The time of year has come for me to begin talking about camp. I must be honest — I do think the J camps are the best (what kind of director would I be if I didn’t think that?). However, Jewish camp is such a powerful experience that I am ready to say it doesn’t matter where you go, as long as it is a Jewish camp (and it is accredited by the American Camp Association so that you know the safety and quality are proven). There is a great book telling of important studies on the importance of camp: “How Goodly Are Thy Tents: Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences” by Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe. Let the studies and the authors speak:
• “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.”
• “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. … these purposes also include immersing children in Jewish life, inspiring them to greater identification with the Jewish people, and instilling in them the joy of Judaism.”
• “If children come to associate Jewish life with sweetness — the smell of pine trees, the closeness of friends, laughter in the bunk — what they practice and learn at camp will remain with them for a lifetime.”
• “At the camps we visited, 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 Jewish space. When Judaism is in the air, as it is at many camps, children take it in as effortlessly as breathing.”
If reading these words has not convinced you of the wonder, joy and importance of a camp experience, let me tell you stories of the memories and friendships from former campers and staff members. At the camp I grew up at, my husband and I were the 13th camp marriage (the first between former campers) and at Camp Chai, we boast of five camp marriages so far. The experiences connect us to community and it is especially wonderful when that is our Jewish community. Camp traditions come from Jewish traditions and then live on in our campers’ homes and hearts.
P.S. Need a list of great Jewish summer camps? E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.