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Eat Your Camp, Kids: It’s Good For Your Jewish Identity

Eat Your Camp, Kids: It’s Good For Your Jewish Identity

Being an opinionated blogger whilst also being an objective reporter can be a little tricky.

One day I am writing about why I don’t send my kids to Jewish day school, and later in the week I’m interviewing day school administrators — and parents who are grappling with whether or not to keep their children in day school or instead try out a Hebrew charter school.

One day I am mocking Steven “Meaningless Associations” Cohen. A few weeks later I find myself interviewing him in a conference call about the long-term impact of Jewish summer camps.

And then the next day I am registering my own child for a Jewish summer camp. That I fell in love with while researching it for an article.

Cohen (and a team of other researchers) just completed a study for the Foundation for Jewish Camp showing that alumni of Jewish summer camps are 82 percent more likely than peers who share exactly the same background but spent their summers otherwise occupied to become Jewish Week subscribers, 90 percent more likely to eat bagels and lox at least once a week and 72 percent more likely to be able to successfully locate Israel on a map.

OK, not exactly, but suffice it to say that the study, titled “Camp Works,” aims to isolate the camp experience from various other formative experiences using a technique called “regression analysis.” It concludes that the summer camp experience spurs increased adult Jewish engagement on a variety of measures, with the greatest impacts felt on synagogue attendance, philanthropic giving to Jewish federations and emotional attachment to Israel.

For whatever it’s worth, the “camp effect” the study points to was less pronounced in the area of intermarriage — camp alumni are more likely than their peers to marry Jews, but the camp effect/difference is only 10 percent, whereas it’s as high as 55 percent for other behaviors. While I lack the sociological/statistical knowledge to assess the study’s accuracy, I’m glad to see that intermarriage is no longer the No. 1 benchmark being used to determine a Jewish program’s success — that Foundation for Jewish Camp leaders (and even Steven M. Cohen) are using other measures to boast about camp and persuade donors to invest lots of cash into this area.

That said, I feel some ambivalence about the surfeit of studies in the Jewish community that attempt to measure the impact various experiences have on adult Jewish identity, especially because “identity” is such a murky, ill-defined thing, on par with “Jewish values” as something people say without really knowing what they mean. Such studies give me something to write about of course, but I feel uncomfortable with them for two reasons: 1- As a rabbi friend of mine commented to me, they attempt to “quantify that which cannot be measured.” 2- They often seem to confuse means and ends: X is worthwhile because it is like a long-lasting Jewish virility/identity pill that socially engineers Jews of the Future, rather than X is inherently worthwhile for whatever it accomplishes something meaningful in the here and now in enriching people’s lives, strengthening community, promotes knowledge or what have you.

Am I making any sense?

In any event, regardless of whether Jewish summer camp molds my daughter Ellie into a Model Synagogue-Affiliating, Israel-Loving, Federation-Donating Jew, I’ve registered her for six days at Eden Village because I think it will be a great experience for her and it will be an opportunity to learn more about both Judaism and the environment.

Of course if she hasn’t made her first UJA donation by the age of 30, I expect to get a refund.

Do you like “In the Mix”? Then help boost my stats (and, of course my Jewish identity) by liking it on Facebook.

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