I Believe in Jewish Summer Camp … But Show Me the Data

Jewish camp is a key part of the Jewish educational landscape in North America. And now, with the release of the first report from JData, we’re able to look at the overall size and health of the field. With the continuing emphasis on measuring impact across the philanthropic world, the data being collected will become invaluable not only to the camps but also to the funder community, who will be able to search – by geography, interest, and more – and compare the various areas they fund.

To accomplish this, JData is creating a longitudinal database, sector by sector, that will serve as a central repository of information on the North American Jewish educational landscape. For Jewish summer camps, they are compiling information on enrollment and capacity, staff (including turnover), budgets, retention rates and more. The information is entered into JData by the camps themselves, who have been encouraged by Foundation for Jewish Camp to make the information widely available.

The data is fascinating as it provides a rarely seen look into another sector of the Jewish educational world. For example, we’ve continually heard conversation about the high cost of Jewish education – a discussion that has always centered around day schools. But what of the estimated 66,000 who currently attend Jewish summer camp (about 10% of the total demographic pool)? What is the financial burden here? The data indicates camp tuition ranges from $250 to $2000 a week; the average of all camps reporting is $1230/week. About 42% of these camps charge tuition between $1000 and $1249 per week. How does this factor into the ever increasing cost of being Jewish in America?

And how does one assess the value of this investment to the broader community? Both HUC and JTS know that a significant percentage of their applicants have come through Jewish camps; the same is true for many of those participating in the various social entrepreneurship programs that have been launched during the past decade. A significant percentage of lay leaders across the Jewish landscape are products of Jewish overnight camp. Now, for the first time, we have a set of metrics available on a national scale to help measure value.

Looking to a second area, JData asks camps to identify their special program expertise. As an example, camps have always been known as “experimenters” in informal Jewish education, particularly with Shabbat experiences. For many non-Orthodox campers, the camp Shabbat experience is their first exposure to the customs and traditions of Shabbat and this often sets the benchmark for lifelong practice. Other areas where camps have experimented with new forms and developed expertise include Jewish values, teen programs, arts and culture, outdoor activities and service learning and social justice projects. The data suggests that, when it comes to these areas, camp can be a model for the rest of the educational system.

The JData Jewish summer camp data is impressive. With it, and the continued building of the repository, we will have a treasure of information on this critical field.

Dan Brown is the founder of eJewishPhilanthropy.com. He and his children are proud examples of the value Jewish summer camp provides to the broader community.

This article originally appeared in the inaugural issue of JData Revealed.