interest me at all. One year, one of the activities was an arts and crafts project — to make a stuffed doll to bring back home for the children. I started working on it, but then I realized that instead of relaxing, I was getting more and more nervous. To me, sewing a doll was work. I decided to forget about it and go for a swim instead. Of course, there were other women who loved it. I would never even consider attending the cake decorating demonstration, while some see it as one of the highlights of their vacation. On the other hand, I really enjoyed some of the shiurim and symposiums."
Esther Macner, the mother of a large family and an active LaLeche League counselor, has also learned how to capitalize on the relaxation the camp provides. "The first time I went to a mothers' camp, I spent most of the day sitting in my chair, sketching the scenery. I was too worn out to participate in the activities, but for me, this was true relaxation. I also got a lot out the conversations with other mothers of large families. We spoke honestly about our many challenges and came up with some really creative solutions.
“Another year, one of the lecturers extolled us not to call home! He explained that if we want to get the maximum from our vacation, we must completely cut ourselves off from everything going on in the house for those few days. That was a real chiddush for me! But he was right.”
Special For English Speakers
The first mothers' camp geared to English speaking women — the English Speaking Women's Getaway — was the brainchild of two Australian women, Bassya Weiss and Adina Becker. "It all began six years ago,” explains Bassya, " when Adina and I were desperate to get away but we couldn't afford to go to a hotel on our own, and we didn't feel comfortable going on vacation with one of the Israeli groups. So we organized our own!
"Adina found a private donor to cover the initial cost of advertising. As for programs, many of our participants were more than happy to deliver a lecture or lead a workshop. That first year, we shared the hotel with a Hebrew speaking mothers' camp. They brought in Rebbetzin Sarah Meisels and she was kind enough to speak to our group as well.
"Every year we have different programs. One year, we brought in a singer. When I went up to the mike to wish Adina a mazel tov on her wedding anniversary, the women went wild and spontaneously made a mock wedding. One of our happy campers was an elderly lady who needed a walker. She was so caught up in the excitement that, with some physical support from the other women, she got up and danced! Afterwards, she told us that although she hadn't danced in years, in her youth she had been a dance teacher!"
Last year, I personally attended the English Speaking Women's Getaway with my eighty-six year old mother-in-law. The last night there, we had a kumzitz, where we sang all my old favorites from my high school years, followed by a talent show. My mother-in-law made up a song about the wonderful time we were having, relaxing at the getaway. She and I (gulp) sang it in front of all the ladies, and when she hummed, I — kid you not — tap danced. Later on, she told all her friends and family that in spite of her wrinkles, she felt like she'd spent three days camping out with a group of high school girls!
And that’s precisely the beauty of mothers’ camp. The regular stresses of everyday life melt away, allowing you to feel young and carefree — and then to get back to your responsibilities with renewed energy and joy. So happy camping — see you by the lake!
*names have been changed