Love of Jewish camping, synagogue life, Israel and Tikkun Olam inspire the Karotkins in creating their Jewish Legacy

by | Mar 23, 2018 | Other News

“If I were the Jewish Czar, I would legislate that all Jewish kids have to attend three years of Jewish overnight camp,” declares Betsy Karotkin, president of Congregation Beth El. She describes Jewish camp as something that cannot be duplicated. “The people at camp become part of your family, they are your people. You bond the way you bond with cousins. You learn in a relaxed atmosphere without other responsibilities, and Judaism permeates everything you do in a wonderful environment.”

Betsy and Ed Karotkin have known each other since elementary school, traveling on the same school bus and living about two city blocks apart in West Hartford, Connecticut. In her senior year of high school, Betsy invited Ed to the senior prom because they were friends and she wasn’t dating anyone else at the time. They have been together since.

Ed currently serves as chair of the Life and Legacy program. Betsy says he was the perfect person to lead Life and Legacy because he is the most optimistic person she knows, adding, “Who else buys a new pair of ski boots in their 70s?”

The couple’s commitment to Congregation Beth El is deep. Betsy says that the Life and Legacy program is important because it is essential to keep the synagogues strong. “I want to keep that institution strong for all of our children and grandchildren.”

For Betsy, Judaism is about the way you live, “We’re supposed to be like Abraham and have an open tent. If you’re fortunate enough, you want to share it with others.” Betsy laughs as she recalls that her children used to swear she just picked people off the street and brought them into their house for the Passover Seder. “People learn from seeing people they respect be inclusive and helping others that have not been so fortunate.” Ed agrees, adding, “The concept of Tikkun Olam really appealed to me. That you have an obligation to make the world better.”

Betsy remembers taking her son to the synagogue on Shabbat when he was young. “They lit the Shabbat candles, and he started singing Happy Birthday. I realized it was time to do something about his Jewish education.”

In addition to their synagogue education, Jewish camp played a central role in the upbringing of all her children. “All of our kids went to Jewish camp, and our son Jesse and daughter-in-law Randi were sweethearts of (URJ) Jacobs Camp and are married now with three beautiful children. Their oldest daughter, Micah, is now a camper at Jacobs, so we have two generations there.”

Israel has also played an important role in the Karotkin’s Jewish life. Ed distinctly remembers his first trip to Israel, which happened when his daughter, who was studying abroad, called around Thanksgiving and asked them to meet her in Israel. “We said, ‘Are you kidding?’ It was almost impossible, but we arranged to go visit her in Israel and it was a terrific experience. How many times does your daughter ask you to go to Israel? But you land, feel like you’re home, it’s emotional.”

Betsy believes that the Jewish way of life is a good way of life and she wants to pass that feeling on to her children as it was passed on from her parents and grandparents. “It’s not that it’s better, but it’s mine. I treasure it, if you follow it, it’s good.”

Ed is hopeful that Tidewater’s Jewish community will continue to be strong. “We have so many people that are really committed. If we had a Life and Legacy program 20 to 30 years ago, we would not have to worry about the financial stability of our agencies and synagogues right now.”

Barb Gelb