Joel Swedlove in a JCC Maccabi Sports Camp jersey
Joel Swedlove in a JCC Maccabi Sports Camp jersey

Two camps, two assistant directors, one case of brotherly love

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Whenever the assistant directors of URJ Camp Newman and the JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, both Bay Area Jewish summer camps, bump into each other at a professional gathering, one of them might razz the other or even pull a good-natured prank, but always with a hug and a smile.

That’s because they’re brothers.

Andy “A.C.” Swedlove, 31, serves as assistant camp director of Camp Newman in Santa Rosa. His brother Joel Swedlove, 35, serves at the Maccabi camp in Atherton.

Crazy coincidence? Not really. Jewish camping is in their blood. Their parents (Sheldon Swedlove and Adrienne Muscat) met decades ago at now-defunct Camp Swig in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the brothers started attending Jewish summer camps from the time they were knee-high to an archery target.

“I am who I am because of camp,” says Joel. “It was where I learned Judaism. Camp is the safe place to try out your Judaism.” Adds A.C.: “Camp was that place for us where we got to be Jewish in a fun way.”

A.C. Swedlove hugging a tree at Camp Newman.
A.C. Swedlove hugging a tree at Camp Newman.

They share the same job title, and in many respects tackle similar tasks: recruiting campers and hiring staff, attending outreach events at synagogues and JCCs, designing programming and, during summer, working (and playing) with the kids.

Yet, in other ways, their lives differ wildly.

Joel lives in Phoenix with his family, spending summers at Maccabi, held on the grounds of Menlo College. A.C. lives year-round by himself in a cabin at Camp Newman in the tree-covered hills of Santa Rosa; for much of the time, he’s the only living soul on the 550-acre campus, not counting raccoons.

“When it came about that I was interested in the job, for me living on-site as a young single guy in the Bay Area, it was a no-brainer,” A.C. says, “and for Camp Newman it made sense. They have someone they can trust to deal with an emergency.”

A.C.’s daily responsibilities include everything from conducting open houses and virtual tours for interested families, to interacting with construction crews working on repairs from the devastating 2017 Tubbs Fire that nearly wiped out the camp. Says A.C.: “It’s not just chillin’ in a tent.”

His brother, who worked for JCC Maccabi Sports Camp during its first two years of operation, is happy to be back after a five-year absence. The camp is affiliated with Palo Alto’s Oshman Family JCC and offers a range of sports programs for kids of all ages. Basketball, baseball, volleyball and even hip-hop dancing are on the menu. Joel expects as many as 200 campers this summer, nearly back to pre-Covid numbers.

His job includes hiring assistant coaches and support staff, a task that will take him not only across the country, but also to Israel and the U.K. When camp is in session, he also  is responsible for camper care, which could mean anything from responding to a sprained ankle to homesickness. An ardent basketball lover, he turns up on the court from time to time to shoot hoops with the kids.

The Swedlove brothers have been well prepared for their careers. They spent their early years attending Swig and Newman. Later, the family moved to Riverside in Southern California (“Not a super Jewish area,” notes A.C.). For both, camp became central to their Jewish experience, as did later involvement with NFTY, the Reform movement’s youth organization. “NFTY really took our Jewish identities to the next level,” A.C. says.

A committed student-athlete, A.C. went on to become a youth group adviser and program director for congregations and JCCs in California, Colorado and New York. He also received a B.S. in sports and recreation management from Concordia University in Chicago. After high school, Joel, too, served as a youth group director for congregations in Southern California, Texas and Nevada. He earned an M.S. in organizational leadership and Innovation from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

Since they are technically “competing” for campers every summer, a rivalry between the siblings would be understandable. But if there is one, it’s grounded in love.

“I would say we weren’t super close growing up,” A.C. recalls. “We both had our own worlds, our own group of friends. With NFTY, we started to build a relationship. Both being sports brothers, there’s a rivalry, but a fun one. We go to the same camp fairs and promos, and if I know he’s there I will 100 percent make sure I have the table across from him.”

After many years living in different states, both relish being back in the Bay Area together, if only for summers.

“I don’t think either of us planned [to be in the Bay Area],” A.C. says. “I know my mom loves it. Our dad never got a chance to see us be camp directors, but we know he would be stoked.”

Joel, whose oldest son is set to attend Jewish sleepover camp for the first time this summer, is happy that the family camping tradition carries on. He’s especially pleased his younger brother has the run of Camp Newman 24/7.

“The camp now is a beautiful metaphor for birth,” he says of the revitalized Santa Rosa site. “My boys are excited, because when they visit their uncle, they have a 500-acre playground. A.C. is  literally living his dream.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.