Today’s young adults need the Jewish camp experience more than ever

In Short

Camp awakened my Jewish pride and guided my career.

I know firsthand how the recent rise in antisemitism on college campuses has spread fear and concern among students and their families. At the Union for Reform Judaism, we hear from students across North America who look to us to help them find safe spaces where they can both celebrate their Jewish identity and find a supportive environment where they can truly belong. 

As these same students now look to lock down their summer plans, we know that many are seeking a job in an inclusive and welcoming environment where they can cultivate their skills for their future careers. A summer job at a Jewish camp can provide both. Working at camp during my college years helped prepare me for my career path and eventually helped me land my dream job as the executive director of the URJ’s 6 Points specialty camps. Everywhere I go to this day, it feels like I run into campers and staff who have known me in a variety of my roles at camp. 

Summer camp provides many opportunities to build valuable competencies. Whether as a guidance counselor, school principal or in my current position, I can trace many of the skills I regularly use back to what I learned from camp. Leadership, communication, teamwork — working at camp helped me build and nurture these skills. Working in camper care, facilitating cabin activities, organizing evening programs and staffing overnight outdoor adventures all elevated my sense of self and my resume. 

Camp also offers many opportunities for young adults to nurture their personal talents and professional interests. For example, they can work on media teams to build their expertise in digital marketing, photography, videography and blog posting; or they can assist at the health center and gain experience caring for sick and injured campers in preparation for a career in medicine.

More important than ever during this time of turmoil for the Jewish community, camp provides a safe space for campers and staff to express their thoughts freely, having meaningful conversations about Jewish culture, history and current events within a supportive community. This free exchange of ideas encourages critical thinking and furthers a greater understanding of diverse perspectives, both valuable skills to have on a college campus.

Above all, Jewish summer camps create close-knit communities that value inclusivity and camaraderie. When I worked at camp during my college years, one of the things I most appreciated was the sense of kehillah (community) that was emphasized throughout my time there. Camp gave me a space where I could nurture my Jewish pride, and it helped me develop confidence in my identity as a Jewish woman. I found such comfort and guidance working there that I knew I wanted to help other people find that same assurance and give them the same sense of community. 

College students who choose to work at these camps become part of a community that shares common values, traditions and pride in Jewish identity. The environment promotes a deep sense of belonging and connection, making it an ideal space for personal growth. The shared experiences, traditions, and memories created during the summer helped me create lifelong friendships and connections with like-minded individuals, which helped me expand my world view and opened the doors to many opportunities.

Today, working at a Jewish summer camp transcends a typical summer job. It is a deliberate choice to counteract the rise in antisemitism by supporting havens of warmth and acceptance surrounding Jewish identity. When I attended the March for Israel in Washington, D.C., I was reunited with many of my former campers and co-workers as we came together in solidarity and spoke out against hate. For me, camp created a space where I could grow, thrive, embrace my identity and create bonds that are now more important than ever. 

Rachel Berlin Handloff is the executive director 6 Points Specialty Camps, three elite URJ-affiliated sleepaway camps that focus on sports, science and technology, and the arts.