CJY expected to announce plans by mid-May
Staff and Wire Report
Greene Family Camp, a Union for Reform Judaism camp located in Bruceville, Texas, outside of Waco, is among the closures announced Thursday, April 30 by the organization. GFC was scheduled to start its first session on June 7, followed by the second session in early July. More than 800 kids and 150 counselors were registered, according to GFC longtime executive director Loui Dobin. All of URJ’s summer camps and travel are closed for the summer.
“We planned, prepared, prayed, and hoped for another transformative summer at Greene Family Camp, but the risks posed by COVID-19 threaten our most sacred value — the health and well-being of our children, staff, and faculty, along with their communities back home. These risks also compromise our ability to provide the magic of camp — the excellence in programming and participant care that are hallmarks of GFC,” said Dobin. This would have been Dobin’s final summer at camp; he is set to retire in December.
Siblings Hannah, Samantha and Ari Simon, of Fort Worth, have attended GFC for years.
“Camp is our home away from home,” said Hannah, 20. “This is my first summer in 13 years to not attend anything GFC. I was set to have an internship and be a boys’ counselor again at GFC this summer.”
Samantha Simon, 18, was looking forward to her first stint as a GFC counselor.
“It feels very strange that I am not spending any time at GFC this summer. I’m going to miss all of my friends, the traditions and the feeling of belonging that brings me closer to my Judaism. This would have been my first summer as a counselor at GFC. Last summer, I was a counselor-in-training. I was hoping to see my girls again,” said Samantha.
Ari Simon, 16, shared a letter with TJP readers in February, thanking his parents for giving him the gift of camp. Like his sisters, he has attended GFC since he was 7. He was looking forward to joining his camp friends on a summer tour of Israel and Eastern Europe.
“Camp has always meant so much to me. Camp is where I’ve become closest with my Jewish friends. It is so sad that my Garin Greene Israel and Eastern Europe trip was canceled. I was so excited to go to Israel this summer to become even closer to my friends and Judaism,” said Ari.
Camp Young Judaea
At press time Tuesday, Texas’ other Jewish sleep-away camp, Camp Young Judaea, had not announced plans to close for the summer.
CYJ and GFC have a great relationship and have always supported each other’s adventures.
“I know Loui Dobin and Greene are making the best decisions for their community and I am saddened for them,” Frank Silberlicht, CYJ director, told Houston’s Jewish Herald Voice. “It is not easy to be first and I am confident that they did not make the decision lightly. As camp professionals, we are in unchartered waters.
“Ten days ago we emailed CYJ families and shared that we currently did not believe that our typical June start was probable. Transparently, we explained that if we had to make a decision at that moment in time, we foresaw a July start date for the first session with both sessions being shortened.”
CYJ Assistant Director Iris Toth told the TJP April 30 that administrators are waiting to evaluate CDC’s camp-specific guidelines set to release this week. CYJ’s target date for an announcement is mid-May.
“We know that everyone wants camp to happen, so do we and we will make it happen if it can be done safely,” Silberlicht said.
Ramah Darom, a Conservative Jewish camp in Georgia, is also canceling its 2020 summer. Many kids from the Dallas area attend the camp. An email to the camp community said that Georgia’s regulations currently would not allow them to operate the camp, which was scheduled to open in early June. The camp’s medical committee decided that, even if regulations change, it would be “untenable” to manage the risk posed by COVID-19.
“My heart is hurting to have to share the news of the cancellation of camp this summer,” Ramah Darom Director Geoff Menkowitz said in a video message Thursday afternoon. “We have been holding onto hope that it might be possible for us to still get back to camp this summer…. It has become clear that camp as we know it and love it is not possible right now.”
Overnight camp is a centerpiece of the American Jewish community, with children often attending and sometimes then working at the same camps that their parents attended. Lasting anywhere from a few days to eight weeks, camps generally include Jewish education, prayer, Israeli cultural activities and Hebrew — along with sports, arts and crafts, and the like.
Whether the camps can operate given the pandemic has been an increasingly pressing question. Some states are beginning to lift some of the restrictions they imposed to slow the spread of the disease, and mounting evidence suggests that children are less vulnerable than adults.
At the same time, public health officials say returning to business as usual would not be safe, and many camps require campers and their families to travel great distances to attend. Camp directors have told JTA that state and local social distancing regulations, as they are now, would prevent camps from opening.
There are more than 180,000 campers and staff at the more than 300 Jewish overnight and day camps across the country, according to the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Jeremy Fingerman, the foundation’s CEO, said that each camp is going to have to make its own decision regarding the upcoming summer.
He estimates that Jewish camps could need $150 million to weather the coronavirus crisis, as the camps that have canceled programs have promised to refund or defer tuition. The Foundation for Jewish Camp is urging camps to cut costs and seek aid to tide them over. Fingerman told JTA that 46 camps have so far have received more than $12 million in government loans under federal economic relief legislation.
Charitable foundations have also pledged millions in donations to camps in the wake of the crisis.
“Hopefully it’s one season at worst, but for so many people, they’re yearning to connect with their camp friends, their camp communities,” Fingerman said. “And we as a Jewish community yearn for them to connect and engage and experience joyous Judaism. We’ve got to find ways to help make that happen.”
Ben Sales of JTA and Matt Samuels of the Jewish Herald Voice contributed to this report.