Who The Folk?! Abby Kirshbaum

When Abby Kirshbaum moved back to Minneapolis from Boston after college, she had just quit her job with AmeriCorps halfway through the year without much of a plan for the future. Now, she serves as the assistant director of Camp Teko and the youth director full-time at Temple Israel, where fun is embedded into her job description. Learn why Abby’s passionate about teaching and camp in this week’s Who The Folk?!

You mentioned that you moved back to Minneapolis recently… Where were you before?

So, I went to school at Brandeis University in Boston, and when I finished I decided I wanted to be a school teacher so I entered this program called Match, which was a charter school, and I was in AmeriCorps there. It was absolutely the wrong fit for me. It was all about discipline, and I just can’t do that very well. It was fascinating to learn. And these kids, they’re all not white, and likely to get stopped by police on the street, and they need to learn in school, that if an authority tells you something, you have to behave. There are all these disciplinary actions that are set in place to teach them how to behave when someone stops them on the street. Which is amazing and fabulous, but not the right fit for me.

I believe in fun, I believe in enjoying yourself, and teaching through fun, and then I realized that I do have a passion for teaching, but it’s through summer camp and through programming. And I came back for a job that opened up for me, eventually, when I came home, which is the perfect fit. I ended up leaving in December, which is halfway through the year, which was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I hurt a lot of people… leaving my kids was hard for me. But I am a million times happier. It was definitely the right decision. And now I’ve had a year or so to reflect…It was hard but I’m happy to be home.

When you moved back here, you took a job at Temple Israel?

Yeah. I came home in December, and in January or February, I got an email from Rabbi Hartman saying, “Hey, can I talk to you about Camp Teko?” And I was like, okay… And I kind of knew some stuff was going on, because I’m friends with the old director and the old assistant director who’s now the director, and I kind of had a feeling of an opportunity. But we ended up talking on the phone and she said that the assistant director position was open, and they were interested in hiring me. And I was like, “Wow, that’s cool.” I had spent the past couple months networking and applying for jobs, and it’s really hard. So getting that call was really such a cool opportunity.

So I started at Temple Israel as the assistant director of Teko, and they said that if they liked me they would hire me on to also be the youth director, which is a position as it was. Rabbi Hartman was on her way out to be on maternity leave, so they needed to hire someone fast. I started just at camp and quickly they hired me to be the youth director and the position became full time.

What kind of stuff have you been working on since then?

You want to know my job description? Yeah, okay.

I essentially hold seventh through twelfth grade social and educational pieces. So I teach our seventh-grade students, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I’m in charge of our eighth grade and seventh-grade volunteer opportunities, so I find volunteer sites and I send out Google forms, and I organize and I send confirmations, and staff it sometimes. I help out at confirmation, and I went on a confirmation trip with students. I’m in charge of our teaching assistants, who come on Sundays… I coordinate that, and do training. Then I’m also in charge of TIPTY, which is our youth program, so we have a board and youth events. And then, at Teko, I do a whole bunch of assistant director stuff, like recruitment and I’ve been working really hard on recruitment for staff this year, which has been really fun for me. And then I’m also in charge of our counselor-in-training program, which is ninth, tenth and eleventh grade. So it’s a lot. But I love my job.

That is a lot. What is your favorite part of what you get to do?

I’ve been reflecting on that a lot. I definitely would say camp is my favorite, and that’s what I’m really interested in, and what I accepted this job for. The different pieces of my job, I’ve noticed that I like the training aspects more, so like the teaching assistants where I’m training them, the counselors-in-training where I’m creating a curriculum to teach them, have been a lot more fulfilling and enjoyable for me. Again, I love doing all of it — it’s the coolest job, where I get to hang out and have fun with kids all the time. But definitely the training piece, I’ve noticed, I’ve decided … I’ve found I’m at peace when planning that.

So, camp is a big thing. I think for a lot of Jewish kids, camp is really a formative time. Was your experience at camp what inspired you to want to be involved with Jewish camp?

Yeah, so I grew up at Herzl. I went to Herzl for 12 summers — seven of them as a camper, one as an ozo, and four on staff. I loved it, but I remember, I’m very reflective, and in my time at camp, I’d come home exhausted and I’d be like, “I never want to go again!” But I was exhausted, and I put so much energy in because I loved the place so much. I remember a camper needing black pants, and I was wearing some and I said, “One second, I’ll go change.” I literally gave her the pants that I was wearing. I just love it, and I remember applying for the senior staff position when I was mama ozo in 2016, and … I can’t quite remember the question, it might have been: “Why do you want to keep coming back to camp?” And I said: “You know, I really thought for a while that I needed camp. And I think I’ve gotten back to a place where I want camp.” And I think that distinction is really important, and I think a lot of kids growing up need camp and it’s their safe space, and I’m sure that’s what it was for me — it’s just a great space to be and a wonderful place where people grow. But at this point, I want it. And I always say I believe in fun, and I believe in teaching through fun, and I think that’s the most effective way for people to grow into better people. And I want that, and I choose that for my life and for my career.

I’ve heard that Camp Teko has a crazy waitlist for summer.

Ohhhh yeah!

Why are you so busy?

Yeah, we rock. So the director, Haylee Davis, is awesome. This is her fourth summer. I think there’s a lot of factors. She was the first person to be, in this role, she [was] the first full-time assistant director. And I think that was really helpful and a really good move on the part of Haylee and Temple Israel and whoever created that job, because she got to move up. And she got to learn the ropes of Camp Teko, and then when she became the director, she already knew what was happening, so she could really take it on and make it a better organization and better institution. We have amazing staff members. She created this Avodah Machon program, which is the counselor-in-training program, which used to have five kids, and this summer we already have 22. Last year — the application for the CIT program is due March 1, so we extended it to April 1, we kept extending it so people could do it. We’re full. We closed it yesterday because it’s March.

And getting all of those kids excited about Teko, especially at a younger age, can allow us to have amazing staff members that can provide amazing experiences for the kids. And also, I mean, Teko is a feeder camp. We’re training kids to go to overnight camp. And we’re outside, and we have the lake, and we have grass, you know, and all these amazing — you know, we can have fire pits, and … everything that we have to offer. And it’s such a great choice for kids, and I’m gonna give all the credit to Haylee. I know that there’s many people that have credit they commit, but I’m gonna give it to Haylee.

What did you do for Purim?

I went to Chabad last night. I was a host on the Chabad Young Professionals Purim party. It was a 20s theme, and I didn’t really dress up. I was just going to go and say “I’m in my 20s.” But then they had beads and hair stuff, so I used that and that was nice. And I think this weekend I might be doing the other 20s/30s party. But I also have a Purim Carnival to run. So don’t tell my boss that I’m going to go to a party!

Favorite Jewish holiday?

I feel like I used to have a different answer. My answer is so Jewish, but I love it: Shabbat. It’s restful, and I really like traditions. I do traditions a lot throughout my week, and I just love the idea of doing something every week. And I don’t always celebrate; I’ve actually been working for a lot of my past Shabbats. But I’m really excited to enjoy it.

Favorite Jewish food?

Matzoh ball soup. My grandma used to make matzoh ball soup, and now my mom makes it, and it’s amazing. Oh, and I also like the gefilte fish from the jar. My dad makes really good gefilte fish too, but I really like the stuff from the jar.

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