Natan and Nyah go to camp

My multi-cultural love affair with Teaneck continues, two days after the Fourth of July celebration. A gem of a camp program in town, Teaneck Sports and Arts, which my 12-year-old son attends, pulled out all the stops this week in showing that kids of all backgrounds can and do get along. Sports and Arts, a recreation department program, meets in one of the town’s middle schools, and runs over three two-week sessions. It is also one of the less expensive camp options around, and offers before- and after-care for working parents.

But despite the bargain price tag, the quality of the program is outstanding. Campers select courses from a variety of athletic and artistic categories, and my son has had the opportunity to explore music mixing, cartooning, lacrosse, tennis, and softball for several hours each weekday. Yes, my son is now a DJ!

Pumping up the volume

There are so many amazing aspects to this program, which I estimate is composed of about half Jewish (read: day school) kids and half public school students. The kids work and play together, whether through competing in sports or staging a mini-play, learning to mix music or sparring with a fencing partner.

The coolest part of the program is the award ceremony for the field day competition and the camp performances at the end of each two-week session. The shows included hip hop and other forms of dancing, martial arts and fencing demos, drama, and flag twirling, with musical entertainment by the student DJs between each “act.” I suppressed a giggle while the (mostly) African-American counselors attempted to pronounce the names of Jewish kids while handing out sports awards — Natan became “Nay-tan,” Ayelet “Ah-ye-let” (emphasis on the “let”). The spirit in the room was palpable, with the counselors cheering on kids from all backgrounds and giving them high-fives.

But it was the performances themselves that were unbelievable, the most vivid in my mind the hip-hop show put on by black and white children — including at least one Jewish kid with tzitzit. And most of the DJs were also Jewish kids, whose music mixing inspired their peers in the audience to get up and groove to the beat.

Artistic expression on display

I am so excited for my son to go back to camp for another two weeks, and potentially next year as well. He may not be asking for playdates with the non-Jewish kids yet, but he seems more than comfortable, I have noticed, playing a DS game with a black child during after-care.

This program is more than a “safe” place for kids to be exposed to other cultures — it is a model that should be replicated in communities where encounters like these are sorely needed.

About the Author
Lori Silberman Brauner lives with her husband and two sons in Teaneck, NJ, also known in certain circles as "Dati-neck." She works as a copy editor and staff writer for the New Jersey Jewish News.