This article was prepared for the September 2015 edition of the Temple Israel Doorpost by Rabbi David Ross Senter.
New Hampshire’s Seacoast has a very different culture than North Bergen New Jersey where I grew up. Each and every day I thank God for the culture and beauty of my adopted home. I feel blessed to live in the most beautiful region of New England among some of the most wonderful people I have been blessed to know. This being said there are lessons that can be learned from other communities and their practices.
Growing up in the New York metropolitan area (apologies to Governor Christi for this reference), a Jewish overnight camp experience was the rule rather than the exception. The average Jewish camp experience was 6-8 weeks. Our parents viewed Jewish camping as an investment in our Jewish future.
As a Rabbi I have the opportunity to meet people who come from vastly different backgrounds. I am always interested to learn about peoples spiritual journey. Often there is one person or experience that is pivotal in shaping the journey. Those of us who have had the privilege to attended Jewish camp almost unanimously point to the Jewish camping experience as an essential Jewish experience that has framed our Jewish identity.
One can argue that my conclusions are skewed by personal bias and based on anecdotal data. This accusation would be 100% correct. I am an alumni of Jewish camping as are all of my children. I look upon my Jewish camping experience as a formative Jewish experience. The data upon which I base my conclusions about Jewish camping was not collected scientifically. My data points are the personal stories of the people I encounter.
Some may not be convinced that first hand testimony is sufficient information to draw a definitive conclusion. Are the people I encounter typical representations of camp alumni? Perhaps only the most passionate are likely to encounter a rabbi. One can say that some other Jewish experience would serve as formative in the absence of Jewish camping. These points are addressed by the data currently available.
Data on the effects of Jewish camping is available all over the internet. Independent studies demonstrate that Jewish camp builds Jewish identity. These studies include the National Jewish Population Survey (2001), the UJA Federation Jewish Community Study (2011), and the Pew Research Center Portrait of Jewish Americans (2013).
In 2011 the Foundation for Jewish Camp commissioned a study conducted by Professor Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU. “Camp Works: The long-term impact of Jewish overnight camp” used data from 26 national studies of adult Jewish engagement to produce the first statistical look at the effect of Jewish camping on individual as well as communal Jewish identity.
The study concluded that alumni of Jewish camps are:
- Emotionally attached to Israel (55 % higher than general population)
- Engaged in synagogue life (45 % higher than general population)
- Engaged in home rituals , i.e., lighting Shabbat candles (37 % higher than general population)
- Donate to Jewish charities (30 % higher than general population)
Click Here to view complete data.
September seems a bit early to be thinking about summer camp. I am planting the seeds early specifically because Jewish camping is not yet a cultural norm in our Seacoast Jewish community. Please consider investing in your children’s (or grandchildren’s) Jewish future. Consider giving them the gift of a Jewish camping experience in 2016. Seacoast Jewish Federation is proud to partner with the Foundation for Jewish Camp in offering One Happy Camper grants of up to $1000 for first time campers. Click Here for more information.
We have added a Jewish camping resource list to our website to help you identify an option that may be appropriate for your family. Click Here to view the camp resource list.
Special thank you to Amy Born for sharing her Jewish camping experience which inspired this article.