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Bunked at home, but preserving the camp spirit   

Bunked at home, but preserving the camp spirit   

Founders of Shabbat-o-Grams, Ben Zauzmer and Rabbi Shayna Golkow. Courtesy Shayna Golkow
Founders of Shabbat-o-Grams, Ben Zauzmer and Rabbi Shayna Golkow. Courtesy Shayna Golkow

Among Rabbi Shayna Golkow’s souvenirs are a handful of Shabbat-o-grams she received while a camper, and later a staff member, at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. These are handwritten notes — sometimes on colored paper cut into shapes, like hearts, stars, and the sun — decorated by the sender. The missives — private, uplifting messages exchanged among campers and staff — were delivered Friday afternoons. 

“It was a way to make everyone feel loved, special, and included going into Shabbat each week,” Golkow told NJJN in a telephone interview. Golkow, who grew up in Cherry Hill, is second rabbi at Temple Aliyah in Los Angeles. 

When most sleepaway camps announced that they would not open this summer, Golkow and partner Ben Zauzmer, a former camper at URJ Camp Harlam who grew up outside of Philadelphia, sought a way to foster connections and bring the lost magic of camp into families’ homes.

They launched the next gen of Shabbat-o-grams:, a website for campers, staff, alumnae, and others to share decorative and personalized good wishes and notes of appreciation (with an optional photo upload).

Zauzmer, who works in operations for the L.A. Dodgers, applied his coding and web development skills to create a project “meaningful for both of us,” he said. 

Now in their second month of operations, the messages are due before 4 p.m. Friday afternoons and are texted, emailed, or posted to Instagram (@shabbat.o.grams). So far, more than 500 people have received a Shabbat-o-Gram, which is free, and neither Golkow nor Zauzmer make money from the project. Instead, recipients are sent a link to the sender’s camp to make an optional donation.

An unintended result of the project is interest beyond camps; the founders said a few congregational schools and synagogues from across the country have reached out and inquired about using the site.

“I think people like this idea of virtually trying to stay connected on Shabbat and sort of running with it,” said Zauzmer.

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