Kara Liberman and camp just seem to go together. Camp JORI’s new director is a bundle of energy, and camp is her “thing.” The North Andover, Massachusetts, resident grew up going to summer camp, and she was a counselor too. “I loved everything camp,” she said.
After high school, Liberman had little time for camp. Her path included college, graduate school, marriage (to a JORI alum), three children and teaching. But she says she really missed the camp experience.
Last year, when the opportunity arose to work at JORI as camp mom, Liberman decided her time had come. A camp mom supports campers while they are away from their parents. She started doing marketing and outreach for the Wakefield camp in 2018, and spent the summer of 2019 as camp mom. In September, she was named director.
She and her husband, Max, who is from Cranston, have three children, ages 11, 9 and 4 1/2. The children are JORI campers.
Liberman sat down recently with Jewish Rhode Island to talk camp, and Camp JORI specifically.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in New Jersey and went to overnight camp from second grade through high school. I played sports, loved arts and crafts.
I attended UMass Amherst and got my bachelor’s degree in communication disorders and political science. There was no more time for me to be at camp. Then I got a master’s in special education at Simmons College and went into teaching.
I’ve always been involved with Camp JORI since my husband, Max, is an alum. [Max grew up in Cranston after immigrating from Belarus.] I was at home, taking care of my kids, when the JORI opportunity came up.
What attracted you to JORI?
At Camp JORI, we provide the kids with Jewish values. We aren’t affiliated with a movement. We have the flexibility to accommodate everybody. That includes Orthodox to non-Jews. We embrace the diversity. It adds to what we provide campers with. We have a great program and can make it work.
We’ve been working hard at updating our programming. We’ve added new staff and activities. We’ve been working to maintain what’s working and adding a little spice. We are working hard to accommodate Jews from around the world. We will have staff from Israel, Mexico, Ireland and England. England and Ireland are new.
I went to camp with all Jewish kids, but it wasn’t a Jewish camp. What you get at a Jewish camp is something that you can’t replicate anywhere else.
Why Jewish camp?
To me the thing that makes Jewish camp so special is Shabbat. Every Friday the kids dress in blue and white, we have a Shabbat dinner and we have a service. Very engaging; the whole camp is involved in the songs and dances. It’s a nice way to end the week.
Giving the kids the exposure to Judaism being fun and a part of their everyday life is important. We make challah. We learn about Jewish culture and traditions.
Some kids aren’t getting this at home; maybe they aren’t going to Hebrew School. Being Jewish can be a part of their life. It’s not something that’s inconvenient.
What they bring home is up to them, but whatever they bring home, we’ve done something right. We have things that make being Jewish special.
Dog or cat?
We are not a pet family. I have a fish. I grew up with dogs. I’d love to have animals at camp.
What is your favorite Jewish food?
Bagels with lox. The favorite camp food is camp pizza. It’s just really good pizza. Thursday is pizza night. Our chef Maria makes the dough herself and it’s just awesome.
If you could bring in three people to share a meal with at camp, who would you invite?
I’d bring my parents, who have never been at camp, so they could see what all those years of sending me to camp did. Then I’d add Beyoncé for some entertainment and Guy Fieri [Food Network host and restaurateur] to do a camp episode at JORI.
Favorite camp song?
Definitely “Hallelujah.” JORI has a special version of it; with some of the verses, the words are changed. I love seeing the counselors and kids singing it. There are tears, but they are tears of happiness.
What about electronics at camp?
We have a rule: no electronics for kids; counselors have limited electronics. Absolutely no internet [for campers]. We check. Counselors are allowed to have internet as we use it for emergencies. We have found that phones are necessary [for counselors] when there is an emergency. Being able to contact the right people at the right time is important.
Camp is the only time in their lives that campers will be unplugged. And it works. When my kids came home from camp, I thought they’d run to check email, etc. They didn’t!
What else do you want people to know about you?
When I started working at JORI, I said there’s only two rules at camp: Everyone is safe and you have to have more fun that day than you did the day before. Summers have become so short. I like that I can provide them a little break from the rush.
FRAN OSTENDORF (email@example.com) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.