This session we had the chance to sit down and talk with Peri Smilow, the Director of Program and Engagement for the Association of Reform Zionist of America. During her week as Kutz faculty, she had the chance to engage with teens and immerse herself in our Kutz community.
Kutz: So, could you start by giving us your name and what you do?
Peri: I’m Peri Smilow and I’m the Director of Program and Engagement for ARZA, the Reform Movement’s Israel organization. I also am a 25-year singer-songwriter in the Contemporary Jewish music field.
K: And, could you tell us what you’re doing with the kids at Kutz this week?
Peri: I’m really having fun! I’m here to talk about Israel. I’m here to talk about why Israel matters. I’m here to listen to the teens talk about what Israel means to them and why. I’m really excited to be part of the very first Kutz Camp Israel Immersive, which is being designed jointly with ARZA. And I’m working with the Israeli shlichim, which I’m really enjoying. And I’m also doing some music leadership and some worship leadership.
K: What do you see as teens grow in this community?
P: So, one thing is clear to me, and that is that teens who have an opportunity to be at Kutz Camp have a chance to do a really deep dive as teenagers in Reform Judaism. So, so much of the growth has to do with where they are in their development. I know that because I’m also the mom of a participant and I’m getting that delicious opportunity to watch the growth that happens from teenagers talking to teenagers and sharing stories and realizing that there are all these different ways to be a Reform Jew in America. Here, they get to create their own path, and I think that’s one of the most unique things about Kutz.
K: When was the last time you were at Kutz?
P: I think I’ve been at Kutz every summer for the last several summers, but interestingly I was here for a few days at a time as a musician rather than working with ARZA. One of my favorite times here ever was working with the song leading kids and I was so inspired by what they were doing and what they were learning that I went back to my cabin on Faculty Row and I wrote a new piece of music and I came back the next day and that evening we sang it in worship. That was amazing.
K: Do you remember the first time you were at Kutz?
P: Yeah, I think the very first time I was at Kutz I just came in a drive-by. I had just returned six months earlier from EIE, living in Israel as a foreign exchange student on the Reform Movement program, and my family was lucky enough to have my EIE student come back to live with me. She was at Kutz getting orientation and I remember driving up the road and thinking “Oh my God, I get to see my Israeli sister again!” What I didn’t know at the time was that the song leader who was here that summer was a guy by the name of Budd Mishkin who almost 20, more than 20 years later became my husband.
K: What makes Kutz so special?
P: I think it’s pretty unique to be able to find a place that celebrates Judaism in a way that’s just designed for teenagers. We spend so much time in our Reform Jewish life trying to figure out what to do with teenagers, and while NFTY is amazing and while congregations do so much with teens, when you take Jewish teens from all over the world and you put them in nature and you give them an opportunity to live with one another in cabins, they get a chance to spend 24/7 being Jewish. This can’t help but produce a Jew who really cares about the world.
K: What’s your favorite color?
K: What’s your favorite aisle in the grocery store?
P: Ohhhhh… vegetables. Does that make me boring?
K: Oh no, don’t worry.
P: I like fresh vegetables and fruits!
K: What’s your favorite scent?
P: It’s either patchouli or vanilla.
K: And when you sit in the backseat of a car which side of the car do you sit on?
P: Right side.
K: Fair answer. That is technically the safer seat.
P: That is so cool. Nobody’s ever asked me that question. Who knew that I had a preference?