Nostalgia about summer traditions notwithstanding, Jewish camps have changed dramatically from a generation ago.
Camp’s value for Jewish education and identity-building is now a major focus of communal attention. Major Jewish foundations, federations and organizations are investing heavily in the sector.
Many camps have become more intentional about incorporating Jewish learning, Shabbat and Israel into their programming. They’ve also evolved to meet families’ changing expectations and demands: offering a wider range of choices of all kinds (from food to activity to session length); providing more frequent updates and communications to parents; accommodating numerous medical requirements and allergies;and placing greater emphasis on safety and security.
At the same time, the Jewish camping field is becoming more professionalized. The job of camp director has been shifting from a seasonal gig to year-round career, and counselors are receiving more intensive training.
With all this change in the Jewish camp world, here are 10 specific trends we have noticed:
1) Shorter sessions: Once upon a time, summer camp meant the entire summer, with the majority of campers attending for seven, eight or even 10 weeks. Now it is the rare child or teen who spends the full summer at camp (or at one camp), and most programs offer multiple sessions, ranging in length from just six days to seven weeks. “Our three-week session has always sold out more quickly than the four-week, and our new two-week session has been a quick hit as well,” said Vivian Stadlin, co-director of Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, N.Y.
2) Specialized programs: Whether a child’s passion is sports, the environment, outdoor adventure or science and technology, there’s a Jewish camp for that. An incubator under the auspices of the Foundation for Jewish Camp spurred the creation of five specialty camps in 2010 (including Eden Village, which is focused on the environment) and another four that will open this summer. The idea is to attract kids who might not otherwise consider a Jewish camp and to show them they can combine their passion with Judaism. Increasingly, established general-interest Jewish camps are adding specialty tracks and electives. For example, the New Jersey Y camps offer a science program and various sports programs, while Ramah in the Poconos has run basketball clinics and a tennis academy.
3) Healthier food: Serving healthy, locally sourced food is a part of the mission of some specialty camps like the new health-and-wellness-focused Camp Zeke and was a component of Ramah Outdoor Adventure from its beginnings in 2010. In addition, many established Jewish camps have been redoing their menus to make them more nutritious and environmentally friendly: adding salad bars, replacing “bug juice” with water, offering more vegetarian fare and even planting their own organic vegetable gardens.
4) More affordable options: The Foundation for Jewish Camp recently introduced a new program called BunkConnect that enables first-time campers from middle- and lower-income families to search for a variety of discounted Jewish summer camp options. While BunkConnect is currently only available in the Northeast, New England and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, the foundation hopes to expand it in future years. In addition, most Jewish overnight camps offer financial aid and the One Happy Camper Program, initiated in 2006, offers grants for all first-time campers regardless of need. So far 50,000 children have received One Happy Camper grants.
5) Broadening definition of camp: While rural settings and rustic accommodations are still the norm, two specialty camps — the Union for Reform Judaism’s Six Points Sports Academy and Six Points Science & Technology — are located on boarding school campuses, and another, the 92nd Street Y’s Passport NYC, is in the middle of Manhattan. Passport NYC, in which participants do internships and live in air-conditioned dorms, and Six Points Science blur the boundary between “camp” and “summer program,” while programs like USY on Wheels and Adamah Adventures, which operate under the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s umbrella, blur the boundary between “camp” and “teen travel.”
Read the rest of this feature on JTA.
By Rabbi Jason Miller
Ask any Jewish family that sends their children to both a private Jewish day school and a Jewish summer camp about the affordability of such endeavors and they’ll use words such as “sacrifice,” “hardship” and “priorities.” With the cost of Jewish day school tuition for one child varying from $10,000 all the way up to $40,000 per year, more Jewish families who desire a day-school Jewish education for their children are finding it cost prohibitive even with financial aid.
Add to those rising costs, the additional expense of a month or two at a Jewish summer camp and families are having to just say “no” to their kids. In the new economy, the Jewish middle class has virtually vanished. Many families who once would be considered upper middle class are forking over their tax returns hoping for subsidies to make day school and camp tuition affordable. New organizations like the Affordable Jewish Education Project (AJEP) are sprouting up seeking to imagine alternative solutions to the economic crisis. Plain and simple it’s becoming cost prohibitive to raise a Jewish family according to the values of day school and summer camp.
While Jewish day schools continue to solicit large endowment gifts to offset the tuition costs, the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has announced a new affordability initiative. In an effort to put a Jewish summer camp experience in financial reach for most families, FJC has launched BunkConnect, a new program that matches eligible families with high-quality nonprofit Jewish summer camps at a more affordable price. This philanthropic business venture has been developed in collaboration with forward-thinking business executives and leading philanthropists.
Read the rest of this article on HuffPost Religion
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and whatever comes next) aren’t the culprit. At least not by themselves. Like any situation, parents and guardians are responsible to monitor the playground their children are in: in this case the virtual world of social media. The interaction between counselor and camper doesn’t need to vary based on the medium. Parents need to be engaged in their kids’ activities and kids need to know that parents will be observing. If campers and counselors are friends on Facebook, that in of itself isn’t bad. We shouldn’t worry excessively over one connection versus another without reason. The relationship and bond forged between camper and counselor is unique and important – platforms like Facebook are new meeting grounds and we have to learn how to live with them, adapt them to our rules, and monitor them.
Some camper-counselor bunk relationships are important and influential. The camper-counselor bond is important and can be akin to a big brother or a mentor when one doesn’t exist for the camper. Personally, I’m proud of the decades-long interaction which has grown between campers of mine and me, augmented by the use of technology including Facebook.
As a counselor I had some bunks, and was a camper in some bunks, that were legendary. Why should a connection like that be forced to end simply because of the fear of Facebook? Both the camper and the counselor choosing to connect through social media should know and accept that their interactions may, and will be, monitored by responsible adults. If a parent reads or sees postings that give cause for alarm or suspicion (inappropriate material, suggestive pictures, language) then it should be cause to react. As a parent you will know when the relationship is inappropriate. But to forbid it simply because “bad stuff happens in Facebook” is just naive. It’s akin to worrying about all the bad men on the sex offender registry but ignoring the fact that 90% of abuse is caused by someone the child knows – the fear is displaced. Rather than run from it, embrace the technology and take ownership of it.
It’s also possible that having campers “following” them will cause counselors to behave better online as well knowing that kids are watching. Imagine if the fact that a counselor has camper friends results in the counselor not posting pictures of her drunken spring break theatrics or profanity ladened posts about his friends?
So when should the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter relationship be pulled? If either the counselor or camper starts to demand too much; if one side, especially the counselor, begins to act inappropriate or suggest age inappropriate activities and relationships; if one starts to act as a jealous or envious girl/boyfriend. You will know it when you see it. And when you see it, you need to do something about it. That’s when parents should be notifying camp directors, peers should be telling each other it’s not appropriate and ultimately when directors make the tough decision to not rehire because that staffer just doesn’t have good judgment.
We use a good rule of thumb in our work at Baltimore Child Abuse Center: if the other adult likes your kid more than you like your own kid, that could be cause for alarm. Embrace the new technologies that exist and recognize your campers want to use social media to keep camp going year round. By participating and monitoring the conversation, you become a part of the experience.
Concerned how kids and technology interact? Want to know more about how to talk with your kids and family about being safe, visit our safety pages at www.baltimorechildabusecenter.org/prevent_abuse to learn more.
Adam Rosenberg is the Executive Director at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
I’d like to say that my wife, Cynthia, my son, Jonah, and I are enjoying a wide variety of family activities in the last few days before Jonah heads off to sleep away camp. That we’re having picnics on the beach, visiting museums, and attending performances of Shakespeare in the park. But the truth is we’re spending almost every waking moment packing and labeling. These twin chores seem endless. What to send with Jonah and how to make sure the majority of it returns with him has become an all-consuming job.
Jonah’s camp has graciously provided guidelines for what to pack, though they are more helpful in theory than in practice. Twenty pairs of socks, for instance, assumes that your average teenager – Jonah is fourteen – your average human being, for that matter, has ever succeeded in owning twenty pairs of socks that match. Some of the guidelines we are determined to ignore. So while four bathing suits are recommended, we’ll send at least twice that many. Given Jonah’s love of the water, we know he’d sleep in a bathing suit, in the lake, if he could get away with it. Which is to say, who needs to pack all those pajamas? The camp’s list also provides an encouraging glimpse into what Jonah will not get to do (only non-electronic games, i.e. board games); and what he will be expected to do, like regularly attend Friday Shabbat dinners (white tops, modest outfits).
But it’s the requirement to label everything we pack – from toothpaste tubes to flip flops – that is our most time consuming activity these days and also surprisingly expensive. Last year, my wife ordered labels and ended up paying fifty dollars for what turned out to be a rather small and unimpressive packet of personalized stickers. Of course, the cost wouldn’t be so bad if the whole exercise didn’t seem so pointless. Inevitably, Jonah comes home with some other kid’s underwear and a pink My Little Pony tank top.
This summer we have made sure Jonah has a more active role in the packing, in particular. We are wincing but saying nothing whenever he matches striped shirts with checked shorts. We had to speak up, though, when he insisted on taking his iPad. Camp rules, not ours, we informed him. Then we tried, mainly unsuccessfully, to explain to him how to play Monopoly. We are letting him take his old guitar, however. In fact, I have already labeled it. I affixed a small Jonah tag to a place where it is very unlikely to be spotted. With any luck at all, he will not only learn some traditional camp songs, but he will come home with a newer, better guitar.
There was recently an article about how camps can help kids unplug from their everyday lives. We read it (online, of course!) while noting the irony that so many of our camps are “electronics free” but we – the directors, assistant directors, and other senior staff members – cringe at the thought of being off-line for even an hour during the summer. While we tout the importance of campers unplugging, we start to sweat the moment our e-mail goes down.
When did this happen? When did technology take over our camps? When did a handwritten list handed to a staff member make us appear out-of-date or disorganized? When did a photographer with a digital camera and Bunk1 access become a necessary position? We are in our late 30s and early 40s; while we are fairly computer savvy, we are still very much able to play the “I am older than cell phones” card with our staff. We remember calling home from a payphone and our parents exclaiming that we sounded “just like we’re next door!”
Don’t get us wrong – we aren’t scared of change; there are both good and bad things that come from more technology. We’re just confused. We recall a time, not so long ago, when camps were in their own bubbles. The “outside world” had little effect on our campers’ lives. Now, within five minutes of the recent Supreme Court decision on DOMA, we were celebrating and sharing the information with our campers and staff. And when a camper asked the details of how the Court voted, we didn’t hesitate to run to the internet to get him the information. And it’s not only about the outside world – it’s also about our camper families. We answer parents (including our own) about when photos will be up, what we’re eating for lunch, and why a child doesn’t appear to be wearing sunscreen. We e-mail parents en masse to keep them updated and we post to Facebook regularly (including from our cell phones when the power goes out!).
On the other hand, we expect that our campers will have no access to any of this technology. We require that all approved electronics are in airplane mode – and we are envious of those camps that have a “no screens” policy. But, at the same time, we wonder if sneaking in an iPad or liking a post on Facebook from a cabin a few steps from the office is really a punishable offense. How can we expect our campers to stop texting, updating, and chatting “cold turkey,” when they submit papers, complete college applications, and talk to their friends online the other eleven months of the year? And how can we, who pride ourselves on building and sustaining community, tell first year staff that they can’t be Facebook friends with kids one year younger than them who – just three days earlier – had been their best friend?
We used to say that we wouldn’t ask our staff or campers to do anything we wouldn’t do or haven’t done for ourselves. We are always happy to jump in to run a program, stay up late, wash dishes, or plunge a toilet. But ask us to give up our internet and we’re not sure we can agree. How could we know what’s going on in our world? How could we stay in touch with our families? How could we write blog posts like this? Hmmm – this has us stumped. Maybe we should check Google for some advice….
As a camper for many years, I’m a regular to knowing the most basic and common camp rules. For instance, the “no cell phones allowed” rule. To us cell phone and technology addicted youth of this generation, many people originally find this rule to be a bit of a pain in the bum. No one wants to leave their beloved battery-powered friend behind, but that’s the exact reason it’s a banned item at camp.
As I see it, the amazing camp directors make the “no cell phones” rule so that today’s generation (my generation), who are so used to using their phones as social outlets and distractions, get out there and make real friends. There, I said it, we kids today need to learn how to make a living, breathing, not battery-powered friend. The cell phone age children are slowly losing their social skills and need to try to put the phones away for once.
This well thought-out rule makes sure that happens. When the phones go away the kids are miserable for five minutes but then guess what, they start up a conversation with another kid. Yes! They have a face to face, words-coming-out-of-mouth conversation! You know what happens next? These two campers without phones have both made a friend! It’s that simple!
It’s a good thing that these genius directors made a rule to get rid of all cell phones because camp is a place where kids go to have fun and make new friends, which is definitely not a technology-only thing. Sure, you can “friend” people on Facebook and play people on Words with Friends, but can you have the summer of your dreams with your nose inches from your phone? Not possible.
If you think going to camp without a phone will be tough, you can forget about that! Trust me, not only does it help you realize that you are capable of making friends, but you will actually look forward to going to your phone-free camp! You will look forward to the time where everyone is happy talking directly to each other and not having those awkward silences as someone answers a text.
So go! Try out camp without a phone! You won’t be sorry because it is a great experience to be free of the internet incorporated world for a few weeks! Camp is one of the most fun places in the world so don’t waste your summer anywhere else on that cellular device! Coming back to it at the end of the summer will be a cool experience too! Never will you ever have that many notifications! Have an amazing cell phone free summer everybody!
I hate when my parents ask me on visiting day or after camp “why weren’t you in any of pictures on the website?”
I have tried to explain my absence by just saying, “I wasn’t there at that moment,” or “I never get picked to be in the picture.” But now I will tell you the truth. The real reason that I am not in many pictures is that I don’t want to get pictures taken of me all the time. When a photographer comes by I just don’t want to interrupt my basketball game or soccer game or any other activity just so that I can pose for a picture. I am having fun and I just want to continue my game.
Parents of campers always get so worried when their kids aren’t in the daily camp pictures, but what they need to understand is that the kids who are NOT in the pictures are probably having even more fun than the kids IN the pictures!
Now, parents, please listen to what I am saying because I am speaking on behalf of your children. When you look on your camps’ websites and you don’t see your kids, PLEASE DON’T PANIC!!! Your kids are most probably just playing gaga or finishing an art project or hanging out with their friends. To be honest, they don’t want to be interrupted or bothered by the camp photographer – they are becoming independent. Isn’t that what you sent them to camp for?
It’s hard to believe that we’re now less than 50 days away from the start of another summer! Many campers have been counting down the days with excitement since they returned home from camp last year. “OMG I get to be a CIT this year!!” is one example of a recent Facebook post. And, to be honest, there were many more exclamation points than that.
Indeed, Facebook and other virtual spaces are used more and more by kids, parents, and alumni to connect with one another and build Jewish community. But camp works in part because it gives kids opportunities to feel connected to something larger than themselves. This connection can happen, and increasingly does happen, for more than a few weeks each year.
We recently posted something on our Facebook page that asked folks to complete the following sentence: “Camp Alonim is where I _____.” The range of responses was extraordinary, as was the range of respondents – campers, staff, parents, and alumni. Here is what some of them said: Camp Alonim is where… “I found out what makes me Jewish.” “I started my first band.” “I learned to love Shabbat.” “I feel safe leaving my kids.” “I met my first boyfriend.” “I cowgirl up!” “I developed my Jewish identity and danced!” “I want to be right now.” “I am home.”
Because a picture can be worth a thousand words, we also recently ran a photo contest during which folks shared all sorts of images on our Facebook page that they felt best represented camp. Sprinkled throughout this blog post are some of the pictures that were submitted.
At this point, you might be asking yourself: why all this talk about Facebook when camp is about unplugging from electronics and getting away from the always-on world in which we live? I think the answer is best illustrated by the following story. A few days ago, Jamie, who was one of our teen program advisors last summer and who currently is studying abroad in Israel, posted on Facebook that she just “casually ran into her children” at the Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv. The “children” to whom Jamie was referring are her former campers (by the way, don’t you love how staff refer to the campers as “their kids”?). Jamie shared a surprise reunion with some of her teens, which generated “likes” and “comments” from campers, staff, parents, and her other “children.” This chance encounter in Israel involved generations of camp, and the connection and reconnection extended further than it ever could before.
The connection has to start somewhere. For many kids, camp can be the first link in a lifelong connection to deep, meaningful friendships and active communities infused with the joys of Jewish living. Much of my job as a camp director is to help that first connection form, and then to help incubate all sorts of budding connections so that they can grow and thrive for a lifetime.
As I write this, staff members are being hired to “give back to camp;” parents are searching for white Shabbat clothing; alumni are reuniting with camp friends to celebrate life’s simchas and to support one another when life throws its curve-balls; and new and returning campers are counting down the days until summer. It’s community. It’s connection. It’s camp! And, when it comes to camp, there’s no such thing as too many exclamation points.