After seven weeks of peace and quiet at home, my wife and I welcomed our teenagers back from their summer adventures.
We have been regaled with their energetic stories and delighted by their growing perspectives. We see proof in our own home of the power and vitality of the Jewish summer experience.
We could not be more pleased!
Our 17-year-old returned from his camp’s trip to Israel with friends he’s made over his last seven summers. For Camp Yavneh — as it is for many other camps — this trip is the culmination of the camper experience. The program is designed as a leadership development journey, which in part solidifies connections to the camp back in New Hampshire, where the group returned to camp upon its arrival back from Israel. Next summer, my son aspires to be a camp counselor — he hopes to become the role model for campers that his counselors were for him.
This program also created a strong, transformative bond to the land, state, and people of Israel for the campers. A full summer teen trip allows for immersion into the Israel experience at a time when these teens truly are forming their own identities and viewpoints. By hiking the land, camping out in the Negev, hearing dynamic speakers from a broad range of perspectives, and experiencing the vibrancy of modern Israeli life, our son’s independent outlook appears to be evolving and maturing. He has asked probing questions and he has expressed personal connections. After his upcoming senior year in high school, he wants to spend a gap year in Israel.
Our 15-year-old thrived as she acquired new skills in her own leadership trajectory. We have been impressed by her growth and development, taking responsibilities more seriously and aspiring to be a counselor-in-training next summer. The intentionality of the camper program is working; her determination and perseverance are clearly evident since her return.
We sometimes don’t fully appreciate the multiple benefits a camp experience provides. Being away for the summer allows kids the opportunity to develop skills critical for future success — without the hovering of helicopter parents. These 21st-century skills have been quantified by studies of Fortune 500 companies as necessary if people are to contribute and compete effectively. Those companies hire and promote employees who can exhibit these skills effectively. I can only imagine that valuing and rewarding these 21C skills will make school environments healthier, safer, and more fruitful as well.
Living in a bunk with 16 teenagers is bound to help someone develop effective problem-solving skills and demonstrate collaborative spirit. Competing in events such as Maccabiah (color war) and Zimriyah (song festival) enables a camper to improve both leadership and team-building skills. Many camp electives and activities throughout each session provide the chance to demonstrate grit and resilience, which seem to be ever more necessary in this day and age. We also know that kids in immersive experiences during the summer become confident in their own independence and the ability to make — and live with — independent decisions.
Although computer skills certainly will be necessary and required for today and tomorrow, spending summers away from screens of all types helps to refine basic communication skills that will prove indispensable, particularly for this generation. Learning to express themselves face-to-face, looking others in the eyes, giving a smile or a proper handshake, provides a foundation for genuine relationships and effective interactions. (Alas, the no-screen policy only seems to work during the summer and on Shabbat!)
The summer camp environment provides an incubator of sorts, where teenagers can cultivate their 21C skills. Even better, the Jewish camp environment allows those skills to be refined and experienced in a joyful Jewish context.
We already see in both of our teens what I know to be true about time spent away from home in immersive Jewish summer experiences. We observe them forming and expressing their own positive connections to Judaism and Israel, which we are confident will remain with them throughout their lives.
While we did enjoy the peace and quiet of a kid-free summer, we are gratified to have our campers back.