A circus camp option makes the Kaiserman JCC summer camp pop under the big top.
Wynnewood—Every summer, kids go to camp where they do everything from swimming to scrapbooking to making lifelong memories. For many, the camp experience culminates in color wars. But for those who attend the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood, there is Camp Kef — the circus camp.
There are no lions or tigers, but the young participants do get to run through fire and perform tricks. This year, it takes place Aug.10 to 14.
“We’re kind of becoming known as the camp that has the circus,” said camp director Marci Rubin.
Rubin, who was the camp director from 1990 to 2001 before taking an 11-year “sabbatical” until returning three years ago, knew something had to change at the Kaiserman. In 2001, there were 500 kids in camp; by 2012, that number had dropped by 60 percent, to 200.
“When I came back, this camp was dying,” she said. “They weren’t meeting what was going on in the community. The programs needed a lot of work and I knew it needed a ‘wow’ factor.”
The majority of the camp was preschool-age children. Rubin knew she had to think of a way to attract older kids.
After seeing the circus option at other camps, Rubin realized it was perfect for the Kaiserman. She reached out to Bruce Pfeffer, who runs the Circus of the Kids, which is based in Florida and he agreed to come to the JCC. While the circus camp is done in concert with the Kaiserman, there is an additional charge of $500 for participating, on top of the normal camp fees.
Rubin said everyone was nervous the first year because they did not know what to expect. The kids audition and get a part without any idea of what they will be doing in the show. Some of the acts include walking on balls, tumbling and running through fire. The campers practice for a full week, including after camp, and perform one show for the community and two for the parents.
“The looks on their faces in the audience when the kids are in costumes — I just don’t know how to explain it,” Rubin said. “I can’t even put it into words how phenomenal it is.”
Two of those kids are Evan Berger, 8, and Mia Shiff, 9. Keri Berger, Evan’s mom, and Hila Shiff, Mia’s mom, were both surprised their children have done so well at the circus because they are normally shy.
“There is no better way to end camp than that,” Kerri said. “It gives me chills. We left for vacation the next day and Evan was on top of the world.”
Berger participated in circus camp for the first time last year. After a long week of training, it was well worth it, he said.
“When I saw all the cool things they did, I just wanted to do the same things,” he said. “I thought I couldn’t do any of it until they showed me how.”
Shiff has done the circus for the past two years and it’s the highlight of her summer. She enjoys walking on the balls and doing tricks, but running through the fire is the real rush, she said.
“It gives me a chance to get wild without being told what to do.”
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