Lighting a Spark

July 31, 2014
BY Barbara Schlaff and Debbi Weinberg

080114_schlaff_barbara-_weinberg-debbiThis summer, thousands of children and teens are discovering the joy of being Jewish, as they swim, climb, jump, run and sing their way through the hundreds of Jewish camps across the country.

Amid the craft projects and color wars, they are immersed in Jewish experiences that happen so organically at camp that the campers may hardly even realize they are learning something. But learn they do. Just listen to the blessings these children sing when they return home. Eachreflects the flavor of the camp they attended and is the tune that willresonate in the campers’ heads well into their adulthood.

Research has shown that young Jews exposed to Jewish summer camp are more likely to feel connected to their Jewish identity as adults and engage with their community. A study of the long-term impact of Jewish summer camp conducted by the Found-ation for Jewish Camp indicated that campers come home from summer camp with an increased inclination to practice Jewish behaviors in their lives, from lighting Shabbat candles to using Jewish websites to appreciating the importance of being Jewish.

In addition, they are more likely to value and seek out the experience of Jewish community. The immersive experience of living in a vibrant Jewish community at camp seeps into the campers’ souls and stays with them for a lifetime.

As such, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore has established a Center for Jewish Camping to encourage parents to consider Jewish summer camps for their children and help them find the right camp for their needs.  Additionally, the center works closely with the national Foundation for Jewish Camp office to keep abreast of the latest and cutting-edge camp opportunities regarding affordability and incentive initiatives being launched.

Nurturing the spark of Jewish identity that is ignited around the campfire at Jewish camps is very much in keeping with The Associated’s mission, vision and values. The Associated is investing in children and teens today to ensure that these young people will help lead and sustain our community in the future.

There are hundreds of Jewish camps across the country, ranging from general day and overnight camps to specialty camps offering arts or sports programs to camps for children with special needs. Each offers the traditional summer camp experience coupled with the unique celebration of Jewish traditions.

Jewish camping provides a passion for Judaism that is unlike any other outlet these young people may experience. As campers, they are creating memories and forging friendships that can last a lifetime. Camp counselors and song leaders may be inspired to become rabbis and cantors. And every camp will also tell you of summertime couples who are now married and raising children together.

That is all part of the lore of Jewish summer camp and why so many families embrace this tradition for their children. While camp is still in session this year, it is the perfect time to visit camps in this area to see what options await your children next summer. Witnessing firsthand the spirit that permeates a Jewish summer camp is surely the best way to discover how Jewish camp can impact your family.

Barbara Schlaff and Debbi Weinberg are co-chairs of The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping Advisory Committee. Learn more about Jewish summer camps at livecamp.org.

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