Camp Louise’s director and her husband have a love made in camp heaven
by Simone Ellin
Camp romances come and go, but in the case of Alicia and Neil Berlin of Owings
Mills, Md., the love that grew out of a camp friendship has shaped their lives for
more than a decade. In fact, Camps Louise and Airy have been time-tested traditions
in their families for several generations. The director of Camp Louise since 2007,
Alicia Berlin spent summers on the camp’s wooded trails throughout her childhood,
eventually becoming a CIT, counselor, unit director and assistant director. Meanwhile,
her future husband attended Camp Louise’s “brother camp,” Airy, as a camper, counselor
and unit leader. Most recently, Neil Berlin has moved over to Camp Louise, where he
serves as his “sister camp’s” scheduling and CIT coordinator.
“We met when we were both on staff in the late 1990s,” Alicia recalls. “We were
friends, and I was friends with Neil’s sister.” “At the end of 2002, Alicia’s bubbe died,
and I came to the shiva house,” says Neil. It was then that the two realized they were interested in more than friendship. They started dating and became engaged on
Thanksgiving weekend 2003. “The wedding was the following summer at Beth El [Congregation] and was performed jointly by Rabbi [Steven] Schwartz and Rabbi Elissa
Sachs-Kohen [of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation], who was a CIT at Camp Louise
with Alicia,” Neil explains.
“We both grew up in Conservative households. I spent every Shabbat at my bubbe’s
for my entire life,” says Alicia. “Our Jewish identities were very important to us, and I
think the Shabbat experience at camp enriched our connections to Judaism,” she
adds. The Berlins didn’t return to Camp Louise until 2006, when Alicia, a teacher in
Howard County, was offered the position of assistant director. ?at summer was Neil’s
first living at Camp Louise. “It wasn’t such a big adjustment,” he remembers. “I was
welcomed with open arms. It’s very much a huge family.” Neil quickly became a favorite
with the girls, running game-show night and acting as a father figure for the more
than 900 girls who attend the camp each summer.
It was shortly a?er their 5-year-old twins, Hannah and Marissa, were born that Alicia
received a call offering her the job as Camp Louise’s director. Although she admits her
friends from camp would not have been surprised to see her in that role, it was a big
decision. “We had long talks with the family.
We knew if I didn’t take the opportunity, it might not come up for a long time.”
Still, she and Neil knew it was a decision that would affect their children’s lives as well as the lives of their parents. “It was very much of a family affair,” she says.
Ultimately, Alicia decided to take the job, and the family supported her completely.
“Both my parents and Neil’s come to camp and help. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job. Without
the grandparents it wouldn’t be possible.
The Berlins welcomed baby Eliana to the family 15 months a?er the twins were born.
Each summer, the three girls have their own counselor who takes them to activities at
camp. “They’re very well-known there,” says Neil, “and they get a lot of attention.”
Yet, Neil and Alicia don’t want to push them toward independence before they are
ready. “?ey have to like it for a long time,” says Alicia, with a smile. “?e girls see it as ‘their camp.’ It’s a part of their lives that the older they get and the more they can do, the more they love it.”
Neil and Alicia are mindful that as they grow up, the girls will need room to develop
camp identities that are somewhat separate from their parents.
“Camp is a place to make mistakes, take risks. I want them to be themselves without
having to look over their shoulders. I have confidence they will be able to separate
from us,” says Alicia. “I love what camp does for kids,” she says.
“It makes them better people — more independent, confident. Camp Louise has been
around for 91 years, and I feel very privileged to be a part of this family and to have
a job that touches so many lives. I look forward to my kids having the same experiences
that we had. ?e friends they make there and the bonds that are created — you can’t get that anywhere else.”
Simone Ellin is senior features reporter for our sister publication Baltimore Jewish