Countdown to Camp
Sarah Rabin Spira, director, PJ Library®
Sending our children to Jewish camps has always been a priority for my family. The joyful experiences they have gotten at the local Jewish day camps have carried through the entire year. Our son, who is both shy and loves to dance, blossoms with all the opportunities to learn new songs and perform for an audience. He brings home connections to Israeli pop culture that we could never have provided. The variety of meaningful Jewish moments my son experiences affirms our decision to send him to Jewish camp every summer. My husband and I strongly believe in the positive influence Jewish summer camp has for many children--one that, through shared Jewish experiences, builds community and shapes identities. The JCC Association did a study that shows the effect Jewish day camps have on building Jewish identity and creating Jewish friendships.
As my son and daughter reach the age of sleepaway camp, I look forward to giving them a uniquely meaningful experience. My seven-year-old son has one requirement for an overnight camp: his little sister must be able to attend the same camp at the same time.
Personally, I didn’t grow up going to overnight camp, but my husband did. Having attended his childhood camp reunions, hearing the stories and seeing the lifelong relationships he developed—some of which have grown into mutual friendships for me—I can see the significant role it can play in one’s life. Though overnight camp was not a part of my childhood, I look forward to giving my children this important life experience.
I appreciate the simplicity of my son’s requirement to want to share his camp experience with his sister, but there are a few other criteria that are important to our family when selecting any summer camp:
- It should be a Jewish camp that celebrates Jewish customs and practices;
- it should be an inclusive institution where children from interfaith families (like ours) are welcomed;
- it must uphold a strong commitment to nurturing the whole child; and
- it should be a place that is so much fun, my children will count down the days until they can return to camp.
You may wonder, “Why is a Jewish camp a priority for someone who wasn’t raised with that expectation?” Studies show that Jewish overnight camp has a profound impact on Jewish identity building. It’s an immersive experience designed to help kids learn in a variety of ways—whether they are visual, kinesthetic, aural or any other kind of learning orientation that usually isn’t appreciated in an academic setting. Kids also develop a higher sense of self-esteem and independence by being away from their parents and learning how to cope, make decisions and build a sense of responsibility. According to the American Camp Association, campers grow from their camp experience in four main domains: positive identity; social skills; physical and cognitive skills; positive values and spirituality. (See Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience, p. 4)
If summer camp is such a prime opportunity for the development of a child’s physical, mental and social skills, doesn’t it make sense to have this take place in a Jewish setting? If we plant the seeds for our children’s Jewish identity year-round, camp is the bright ray of sunshine that helps our children blossom into strong Jewish leaders.
Fortunately, there are many options for day and overnight Jewish summer camps in our area—you can check them out on Federation’s Jconnect or peruse the list below. Registration for 2018 summer camp is now open!
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington supports the incredible impact of summer camp on Jewish identity. Through a partnership with One Happy Camper, it has established grants to make overnight camp more affordable for first-time campers from Greater Washington. For information about summer 2019, visit OneHappyCamper.org. (Grant applications for summer 2019 open in fall 2018.)
There’s a magic that happens at summer camp--both day camp and sleepaway camp--that inspires Jewish learning in a different, more interactive way than other educational settings that are offered the rest of the year. I'm excited to be able to provide this important milestone for my kids. Until next summer, we will keep reading our PJ Library books about camp to get them excited and ready!