Lighting a Camp Spark for PJ Library Families

Recognizing the profound impact of Jewish summer camp, PJ Library Bay Area and Camp Newman joined forces to introduce the Sparks program, which provides families with young children with camp-inspired activities and an immersive weekend retreat together. Their mission: to kindle a flame of tradition and community that will burn brightly for generations to come. Together, through the Sparks program, PJ Library and Camp Newman aimed to forge lasting friendships and cultivate happy memories.

In January 2023, the Sparks program kicked off with monthly meetups—inspired by URJ Camp Newman’s philosophy of C.A.R.E (Community, Acceptance, Role Modeling, Each & Everyone) led by four dedicated PJ Library Parent Connectors: Kim Ovadia, Nicole Novach, Rebecca Feigelson, and Sara Haller. Families from Contra Costa, Alameda, and Sonoma counties gathered locally prior to the camp weekend to get to know one another.

Each meetup featured activity boxes and take-home materials, provided by Camp Newman and PJ Library, designed to foster meaningful connections.

“The Sparks program was designed for families to be introduced to the magic of Jewish overnight camp while their kids are young,” said Vivien Braly, Director PJ Library Bay Area. “We wanted to connect families around camp values and then have it come to life by experiencing family camp together.”

Sara Haller, PJ Library Parent Connector,
with camp-themed Shabbat boxes for families

“They sent us beautiful boxes that were tied to the themes that we would be talking about at camp: Shabbat, havdalah, tzedakah… and each box contained questions and art supplies and all we needed to run a really successful program,” said PJ Library Parent Connector Nicole. “I can tell you they were super thoughtful lesson plans that really helped us build relationships prior to the incredible camp weekend.”

Jordanna Flores, Camp Newman’s Director of Year-Round Programs noted that “the program was designed to have as few barriers to entry as possible and to connect families more deeply. While weekend retreats are great and the campus is incredible, if it's a one-off, it doesn't strengthen anyone's engagement. Relationships are so key to involvement in Jewish life… and that’s what our model is building.”

Everyone—not just the kids—experienced the excitement of Jewish camp. 

Camper enjoying challah braiding

“By the time we got to camp, we had already spent so much time together that the relationships between the families were more meaningful. And that’s what helped make it such a special experience,” said Sara.

The Sparks family camp weekend brought families together in a vibrant camp setting, hosting over 180 people from 40 Bay Area families. Activities ranged from challah braiding and musical Shabbat services to games like Gaga ball and building mezuzah forts. The daytime festivities overflowed with laughter and joy. As the sun set and children went to sleep, parents gathered around the firepit, savoring cocktails. In short, it was a blast.

The Sparks family camp weekend left a lasting impression on everyone involved. Families had spent valuable time together, fostering connections that transcended the camp itself. The camp wrap-up in June would mark a final gathering for each family cohort, culminating in a lesson on hanging mezuzot.

PJ Library Bay Area families enjoying Sparks Family
Camp at Camp Newman in Santa Rosa
on April 21-23, 2023

PJ Library Bay Area has developed robust and sustaining community partnerships, in large part due to innovative initiatives like the Sparks Program, which heightened family engagement. The program's success exemplified the magic that can be unlocked when Jewish traditions and the joys of camp intertwine, leaving an everlasting impact on families and their shared Jewish journey.


PJ Library Bay Area, a Federation program, connects parents, guardians, grandparents, and kids with their heritage and tradition by sending free books to homes each month, sharing fun resources and events, and building community with a team of PJ Library Parent Connectors in their area.  For more information, email Aliza Golshani, Manager, PJ Library Bay Area.


May 31, 2023


Jon Moskin