When Jewish immigrants started flowing into the US in the early 20th century, summer camps were created with the intention of assimilating the immigrant children to American culture. More than a century later, Jewish camps have evolved into a place for kids to discover their Jewish identities while having fun and making lifelong friendships. Jewish values can be found everywhere at camp, from the dining hall to the lake.
Summer camps are overflowing with spirit. It can be found in the dining hall cheers, song sessions, and the classic color war. On the surface, these activities might just seem like smart ways to use up some of the campers’ endless energy. If you look a little closer, however, they are teaching campers the Jewish values of spirit, joy, and celebration.
One of the hardest Jewish values to teach to children is connection to Israel. Getting kids who have never even left the Western Hemisphere to appreciate a faraway country can sound like an impossible mission. When campers bond with Israeli counselors or master a complicated Israeli dance, they are already forming a connection to Israel without leaving the country.
Few events can evoke a warm-fuzzy feeling like an all-camp bonfire or a cabin dance party. Camp makes kids feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. This is a perfect introduction to the Jewish value of community. As campers get older, they might want to find the same kind of Jewish community that they first found at camp.
Many consider respect of nature to be a Jewish value that is derived from tikkun olam, or repairing the world. Camps provide campers with a variety of ways to connect with the outdoors, from canoeing to horseback riding. Camping trips are a rite of passage that give even the most timid campers a sense of appreciation for the natural world. Even if the trip doesn’t go as planned, the memories and bonds from these moments in the wilderness are priceless.
Even if just one or two camp traditions stick with the campers, Jewish camps have done their job. As the campers get older, the values that they learned from these traditions will encourage them to stay connected with Judaism.
You can continue keeping your campers connected by bringing them to volunteer at the warehouse! Nothing teaches Jewish values like Tzedukah. Deliver food as a family, and you will continue the Jewish learning in your home. Our Rosh Hashanah Delivery is Sunday, September 22, 2019. Please watch for more information to follow.