Thursday, May 26, 2022

The atmosphere is infectious at Camp Habima for the Performing Arts, a professionally taught theatrical camp, located in Passaic, NJ. Whether it’s the girl vocalizing down the hallway or the dancers prancing around a classroom as they rehearse, there’s just something...catchy.

This year’s production, No Bullies Allowed, an evening of music, drama and dance for women and girls, is scheduled for July 21 at The Ahavas Israel Ballroom in Passaic. The show tackles the often under-the-rug subject of bullying in the schools.

Speaking on the theme of this year’s show, Camp Habima’s program director, Penina (Paula) Jacobs, says, “Theater has not only the power to entertain, but to educate and serve as a catalyst for social change.”

Now in its second summer, Camp Habima is the only camp of its kind in the area. Its outstanding programs stem from the unique blend of professional training and expertise of the entire, devoted staff.

Penina Jacobs received her BA in acting/directing from California State University and an MA in educational theater from New York University. She played many roles in theater and television in the United States and Canada before becoming involved in the theater for young audiences. She also served as a peer educator for Project ABLE, an educational theater company for at-risk youth in Los Angeles. She is NJ State certified as a teacher of English, theater and elementary education.

Miriam Sandler, the camp’s co-director, began her career as a professional singer at the age of 18 when she embarked on her first international tours with Latin Pop Stars like Julio Iglesias and Jon Secada. Upon her graduation from the world-renowned Studio Music and Jazz Vocal Program at the University of Miami, she was chosen to sing background vocals for
mega-star Gloria Estefan, as well as record vocals for her and other recording legends like Michael McDonald, James Brown and Jennifer Lopez. After a glamorous and fast-paced career, Miriam did teshuva in her 20s and since then has performed exclusively for women, completing her first CD, The Solution, in 2008.

There is something effervescent about Miriam Sandler as she pulls her shoulders back, sits up tall in her chair and proceeds to speak about what it is like to teach a girl how to sing a song. “I want to instill in our girls the feeling that they are royalty, that they are the daughters of the King. The poise it takes, the posture that one needs to perform a song well, really cements that feeling of self–esteem that I don’t think you can find in quite the same way anywhere else. And wherever our girls go after Camp Habima is over, I know they’ll carry some of that with them. That sense of royalty, that feeling of self-esteem in whatever they do.”

“It’s not the ego we’re talking about here,” says the camp’s musical director and accompanist, Judy Kessler, a graduate of The Oberlin Conservatory of Music, who majored in classical piano and piano pedagogy. She currently performs with the Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra and recently did a solo concert for Holocaust survivors as part of Cafe Europa, a credit she seemed particularly proud of. Kessler’s sincerity is contagious when she explains, “No, it’s not about the ego at all. It’s more about everyone’s self worth growing in the process. People are improving, bringing out the best in themselves more and more in a supportive environment, where everyone is important.”

“I also wanted to show our girls,” Miriam Sandler adds, “that they can use their God-given talents within the guidelines and context of halacha.”

The classrooms of a local Chabad preschool have been transformed into open spaces for makeshift dance studios. Girls open up into expressive poses, and then line dance, twirl and hip hop to a song while their creative ponytails swing.

Naomi Etti Rosenblum, the camp’s choreographer, who is slated to complete her MS in dance/movement therapy from The Pratt Institute, leads the dancing, singing, giggling gaggle of girls in skirts around the room.

Camper Avigail Shmalo barks, “It’s awesome! Amazing! Fantastic!” She says this while at the same time balancing her Chobani yogurt on top of a Tupperware of cut fruit.

You can’t help but pull your shoulders back into proper performing posture as you leave Camp Habima. You might even find yourself skipping or humming a little tune. It is really very catchy, and if you make it to see No Bullies Allowed, for women and girls, on July 21 at 7:00 p.m., you might just leave feeling like royalty.

By Alissa Paige Joseph

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