The impact Jewish summer camp has on children's Jewish identity, the deep personal connections made with Israel, and how these summer experiences influence their future lives into adulthood are supported by numerous research studies and articles. The value is immeasurable. The anecdotal camp stories passed down from generation to generation are legendary, rivalling those told at the Passover Seder. Now in a "post" COVID world, we know just how meaningful Jewish camp is for our children.
Traditional Jewish overnight camps, with their sailboats on the lake and campfires and s'mores, offer a wide range of athletic choices and cultural activities.
However, many families have concerns when it comes to sending their child to sleepaway camp…
My child does not want to go away all summer
We want to travel, and the session dates are not flexible
My kid is not "a sports kid"
My kid IS a sports kid and that is all s/he wants to do
My kid will have a tough time living in a cabin with a dozen other kids
My child is gender non-conforming, and this might be an issue
Camp is more religiously observant than/not observant as my family
My child has physical challenges and requires extra support
The Jewish camping system is generally set up regionally: if you live in the Midwest, your child attends a midwestern camp. For this reason, it is not a surprise that most parents in the Chicagoland area are not aware that there are many Jewish camp options for families who check one or more of the boxes above; they just may not be in their backyard. While many regional camps often offer exciting new options and accommodations to address these concerns, specialty camps often have unique advantages in many of these areas.
There are camps with completely flexible session dates and lengths. There are specialty camps which focus on a specific interest area such as high-level, intense sports training, visual arts, science/technology, musical theater, social justice, sustainable farming, etc. There are camps where the kids live in air-conditioned dorms with one other roommate. There are camps where kids live in tents. There are camps where kids travel, touring Israel or the U.S. There are camps that accommodate physical challenges and special medical needs. There are camps for kids who might need a little extra help to address their social, emotional health, and well-being.
All these camp options are infused with Judaism.
When it comes down to it, parents need only invest a little time in finding the right Jewish camp for their child. But not to worry! There are tools out there that make it easier! With the help from the Foundation for Jewish Camp, JCamp180, and other support systems, there is a great fit for every Jewish camper.
Shaina is the Director of Development for the URJ 6 Points Specialty Camps: 6 Points Sports Academy, 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, 6 Points Creative Arts Academy.