Jewish Overnight Camps to Offer Different Summer Experience

Typically, during this time of year, as school is nearing an end, both parents and kids alike are accustomed to preparing for summer break. Vacation plans are set, transportation logistics are made, and sleepaway camp items are purchased. This summer, however, will look different. Many overnight camps have cancelled their in-person camp sessions and are planning alternate options for their camp families. Some day camps are opening under restrictive guidelines due to local governmental regulations.

The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping has been meeting with its 13 partner camps over the past two months to provide a platform to engage with each other and share best practices for moving forward. 

“It has been helpful for camps to come together and discuss what each is thinking and how these decisions impact their families,” shares Saadya Zakheim, Chair of the Center for Jewish Camping Advisory Committee. “We also are exploring ways that the Center for Jewish Camping can support our partner camps during this time in the areas of professional development for staff and mental health trainings.”

Jen Braveman Silber, Executive Director of Habonim Dror Camp Moshava and Jo-Ellen Unger, Director of URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy spoke about their camp’s decisions to close and what this summer will look like. 


What made you make the call so early?

Jen: Our decision was made and founded upon one goal – to safeguard the health and wellbeing of everyone in our community. There were many factors that went into this decision including the accessibility and accuracy of testing, the severity of the outbreak in Maryland, the lack of availability of the usual pre-camp inspections and that public health experts (e.g. the CDC) indicated that Covid-19 would very likely be present at camps this summer.

Jo-Ellen: System-wide, we led with our values, first and foremost of which is the health and safety of our camp community. Given the known and unknown risks associated with the current health crisis, we felt we could not open for Summer 2020.


What will be the impact on the camp family?

Jo-Ellen: CAA provides a safe space for young artists to explore their craft and their Judaism. The loss of that physical setting is profoundly difficult on campers, staff and faculty. Camp is a place where we all feel seen and where we can be our most authentic selves. There is a power in gathering people who understand your passions, value what you value and share your language and we feel that loss of in-person gathering keenly.

Jen: This will be the first summer in 85 years that Habonim Dror Camp Moshava will not be filled with campers and staff, building a youth-led, Jewish community steeped in the values of tikun olam (repairing the world), shivyon erech ha’adam (the value of all people) and chevra (friendship/community).


What can campers expect?

Jo-Ellen: We are currently working with our partners at URJ and FJC, along with our Arts Mentors, additional staff and faculty, to put together virtual options that weave art and Judaism together. Workshops will be offered in several disciplines like creative writing, dance, music, theatre and visual art.

Jen: We are going to offer virtual programs two to three times a week for the month of July and daily for the first week of August. From online games, to arts and crafts and Israeli folk dancing, kids will have the chance to connect with other kids their own age and as a camp community. Programs will be run by our talented and dedicated staff, who, as always, will provide encouraging and educational activities. We will also continue offering our weekly social justice leadership program for high school students, Bonimot Tzedek (Builders of Justice).


Will counselors and staff have a chance to connect?

Jen: We will continue to have all staff gatherings aka “chevrati” events throughout the summer for those who were originally hired to work at camp. We are currently in the process of reaching out to our staff individually to determine if they are interested and available to work with us on the virtual programming. We hope to keep as many of our staff involved as possible.

Jo-Ellen: Arts mentors, past and present, will be offering a series of workshops over the summer. Our amazing faculty (clergy and educational leaders from across North America) are also volunteering their time this summer. In addition to supporting arts majors and Shabbat experiences, they, along with our full-time team, will be offering staff engagement opportunities throughout the summer.


What’s next?

Jo-Ellen: Our goal is not to attempt to replicate camp through an on-line platform. It is to continue to provide skill building in the arts through a Jewish lens and to foster opportunities for our community to Create. Connect. Celebrate. with one another. We are consciously not mirroring the language of our camp schedule; we are pivoting to a program specifically designed for this moment in time.

Jen: In addition to meeting the needs of our campers and families, the goal of our virtual programs is to keep campers and staff connected to Mosh this summer and beyond. When it is safe for us to resume in-person experiences, we will do so whether that is this summer, fall or next year.

Through community outreach, education and public awareness, The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping engages and inspires the Greater Baltimore Jewish community, in order to maximize the number of children attending Jewish camp and ensuring a vibrant Jewish future.

Partner camps include BT Camps, Camps Airy & Louise, Camp Havaya, Camp Ramah in the Poconos, Camp Shoresh, Capital Camps, Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, J Camps, Perlman Camp, Tiyul Adventure Camp at Pearlstone, URJ Camp Harlam and URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy.

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