Overnight Camp: A rite of passage for Jewish kids

Jewish overnight summer camps are unparalleled experiences for Jewish kids. Starting in the United States more than 125 years ago, five generations (and tens of thousands) of Jewish children, teens, and young adults have experienced joy and nature, discovered their identity, built lifelong friendships, and increased connections to Jewish community, traditions, values, and culture.

A Camp for Every Camper

The Bay Area Jewish Camp Collective is comprised of six unique and amazing overnight camps around Northern California. All offer opportunities for unequaled fun, Jewish connection, and adventure.

Located on the beach at Monterey, Camp Ramah Galim boasts specialty programs in ocean exploration, adventure sports, and performing arts with a transformative Jewish camping experience.

URJ Camp Newman is “a unique blend of an inclusive and loving community, general camp activities, fun, and meaningful Jewish learning through experiential and informal education,” explains Camp Director, Rabbi Allie Fischman. This summer is an exciting time for Camp Neuman as the camp begins a new chapter at its rebuilt campsite in Santa Rosa.

For athletic campers, JCC Maccabi Sports Camp on the Peninsula combines the wonders of Jewish overnight camp with a skill development-focused sports camp. According to Senior Camp Director, Josh Steinharter, “Kids who love sports can advance their game being coached by passionate coaches. They will do so in a supportive and meaningful community guided by Jewish values, alongside other campers who share these same passions.”

The oldest of the Bay Area Jewish camps, Camp Tawonga, has been operating for ninety-five years. Situated in a serene wilderness location on the doorstep of Yosemite National Park, Tawonga offers campers immersive experiences in nature, while instilling a deep connection to community and Judaism.

Set on a gorgeous 350-acre campus along the Russian River, Eden Village West offers a choice-based Jewish camping experience with a focus on connecting with nature and creative living. Camp Director, Casey Yurow emphasizes the “incredibly delicious, organic and kosher, farm-to-table food and a culture of radical kindness.”

Camp Be'chol Lashon in Petaluma is a multicultural Jewish overnight camp that teaches about global Jewish diversity, builds community leaders, and inspires a love of Judaism. Implementing an innovative curriculum, ‘Passport to Peoplehood,’ campers learn about Jewish people as a global, multicultural people.

Community Continues After Summer Camp Ends

Camp Collective summer camps are a crucial hub in our Jewish community and experiences at camp are formative for young people. “Jewish summer camp might possibly be the best idea the American Jewish community has ever had,” asserts Casey from Eden Village West.

As Rabbi Sarah Shulman, Executive Director at Camp Ramah Galim, points out, “Summer camp is a safe and supportive space for campers. It's a foundational community and a source of inspiration, joy, and learning, ripe with role models and opportunities to stretch ourselves.” In a similar sentiment, Shoshie Flagg, Assistant Director of Community Engagement at Camp Tawonga says, “We believe that a loving, inclusive Jewish community gives children a chance to gain self-confidence, explore their spirituality and discover the truest versions of themselves.”

Camps are beacons for growth. “Summer camp is the place where our children and young adult staff can spread their wings in a safe and loving community that is based on Jewish values,” adds Rabbi Allie from Camp Neumann. Casey from Eden Village West emphasizes how camp provides a “precious opportunity to unplug and take healthy risks while being supported by caring mentors who aren't their parents.”

Campers experience what it means to be Jewish at camp in a way that is different from most conventional environments. According to Josh from JCC Maccabi Sports Camp, “campers get to explore camp on their own terms, finding rituals, ideas, and values that resonate in a meaningful way.” For Josh, “connecting to Judaism is critical to the growth of our Jewish community. Camp gives young people the chance to be Jewish in the way they want to be Jewish.”

Awaiting Summer Camp 2021

This summer, after a year when all camps have stood silently, missing the sights and sounds of kids playing, laughing, learning, and being themselves, as a necessary consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the yearning for campers to be together again is palpable. "Camp Ramah is my second home; it’s my happy place. The memories I make at camp last with me throughout the entire year. As soon as I get home from camp, I sit counting down the days until I’m back, pouring over photos from previous summers, and talking with my camp friends. There’s no place like it" says Sarit Greenwood, a Bay Area camper.

All camps are prioritizing the safety of their camp communities through many protocols to ensure that camp will be a safe and supportive environment for campers and staff this summer and beyond. “Without a doubt, camp will still feel like camp with its magic and fun!” shares Rabbi Sarah from Camp Ramah.

Camp families embody the diversity of our Jewish community and share a desire for children to have meaningful experiences that can be treasured for a lifetime. A returning camp parent revealed that “as a family that values our Mexican and Jewish cultures, we are so grateful that Tawonga is committed to building spaces where family cultural mixes are the norm. I am hopeful that this will help our boys grow up feeling understood, confident, and whole.”

Jesse Zilberstein, an Eden Village West parent said, "Camp gives our children freedom and grounds them in nature, all while making them feel safe, comfortable, and loved. The growth in spirit, knowledge, grit, and joy we saw in them after twelve days was unreal, and it became clear to us very quickly that being at Eden Village was probably the best decision we ever made for them."

This summer, campers will be welcomed to their ‘summer homes’ where they will be inspired, challenged, unplugged, and connected to being Jewish, to nature, and to each other. If your family is considering camp this summer, the time to enroll is now!

To meet staff from our local camps, sign up for the Jewish Overnight Camp Meet the Staff Q&A panel discussion on April 12.

Posted

April 02, 2021

Author

Aliza Golshani

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