As an Arizona native, I spent many nights at Camp Charles Pearlstein, now Camp Daisy and Harry Stein. There is something magical I feel each time we reach the camp entrance that I have never been able to put my finger on. Whether it is the cool breeze and smell from being surrounded by beautiful trees or the familiarity of the cabins, buildings and pathways, I can’t help but smile as a feeling of comfort and happiness washes over me those first moments after arriving at camp.
However, several weeks ago, that feeling was magnified beyond my imagination as I had the opportunity to spend time at Camp Stein with my family at PJ Library Family Camp. This was the fourth annual camp weekend for families (after an interruption for COVID) through PJ Library in Phoenix, and the programming was planned and run by both PJ Library director Marcy Lewis and volunteer coordinator Laura Drachler who initially spearheaded this weekend in April 2017 as a project of the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI).
As a mentee of the WLI program, Laura’s goal was to bring a family camp to the PJ Library community. Laura has a deep connection to camp and understands the importance it has in creating a long-lasting connection to Jewish life. Each year, the weekend has been either 90% filled or full to capacity, and the magic created is indescribable.
We were able to experience a weekend packed full of amazing camp experiences together as a family and had the opportunity to connect and get to know other young families from our community in a unique and memorable way.
From the moment we arrived, we were swept up in the camp spirit as we dove right into Friday night Shabbat services, a delicious Shabbat dinner and a fun night of family and adult programming. Our kids loved staying up late with some of their friends and the most incredible counselors, while we had the opportunity to hang out with other parents and get to know each other better over drinks and snacks before all heading to bed in our cabin.
Saturday was spent enjoying services in the beautiful outdoors, hikes around camp, activity choices including ropes course, rock wall, art, music, cooking and more. With so many activities available, it was hard to choose the ones we wanted to do as a family, but we quickly found ourselves bouncing from one to the next. At night we enjoyed singing and s’mores by the campfire, a quintessential camp experience. The evening was full of laughter and fun as the adults competed in trivia and the kids spent time watching movies and having a dance party in another area of camp.
Typically our weekends are spent driving from place to place, so the fully packed weekend was something we were used to. Usually, those full weekends can be draining, but this weekend spent together at camp had the opposite effect. I found myself exhausted but filled with blissfulness, even as I did load upon load of laundry after arriving home on Sunday afternoon.
Weeks later, I fondly think of the memories we made together and remember the look of pride on our kids’ faces as they reached the top of the rock wall or end of the ropes course. They are still talking about the new friends they made and how excited they are to go back to camp for the summer. And I continue to beam with pride as I hear how connected they feel to the camp experience and Jewish life. PJ Library Family Camp was the perfect escape we didn’t know we needed, and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to connect with my family in this special way. JN
Jennifer Starrett is the content manager of JewishPhoenix, an initiative of Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Foundation.