Jewish summer camps offer an unprecedented way to interact with faith and culture through fun, natural activities that impart the teachings of Israel upon children and young adults. With the beginning of a new year, camps are opening applications up to campers, meaning now is the perfect time for parents to evaluate their options and select the camp that’s best for their children.
Rachel Felber, the director of the Mandel Jewish Community Center’s Camp Wise in Claridon Township, and Amit Weitzer, executive director of Habonim Dror Camp Tavor in Three Rivers, Mich., both said Jewish-oriented summer camps provide experiential learning environments that aren’t always possible at a synagogue.
“Data and research will show that having immersive experience in Jewish culture like the overnight summer camp is formative to identity development and a long-term commitment to Jewish life,” explained Felber, who added Camp Wise has existed for more than 110 summers. This year, she hopes to continue the tradition as camp runs in two sessions from June 13 to Aug. 4, as long as the pandemic permits.
The second through 12th graders that attend Camp Wise have access to traditional amenities like forests, pools and lakes to play in at the overnight camp, Felber said.
It’s up to counselors, then, to organically weave traditional Jewish teachings and concepts in with camp activities to teach participants about concepts like tzelem elohim, Hebrew for the image of God, and amiut yehudit, the concept of Jewish unity.
“This summer we will specifically be focusing our attention on tikkun olam and diving into what that means in how we interact with each other and nature and our community,” said Felber, referring to the Jewish concept defining how humans should behave to repair the world. “So it may be in conversations that they’re having and it may be in the songs that they’re learning on guitar and the art projects that they’re creating in the art shack. Sometimes learning is very obvious and sometimes it’s more passive and more experiential.”
Weitzer said tikkun olam also serves as one of the core tenets of Camp Tavor, with the notion nature is inexorably linked to human behavior blending perfectly with a summer camp environment for its campers, that range from second to 12th grade. This year, she added, various camps will run from June 27 to Aug. 2 depending on the camper’s age and duration of the session.
“Our campers work together and care for the camp,” Weitzer said. “Tavor campers learn about personal responsibility and how their actions, no matter how small, can have an impact. We have seen our campers take those lessons and put them into action, volunteering this past election as poll workers and watchers, speakers at rallies for climate change and so much more.”
One of the benefits of Jewish summer camps is guided freedom, meaning students have options when it comes to how they spend their time exploring Judaism. During Tavor Shabbat at Camp Tavor, for example, Weitzer said campers can choose to welcome the holiday by praying, meditating, learning new songs or taking a contemplative stroll through their wooded campgrounds.
“Camp programming also includes swimming, waterfront activities, sports, camping skill development and camping trips, arts, music, low ropes, gardening and farming, woodworking skills development and so much more,” she added.
Camp Wise attempts to go the extra mile in teaching campers about the Jewish homeland through a yearly trip to Israel available to their high school juniors and seniors. Felber said she hopes to offer the trip again this year, but plans continue to evolve at Camp Wise as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise and fall, both in terms of the trip and the regular overnight camp.
“What I can share confidently is we are working with a team of medical professionals as well as following guidance from the American Camp Association, the CDC and the Responsible Restart Ohio guide for camps,” Felber said
Felber said prices and dates for Camp Wise’s offerings from tentative overnight sessions to the Israel trip proposed for July 12 through Aug. 4, are available at bit.ly/2Y6XV9V and will be updated.
The ongoing pandemic has required Camp Tavor to adjust its summer calendar as well, staggering camps by length and age level while offering COVID-19 testing and screening for all campers and staff members, Weitzer said. A full list of available camp dates can be found at bit.ly/2KFNqHy.
“Kids need camp now more than ever,” she said.
Collin Cunnigham is a freelance writer in Cleveland.