I didn’t grow up in a camping family. Don’t worry, we traveled plenty to see family and important sites in the U.S. and abroad. But “let’s pitch our tent over there” are not words that I ever heard. My tent camping experiences come mostly from trips during and after college. However, when my husband and I got engaged we decided one of the places we had to register was REI, for all of the future camping trips we would be taking with our future kids.
Our first camping trip as a family was one night spent on a windy Sonoma, CA beach with our 13-month-old not quite yet walking daughter. We brought Shabbat candles, a bottle of grape juice and a big fresh challah, and had a nice Friday night dinner al fresco. At that time we didn’t celebrate Shabbat as regularly as we do now, but somehow it seemed to be the right thing for camping. Now that toddler is a three-and-a-half-year-old synagogue pre-school student who is so in tune with what she learns at home and at school about Judaism. She is the one who gets her kippah out at 3pm on Friday in anticipation of Shabbat. And she is the one who is really teaching us the meaning of giving charity, as she is a little obsessed with putting every coin she finds into one of her various tzedakah boxes.
Two-and-a-half years and four camping trips later, we just took her and our 11-month-old son camping for the first time. I brought along some things to help make it a more Jewish experience for us and the two other Jewish families going with us, all of varying observances. One was adamant about having Kosher chicken for the grill, while another just wanted it to be organic. For Shabbat I brought fruit punch juice boxes which contained some grape juice, and a mini challah from the local bagel shop. Nina and her friend Ethan put their little hands on the little challah and we all sang the blessing over it.
In our house we love making mint tin mezuzahs as a protective symbol for the home. We brought a blank one camping, which Nina decorated and placed in a high pocket above the tent entrance. “Now it’s our home,” she said of the tent. We also had a salt-topped bagel to snack on in the tent, since it is traditional to bring bread and salt into a new home. Although we didn’t eat it until our second day, when most of the salt had soaked into the bagel due to the wet coastal air. Nina also placed a few coins into a clear packing tape covered Disney Princess Band-Aid box, turned tzedakah box, because she likes to give even while on the road.
The highlight of any camping meal are the s’mores! Ours were no exception, but along with mainstream marshmallows we brought Kosher marshmallows topped with toasted coconut. They make delicious s’mores, but you have to toast the coconut just right so that it doesn’t burn. Nina looked at the bag of them, and said, “That’s Kosher, because there is Hebrew there.” We also read Dear Tree, one of our PJ Library books, before bedtime. It seemed fitting to acknowledge the trees given our park location. Whether at home or away it’s the little things, and treats that count. And creating a home, donating to those less fortunate, and eating good food are tenets of Judaism which can be carried on anywhere, in intentional and not so obvious ways.