The ‘Magic’ of Jewish Summer Camp

Camp Swig no longer exists.  It was the summer camp I attended in the 70’s and 80’s in Saratoga, CA.  Established in the 50’s, it was long the only Jewish summer camp of the Reform Movement on the West Coast.  The grounds held a camp that my father attended when he was a youth but with the 2008 economic turn, the need for extensive seismic retrofitting and newer camps in the area (Camp Newman, Camp Towanga, Ramah Galim), it was time for Camp Swig to close its gates.

The experiences I had as a young person at Jewish summer camp continue to resonate with me today.  The joyfulness of Jewish living; it is encouraged to ask big questions; building friendships independent of the watchful eyes of parents; playing a guitar could make you the coolest person in the cabin.  Many of these lessons remain true.

From my own experiences, I continue to be a vocal advocate for immersive Jewish summer experiences.  Whether summers at camp or Israel trips, social justice missions or other venues, living within an environment infused with Jewish values and rituals will nurture a deep love which a few hours in a classroom each week cannot replicate.

Each summer, Beth El staff visit our students at area Jewish camps – Capital Camps, Camp Ramah New England, Ramah Day Camp, Camp Airy and Louise, and Camp Perlman. Other Beth El families attend Camps Sprout Lake, Blue Star, Seneca Lake and others.  I am proud that Beth El continues to be the #1 feeder to both Capital Camps and Ramah New England.  Our goal is to expand the number of students benefiting from these opportunities.  With the support of Tali Moscowitz, Beth El’s Assistant Education Director for Youth Engagement, more and more families are being introduced to the wide variety of these summer camps.

The question each family must address is how are we going to make Jewish living joyful, meaningful and relevant… even when we don’t have a lake (agam) near by.  When kids return home, they are prepared for Jewish values to inform their lives and offer perspective of events around them.  Are we up for the task though?

As we shift into August, think about ways you can incorporate a few more Jewish books or ideas or actions into your routine so you can support the naturally inquisitive nature of the kids in your life.  Whether you are a parent, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent or simply a friend… you can help model the joy of Jewish living in each thing you do.

Enjoy summer!

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris

1 comment

Sandra Pollen

Dear Rabbi Harris,

I greatly appreciated your encouraging our members to send their children to a Jewish camp. My younger daughter Lodi went to a Young Judaea camp with some of her Beth El friends. A couple of the boys decided to go on Hadassah Year Course, as a gap year between high school and college. Lodi thought that was a great idea. I sent a social butterfly to Israel, and a transformed young lady returned. Her first statement when she got off the plane was “if I ever made Aliyah, I would need a real profession, like nursing.” Fast forward several years. She switched her college major from early childhood education to nursing. She didn’t make Aliyah, but she is currently a tenured nurse in the neonatal division of the Brigham Hospital. I credit her summer at Young Judaea camp for inspiring her to go to Israel, and then pursue her goal.
I hope our young parents heed your advise!

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