Keeping Jewish Overnight Camp Free of COVID-19

Campers roasting marshmallows around a campfire

"I just need to get my kids off their computers, out of the house, and into the fresh air."

This has been the refrain of every parent of camp-going children every spring of every year in recent memory. But have the "summer can't come soon enough" laments ever been more meaningful and poignant than they are at this moment?

The impact of COVID-19 on the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of our children is unfathomable. But to put it mildly, they are Zoomed out. They need camp. Not a virtual “camp” with screens and Wi-Fi. No… real camp. Complete with overnight campouts, water sports, mosquito bites, ridiculous songs, late-night sneaking about, unwashed faces, color wars, and hastily written, compulsory letters to their parents. Their health depends upon it.

And no one knows this more than the members of the Bay Area Jewish Camp Collective - a consortium of six Northern California Jewish overnight camps. Not only are they working together to bring real camp experiences back to our community, but they also know that our campers, staff, and volunteers must return to camp safely. And that's where a prominent Bay Area philanthropist, Fred Isaac, enters the picture.

Funding COVID-19 Testing for Every Camper

"Fred Isaac and [the Federation’s Managing Director of Community Impact] Wendy Verba came to us and asked what we needed in terms of support in order to be able to operate this summer," said Rabbi Sarah Shulman, Camp Director of Camp Ramah Galim. "And I immediately thought of COVID-19 testing." In addition to Rabbi Shulman, other directors from the Camp Collective—including Eden Village West, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, URJ Camp Newman, Camp Tawonga, and Camp Be'chol Lashon—agreed that COVID-19 testing for campers and staff was essential for returning to in-person camp.

"But it's also very expensive," said Jamie Simon-Harris, Director of Camp Tawonga. "It's a central part of our safety plan this summer, without a doubt," added Casey Yurow, Director of Eden Village West. "But funding support is absolutely crucial in making it possible to bring that operation online and keep the cost of camp as affordable as possible for our families."

"COVID-19 testing for campers and staff is essential… but it’s also very expensive."

The camps met with Fred and Wendy and together submitted a collaborative grant proposal to help cover COVID-19 testing costs, agreeing to share purchasing and protocol information as they planned. Impressed by their unified approach and the urgent safety needs camps are facing, Fred’s donor-advised fund, the Frederick J. Isaac Philanthropic Fund administered by the Federation—awarded a grant to help fund COVID-19 testing for every camp in the Camp Collective.

"Right now, the plan is for all campers and staff to get tested three days before arriving at camp, receive a rapid test on their arrival day, and then another PCR test five days into the session," said Casey from Eden Village West. "And we'll have a relationship with a lab partner to conduct more rapid tests in the event that somebody shows symptoms, and we need to do follow-up testing." Of course, each camp within the Camp Collective might change its COVID-19 testing protocols to reflect the CDC’s frequently updated guidelines as well as rapidly rising vaccination rates, particularly as vaccines are cleared for increasingly younger people.

Returning to Camp, When Kids Most Need It

Every member of the Camp Collective shares a palpable sense of gratitude and enthusiasm for this long-awaited summer season.

“The kids need camp now more than ever before […], and this testing allows that to happen.”

"I think the kids need camp now more than ever before because camp is the antidote to everything that's been going on for them," said Jamie from Camp Tawonga. "It’s going to help them build community. It’s going to help them connect to nature; it’s going to help them unplug from their technology and connect to their Jewish identity and friends. It’s just so impactful… and this testing allows that to happen.”

“Of course, Fred [Isaac] has been tremendously generous to the Jewish community, but he has also been really strategic in terms of his philanthropy. He recognized that there was an infrastructure need for camps to operate this summer. And that’s how it started,” said Rabbi Shulman from Camp Ramah Galim.

It Takes a (Jewish Camp) Collective

Jewish Camp Collective Banner reading "I can't wait to come back next year"

In addition to Fred Isaac’s generosity, the coming together of so many camps has paid large dividends for responding to the pandemic. Under the Federation’s leadership three years ago, the region’s six summer camps forged a close collaborative network and a common vision for Jewish camps in Northern California that has helped them solve problems, raise funds, and enable them to act quickly and support each other in times of crisis.

“The Camp Collective is an incredible group of colleagues, and we've been getting together quarterly with our partners at [the] Federation for a couple of years now--but this year, it just kicked into super-high gear,” said Casey from Eden Village West. “And I think it’s because all the camps are so good at holding the larger view of a shared mission and a shared goal of supporting the development of positive, Jewish identity and supporting the growth of our Jewish community. And in this instance, a shared goal of allowing us all to get back to camp safely.”

For more information on the Bay Area Jewish Camp Collective, please visit their website at
If you want to maximize your giving’s impact, consider setting up your own donor-advised fund at the Federation by calling 415.512.6225 or emailing us at



May 27, 2021


Jon Moskin