Limud by the Lake Revisited

In 2000, with funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies conducted a seminal study of Jewish overnight camps. Eight years later, the Foundation asked the Center to revisit the camps from the original study in order to document changes and uncover opportunities for future investment.

Here’s Prof. Amy L. Sales:

In some regard, the camps were as we had left them, but in other respects they were stunningly changed institutions. We noted, for example, a new emphasis on fundraising, extensive upgrades to facilities, more elaborated staffing structures, and evidence of stronger Judaic programming. Efforts were underway to expand the reach of camp through millions of dollars in incentive grants as well as a national effort to incubate new camps.

Limud by the Lake Revisited gives a sense of the dynamism of the field of Jewish summer camp and its significant accomplishments. At the same time, the report exposes needs, raises questions, and suggests possibilities for the future. We hope this research will help sustain the remarkable momentum in the field.

Among the findings:

  • In many regards, the campers in our study are Jewish “elites.” A majority are receiving Jewish education during the school year and have a connection to Israel. Their parents are members of a congregation and are themselves products of Jewish education.
  • Most parents say that the camp is more Jewishly observant than their home. The decision to send the child back the following summer is not influenced by the camp’s level of observance but by whether or not this level of observance is what they want for their child.
  • Two-thirds of the staff have a strong connection to Jewish traditions and customs and to Israel, far greater than the percentage among the broader population.
  • The Jewish young adults who work at camp place highest value on their friendships and their intellectual lives. Lowest ratings go to physical fitness and social activism.
  • For the Israelis, the strongest feelings evoked by camp are a sense of pride in being Israeli, serving their country, and being Jewish. Indeed, 86% said that their summer at camp “very much” made them feel proud to be Israeli.

The complete report, Limud by the Lake Revisited, is available for download.