“Thinking about the summer already”
I have headed up Jewish day schools for 15 years. It is hard to find a stronger proponent of Jewish day schools than me. Day schools make Jewish learning normative. At a day school, Jewish learning is not an extracurricular activity. It is a content-filled, non-negotiable, inspiring, and daily type of Jewish learning. It is the fulfillment of the obligation to establish fixed times for Torah study. It is as natural as learning math, science or English.
Yet, as valuable as Jewish day schools are, I also promote Jewish summer camping. At camp, children experience things they simply don’t experience at school. Jewish camps teach children how to Israeli dance, recite Birkat Hamazon by heart, and sing zemirot and Israeli folk songs. They teach Hebrew so naturally that campers cannot translate “chadar ochel” but certainly know where it is and why it’s important. Jewish camps are rarified immersive experiences that convey to young people that Jewish living is not just something that is found in a sacred text but is something one can live joyously. At camp, Jewish life becomes plausible.
That’s why children need both–camp and school.
This summer Jewish camps proved their value for staff members and campers alike in one more way. Thanks to the Jewish camping movement, over 100,000 children of all ages experienced the gamut of emotions caused by this summer’s events in Israel.
Whether in an overnight camp or a day camp, they prayed for the release of the three kidnapped Israeli boys and then mourned their deaths. They affirmed their solidarity with Israeli citizens when rockets were shot into Israel. They felt the fear that Israelis felt when the IDF discovered the tunnels that Hamas dug to infiltrate Israel and murder Israelis. With Israeli shlichim in camp, the events were very real and personal.
Campers wrote notes to soldiers and sent care packages. The soldiers sent back selfies to show campers the difference their support was making. Little campers and big counselors followed the events in Israel each according to his or her level of maturity. This summer our young people learned that we are one people with one fate.
Imagine how dramatically Jewish camps would be enriched if more day school students chose to attend one of the many Zionist or denominational Jewish camps instead of expensive secular camps. Imagine how day schools would be transformed if more campers attended a Jewish school instead of secular private schools.
Our children would be stronger Jews. The Jewish people would be a stronger people, and Israel would have a more secure future.