Let There Be Camp!


Sarah, Liz and Jon, 12-year-olds at Camp Ramah, are waiting outside the chadar ochel for Shabbat lunch. They just finished hiking with their friends, and are standing in line to wash their hands. This procedure has existed in camp for years, but is being even more strictly enforced this summer. 

“Just a few weeks ago I really didn’t think camp would open,” Liz comments to her friends. Smiling from ear to ear, Sarah adds, “I know. It’s just amazing to be here, outside, playing, singing, after months of not being able to see anyone, being with friends, or getting away from our parents for more than a few minutes!” “You are so right,” Jon says, “Not being able to use computers or our phones here actually is kind of a relief. I can’t believe we used to complain about it. If I don’t see another Zoom class for the rest of my life, I’ll be thrilled.”

Sometimes we don’t truly appreciate the things we have until we contemplate losing them.

With the serious threat of illness facing everyone from the coronavirus, no one knows whether our precious summer camps will be able to open this summer. Such uncertainty: Might we be able to run camps as usual, or at least have a few weeks of camp in July or August? What is certain, however, is that the benefits of camp are perhaps more obvious than ever. With the threat of cancellation so real, what camp directors and Jewish community leaders have been saying about Camp Ramah and other Jewish summer camps for decades is proving to be powerful wisdom, never more appreciated than now.

  • Camp gives children real human connection in a warm and supportive community.

  • Camp gives young adult staff members unparalleled opportunities for leadership training and character growth, as taking care of others brings out the best in us.

  • Camp gives children independence from parents in a carefully supervised environment.

  • Camp gives children fresh air in nature, letting them explore the outdoors, whether it be appreciating the sunsets over a lake, hiking in the mountains, or simply relaxing under the shade of a tree.

  • Camp gives children a much-needed break from technology, which dominates our life year-round, and which during this crisis has become especially important, yet also somewhat enslaving.

  • Camp gives children a chance to play freely with friends, safely exploring relationships without the constraints of time slots, homework, and extracurricular activities.

  • And, camp gives children a time to be Jewish, to learn about Judaism in a joyous setting, where young role models set the standard, providing opportunities for deep spiritual, ritual, and ethical development.

We all hope that Sarah, Liz, and Jon, along with tens of thousands of other children, will be able to safely go to camp this summer. But if camps cannot open in 2020, if social distancing (the very antithesis of camp) must continue, then we must all close our eyes and imagine the incredible appreciation we will feel when June 2021 arrives, and the magical environment of Camp Ramah once again comes alive.

About the Author
Rabbi Mitchell Cohen assumed the leadership of the National Ramah Commission in 2003 after having served for 11 years as the director of Camp Ramah in Canada. Prior to 2003, he served as the founding principal of the Solomon Schechter High School in Westchester, New York. After graduating from Brown University, Rabbi Cohen attended the New York University School of Law, and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1984. He spent two years working as a corporate litigator and then enrolled in the Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary, receiving his ordination in 1990.