Color wars are a staple of summer camps — replete with relays and physical competitions. Camp Nai Nai Nai, an adult summer camp hosted by Moishe House — an organization centered on building community for Jews in their 20s — has the same types of activities. It also offers competitions utilizing people’s skills and talents — though perhaps less athletic abilities, such as speedy hair braiding and memorizing the most numbers of pi.
But in the summer of 2020, the usual rules don’t apply. Not content to replace physical camp with a series of Zoom calls, Moishe House decided to challenge its members creatively with a virtual color war in order to have the same immersive experience — only virtually. “We realized that just because we’re connecting virtually, doesn’t mean we can’t create opportunities for people to do meaningful things in real life,” said Lisa Klig, the camp’s national director.
Jon Basha, a Scottsdale resident and original founder of Moishe House Phoenix, pulled together a team to compete in this new Expedition Nai, along with other friends and founding members. He participated in Camp Nai Nai Nai previous summers and had been expecting to go again when COVID-19 halted those plans. He looked forward to the refreshing escape from the business world. But with the help of his brother and his friends, he found the substitute satisfying as well. “It was a very fun experience,” Basha said. “It lived up to the Jewish camp feeling.”
Whereas the in-person camp might have 200 to 300 people in attendance, the virtual camp offers an experience to 800 competitors from 217 cities, including two from Scottsdale and one from Phoenix, representing 29 countries around the world. People from 18 to 75 have formed teams to take part in the competition.
People who are scattered all over — such as Basha and his cohort — have the opportunity to come together in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. “The fact that we’re reaching so many more people that are enjoying all the wonderful things about camp, connecting with new people, trying new things, being silly, being playful makes us feel great,” said Klig.
While the normal color war might offer physical challenges and relay races, Expedition Nai, in order to encompass as many different personality types and interests as possible, created five categories of challenges: being extra, treating yourself, Mitzvah magic, jewibilation and play shops.
Basha’s team took on challenges in different categories of the competition, Avi Basha, Jon’s brother, focused on its jewibilation category, putting a technological spin on counting the Omer, the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.
Keeping their text-based app simple is key to making it accessible — anyone who has signed up will get a notification based on their zip code with the number of the Omer. Such simplicity is an important factor for both brothers. “This allows people to partake in ways to experience Judaism,” said Avi.
Currently pursuing a graduate degree in computer science while working as a software developer, Avi, 23, built apps and websites throughout his college career. He was able to find a niche where technology meets Judaism. This app is just another “adventure into Judaism and technology,” said Jon, admitting that he likes to serve as his brother’s “hype man.”
Memorial Day is normally Camp Nai Nai Nai’s opening weekend, but this year it was the finale for Expedition Nai and culminated with the Paper Plate Awards and a grand prize of $2,000. As the planning committee was brainstorming the award ceremony, “there was a little bittersweet moment thinking about past summers,” Klig said. But that was short-lived. Whatever the limitations, this experience, they agreed, had plenty of rewards. JN