Religion & Beliefs

Notes on Camp: Making Happy Jewish Campers

Jewish summer camps are the most important and effective forms of Jewish education going on right now. If you don’t believe me, go ask anyone who went to a Ramah, a NFTY camp, Young Judea, Habonim, or any of the … Read More

By / April 20, 2007

Jewish summer camps are the most important and effective forms of Jewish education going on right now. If you don’t believe me, go ask anyone who went to a Ramah, a NFTY camp, Young Judea, Habonim, or any of the others. I’ve never been a camp person myself, but most of my good friends and the rest of my immediate family have spent considerable amounts of time at various summer camps. They go as campers and then come back as staff, some returning every summer for more than a decade. And while I don’t regret not going to camp, since I got to do some awesome things during my summers, I am consistently impressed by how great of an impact camp has on people. I know a lot of camp couples who are now married. My friends have written college entrance essays about their love for camp, and have had photographs they took at camp displayed in professional galleries. Whenever I talk about Jewish education I tell people that I think the best thing we can do for our kids (thought in my case they’re hypothetical kids) is send them to Jewish camps. Here’s a smattering of options from all across the spectrum: Ramah Camps are run by the Conservative movement. The flagship camp was opened in Northern Wisconsin in 1947, and there are now camps in California, Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. My friends are mostly Ramah people, and as a general rule they can’t say enough about how great their Ramah experiences have been. In Chicago the Ramah crowd was kind of a cult. But, you know, in a good way. Reform movement camps don’t all have the same name, but they share an excellent reputation, especially for Hebrew language programming. If you want your kids to learn Hebrew without going to a day school, there are programs at several Reform camps with very intensive Hebrew programming. They also have more niche programs, and shorter programs so you don’t have to commit to the whole summer. If your kids are into drama, sports, outdoor adventure, or fine arts, there are Reform camps catering to them. These camps are in California, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas, Georgia, New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, and Ontario. Young Judea is the oldest Zionist youth group in the US. While not affiliated with a certain movement, the camps focus on Zionism, and a more secular sense of Jewish identity. Young Judea boasts a high rate of alumni who make aliyah, and/or serve in the Israeli army. Also, I have it on good authority that Young Judea guys are killer in bed. Habonim Dror is a lot like Young Judea in that its focus is on Zionism, but Habonim (or HaBo, as it’s often called) has ties to the Labor party in Israel, and is teaches socialist ideals. HaBo spends lots of time encouraging aliyah, and also pushing for progressive changes in the North American Jewish community. The HaBo kids are the ones with the long shaggy hair, Birkenstocks and the ubiquitous guitar. One of the awesome things about HaBo is their stress on “actualization.” While imparting Zionist ideals is a huge part of their philosophy, their foremost goal is to inspire campers to act. It’s essentially a “talk is cheap” ideology. HaBo has camps in British Comulbia, California, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ontario and Pennsylvania. Bnei Akiva is the religious Zionist youth group that’s big all over the world. Their camps combine activities and education about Israel with an observant modern orthodox atmosphere. While Zionism is a huge part of what Bnei Akiva stands for, they also have a strong sense of commitment to the Jewish people and Jewish education. The push for aliyah in BA is a little less intense than in Young Judea or HaBo, although still plenty strong. There are currently four BA camps in North America, two in Pennsylvania, one in Wisconsin, and one in Ontario. These are just the most mainstream camps. There are plenty of other great Jewish summer camps and programs for kids from 2nd to 12th grade. They’re also a great place to get summer jobs if you’re a college student or young professional who has summers off. To find a camp that fits your needs check out The Foundation for Jewish Camping where you can fill out a form to get suggestions of camps that would be best for your kids. Jewish camps are pricey, but not as expensive as day schools, and I think they’re ultimately more effective than some of the K-8 Jewish schools. There are scholarships available, too. So if you’ve got kids, get clicking!