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Jewish Summer Camp: Why It’s One Of The Best Gifts You’ll Ever Give Your Child

While we all know how hard it is to plan for the future right now, the Bay Area Jewish community is looking towards summer 2021 with optimism and excitement around the potential for our Jewish summer camps to collectively run in-person experiences once again!  After months of shelter-in-place, countless families are holding out hope for the prospect of adventurous outdoor exploration, silly evening programming, and lively Shabbat community celebrations. While there are so many reasons to consider Jewish summer camp for your child in any given year, here are a few reasons to consider a summer at camp post-pandemic:

1. Camp builds independence: Quarantine has pushed families physically closer than ever before, and many families are enjoying this newfound time together. On the flip side, the increased family interactions provide fewer opportunities for the identity exploration and independence usually synonymous with the teenage years. 

Camp challenges teens to problem-solve amongst peers, build communication and self-advocacy skills, and test out new identities. It provides opportunities for teens to make their own choices and try new activities, pushing them to expand their comfort zones and grow in the process.

2. Camp infuses Jewish values into every activity, setting the stage for ongoing activism: The current moment presents us with ample opportunity to stand up for causes we believe in and be active participants in the public space. Jewish camps are grounded in values like kehillah (community), omez lev (courage), and tikkun olam (repairing the world). By living 24-hours in a setting focused on building these values, teens can use skills gained and lessons learned as a jumping off point to challenge injustices and care for those around them upon returning.

3. Camp is steeped in tradition: The pandemic has pushed us to adapt from celebrating holidays and events in the ways we hold dear. We’ve watched many a birthday, wedding, and even High Holiday service take place over zoom or amongst a small group of people. 

Camp is built around meaningful traditions that provide a sense of consistency and group identity. Campers and staff aspire towards opportunities like serving as color war captain, taking a beloved off-site trip, or simply receiving a certain special swag item that marks a new step in the camp journey. Of course, Jewish camp is centered around meaningful Shabbat observance, and each camp provides a unique, ritual-infused experience that many consider the highlight of each week. 

4. Camp builds community: Above all, every Jewish camp is built upon opportunities for campers to build friendships and feel a sense of belonging within a larger Jewish community. In non-pandemic times, camp encourages hugs, high fives, fist bumps, and arms thrown around one another–interactions we never knew we needed until they were taken from us. Many teens leave at the end of the summer having strengthened bonds with former bunkmates and emerging with new best friends whom they previously hadn’t known just weeks earlier. These meaningful connections formed under the guidance of positive staff role models, just a few years older, supported by caring senior leadership.

In Northern California alone, there are more than 20 Jewish day and overnight camps that have collectively transformed the lives of thousands of children and young adults. Camp provides space for wrestling with values, growing confidence, and building lifelong friendships, allowing young people to carry these lessons and memories into adulthood and beyond. Give your child the gift of Jewish summer camp, it might be the best decision you ever make!