A seasoned Jewish educator at a large Reform congregation once asked his religious school parents about their most meaningful Jewish childhood experiences. Without a doubt, attending Jewish camp was at the top of the list. There is no question that one of the most successful American Jewish educational models is the Jewish camp experience.
Thousands of Jewish children attend camp on an annual basis, returning year after year for a memorable summer of fun. Jewish communities, such as the greater Seattle area, pour considerable resources into encouraging kids to go to Jewish camp, as they understand that camp is a formative Jewish experience.
What is it about the Jewish camping experience that resonates with so many of our Jewish children? Many of us know the answer to this question. Jewish camps allow us to be immersed in a Jewish day, holiday or Shabbat experience, explore Judaism through all five senses and live exclusively among other Jewish children in a safe environment.
Not only do our children form lifelong friendships with other Jewish children, but they also come away with a sense of pride about their Jewish identity. Getting away and being outdoors allows our children to acquire a truly integrated Jewish educational experience. In a nutshell, our youth live and breathe Judaism during their time at camp.
While our youth leave camp with a strong sense of connection to Judaism, they are often disappointed when they return home, unable to reconnect to their communities. It is almost as if there is a step missing in the process: Bringing camp home. Translating the camp experience into something tangible in our home congregations and day schools is critical to the ongoing development of a youth’s Jewish identity.
Understanding that Jewish camps and Jewish day schools/supplementary schools have a vested interest in building Jewish community, the AVI CHAI and Jim Joseph Foundations in partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp created six partnership grants to hire top-notch Jewish educators to build a year-round consistent Jewish educational experience. Each seasoned Jewish educator will work to bridge the gap between the religious school/day school and camp environments by taking an in-depth look at the curricula of the two organizations in the partnership.
We are lucky to have one of the six partnerships in the greater Seattle region between Temple De Hirsch Sinai and Camp Kalsman. We are joining together to reevaluate how we approach education in both of our programs, by building a consistent educational vision that will provide a holistic approach to our youth. By creating a year-round Jewish experience, our youth will perceive our organizations not as segmented but as one, making the transition seamless from camp back to our Religion School. And engaging parents will be an integral part of the process, as debriefing the experience first takes place on the car ride from camp back home.
Our ancestors willingly established a covenant with God at Sinai, promising to pass it on from generation to generation. How we engage a future generation of Jewish youth will be critical to the ongoing vitality of the Jewish people. Creating a year-round Jewish experience for our youth, building on the success of the Jewish camp model, will ensure the future of the Jewish people.