Shalom Baby goes to camp
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Shalom Baby goes to camp

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Children at the Neil Klatskin Day Camp at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly made cards and packed bags for Shalom Baby. JCCOTP

Maybe there is something more radically and joyfully transformative than a new baby.

What that thing might be, though, does not pop instantly to mind. It surely is safe to say that few things can rival babies to evoke joy.

When you add a new baby to your life, though, you also add chaos. Noise, an entire spectrum of previously unmentionable bodily fluids, and sleeplessness build in ways you couldn’t have imagined. Questions and doubts and lack of self-confidence sometimes plague you.

Although there is no program any group could offer that would relieve all those pressures, leaving parents free to bask in the joy with none of the challenges it brings, community helps. Playgroups and peers and shared uncertainties and shared jokes make a big difference.

Community is wonderful when it grows organically, but sometimes it needs some help.

That’s where the Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Shalom Baby comes in.

The outreach program, aimed at both birth and adoptive parents of newborns and toddlers, is a way to connect those young new families with each other and with the larger, multigenerational Jewish community that surround them. It sets up playgroups where young parents can meet each other and develop the kinds of networks that often last for life.

The program also gives gift bags to new parents as they welcome babies home.

“It’s a beautiful diaper bag, filled with all kinds of gifts and information,” Ellen Finkelstein said. Finkelstein, who works for the federation, is the program’s coordinator. “It includes books on parenting, children’s board books, bibs, rattles, music CDs, and information about other programs available in the community.”

All of this – the playgrounds and the bags – are free to the new families.

This month, the Neil Klatskin Day Camp at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly held its annual mitzvah day. Every year, the children at the camp learn about mitzvot, not only in the abstract but in a hands-on way, by making things for other people.

This year, the camp and Shalom Baby worked together to devise activities that would benefit Shalom Baby while at the same time teaching the nearly 400 campers about tzedakah. And they also had fun.

Before mitzvah day, the camp had collected bibs, rattles, and pacifiers from the campers’ parents, as well as from other adults. On the day itself, “Every child in the camp participated at some level,” the camp director, Stacy Budkofsky, said. The 3- and 4-year-olds decorated mazal tov cards, the 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds packed new diaper bags with the newly donated baby stuff, and “the 8- through 12-year-olds tie-dyed onesies,” which must have been a gloriously colorful experience.

“We spoke about tzedakah and mitzvot, and we had each group made a giant heart,” Budkofsky said.

All the packages were sent to federation for distribution.

Yes, these are small acts, but many small acts add up to the kind of love and support that often can make a very big difference.

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