Jul 6, 2015

Fond Memories of Jewish Summer Camp

By Rebecca Goldsteen

To celebrate summer, we're offering 20% off all Kar-Ben summer camp books. Discount taken at check-out.

Jewish summer camp was unlike any other experience in my lifetime. Some parents choose to send their children to secular summer camps, but I think these camps lack some important factors that Jewish summer camps provide and that stick with Jewish kids through adulthood. Many of the activities at Jewish summer camps connect to Judaism or Israel, allowing campers to learn about their Jewish history and culture in fun, active, and engaging ways. Additionally, because most if not all of the campers are Jewish, they share a special bond that is hard to find anyplace else in the outside world. Spending 24 hours a day for 1 to 8 weeks with the same group of people creates bonds that cannot be found going to school, synagogue, or on playdates.

I’ve made some of my best friends through my Jewish summer camp experiences. During my second summer at Camp Chi, an overnight camp near Chicago, the other pre-5th graders and I were preparing to take our beginning-of-the-summer swim test. I hopped in the water, which reached to my chest and squealed, not wanting to get all the way into the cold swimming pool. I noticed a tall girl standing next to me. She was so tall that the water only reached to her waist. I turned to her and commented on how lucky she was to be so tall so that she didn’t have to get into the chilly water as quickly. She laughed and agreed, saying that this was one of the few things she liked about being taller than everyone else. We immediately became best friends and were bunkmates for the next six summers. Now, ten years later, she is still one of my closest friends.

I think it’s great that Kar-Ben is publishing stories about Jewish summer camps to encourage young children to want to go to camp. Picnic at Camp Shalom shows an important side of camp friendships; bonding, sensitivity, patience, and forgiveness. When kids, especially young campers, spend this much time together, there are bound to be some small problems that need to be worked out. When Carly and Sara arrive to Camp Shalom, they click immediately. One day, Carly laughs at Sara’s last name (Frankfurter), and Sara gets upset with her. Sara ignores Carly’s attempts to apologize, but when she finally has the opportunity to reveal that her own last name is Hamburger, all is forgiven and the girls laugh together.

One of the most exciting parts about Jewish summer camp is having a blast getting dirty during daily activities. Of course the campers take quick showers after painting themselves for Color Wars and before nighttime song sessions, keeping in mind the fun-filled, messy activities that will take place the following day. Because the weeks are spent this way, getting ready for Shabbat at camp is very special. No Baths at Camp illustrates this excitement felt by all young campers. Regardless of whether or not campers celebrate Shabbat at home, it is everyone’s favorite time of the week at camp. Getting ready with all your friends, taking pictures (and lots of them, since everyone only looks this nice once a week!), sitting with your cabin during services with your arms around each other during prayers, having a nice Shabbat dinner, and banging on the tables during Birkat Hamazon. The night ends with a Shabbat song session that brings many of the older campers to tears as they are reminded of their love for camp. 

As important as it is to not segregate ourselves as Jews from the rest of society, it is just as important to embrace our culture among ourselves. Regardless of whether or not children attends public school or a Jewish school, they will learn more about themselves and the joy of being part of the  Jewish community by  attending  Jewish camp than anyplace else. Because Judaism is as much an identity as a religion, it is important for kids to recognize and embrace their Judaism, regardless of the their level of observance, from a young age.

Even through my last summer of camp as a pre-11th grader, I continued to grow and be engaged with finding myself Jewishly. Now, at age 20, preparing for my senior year of university, I have learned the importance of always keeping Judaism in my life, not only religiously, but also culturally and socially.

Rebecca Goldsteen , a Jewish summer camp enthusiast and student at the University of Illinois, is Kar-Ben’s summer intern.