Finding Love at Jacobs Camp

by Robin Zebrowitz Harpak

I didn’t grow up at camp. But when I tell you it was love at first sight, I mean it in every way possible. In 2003, the summer before my senior year at Brandeis University, I was looking for a summer job, something different from the swim coaching I had done in previous summers. I found myself at URJ Jacobs Camp putting those swimming skills to use as the Waterfront Director. Just before staff orientation I arrived at camp to prep the pool. Likewise, the Israeli staff arrived before orientation, allowing them an opportunity to adjust to our time zone and get settled in the U.S.  Dotan was coming to camp for his second summer on staff – he had been there the previous summer, loved it, and decided to return for a second. As a returning shaliach, he was showing the new Israeli staff members around the grounds. There I am at the pool, in my bikini, when they walk up and introduce themselves. Dotan thought I was cute, and I thought he was adorable in his “A Hard Day’s Night” Beatles t-shirt. An avid Beatles fan, I complimented him on the shirt.  It was downhill (uphill!) from there. Cheesy, but true.

Fast forward five years…  In the years in between, we both returned to camp whenever possible, as visitors and as staff; I serve on the Camp Committee, and Dotan staffed a NFTY trip in Israel, and worked as a Jewish Agencyshaliach to the URJ Youth Division. We spent all of those years together as a couple, but only three of them physically in the same place. In 2008, I moved to Israel with Dotan.  Five months after that, Dotan got down on one knee, asked me to marry him, and gave me a ring that is engraved “Utica, MS 2003″, the magical time and place we met.  Who would have thought that I’d find my partner, best friend, and greatest love in Utica, Mississippi at a Jewish overnight camp?!

Camp is a huge, important part of our lives, so we knew our wedding day would be infused with camp in every way possible. Rabbi Valerie Cohen, our dear friend from camp and the camp director’s wife, officiated at our wedding. Abram Orlansky, one of our closest camp friends, was a witness to sign our ketubah. And, one of our favorite centerpieces from our wedding was our chuppah – designed by an artist we know from camp, commissioned by the camp director, Jonathan Cohen, and painted with the colorful image of the camp chapel (which, coincidentally, Dotan helped build with his campers one summer after the previous chapel had been destroyed in a storm). Thechuppah is now displayed on a wall in camp waiting for future camp couples to get married beneath it.  We also requested people make donations to camp on our behalf in honor of our wedding.

We love Jacobs Camp in ways written words can’t properly express, and love pointing out all the ways we found to include it in our special day and in our lives in general.  Today, nine years since we met at camp, it has shaped who we are as a couple, our professional lives, how we volunteer our time, the friends in our lives, and our future.


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4 Responses to “Finding Love at Jacobs Camp”

  1. avatar

    Congratulations. I noticed you mentioned an Abram Orlansky and wonder if he is related to Larry Orlansky, who was a Jacobs staffer in the 1970s who I met on a trip to Israel put together by the Union camping system (I was a Kutz staffer). If so, shows another wonderful aspect of Jacobs — that it has served multiple generations of southern Reform Jews.

    • avatar

      Yes indeed! Larry is my uncle. And you’re absolutely right–Jacobs has been and continues to be a real home for multiple generations of many Southern Jewish families. Larry’s sister (my aunt) Linda was assistant director in the 80s and I held the same position late in Robin & Dotan’s tenure, so we’re certainly one example!

  2. avatar

    I went to Jacobs as a camper and one year as a counselor. I didn’t find romantic love there, but I did find a deep love of Judaism. I feel like I’m always searching for a Jewish experience that parallels Shabbat at the Chapel by the Lake, at the Teatron in the woods, or even at the Museum. I’m looking forward to the time when my son is old enough for camp himself!


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