Summer camp is in our roots

It is February, and although the weather outside is cold and it is hard to imagine, it is already time to start thinking about summer camp!

Jewish summer camp, particularly overnight camp, has long been a mainstay of American Jewish life and culture. It has been featured in media culture, ranging from numerous features and op-eds in the New York Times to a full episode of the radio show “This American Life,” and even the cult classic movie and spin-off Netflix series “Wet Hot American Summer” (though not explicitly a Jewish camp, a role call in the mess hall features campers by the names of “Amanda Klein, Jessica Azaria, Ira…Stevenberg, Sol…Zimmer..stein, and David…Ben-Gurion...”). 

Jewish camp’s roots took hold in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when camps were being developed to help immigrants acculturate to their new lives in America and expose urban Jewish children to the outdoors. Eventually, different denominations, youth groups and social identities within Judaism developed camps to promote their own ideologies, cultures and ideals, yet they all shared a common mission: promoting Jewish life and values. Today, studies show that attending a Jewish summer overnight camp, such as Harlam, Pinemere and Ramah among many others, is one of the strongest predictors of developing a strong Jewish identity in adulthood.

Jewish summer camp options continue to reflect the diversity of lifestyles and identities within the broad American Jewish community, aiming to meet the evolving needs of Jewish children. There are overnight camps, day camps and specialty camp options, some of which are reflected in our own community. 

More broadly, summer camp is an opportunity for growth and development for both children and counselors alike. The camp experience affords participants the chance to build new relationships, foster independence and resilience, develop new skills or practice favorite ones and, most importantly, contribute to the camp’s own community and culture. 

By attending one of our local Jewish community camps, both campers and counselors begin to learn and experience the things that we, as the Lehigh Valley Jewish community, value such as developing and enhancing specialty skills alongside friends and celebrating Shabbat together. Our local camp options are a chance for us to introduce the youngest in our community to the richness and vibrancy that our Jewish community has to offer them, allowing them to experience those things and see for themselves how loved, welcomed and valued they are as the future of our community.

Limited needs-based camp scholarships and teen experience grants are available through the Federation. Visit our website to apply before March 25, 2020.