Last February, a dozen young adults traveled to Kenya on a humanitarian trip organized by Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies. On the first night, they went to a music festival, where Tal Havivi was shocked to bump into a friend he’d gone to Jewish summer camp with years ago, as teenagers, in rural Georgia.
For so many Jewish Americans, this kind of chance encounter is not that unusual, says Havivi’s friend Erica Weinstein, who was also on the Kenya trip. “That’s the epitome of overnight camp,” she says. Years later, “you bump into a friend from camp in Nairobi.”
On a recent Thursday after work, Havivi and Weinstein were sampling the beers from Shmaltz Brewing at a shared office space in downtown Boston. The event, a happy hour with pastrami sandwiches from Mamaleh’s Delicatessen, was hosted by Trybal Gatherings, the brainchild of “experience designer” Carine Warsawski, now in its second year of running Jewish camp for adults.
Warsawski founded Trybal to offer annual four-day camps in the Berkshires, Malibu, and, new this year, Wisconsin. Her clientele, she says, is made up of young adults nostalgic for the enduring camaraderie of summer camp, and eager to apply its lessons to life as a modern Jew — “liberal reform Judaism, with a lower-case r.”
Originally intended more than 100 years ago as an opportunity for Jewish kids from New York to get out of the city for a few weeks each summer, overnight camp soon grew into a tradition for Jewish families across the country. By reintroducing it to young adults, Warsawski says, she’s creating space for them “to explore living Jewishly” — however that might take shape for each individual.
“In my opinion, the North American Jewish camping system is the greatest asset the Jewish community has,” she says.
Anyone is welcome at Trybal events. The camps are designed for 20- and 30-somethings, but Warsawski likes to use a catchphrase: “stage, not age.”
“I heard a great line,” she says. “‘Camp is a place where kids feel like adults, and adults feel like kids.’ We give young adults the space to go back to a time when they didn’t have responsibilities.” In the process, they become free to reimagine their own relationship to Judaism.
Warsawski, who grew up in Lexington and went to business school at Boston University, trusted her instincts in starting the business. If she was so fond of her summer camp memories, she figured, she surely had plenty of peers who would pay to relive their own.
She’s a high-energy motivator, says Ethan Wise, a volunteer Trybal counselor at the Berkshires camp. It takes place this year Sept. 6-9 at Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, where Warsawski and Wise both went to sleepaway camp as kids.
“One of the most incredible things about her is how she can think on her feet,” says Wise, who works for a Boston architecture firm. “If most people live at a seven, she’s a 10 most days.”
That’s a good trait for someone who is always busy micromanaging the details of Trybal camps, from the kosher meals and the themed dance parties to the bubble soccer games and the Jewish pickling sessions.
“It’s like glamping for young professionals, with cool activities,” says Weinstein, a Boston event planner who was raised in Westborough. She grew up attending Camp Tel Noar in New Hampshire and worked last year at Camp Bauercrest, a long-running summer sports camp for Jewish boys in Amesbury.
Because of the demands of her own job, Weinstein hasn’t yet signed up for a Trybal overnight camp. She was at the happy hour to support Warsawski, whom she met on the Kenya trip.
“I would totally go, 100 percent, if I could,” she said.
In Trybal’s inaugural year, about 100 campers attended the flagship destination at Camp Eisner. This year, they’re shooting for about 130.
With Boulder, Colo.-based Gary Brandt serving as Warsawski’s new COO, Trybal has plans to expand beyond summer camps to design other events in partnership with Jewish organizations across the country. They’re looking into the possibility of taking a group to celebrate Hanukkah in Iceland under the Northern Lights, for instance.
“We’re exploring what a year-round menu of programs would look like,” says Warsawski.
This summer, Rachel Miller Munzer, co-owner of Mamaleh’s, is sending her 9-year-old daughter to her first overnight camp. It’s a generational reminder that the culture of Judaism needs to be nurtured to survive, she says.
“It’s so interesting, and it comes in so many forms,” says Miller Munzer. “The common thread is that there’s not that many of us, and we have to keep it alive.”
For a lot of younger Jews, Judaism plays a different role than it might have for their parents and grandparents. Trybal wants them to be comfortable with it, while having some serious fun.
“It’s a lot easier to walk away from that than to confront it and own it,” says Warsawski. “We tell people: You’re totally cool just the way you are. However you want to be Jewish, we’re totally OK with that.”
James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.