Jewish Summer Camps: “Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies”

The subtitle of this post is taken from the book Camp Camp. The book is a follow-up to the popular Bar Mitzvah Disco which chronicles outrageous Jewish rite of passage parties held between the 1960s and 1980s. yom sport (I have mentioned BMD to some of you and promise to bring it to campus soon.)  Both books depict a Jewish world very familiar to people who have  learned the facts of life – real and romantic – on the dance floors of our own bar/bat mitzvah circuits and during long summers spent away from home.

I spent 4 1/2 summers as a camper and 3 1/2 summers on staff at a Jewish overnight, summer camp.  For many Conservative Jews from the New York tri-state area, Camp Ramah was the Jewish summer camp.  While the vast majority of my hometown was Jewish, at camp everyone was really Jewish, at camp I was immersed in Jewish life from morning davening (prayers) until we said the sh’ema in bed at night (more on this tradition another time).  We had teachers from Israel and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.  We used Hebrew words and phrases to refer to everything from the hadar ochel (dining hall) where we ate kosher meals, to the bet am (meeting halls) where we performed plays for one another entirely in Hebrew – one of my favorites, “Chaim & Yossi’s Excellent Adventure,” an adaptation from Bill & Ted.

Scan 1Recently, I read about the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey which noted three activities that most are most successful in instilling individuals with a sense of Jewish identity.  On the list –  attending Jewish Day School, traveling to Israel, and spending time at a Jewish summer camp .  It occurs to me that this experience was for me what the Birthright trips to Israel have become for many young Jews.  College students who never attended camp are not too late.  In many ways, experiencing camp as a staffer can be better than it is as a camper.  For one think, it makes cabin raids a whole lot easier.

Learn more about working at Jewish Summer Camps @ The Foundation for Jewish Summer Camps website, where you can search for a camp by name or region.  Who knows where you might go this summer!

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One Response to “Jewish Summer Camps: “Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies””

  1. Ariel Hirsh Says:

    I cannot stress enough how important Jewish summer camp is! I attended a URJ summer camp outside of Indianapolis for…*counts*…5 summers, and my younger sister went for 8. Both me and my sister made some of our best friends for life there. There is really something special about being with a group of people your age for every waking moment for a whole entire month, but when you have that spiritual connection with people in addition to that it is even better.

    I grew up in a small town where my family was the only jewish family, outside of a slightly bigger town which had a temple. The entire religious school usually had between 5-15 kids spanning all the grades. While being different from absolutely everybody else made me more confident in being jewish, I was never a social creature in the way that my younger sister is. So while I waited until I was older to go to camp, my parents sent my sister as soon as she was old enough because we knew it would help her to have some friends that were jewish. I remember that year, when we came back she was so different; she was confident in herself as a Jew in a way she never was before. There was another family of kids who were both completely changed by camp, and those guys were the last I’d have ever expected to become orthodox! It was really more than the simple religious practices at camp–you learned to feel a connection to the Jewish People.

    However, I have to say that Birthright is probably different simply because of the differences in the programs. Birthright is much shorter than Jewish summer camp. And the experience of college students is going to be very different from the experience of young teenagers and kids. I’m not saying that these differences are a bad thing, I’m just saying that both experiences are very unique and that I think that people should do both if they can!

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