An Antidote for the Stressed-Out: Jewish Overnight Camping for Families
A Series of Articles for Exploration
By Rabbi Miriam Burg
Family life in modern America is often overwhelming. We live in a fast-paced world where e-mails and phone calls are unrelenting, the demands on our time too many, and the expectations at work, at school and at home nearly impossible to meet. The lines between work and home have blurred or disappeared completely. Kids go to school all day and then spend their evenings doing homework or rushing from activity to activity or both. Even family vacations can be stressful – where to go, what to do, meal planning, sleeping in cramped hotel rooms, constantly navigating and negotiating the different needs of each person. So what do we do? How do we catch our breath? Reconnect? Recharge? Recalibrate? And how can we in the Jewish community both serve the needs of our families and be the family they need?
I believe that Jewish overnight family camping is an answer to these questions and an antidote to these challenges. If we went to camp together for a whole week every summer – grandparents and parents and grandchildren and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends – we could stop. Play. Have fun. Put our devices away. Talk face-to-face. Build friendships. Strengthen our families. Enjoy food and activities already prepared for us. Do no dishes. Make few decisions. Take a deep breath, together. Family camp meets a real need of families. Were we to be able to do so in a Jewish space, where all of this could be seamlessly integrated with opportunities for Jewish learning, what a gift it would be for our families and our communities.
There are many such camps in the university world for their alumni families – University of Michigan, Stanford and UCLA to name a few. There are many such camps in the Christian world, and some in the secular world as well. All of them are places where families go for a full week every summer year after year after year. All of them are places specifically designed and staffed for whole families. But there is no such camp in the Jewish world – yet.
It is true that many of our Jewish overnight camps run family retreats before and after the summer season. However, this idea of a dedicated Jewish overnight camp for families is wholly different and impossible to create by adapting kids’ camps to serve the needs of families for a few retreats during the year. This kind of week-long immersive experience for multiple generations of families is inimitable. It is a new and compelling way to engage families that no other Jewish institutions have been able to do effectively thus far, as well as to deepen and expand the Jewish practice and commitments of families who are already active in their home communities.
Were families to be able to choose to step away from the pressures and responsibilities of daily life and into a joyful, immersive Jewish community together for a week every year, the potential for inspired Jewish living – at camp and back at home – is unparalleled.
Rabbi Miriam Cotzin Burg has served the Jewish community as an educator for over 15 years. She is currently pursuing her childhood dream of creating a Jewish overnight camp for families.