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July 1, 2010 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Feature
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From camp to the chupah: Elon Shore and Jamie Beran celebrate their simcha on the grounds of Camp Galil in Upper Bucks County. Photos by Peter Serling

If you've shipped your child off to Jewish overnight camp for the summer, you're likely envisioning all the standard camp fare -- sports, swimming, some Shabbat worship, maybe even an unfortunate bout of sunburn or poison ivy. What you might not realize is that your child could unwittingly be meeting his or her future spouse.

That's exactly what happened to Jamie Beran, 28, and Elon Shore, 27, who met nearly two decades ago as youngsters at Camp Galil, a kibbutz-style Habonim Dror youth-movement camp in Upper Bucks County.

A few weeks ago, they were married on the camp's grounds, surrounded by old camp friends and replete with a wedding cake depicting the camp layout.

"I don't remember meeting him" as a camper, said Beran, who was raised in Cherry Hill, N.J., and now lives with her new husband in Brooklyn, N.Y. "But I remember him very well, because at camp he was a pretty well-known personality. He was funny and loud and a really well-known character."

Jewish camp has come to be seen as a key component of continuity, instilling a strong sense of Jewish identity and creating meaningful relationships with other members of the tribe.

Though there does not appear to be any hard data on how many marriages evolve from adolescent friendships developed at camp, the phenomenon is hardly unique.

Beran and Shore came up together through the camp system, first as campers, then counselors-in-training and later staff members. But they didn't connect romantically until much later. When they began dating in 2004, many in the Galil community thought it was "a little bit shocking at first," said Beran.

Two years into the relationship, the duo took on the task of running the camp, she as director, or rosh, and he as head of education. A daunting task for anyone, Beran recalled, but all the more so for two people dating. At the time, she said, a friend and former counselor said to them of their upcoming summer experience, "You're either going to break up or get married."

That same counselor, Ezra Weinberg, now a rabbi, officiated at the pair's June 6 wedding ceremony.

The phenomenon is not a new one, according to sociologist Rela Mintz Geffen. Although no data can tell us how frequently this sort of thing happens, she said, "this has been going on for 50 years -- this is not something that just started."

She observed that in some ways, you could view camp as "an incubator for romance," with many campers returning year after year, going through a series of intense summer experiences together as they come of age. They also see one another at both their best and their worst amid work, play and withering humidity.

For those who come together for the summer, particularly those at movement-based camps, they share a certain value system and religious upbringing.

Leonard Saxe, a Brandeis University professor who has written a book on Jewish summer camping, observed that one of the main features of such getaways is to learn "that being part of a Jewish community can actually be fun."

He added that after years of shared experiences and building deep connections, it's not surprising that such positive relationships will be sustained over time "and, when it's appropriate, may blossom into a marriage."

Shore, who grew up in Ardmore and graduated from Akiba Hebrew Academy, said that the many summers he shared with Beran had given them a shared set of experiences and values -- all Jewishly based -- on which to build their relationship.

These days, Beran and Shore both work in the Jewish professional world, she for Jewish Funds for Justice and he as a teacher at a Jewish day school in New York.

Beran said that when it was time to plan the wedding, "we just realized that we had such an extraordinary opportunity, because we could actually get married in the place where we first met, where we had our first kiss, where we fell in love; but also because it was such a formative place for us as individuals, on top of being that place for us as a couple."

Prior to the ceremony, the couple hosted a weekend at Galil for family and friends that included many camp mainstays -- Shabbat dinner and a Havdalah service followed by a bonfire.

"It really gave our friends who had also grown up there -- but also those that hadn't -- the opportunity to be exposed to that kind of community and that space," she said.

The newlyweds are planning to get away for a honeymoon in Portugal next month. Though Beran said that it took a while to settle on a destination for this special time together, one spot for future forays will be easier to decide -- they plan to send their children back to Galil when they come of age.

After all, you never know who they might meet at camp.

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