The Importance of Jewish Summer Camp

excerpts from an editorial in Cleveland Jewish News:

Jewish camping: Don’t leave home without it

If it’s January, it must be time for summer camp … and camp stories come creeping out of the snow banks.

Many people agonize over camp choices and the factors that go into the decision. Most important among these might be where friends are going (you can never undervalue peer pressure among kids). Equally high on the list are the practical issues like cost, location, duration, size, programming and special needs. And fundamental questions as well: overnight or day camp, Jewish or not?

Fortunately, there are wonderful camps to suit just about any need and specialty you can think of, from horseback riding to science to sports. Wherever they go, kids will come back with fabulous stories, new friends to text or chat with on Facebook, and great memories.

When it comes to creating Jewish memories, though, researchers say camping ranks up there with education and Israel experiences as factors most likely to lead kids to choose Jewish lives as adults.

A host of studies in the past decade has looked at how a generation growing up in a highly assimilated environment could buck the challenges and connect to Jewish identity, faith and community. One result has been a great push to increase day school availability and strengthen supplemental Jewish education programs. Israel trips have become more affordable and accessible…

Jewish camping, too, has been the subject of attention (Google “Jewish Camp,” and you’ll get 12 million hits) and investment. The San Francisco-based Jim Joseph Foundation put its money where its research was, allocating $8.4 million last year to develop and launch an “incubator” to create camps that combine Jewish curriculum with a specialty concentration. The incubator camps opening this year include ones with outdoor adventures in the Blue Ridge Mountains, experiences in New York City with top creative professionals in culture and arts, and a sports academy in North Carolina.

… Of course, Jewish camp is not a panacea for the challenges of Jewish continuity. But it is an important part of a survival package that includes home and family life, youth group experiences, and education, both formal and informal. As a people, we need to work on all fronts simultaneously. To paraphrase Debbie Friedman’s inspiring and popular song that draws on the prophet Zechariah’s “Not by might” verse: “Not by camp, not by school, not by Israel alone … but by all these and more shall we all survive.”

image: a rainbow hovers over URJ Camp Eisner, Great Barrington, Massachusetts (from eJewish Philanthropy media library)