When Alison Petok met Dan Slipakoff at Camp Harlam, a Reform Jewish overnight camp in the Pocono Mountains, she was only 10-years-old.
Who knew that 18 years later, they would be back at camp as adults for a special Aufruf (a tradition in which the couple is called up to the Torah the Shabbat before their wedding) in anticipation of their impending nuptials. And that they would be surrounded by former campers, turned counselors, in this special Shabbat ritual set in a beautiful chapel in the woods.
What followed later was a wedding infused with camp spirit. “We held a Havdalah service before the wedding, led by one of their best friends from camp. Each former Harlam camper – 25 of them – lit a Havdalah candle around the Chuppah. It was beautiful,” says Barbara Schlaff, mother of the bride and co-chair of The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping.
Because Jewish camp is recognized as one of the three pillars that create Jewish identity in kids – the others are Israel experiences and day school education – The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore established The Center for Jewish Camping. Through this initiative, families can receive personalized guidance and consultation services about day and overnight nonprofit Jewish camping options, including information about Jewish specialty camps and Jewish camps for kids with special needs.
“What’s great about Jewish camp, whether you’re at a day camp or residential camp,” says Janna Zuckerman, program manager, Center for Jewish Camping, “is that you are surrounded by hundreds of Jewish peers that become your family. You share the same beliefs, values, culture and traditions.”
Here are a few reasons Jewish camp is so special:
It’s the Friendships
Jewish camp provides unparalleled opportunities to make long-term friendships with Jewish peers from around the region and the globe. And even though the campers may go back to their hometowns during the school year, it doesn’t mean they don’t remain in touch.
Thanks to social media, Micah Saltzberg, who has attended Camp Airy since he was in elementary school, connects to his camp friends on a regular basis. Not only that, but they make a point of getting together. “My friend, Jameson, from Cherry Hill (NJ) comes down a few times a year, and we, along with camp friends from Northern Virginia and other areas, get together. I’m even still friends with my old counselors.”
Engage in Jewish Tradition and Culture
“I love everything about camp,” says Mia Kaufman, who has been attending Capital Camps for the past six years. But one of her favorite parts is Friday night Shabbat.
“I love to get ready with friends, I enjoy dinner with its matzoh ball soup; I love the dancing. The Shabbat services are filled with melodies and tunes that we sing specifically for camp,” she says.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Micah who also enjoys Shabbat when everyone is dressed in white and there is always a fantastic Shabbat meal. “You feel you are part of something larger,” Micah says. You’re doing something together that has been going on the same way for generations.”
For Ella Marcovitz, who is the third generation in her family to attend Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, camp provides a unique Jewish atmosphere. “At (Mosh), the ideology is that everyone gives what they can and takes what they need to create a vibrant Jewish community. Being part of a Jewish, labor-Zionist, youth movement, Mosh is structured to resemble a kibbutz. On a kibbutz, everything that happens is because of the people that live and work in the community. At Mosh, this philosophy is no different and we live by the same values and beliefs,” she says.
Don’t Forget the Activities
Jewish camp boasts a wealth of activities, from sports to arts and crafts. Whatever one’s interest – whether it’s basketball or tennis, swimming or white water rafting, arts or dancing – it’s all there. Not only that, but Jewish values, culture and traditions are woven into the fabric of Jewish camp so that campers can explore their own identity and that of the larger Jewish community. Examples of this are crafts like the Kiddush cup and Hamsah that Mia made during arts and crafts and the multi-day all-camp color wars, modeled after Maccabiah.
Ultimately, says Schlaff, “Jewish camp is a wonderful way to live Jewishly and to develop strong bonds with friends that last a lifetime.”
Visit livecamp.org, email Janna Zuckerman or call 410-369-9237 to find a Jewish summer experience that is right for your child.