You Should Know… Janna Zuckerman

(Photo provided)

Janna Zuckerman grew up in Edison, New Jersey, but when she came south in 2007 to attend Towson University, she fell in love with Baltimore and its Jewish community. It was her mom who had suggested Towson to her daughter as a convenient spot every time they drove by the exit to visit Zuckerman’s brother at University of Maryland, College Park. But she didn’t expect her daughter to stay.

But stay she did, for a bachelor’s in family studies and community development. After receiving a master’s degree from University of Maryland School of Social Work, she returned to Towson to attend Baltimore Hebrew Institute to study Jewish communal service.

Now 29, Zuckerman is program manager for the Center for Jewish Camping at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. With a grandfather that owned and operated a Jewish sleep-away camp, you could say the Jewish camp experience is part of Zuckerman’s DNA. And she endeavors to pass on her love of camp life, which she credits with connecting her to her “true” Jewish self.

What was your Jewish experience like at Towson?

I was hopeful that wherever I ended up at college I would get immersed into the Jewish community, which was something that was pretty big in my life in New Jersey. I got really involved in Hillel. I was on the board, and then I helped to start AEPhi — the Jewish sorority at Towson. I went on birthright with Hillel my sophomore year and made some really amazing friends. And that really helped me to feel very connected to the Jewish community in Baltimore.

Camp runs in the family?

Actually, it was my grandfather, he owned a sleepaway camp. And it was a huge part of my dad’s childhood, growing up with parents who owned a camp. My dad felt pretty strongly about me having both a day camp and overnight camp experience.

My mom didn’t grow up going to overnight camp, but was totally invested in it with my dad’s encouragement. I started going to day camp, as early as I can remember, at our local JCC. And then in third grade I started going to overnight camp. As soon as I was able to follow my brother — I couldn’t wait to go.

Why have you made camp your life’s work?

Looking back now, I think camp is really what shaped me to be the person that I am today. I’m deeply rooted in my Jewish values and tradition and culture because of camp. I went to Hebrew school and we belonged to a synagogue where I was part of youth group, but it really was at Jewish camp that I feel like I was really able to kind of break out of my shell and figure out who I was. A lot of that happened because of the friendships and the mentors and the counselors.

One of the most meaningful parts of camp for me was Shabbat. It was an opportunity to really disconnect from the week of activities and relax, refresh and be able to celebrate such a special moment with my peers.

Everyone wearing white and coming together felt like a sense of community. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to recreate that kind of moment. I think Shabbat at camp is a very sacred experience.

How has camp changed?

Certainly, the need for inclusion at camp. Special needs inclusion, inclusion of LGBTQ campers, interfaith family campers and Jews of color. More and more, we’re seeing families that are diverse, and there’s no one-size-fits-all. So, we have to embrace how Jews look in the 21st century and accept them and make sure that they’re welcoming for campers.

And then, of course, specialty camps. Jewish camps that specialize in a specific area that’s of interest to families who are hoping that their children will be able to spend their summer honing a particular skill.

What do you do for fun?

I love to spend time with my friends, family and fiancé. I like to bake, tie-dye and travel. My next adventure will be my honeymoon to Thailand and Hong Kong.

In addition to my role with camp, I manage some of our Israel & Overseas committees. I just got back from an amazing experience in Odessa, Ukraine — Baltimore’s sister city.

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