We hear great buzz about the Jewish camp experience, so to get the scoop on the summer of 5770 we traveled to the front lines for reports from two campers, a communal organization and a significant funder. JInsider directs major kudos to the Foundation for Jewish Camps (FJC), which supports these activities.
Background: High on Fun, Low on Cost
According to a soon-to-be-released study commissioned by FJC, Jewish summer camps are a cost-effective investment for the Jewish continuity. Initial findings from the report, due out in Fall 2010, indicate adults who attended Jewish camp as youngsters are likely to be more Jewishly engaged at home and in the community. Approximately 70,000 teenagers attended nonprofit Jewish camps, supported by over 10,000 staff members. The FJC is trying to ensure that all Jewish parents are able to offer their children this experience.
In addition to being a great way for kids to spend the summer, the economics of Jewish camp are also appealing when compared to other Jewish continuity and educational options:
Per day, per Jew
Day School $100
Source: JInsider Analytics
Note on the numbers: Clearly, each experience involves a different level of engagement, impact and budgetary access. However, in addition to cost-effectiveness, camping impacts youth at time when they are still formulating their identity and values.
Camper Perspectives: Engaging and Memorable
“In addition to having an amazing, fun-filled summer, camp also was a very impactful and uplifting experience. Everything from Shabbat and our thrice-daily minyanim, to mundane events like our daily meals, were filled with spirituality. We enjoyed traditional camp activities like camping out and sports, yet we were continually surrounded by our Judaism through experiences like our daily shiur (learning session) on wide-ranging topics from kashrut to the Avot (forefathers). While I loved the total Shabbat experience, one of my favorite parts of camp was Erev Shabbat. We welcomed Shabbat by dancing during Kabbalat Shabbat, followed by dinner and a tish (Yiddish for table), around which we sang songs and listened to a dvar Torah afterward. These activities, shared with good friends, filled Shabbat with an extra level of holiness that I have only experienced in camp.”
– Andrew Eichen,14, Camp Moshava, Indian Orchard, Pa. (Modern Orthodox)
“Some of my favorite memories were spending Shabbat with my camp community, praying at the outdoor sanctuary, singing Jewish songs at the loudest song sessions and Israeli dancing under the stars. Special times included when it would rain and we would have time to hang out in our bunks. Some of my happiest moments were with my friends in my special summer home, a holy place where I was loved and accepted.
My last summer at camp I was in the Olim leadership unit. I had the opportunity to be one of the camp color war generals. It was an amazing experience and had a lasting effect on me. It was the first time I realized my strength as a leader. I continue to utilize many of the leadership skills I learned that summer in my current community service project, No Nukes for Iran.
I will forever be grateful for my summers at Eisner Camp. Those summers were instrumental in helping to define who I am: a Jewish teen leader committed to tikkun olam!”
– Danielle Flaum, 17, URJ Eisner Camp, Great Barrington, Mass. (Reform)
Communal Organization Perspective: Innovative Spirit
“In my first summer as CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp I was impressed to observe the innovative spirit that is alive and well in the camping field, and how the foundation serves the community to create the best camp experience for as many youngsters as possible. Going forward, FJC remains committed to the success of camps by helping them identify trends, so that they can remain attractive to today’s camper families as consumer trends and desires evolve.”
– Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp
Funder Perspective: Fulfill the Promise
“I think it is terrific that our community has embraced Jewish camping since the Foundation for Jewish Camp started in 1998. In one sense, it makes fundraising easier: Savvy funders understand the premise that Jewish camping works, that kids who live Judaism, love Judaism. But sometimes we Jews are a funny people who undermine our own success. To my chagrin, I see funders — funders who absolutely get the power of Jewish camp — walk away in search of the next BIG IDEA. My plea to you, said with gratitude because you do understand the power of Jewish camp: Stick around, so that together we can get the job done.”
– Elisa Spungen Bildner, co-founder, with Rob Bildner, of the Foundation for Jewish Camp