I wrote about this topic a few years ago. And, while years have passed, the message has not changed. In fact, it has become more important. But, I will share this with you on one condition: PLEASE DO NOT SHARE THIS COLUMN WITH YOUR CHILDREN. It contains information that we just don’t want them to have.
In elementary school, I loved getting the chocolate cherry cordials, although it was strange going to a school-wide assembly to receive the candy from nurses dressed in white. I didn’t think twice; it was a wonderful sweet treat. However, if anyone had told me that I was waiting in line for medicine, the polio vaccine in fact, I would have run for the hills. Kids have an aversion to anything that is good for them. That’s why children’s fluoride toothpaste comes in bubble gum flavors, and kids pop Flintstone vitamins and not Centrum. Parents try to “sugar coat” anything that is good for their children, lest it be met with a closed mouth or clandestinely fed to the dogs (think vegetables).
While my wife and I have raised our kids in an arguably Jewish home and they attended Jewish day schools, what they are (so far) as young Jewish adults is largely due to their experiences at Jewish camps. After aging out of the JCC day camps, our daughter summered at Camp Ramah and our son went to the Young Judaea Camps. When they returned home from camp they always exclaimed about how good it was; about all the fun they had; about all the friends they made; about all the sports and arts and crafts activities in which they participated; about their hikes, canoe trips and tent sleep-outs; about the horses and ski-boats on the lakes; and about how they could not wait to go back next summer (and the deposit was due by Dec. 1!).
Funny, not once did my kids tell me that camp was a wonderful Jewish environment where they could experiment with living Judaism. Never did they shout gleefully about how their Jewish camp was a place to develop and create a Jewish community, to find Jewish roots, and to connect to the land and people of Israel. Can you imagine what would have happened if we told our kids that they were going to summer camp because this is where Jewish passion, creativity, and spirituality can grow and leadership skills can be developed? They would have run for the hills!
I am not making up the powerful impact of Jewish camping. Studies have shown that Jewish camping is one of the most powerful ways to build strong Jewish identity and commitment in young people. Research proves that teens who have attended a Jewish day or residential camp as a child grow to remain connected to their Jewish communities and Jewish life as adults. Children who experience the 24/7 Jewish environment at camp become adults who value their heritage and support Jewish causes. Indeed, research shows that Jewish camp alumni are 50 percent more likely to join a synagogue, 90 percent more likely to join a Jewish community center, 55 percent more likely to have an emotional attachment to Israel and twice as likely to donate to their local Federation than Jewish adults who never went to a Jewish camp.
Our Jewish Federation, from the proceeds of our Annual Campaign for Jewish Needs, proudly supports the three most valuable aspects of Jewish identity development: formal Jewish education, like at the Jewish Day School; peer trips to Israel; and Jewish camping. We are very generous funders of scholarships and grants for all three. As for camping, every year our Allocations Committee sets aside funds for needs-based scholarships for Jewish resident camping. Information about the scholarships can be found at our website, www.jewishlehighvalley.org/scholarships. We supplement those funds with directed donations. Donors interested in providing additional scholarships to supplement the allocations grant should call me as soon as possible as I know the funds available will not meet the expected need.
Rather than write this column about menorahs and latkes, now is the time for parents to consider Jewish residential camping. The spring is too late as many camps are selling out.
So, please keep this information away from your kids. Don’t let them read this. Let’s just keep this information between us parents. Just tell your kids that camps like Camp Ramah, Camp Harlam, Pinemere Camp, Camp Moshava, Camp Young Judaea, Camp Tel Yehuda, Camp Galil and others are fun places, with lots of great things to do, and lots of friends to make.
Let it be our little secret that camp is actually good for children and will have a profound impact on their Jewish adult lives.