Passion, Perseverance and Grit: The Untold Story of Jewish Day Camps During the COVID Summer of 2020

JCC Abrams (East Windsor, NJ) camp staff; courtesy.

By Aaron Greenberg

As Angela Duckworth notes in her book Grit, “Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.” The passion and perseverance demonstrated by the day camp professionals at JCC day camps since March 15 has been remarkable. This summer, nearly one hundred JCC day camps are open in-person, and of those camps that could not open live, many created outstanding online camps and some formed partnerships with collegial competitors to create meaningful, engaging Jewish online day camps of the highest quality. 

The moment COVID19 struck, JCC day camp professionals sprang into action, as camp directors often do. Recognizing their campers and families were to be hunkering down at home for weeks if not months, they quickly created online activities to engage their people and to reimagine what a camp community could look like in a pandemic. Campers sang, baked, read stories, exercised, and most importantly, connected with one other. Day Camp rose to meet the crisis, with passion and with smiles.

Concurrently, camp professionals set out to learn everything possible about the virus to safely provide a much-needed camp experience. They engaged with each other. They met repeatedly with medical professionals including pediatricians and the Association of Camp Nurses, to learn what they needed to do to keep campers safe. They waited anxiously for the CDC and American Camp Association to send out much-needed guidelines. They purchased sanitizing supplies in bulk, thermometers, masks and other protective equipment. They reimagined camp with smaller groups and adapted activities. For camps whose jurisdictions made it impossible to open live, they created online “virtual” camp. These professionals worked harder than they ever did before redefining passion and perseverance. And they never lost hope.

On May 26, 2020, the first two JCC day camps opened, with more day camps joining them each successive Monday. Directors reported their best first days and weeks of camp ever. Campers emerged from lockdown eager to see their friends, meet new ones, and engage as a community in a Jewish day camp environment. Some feared campers would be challenged socially, having been in quarantine for so long but in fact, they flourished like never before. Despite doing all they could, some JCC day camps were unable to open due to the virus while others may be forced to close. Regardless, there is no group of people better equipped to handle the kind of perseverance needed to overcome what was faced.

Duckworth also wrote that “Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. I have a feeling tomorrow will be better is different from I resolve to make tomorrow better. The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.”

JCC day camp professionals and their staffs are living examples of Duckworth’s grit and they are nothing short of heroic. They remained optimistic despite numerous setbacks. They never gave up and now many are in full operation, demonstrating the meaning of resilience. They are actively engaging their campers in a safe setting, teaching resilience, and building community. They are the Jewish community’s superheroes and should be lauded for their efforts. What a journey it has been!

Aaron Greenberg is a 25+ year Jewish Day Camp professional.