by Adam Schrag
Originally from the Midwest, Nivonim 1994 alumni Sarah and Andrew Shulkind now call Los Angeles home. It’s the place where they decided to marry; where they’ve raised their young children over the years and where they both innovatively lead the way in their respective fields of work. Through all the individual and shared successes they’ve enjoyed in Los Angeles, their experiences at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin continue to monumentally shape their lives.
Neither Sarah nor Andrew attended camp from the start. Originally from Wilmette, Illinois, Sarah came for the first time in Shoafim knowing no one. Despite spending much of her time feeling homesick throughout the summer, she signed up to return for Bogrim.
In Machon, she met Andrew, who was new to camp and lived in Kansas City at the time. The two clicked early on in the summer, as Sarah had already been friends with many of Andrew’s friends from home. They bonded over an interest in art, helping to make their aidah plaques in Machon and Nivonim. They dated as Nivonimers and returned as staff members two years later, remaining friends over the years despite living in different places and working with different aidot at camp.
Sarah, who worked with Bogrim for one summer before working at Ramah Berkshires the next summer, believes that her work on staff was the best preparation she could have received as a future educator. She highlights her sense of Jewish community and identity as largely being based on her camp experiences and notes that she wouldn’t have ever appreciated the “joyful celebration of Judaism” if it weren’t for her summers in Conover.
Andrew, who worked with Machon for one summer said it “…Wouldn’t have been important [for me] to lead a social Jewish life if I hadn’t had that at camp.” He still recalls the impact Machon, Nivo, Ramah Israel Seminar and staff had in helping him begin to make choices and prioritizations regarding his own Jewish life.
Following their first summer on staff, Sarah and Andrew both found themselves on the east coast, as Sarah attended the University of Pennsylvania while Andrew studied at New York University. The two Midwesterners had few east coast friends initially, leading to a fitting reconnection. Even once they had gotten their bearings in their respective cities, they visited each other often and grew closer as time went on.
Then, the summer before their junior year of college, they traveled through Europe together with friends before studying abroad on two different London-based programs during the fall semester of the school year. As Andrew recalls now, “We’ve been together ever since.”
Upon their respective college graduations, Andrew went straight to Los Angeles to work with a camera team he had worked with during the fall semester of his senior year while Sarah got her master’s in teaching and curriculum at Harvard. Andrew worked as a camera operator in the team’s camera department, working on movies’ “visual look.” He was involved in creating movies such as A.I., Ali, and Minority Report, while also working on many commercials. His work as a cinematographer has expanded into building camera arrays and shooting for virtual reality.
As Andrew says now, “We’d always been apart — I was in New York while she was in Philadelphia and then I was in L.A. and she was in Boston.” The year wasn’t easy for them but soon after, Sarah joined Andrew in Los Angeles and they were married in the summer of 2001. Andrew now recalls, “It was a little earlier than we would have, but we knew we were going to do it anyway.”
After moving, Sarah worked on obtaining her doctorate at UCLA in educational leadership. She then worked at Los Angeles-based Wildwood School until she was hired at middle school director at Milken Community Schools in L.A. Although she didn’t expect to get the job at age 26, she was delighted to be hired and spent seven years in the role. Regarding her time at Milken, Sarah said, “Once I was there I was embedded in Jewish education and as we became parents we realized that’s what we wanted for our own kids.”
Seeking a Jewish community in which they’d feel a strong passion for and interest in Judaism, the Shulkinds helped found Los Angeles-based IKAR, a synagogue that they’re incredibly proud of. Andrew says, “It’s something we had a hand in creating in a community way.” Today, the couple’s four children attend Sinai Akiba, where Sarah currently serves as head of school. She says her time at Milken further highlighted the importance she wanted Judaism to have in her children’s lives.
The desire to imbed Jewish education and living into their children’s lives began at camp, Andrew explains. “Positive group experiences at that formative time are super valuable for creating long term connectedness to Judaism,” he now says. The freedom camp is “…Where you start writing the code on what creates successful Jews of the future.”
Camp provided Sarah and Andrew a space in which they could experiment with and learn about their Judaism. Sarah continues to cite it as the major Jewish connection she had in her life at the time. They both still love the freedom of being at camp; being outside at camp with friends who they still keep in touch with through all life events sticks out to them as a valuable and unique experience.
The Shulkinds plan to send their kids to camp when they’re old enough but hope to start them out with family camp first so they can become comfortable with the surroundings and people. They experience the impact camp has had on them in their daily lives and hope its mission appeals to their children in the same way down the road. As Andrew says, “There’s something very familiar, heartwarming and vital about transmitting that intrinsic sense that has to be deliberately passed on.”