One summer camp option parents should explore is a religious one.
There, children can continue their education and exposure to Jewish values, according to Rabbi Simcha Dessler, educational director of Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights, which offers Camp STEP, and Jill Weiszner, owner and director of Camp Chabad of Cleveland in Beachwood.
“Religious summer camps strengthen Jewish identity and foster Jewish continuity,” Dessler said. “The experience encourages a unique sense of engagement in Jewish life, often not attainable at home. Sometimes, the camp experience begins with the camper but ultimately shapes the dynamics of the entire family.”
Weiszner said a Jewish summer camp is good for families that want rituals to continue into summer activities, which helps solidify their importance in daily life.
“If you live the lifestyle where you want your children to daven in the morning and keep kosher while at camp, you want to stick to a summer camp that observes those rituals and more,” she explained. “You want them to be in an environment that teaches them Torah, so they don’t have to readjust at the end of the summer for school.”
At Camp Chabad, Weiszner said campers are “geared for excitement and fun with a Jewish theme.”
“There is prayer in the morning and that is the beginning activity of the day,” she said. “One of the most important reasons why our Chabad customs feel it is so important to have Jewish summer camp is because the classroom restrictions are put to the side and we can just concentrate on Torah activities with the kids. We don’t have to do math and science too. We’re not only having fun, but we’re inspiring children in the Jewish context.”
Hebrew Academy’s Camp STEP offers “spiritual fostering activities” like learning and study groups, virtual tours of temples, erev Shabbos and Tisha b’Av programming, arts and crafts and parsha stories. Paired with the experience children have during the year at Hebrew school, Dessler said it’s an “investment.”
“The Jewish camping experience and the Jewish day school experience, each in their own way, empower children and teens with a stronger Jewish journey as they navigate their individual journeys in life,” he explained. “For a Jewish child, that is an absolute investment in life.”
Within the different environment, Jewish camps can teach religious ideas in unique ways.
“Teachers today do a great job teaching, but you have to make it exciting. The Torah way of life is to be beautiful and happy, and we want to make it exciting,” Weiszner said. “So, continuing through those weeks in the summer is important. You’re creating lifelong memories throughout the summer within that camper. It can make a lifelong impression.”
Dessler said, “The relaxed nature of a camp setting, away from the day to day pressures of life, is an added opportunity for connectivity. It lends itself to a successful experience which nurtures all types of growth, including spiritual growth.”
But a Jewish camp experience doesn’t just impact a child now. Both educators said these experiences add up to support future learning experiences.
“Religious and cultural identity and a stronger sense of community/belonging profoundly impact future opportunities for growth,” Dessler said. “Sometimes the camping experience is a window of opportunity which has great potential to plant the seeds of a fulfilling Jewish future.”
Weiszner said, “It’s a well-known fact that summer camp experiences will impact future lifestyles and make a positive effect on future experiences. The younger you have children learning about religion and culture, the better. At the same time, they’re having fun. It’s all connected into one summer where we plant the seeds and light the spark in children.”