Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Importance of Jewish Camping

This Sunday we'll be hosting a regional summer activities fair. Our educator, Al Treidel, assisted by able volunteers, has worked tirelessly to make this very important event happen. While all kinds of activities for all ages will be covered, a special focus needs to be placed on Jewish camping.

There are many excellent Jewish camps. My two kids went to different ones, Ethan to Tevya and Dan to Ramah, and for each, camp has been a source of priceless experiences and growth. While there are many worthy camps that will be on display this Sunday, as a Conservative congregation (whose rabbi was a former camper and staff member), Ramah deserves a special place at our table. I can't guarantee that you'll meet the love of your life there, as I did, but I can guarantee that anyone who goes there will emerge feeling great about who he or she is - and about being Jewish.

As Rabbi Mitchell Cohen wrote this week in a letter, "Camp Ramah, Now More than Ever,"

We live in challenging times. The most important decisions we make may be about the experiences we choose for our children - who will be their friends, who will influence the decisions they make, who will be their role models, and what values will they embrace. Summer camp is expensive, and choosing the right one can be daunting.

Take a look at Cohen's letter to see why so many are passionate about Ramah.

Then, take a look at the latest data on why camping is so crucial to building self esteem and Jewish identity. Look at this page from the website of the Foundation for Jewish Camping:

“There’s a realization that Jewish camping offers a wonderful portal for children to experience a 24/7 Jewish environment where they can live Judaism as fun,” says Jerry Silverman, FJC’s president. “This special and intimate setting allows children to create, and funders are seeing that camp is a tremendous investment opportunity.”

And, elsewhere on that site it states:

Jewish camping in North America has been around for over 100 years. Initially, it was a time to get the kids out of the city to be in the country with their peers in a healthy environment. Today, in addition to the benefits of a summer spent outdoors, Jewish camp has become a place to develop and create a Jewish community, to find Jewish roots, to connect to the land and people of Israel and to live a 24/7 Jewish life. This is where Jewish passion, creativity, and spirituality can grow and leadership skills can be developed. This is where our community's next generation of leaders is nurtured.

It is said that there are three "immersion" type experiences that can have enormous impact on formative Jewish identity in children and teens: day school, camping and Israel trips. We aim for immersion with Hebrew school as well through our Shabbaton and Synaplex programs (and we hope all our 5th 6th and 7th graders will go on next month's Shabbaton!), but given the limited hours we have, it's been shown to be less effective over all. However, studies show that it just takes two out of the three to have a real measurable impact. In other words, if you are not a day school family, the immersion experiences of camp and Israel are especially useful.

Teen Israel tours are optimal, but family experiences are also wonderful. And, along those lines, I invite you to please take a look at the itinerary of our upcoming TBE 2009 Israel Adventure, scheduled for next December.

So we've laid it all out for you. Lots of choices, and lots of chances to build our Jewish future, one child at a time.

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