Everyone who knows me has heard me say, “Camp is the most important experience in a child’s life.” There are so many reasons why I feel this way — camp gives so much to children, and the lessons learned (and experienced) last a lifetime. This goes double (or maybe even triple, or more) for the Jewish camp experience. I write this column anticipating my yearly “pilgrimage” to the American Camp Association Conference and as we register campers for the J Summer Camps 2019. Let me share the messages from a wonderful book: “How Goodly Are Thy Tents — Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences,” by Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe. You decide for yourself how important a summer a camp is for your children and remember how important it was for you. (For a wonderful thought provoker, go to YouTube — “Because of Camp.”)
• “Jewish socialization involves acquiring the knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable one to be an active member of the Jewish community.”
• “A community’s unity, strength and continuation depend on its capacity to socialize new members — to build commitment to the group and to transmit its knowledge and values to each succeeding generation. Socialization is thus critical to the Jewish enterprise, which is based in community.”
• “…at camp, Judaism was ‘in the air.’ We found it in everyday ritual practices, in Shabbat and in the symbolism that defines the physical environment of the camp as a Jewish space. When Judaism is in the air, as it is at camp, children take it in as effortlessly as breathing.”
• “Camp is a mass of contradictions. It is a simple enterprise that does extraordinarily complex work. Camps are rooted in tradition but also excel at creativity and experimentation. Camp is a quintessentially American invention that produces some of the most powerful Jewish experiences in a child’s life. An institution dedicated to fun, it is responsible for the most serious work of the community: building commitment to the Jewish people and transmitting Jewish knowledge and values to the young generation. Out of these contradictions arise camp’s potential as a socializing agent as well as its challenges for the future.”
• “Jewish tradition says that the study of Torah is equal to all of the other mitzvot because it leads to them all. So, too, is fun equal to all of the other purposes of camp because it leads to them all.”
There are many choices for camps and as the J camp director, of course, I want children and families here. However, as a “real camp person,” I want all children to experience the growth and connections that happen at any Jewish camp. At the J we are saying it loud and clear: Camp is Life. I hope you are ready for a summer of life-changing experiences. You are never too old for camp — join the spirit by sending your child to Jewish camp and remembering your experience.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.