The JCC Maccabi Sports Camp Blog

It is the Tree of Life

Posted by July 22, 2020 • Share:

written by Eytan Graubart

Years ago I learned from a rabbi and close friend that to build a Jewish community you need only two things: a kosher butcher and a Torah. And while the reason for having a kosher butcher as one of two pillars makes for a better drash (can we really be a Jewish community if we can’t get kosher chicken for Shabbat?), the reason for needing a Torah is a bit more powerful.

It seems obvious that our holiest item would be something we need to form a community, but Torahs are expensive and hard to come by. I challenged my friend and suggested that knowledge and love of Torah could suffice, but she disagreed. She spoke not about the knowledge within the scriptures, or the metaphorical representation of our history, but rather the spectacle that the Torah creates around Judaism. The experience of seeing, touching, and smelling a Torah is, for many, the actual physical sensation of being Jewish. The ritual involved in taking out a Torah, of blessing a community in the presence of one, is only experienced with the physical object in hand. A Torah has a way of developing a personality as well, much like an old piano, they start to sound better with age and use. Maintaining and caring for a Torah teaches important lessons, and their wardrobes are beautiful tapestries, unique and expressive of their caretaker’s love.

Since our inception in 2014, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp has been blessed with a Torah.Our Torah, like many hard-working camp professionals, had a year-round gig for the months not at camp. For her, it was at Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto.As we prepared for a camp season this year that ultimately would not happen, we also prepared for our first without the Torah that had been with us since the beginning, the one that brought us together. We are touched that this scroll will be making a journey across the world to serve a community in Israel.

Overwhelmingly supportive and welcoming of JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, Etz Chayim went above and beyond by allowing us to borrow their beloved Torah each summer.

During the summer of 2018, a few of our staff asked if they could roll the Torah in preparation for their readings at the next week’s Shabbat service. They invited others who had never seen a Torah scroll opened and rolled into place, to come and be part of the experience. We expected only a few people to show up, but our entire staff came and spent their night off staying up late and learning together. The Torah sprawled out, surrounded by talitot on people of all faiths, in the moonlight of camp, was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen.

That Torah now has a new home. After decades at Etz Chayim, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, and supporting our year round and summer communities, that Torah has traveled home to Israel, where she will most certainly bring light and love to others. We made arrangements for a new Torah this summer, and we are again lucky and blessed to be in a community that supports camp. But even with incredible excitement and energy, we were no doubt going to have to get to know a new Torah. But that’s exactly what camp has always been about; making new friends…also, does anyone know a Kosher butcher?

And now, the history and future of what has been camp’s Torah…

The Story of the Familant Torah

Adapted from the writing of Abra Greenspan

When we, the Etz Chayim travelers were in Israel this past June, we met with Rabbi Lila who had studied with Rabbi Chaim in rabbinical school. She told us her story of ministering to the region and having success introducing secular Jews to the beauty of Judaism. Very unfortunately, she was in a situation in which she was no longer allowed to access the Torah she had been loaned because she is female and had other women accessing it.

After listening to her story, we wanted to help get her a Torah of her own that she could use with people in the region she serves. Rabbi Chaim suggested the Familant Torah as it wasn’t being used. He checked with Rabbi Familant for his blessing (the Torah belongs to Etz Chayim so permission was not needed but his blessing was desired.) Rabbi Familant was extremely enthusiastic and pleased that the Torah would be making aliyah and have a purpose with another rabbi.

The scroll, however, was not in good condition and the poles (atzei chayim) were broken. The scroll was sent to Florida, to a sofer/scribe be repaired. After it came back,  we tied it to new poles that congregant Jon Kaplan made.

There is some mystery surrounding the exact origins of the scroll, but scholars have done their best to deduce its origins. Rabbi Charles Familant was the Hillel Rabbi at Stanford University until 1975, at which point Rabbi Ari Cartun assumed the role.

Thanks to the sofer in Florida, we know that the Torah was scribed in Poland. A sofer can tell where a Torah scroll is from based on the kind of lettering. After that, it got to Germany. On November 9, 1938 during Kristallnacht in Germany, someone rescued the Torah from a burning synagogue. The Torah seems to have been brought to San Francisco by an uncle of Rabbi Joseph Asher, one of the rabbis at Temple Emmanu-El in SF and given to the Temple. It was later passed along to Rabbi Familant when he left Hillel at Stanford. When Rabbi Familant retired, he passed it along to Rabbi Ari Cartun at Congregation Etz Chayim where it has stayed for many years. The Torah has been used at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center Grief & Growing Weekend and has also spent several summers as the resident Torah at the JCC Maccabi Sports Camp in Menlo Park. It was in bad shape when Rabbi Chaim looked at it, no longer kosher because of faded letters and a section that had been eaten away by a rodent.

Rabbi Familant called this scroll a “Survivor Torah” and he was very moved to think of it making “aliyah” to Israel.  When we spoke with him, he stopped us at one point to let us know that the Torah is pasul (not kosher for use in religious rituals).  When he was told that we actually just had a sofer make it kosher, he was very touched.

And now, sometime in the next few months, this Torah will make its way to Israel to serve a community in Northwest Israel. It will be made available to Rabbi Lila and “live” with her on Kibbutz Ha’Ma’apil.

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik!


Virtual Talent Show

Posted by July 2, 2020 • Share:


JCC Maccabi Sports Camp Talent Show

Wednesday, August 5th

7:00pm on Facebook Live

The Maccabi Talent Show started during our first session of our first summer in 2014 and we are not going to let this virus stop us from continuing this important tradition.

This year’s show will be a little different but still have all the excitement, fun, and of course…talent, that we’ve all come to expect!

Here’s how it’s going to work…

  • Prospective acts must sign up no later than Friday, July 31 using this form.
  • Division Leaders will review all submissions and circle back with follow up questions
  • Depending on the number of acts, we will decide how many to accept
  • Acts must record their performances at home and submit to Matt Reitman by Sunday, August 2 (more information will be sent providing more guidance on this aspect)
  • All acts must be limited to 2 minutes

Sign up today and be part of our first ever virtual Talent Show!


Maccabi Fellowship in Sports Leadership (M-FiSL)

Posted by July 1, 2020 • Share:

Maccabi Fellowship in Sports Leadership

Legends and Leaders

For campers 13 – 16 years old
July 20 – August 14 (4 weeks)
$150 per camper, registration required, max 25 participants
Click here to register – must be completed by the teen, with permission and supervision of a parent

Join a cohort of Maccabi campers as we explore and develop leadership skills over the course of a 4-week program. Participants will learn about leadership, explore their own skills and hone new ones, plan and lead programs this summer, develop new ideas for the year round camp community, and of course, make new friends.

Participants in M-FiSL will discuss what it means to be a leader and the many ways you can lead and develop the skills of a leader. Discussions about current events, reflections on leaders and leadership styles, and real life applications, will help campers to think critically, become better problem solvers and put their own leadership skills to practice.

Through this leadership program campers will gain knowledge, in addition to feeling a sense of accomplishment in helping this summer, this program will have a meaningful and tangible impact beyond the summer


  • Attend all scheduled online meetings (tentative calendar below)
  • Complete pre-call reading, viewing, or other preparation
  • Be present and ready to share, discuss, and absorb the ideas and content
  • Allow themselves to be vulnerable, humble, and ready to learn

Goals & Outcomes – Participants will…

  • Meet new people, making new friends and strengthening bonds with old friends
  • Cultivate important leadership, collaboration, and communication skills
  • Share their voice as part of a team creating, planning, and implementing camp programs
  • Have the opportunity to learn from leaders, from within and outside the camp community
  • Feel further connected to camp friends and the camp community during these challenging times


  • Meeting #1 – July 20, 5pm pacific – Icebreakers, discuss video homework, begin prep on summer project
  • Meeting #2 – July 29, 5pm – Discuss pre-call homework,  begin prep for in-summer camp program, brainstorming community service project and year-round engagement ideas
  • Meeting #3 – August 3, 5pm pacific – discuss sports leadership, start planning year round camp programs, communication/public speaking skills
  • Meeting #4 – August 7, 5pm pacific – continue with year round programming and community service, conversation about leadership styles
  • Meeting #5 – August 11, 5pm pacific – final touches on programming, continued skill development, prep for final gathering and what comes after summer
  • Meeting #6 – August 14, 5pm pacific – Culminating Gathering, M-FiSL Shabbat

*dates tentative, content subject to change

Maccabi Fellowship in Sports Leadership is part of The Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Initiative (Teen Initiative), a project of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, with generous support from The Jim Joseph Foundation and local funders.





Commemorating Moments

Posted by December 17, 2019 • Share:

Sometimes I close my eyes when I’m at camp and just listen. I love it. The squeaking sneakers on the gym floor, laughter of all types, a whistle blowing, it’s all music to my ears. And to me, 

Playing Guitar Singing Campfire Jewish Camping Bay Area

that is always what it has been about – the music.


I recently had the honor of being named JCC Maccabi Sports Camp’s newest Camp Director, the second in our young history. It is a tremendous honor and responsibility that has been both humbling and prideful. (Camp’s founder and long-time Camp Director, Josh Steinharter, is still very much with camp and has been promoted to the position of Senior Director). I have been looking for a way to mark this occasion.

When I finished grad school I got an iPhone (it was a BIG deal at the time). When the Cub’s won the world series I made a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field. I even jumped out of an airplane to mark my 30th birthday, but this occasion is different. An occasion worthy of being marked with something meaningful, not just to me, but to my experience at camp.

I considered a new baseball glove. A former competitive baseball player, when I have free time at camp you can often find me on the diamond. One of my fondest memories as a child was going with my father, a Rabbi and former pitcher at the University of Chicago, to buy my first catcher’s mitt. The smell of new leather always brings me back to that moment. But a new glove would easily spend six months a year in the back of my closet.

I thought about a watch. I have always been a collector of interesting timepieces. A watch is something I could use every day and is certainly fitting to mark professional growth. But a watch is almost too personal. I would never really be able to share it with anyone. The same way a glove is meant to be used for playing baseball, I wanted something that could be used at camp.

I closed my eyes and tried to listen to camp. I heard the crack of a bat, a ball being spiked, high fives and silly cheers, and I knew what I wanted.


There is nothing more meaningful to me than playing music. I have been playing a variety of instruments (“playing” may be a bit of a stretch for many of them) for most of my life. But to me, the neck of a guitar has always made more sense than just about anything else in the world. My best moments have been spent shared with people I love, by the campfire, guitar in hand. When I have been at my lowest, and disconnected from others, music has brought me back. Thoughts become clear to me as verses unfold into a chorus and I’m not sure I even know how to drive anymore without singing along to something.

One of the reasons I love camp is because my love of music is combined with the beauty of community. The sound of my guitar starts and ends our day, gets us pounding on tables, and welcomes in Shabbat. Around the campfire my guitar is amplified by the sound of our voices, and I can be the truest and best version of myself.

After over two decades of camp, the guitar that has always been with me will be staying home this summer. While I know she still has a long life ahead of her, the physical trauma that a serious-camp-song-session has on a guitar has caught up with her. She needs to be retired from camp, and I need a new companion. A guitar worthy of leading our Kehilla Kedosha (sacred community) and standing in for a dear friend.


I would like to introduce everyone to Bessie. The very first thing we did was sing “Fly” together. You will all get to meet this summer.


About the Author

Eytan Graubart – Camp Director or 415-997-8844 x2

Eytan has been involved in Jewish camping since he was very young. Before joining the JCC Maccabi Sports Camp team, he served as the Director of Camp BB-Riback in Calgray, Alberta.

Eytan grew up in Chicago, IL, and spent his summers at Camp Young Judaea Midwest in Waupaca, WI.

Staff Spotlight: Coach Emily Horner

Posted by May 8, 2019 • Share:

Welcome Back, Volleyball Head Coach Emily Horner!

We’re thrilled to announce Coach Emily’s return for her 2nd season as the leader of our volleyball program, the fastest growing core sport in our community.

California Volleyball Native

Emily wasSan Francisco Volleyball Coach born in Mission Viejo, CA which is about six hours south of camp. She started playing volleyball in seventh grade and grew up playing on the beach and indoor. She made the decision to take her collegiate career as an indoor volleyball player at the University of Pittsburgh. Emily is currently continuing her career playing beach volleyball at UC Davis while she pursues a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education.

Club, High School & College Volleyball

Emily graduated from the University of Pittsburgh where she was a member of the NCAA Division 1 Volleyball Team. Her junior and senior year, the team captured ACC Championship as well as qualifying for the NCAA tournament, making it to the second round both years. The team ranked top 10 in Division 1 volleyball for 3 weeks for the first time in program history. Prior to college, she competed at varsity for her high school for three years and set records in both hitting and service aces in a single year. She also played travel for T-street Volleyball club, where she helped her team win 18 Open at Nationals, proving to be the top team in the nation.

Volleyball Coaching Experience

Emily began her coaching career directly after graduating high school where she assisted in coaching the high school team at her Alma Mater that summer. After that, the summer of her college years were spent coaching at the Dan Fisher (University of Pittsburgh) Volleyball camps with potential recruits for the University of Pittsburgh as well as players from ages 8-17. She continues coaching currently by giving private lessons to those learning and continue to grow in their volleyball skill. Although she wants to pursue education, she knows that coaching will be present in her future one way or another!

Multi-Sport & Multi-dimensional

Off the court, Emily loves being active by running, hiking, or just involving herself in other sports (despite her skill level). She also loves listening to music and attending concerts. When she’s not hanging out with friends, she usually is supporting her local sports teams (whether it to be high-school, college, or the fan base of the area).

This Summer at Camp

Emily is looking forward to teaching volleyball basics & advanced skills. She’s also looking forward to seeing players grow on and off the court. Her main focus points as a coach are that her players give full effort, value communication, and most importantly bring energy to the court. If her players follow these with their best foot forward, they will prove to be successful and grow in the sport. She also loves that volleyball is a team sport and looks forward to the group of girls becoming cohesive and learning the importance of playing cooperatively with each other as well as playing for each other.