Summer is here! I can’t help but get excited because I hope and know that summer memories for my children will be some of the highlights of their life experiences. For me, summer camp was transformative. It was the time of year that I connected with my closest friends, explored new interests I never knew I had and discovered ME! Now as a parent, I get to experience that same joy and adventure by seeing the huge, sweaty smiles and hearing the silly stories that my children bring back from Camp Milldale each afternoon.
From singing Jewish camp songs at the top of my lungs to Friday Shabbats around the campfire, these experiences made me feel more connected to our larger Jewish community. My childhood summers impacted who I have become as an adult — taking on leadership roles in our Jewish community, supporting Jewish nonprofits, valuing and celebrating our Jewish holidays and culture.
My husband, Adam, and I hope our children will continue on this path. This is why, since our children were toddlers, we’ve always made Jewish camp a priority. At Camp Milldale, their traditional summer camp experiences are woven with Jewish values, music, foods and traditions. Campers make homemade hummus in cooking, sing the Hamotzi at lunchtime, learn Israeli dancing from the shlichim (Israeli emissaries), and come home belting out “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.” At flagpole, they learn new camp cheers to show their camp ruach (spirit). Their counselors encourage Jewish values such as kavod (respect) and chesed (kindness) to their fellow bunkmates. Camp provides our kids with an easy entry point to a lifelong connection to Judaism and Jewish values.
Adam and I both attended Camp Milldale, so we have a taste of the endless fun and lasting memories that our children, Jacob, 9, and Mollie, 6, are creating each summer. If you ask them what is their favorite part of camp, every day they seem to have a different answer.
From swimming to the zipline to soccer to archery to visiting the farm at Pearlstone to arts and crafts, our kids come home every day with new stories to tell. This summer, our children will also spend two weeks at the JCC’s new performing arts camp, Habimah. In a Jewish setting, the campers will learn from professional teaching artists in acting, singing, dance and drumming and have an opportunity to perform a showcase on the Gordon Center stage.
Our children attend Howard County public schools, which are incredibly diverse — one of the many reasons we love living there. We have summer camp options locally but not many Jewish camps. Thankfully, Camp Milldale, located in Baltimore County, has made it convenient for Howard County children to attend by providing an express bus from the Bet Yeladim preschool in Columbia. Every morning, both campers and parents have a chance to reconnect with the Jewish friends we know from our children’s preschool and Hebrew school.
As the bus pulls away each morning, I am confident that Jacob and Mollie are well on their way to becoming independent, self-confident, kind and adventurous children in our Jewish community.
Randi Benesch is managing director of Arts & Culture at the JCC of Greater Baltimore.