JEWISH CAMPING , the collective term for the various forms in which the organized Jewish community and private Jewish entrepreneurs in North America have adapted the classic American summer organized camping format to meet the needs or desires of Jewish parents and/or the objectives of leaders of Jewish organizations and movements. A publication of the American Camping Association defines organized camping as "a sustained experience which provides a creative, recreational, and educational opportunity in group living in the out-of-doors. It utilizes trained leadership and the resources of natural surroundings to contribute to each camper's mental, physical, social, and spiritual growth." Jewish camping differs from Jewish youth movement activity (e.g., the Israeli tenuot no'ar or North American Jewish youth organizations) in that it refers to a program of varied activities which are focused at a permanent campsite which may be leased, though usually is owned by a sponsoring organization or in the cases of for-profit camps, by the camp's owner(s).
A census of the Jewish camp world, done by Amy Sales, Leonard Saxe, and their staff at Brandeis University, in the year 2000, counted 191 "mainstream" residential Jewish Camps in the United States, each summer serving approximately 83,000 Jewish children and teenagers, and also involving 18,000 Jewish adults who serve on their staffs. Many of the latter are college students working as bunk counselors who are also regarded by the camp administration, in most of the camps, as targets of the educational program. This is especially true in the camps under denominational or organizational auspices
Camps were included in the census of Jewish camps done by Sales and Saxe if they met the following three conditions: "(1) The camp has Jewish owners or is sponsored by a Jewish organization; (2) at least half of the campers are Jewish; and (3) the camp identifies itself as a Jewish camp." They suggest the usefulness of categorizing these 191 Jewish camps by their sponsorship and identify seven types of Jewish camps, which they divide into three major categories:
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The extent to which Jewishness is reflected in the programs of these camps varies greatly. It can be charted along a continuum ranging from camps which simply meet the above three basic identification criteria but offer virtually no Jewish content programming, to camps in which the Jewishness is the primary factor controlling much or most of the content of the camp program.
The earliest Jewish-sponsored camps were camps that were sponsored by settlement houses, as then existed on Manhattan's Lower East Side, with the purpose of taking the children of poor families out of the teeming city for a healthful fresh air experience in the country around the end of the 19th century. In 1893 the Jewish Working Girls Vacation Society of New York City opened Camp Lehman (eventually renamed Camp Isabella Friedman). This camp invigorated over the course of the years by the addition of a center for environmental education and a program for seniors was still operating in 2005. Another such camp, now known as Surprise Lake Camp, in Cold Spring, New York, was founded in 1901. In the 20th century as the *Settlement House movement declined, the Jewish "Y" movement and Jewish Center movement grew, camping was seen as an intrinsic part of the program of these institutions, and many of the Centers built and established camping programs. In 2004, the Jewish Community Center Association reports that its affiliates sponsor 35 resident camps and some 200 day camps (see below). Under the sponsorship of uja-Federation of Greater New York, Surprise Lake Camp serves as the official camping program for five jcc's throughout New York City, and five more in the surrounding suburban counties. Other y's and jcc's have operated their own resident camps.
Directed as they often were by social workers, many of whom lacked significant Jewish backgrounds, the programmatic emphasis in the "y" and jcc camps was laid upon recreational programming and especially upon the democratic values of group living emphasized in American schools of social work. The specifically Jewish aspect of the programs of these camps, if such existed, consisted of a brief religious service for the camp community on Friday evening or Saturday morning. In the last half of the 20th century, however, as Jewish community centers were pressed to intensify the Judaic content of their programs, so too, the summer camps affiliated with the centers intensified the Jewish content of their programs, including the importation of counseling staff from Israel, and observing the laws of kashrut in their kitchens.
In the 1920s and 1930s a recognition began to arise that the summer camp might play a significant role in Jewish education and the socialization of the Jewish child into Judaism. Samson Benderly, the first director of New York's Bureau of Jewish Education, was the first to recognize the unique opportunity that the summer camp offered for teaching modern Hebrew and other traditional Jewish values, through immersing children in a Hebrew and Judaic environment. In 1927 he opened Camp Achvah, the first Hebrew-speaking camp in Arverne, on New York City's Rockaway peninsula. In 1932, he sought to expand the program and purchased a campsite in a rural setting in upstate Godeffroy, New York. The expanded program retained the intensive Judaic program but was not Hebrew speaking, as had been the program at the Arverne site.
A.P. Schoolman, the director of the Central Jewish Institute, a talmud torah on Manhattan's upper East Side, saw the potential for creating a camp, conducted in English, which, along with its recreational program, would offer all kinds of activities with a Jewish content to them. Originally created in 1919 to complement the program of the cji Hebrew school, the camp, located in Port Jervis, ny, grew to become the most significant non-Hebrew Jewish cultural camp. In later years, Schoolman's Camp Cejwin grew to accommodate some thousand children each summer. As an indication of its stature, each summer it hosted the noted scholar, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. Schoolman was long regarded as the "dean" of Jewish camping in North America.
Surprisingly, the years of World War ii (1941–45) proved to be a very fertile period for the foundation of camps that were intensively Jewish. Jonathan Sarna refers to the 1940s as the "crucial decade in Jewish camping." This occurred despite the difficulties which wartime and the postwar period presented as regards to obtaining staff, obtaining building materials, purchasing foodstuffs, providing transportation, etc. The year 1941 in which the United States entered the war saw the birth year of Camp Massad, the most significant of the Hebrew camps. It was founded by a group of distinguished Jewish educators in New York City at the initiative of Hanoar Haivri – the Hebrew culture organization for Jewish youth, under the leadership of Shlomo Shulsinger who remained its director until he departed for Israel in 1977. That first summer, Massad opened as a day camp in the Far Rockaway section of New York City (not far from where Benderly had opened his first camp). The next summer, 1942, the camp operated at a leased campsite within an established Orthodox camp in the Catskill resort area. The following summer, 1943, the camp opened at its own site that it had purchased in Tannersville Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains. Alumni of the Massad Camps speak glowingly of the Massad experience and point to the many distinguished Massad alumni. Shulsinger demanded that Hebrew alone be spoken at all times in the camp and gave awards to campers who achieved this goal.
Significantly, the Massad camps (at the zenith of their popularity there were three of them) and Camp Cejwin faded away toward the end of the 20th century, as the denominational camps (see below) flourished and grew in number. A number of reasons have been suggested for this development. Probably most crucial was the factor that these camps, as they developed and flourished over time, became independent of any organizational or institutional base. The denominational camps could depend upon the support of nationwide movements made up of many hundreds of synagogues. In addition Massad and Cejwin were the products of charismatic individuals (Shulsinger and Schoolman) who remained as long time camp directors. When they retired from the scene without leaving behind equally talented successors, the camps floundered and then withered away. In the case of Massad, there was also the growing weakness of the centrist Orthodox community which had for decades provided the bulk of the camper populations, especially from the students of the Ramaz and Flatbush Yeshivot – the first in Manhattan and the second in Brooklyn. The availability of a trip to Israel as a summer option for students as well as the acquisition of summer homes by parents offered other options for a summer away from the hot city.
In 1943 steps were taken by Louis Hurwich, president of the Boston Hebrew College, to found a Hebrew-speaking camp, Camp Yavneh, which would carry on in the summer its work of preparing students in the college to be teachers for Jewish schools. It was also at this time that the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago undertook the founding of Camps Sharon and Avodah in Buchanan, Michigan – Sharon, a Hebrew teachers training camp, and Avodah, a farm camp for Chicago teenagers who volunteered to attend camp in order to replace farm hands who had been called up to military service. In 1944, the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies opened a children's camp, Camp Galil. Of these camps sponsored by the Hebrew Colleges, only Camp Yavneh survived into the 21st century.
Most notable in the immediate postwar period, because of their long-range impact, were the founding of the Conservative Ramah camping movement and the Reform uahc (later urj) Camp-Institutes movement. Both began with single camps serving the Chicago and broader Midwest area: the first Ramah Camp in Conover, Wisconsin (1947) and the first uahc Camp-Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin (1950). Attached as they were to well organized national synagogue movements, the Conservative movement's United Synagogue (now known as the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism) and the Reform movement (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism), within a decade, camps were established throughout North America to serve the various geographical concentrations of North American Jews affiliated with the movements. The initiative and long-time supervision of the Conservative camps was vested in the Teachers' Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the institution that trained Conservative rabbis and educators. Supervision of the Reform camps was vested in the Camping and Youth Department of the uahc. While there are individual notable Orthodox educational camps, such as Camp Morasha in Lake Como, Pennsylvania, and the camps of the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement, the divisions within American Orthodoxy seem to have precluded the establishment of a national Orthodox camping movement, along the lines of the Ramah or urj camps.
In the year 2004, there are 7 Ramah resident camps (in California, Ontario Canada, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) serving 6,500 children and youth each summer. There are 13 urj Camp-Institutes (in New York, Massachusetts (2), Ontario Canada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, California (2), Wisconsin, Indiana, Mississippi and Texas) serving a total of 10,000 children and youth each summer. An additional camp is under construction in the state of Washington. In addition there are 4 Reform camps sponsored by individual temples.
The programs of these two denominational camping networks lay emphasis on classes, religious services and observances, and a creative mix of activities planned in the spirit of the philosophy of the sponsoring movement. At the same time the camps offer programs rich in the classic recreational areas: sports, aquatics, arts and crafts, drama, dance, music, nature and camping. In the Ramah Camps, from the start, Hebrew was the official language; in the uahc Camps, there are Hebrew-speaking units in each camp. There is no doubt that both these denominations attracted their future leadership from the summer camping experience.
While on the surface, Jewish camps which offer intensive educational programs appear to be recreational enterprises, resembling as they do their non-Jewish counterparts which in the summer provide children and youth with an enjoyable alternative to the school-burdened fall, winter and spring, they have turned out to be much more than that. The founders of the Reform and Conservative camping movements early on proclaimed the goal of offering an intensive educational program to supplement the classes offered in synagogue and temple religious schools. Moreover they had declared the goal of making their camps "hothouses" for the production of layman and professionals who would assume roles of knowledgeable leaders in the movements. An examination of the backgrounds of rabbis, cantors, educational directors, and teachers affiliated with these movements documents the achievement of this later goal. Further, in many ways, the educational programs offered in the camps served as a testing ground and a stimulus for educational activity within their movements, beyond the summer, among them: (1) the use of informal education techniques as an educational tool; (2) as a means of strengthening year-round youth movements; (3) as an opportunity to explore new curricular areas (notable work was done in the camps on teaching about the contemporary State of Israel, the Holocaust, and Soviet Jewry, all later replicated in the year-round schools); (4) as a location for offering innovative types of Jewish education for adolescents with developmental disabilities; (5) providing college students with training in educational techniques; and (6) encouraging the study of Judaica at the college and graduate level.
The camps played a unique and fruitful role in educating Jewish youth about the role of Israel in Jewish life through injecting Israeli and Zionist themes throughout all aspects of the camp programs, by cooperating with the Jewish Agency in bringing Israeli counselors and specialists to serve on the camp staffs, and by integrating summer trips to Israel for the oldest campers into the range of camp experiences offered under the camp's sponsorship.
While Jewish camping is largely an American phenomena, Jewish camps on the American model are to be found in other countries. A few camps representing each of the major categories have been established in Canada: i.e., Reform, Conservative, Hebrew, Zionist, community center, and private for-profit. Notable are the Jewish institutional camps in South America and in Eastern Europe. When the Seminario Rabinico Latinamericano was established by the American Conservative movement in Buenos Aires, a Ramah camp was also established. As rabbis were ordained by the Seminario, and took pulpits in other South American countries, they took the idea of the Jewish educational camp with them, and established camps in those locales. When the Masorti movement (the Israeli Conservative movement) sought a means to provide Jewish educational programs for the culturally and religiously deprived Jews of Eastern Europe, the American-born rabbis who were leaders of Masorti embraced the idea of establishing camps on the Ramah model which they established for short periods on leased premises in various Eastern European countries.
The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has made notable use of camping as a tool of Jewish education in Eastern Europe to help realize its commitment to rebuilding Jewish life in that part of Europe where the destruction of the Holocaust was followed by the oppression of Communist rule. Especially notable is the large permanent campsite it has established at Szarvas, Hungary, operated in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which each summer offers intensive Jewish camping experiences to more than 1,000 youths from more than 20 countries. The Szarvas campers dance, swim, sing, and canoe, and they also attend daily prayer and learn what it means to observe Passover, Purim, and Ḥanukkah, which the staff recreates with them. The language of the camp is English, which also attracts campers anxious to become part of the global elite,
Ever since the 1950s, there has been much praise (especially in non-Orthodox circles) for the efficacy of the Jewish educational camps in socializing and educating young Jews into Jewish life. Based on Sherif 's research, Sales and Saxe identify the factors which make the summer camp such an effective medium for Jewish socialization of children and youth, as follows: "camp is an intense, enclosed setting," "camp activities are absorbing," camps "provide a framework for profound social learning," camp "provides the luxury of extended time with participants," "camp offers continuous interaction among campers and between campers and staff," and "[c]amp emphasizes learning through doing."
While there is a positive attitude toward camping in the Orthodox community, it seems to be mainly embraced as a summer recreational setting for the child. Because of the intensive socializing role of the Jewish home and the synagogue, and the intensive program of Jewish studies which most Orthodox children pursue in the day school, parents feel less need to utilize the summer for the intensive education, such as do parents of children enrolled in the Conservative and Reform camps. Among the Orthodox only the Chabad, who utilize camping to teach Judaism to children from non-religious families, emphasize the educational potential of camping.
Two other types of camps which have played a significant role in the history of Jewish camping are the Yiddishist camps and the Zionist camps. The first Zionist camps, intended for the youth affiliated with the various Zionist youth movements, were built in the 1930s. Today, with the exception of the Young Judea camps, sponsored by the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization, the others are sponsored by the American affiliates of Israeli political parties. These camps are essentially the summer "homes" of the year-round Zionist youth movements. Isaacman reports that in 1945 there were 30 Zionist-sponsored camps in North America, while in 2000 Sales and Saxe report the existence of 15 such camps. The major groupings of Zionist camps are the Bnei Akiva camps, the Habonim-Dror camps, and the Young Judea camps. The decline in the number of such camps mirrors the decline in youth affiliated with the Zionist youth organizations.
As for the Yiddish camps, Isaacman writes, in 1970, "There are five camps in our study that bear the identification of "Yiddish" camps… these camps are misnamed, since the Yiddish language does not play a significant role in all of the camps but one." This statement describes the character of these camps 35 years later. The designation of the camps as Yiddish pretty much reflects the goals of the organizations that sponsor these camps and not the camp programs. The 2005 website of Camp Kinder Ring, sponsored by the Workman's Circle states, "Many years ago all campers and counselors at Camp Kinder Ring spoke Yiddish … American Jews have not kept up with the language of our grandparents … we still have an appreciation for our mamaloshn… and we share this with our campers through the many Yiddish songs we sing."
There are also a significant number of Jewish day camps (some 200 under the sponsorship of Jewish Community Centers) in North America, which meet during the summer months, on Monday through Friday, usually from 9:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. These day camps replicate in their programs many of the types of activities offered by the overnight camps. Day campers live at home and are bussed to the campsite each morning. As a rule, a center that sponsors a resident camp will sponsor one or more day camps. The Conservative and Reform movements each sponsor a small number of day camps that serve as feeders to the overnight camps.
There have been a number of attempts to bring together the Jewish camping community over the years. Most often the effort was made to bring together the directors of the Jewish camps for annual meetings. Unfortunately, these efforts were poorly funded and rarely achieved more than holding an annual conference and publishing its proceedings. In 1998, Robert and Elisa Bildner, parents of camp-aged children who were pleased with what the Ramah camping experience had done for them and their children, made a contribution of one million dollars as seed money to establish The Foundation for Jewish Camping, headquartered in New York City. "The Foundation advocates for Jewish camping, encourages growth of the camp system, helps camps recruit staff, makes grants to promote programmatic excellence, champions the growth of camp scholarships, and offers information resources to parents, camps and the Jewish community." The Foundation has been successful in eliciting additional funding for its programs from groups such as the Avi Chai Foundation.
Adventure in Pioneering: The Story of 25 Years of Habonim Camping (1957); B. Chazan, S.M. Cohen, and S. Wall, Youth Trips to Israel:: Rationale and Realization (1994); E. Eels, Eleanor Eels' History of Organized Camping: The First 100 Years (1986); S. Ettenberg and G. Rosenfield (eds.), The Ramah Experience: Community and Commitment (1989); S. Dorph (ed.), Forward from Fifty: Ramah Reflections at Fifty (1999); M. Havatzelet (ed.), Kovetz Massad: Essays in Hebrew Literature and Thought by Friends of Massad Camps (Heb., 1978); D. Isaacman, "Jewish Summer Camps in the United States and Canada 1900–1969" (unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Dropsie University, 1970); M. Lorge and G. Zola, Gary (eds.), Summer in Oconomowoc: The Rise of Reform Jewish Camping (forthcoming 2006); A.L. Sales and L. Saxe, How Goodly Are Thy Tents: Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences (2004); A. Shapiro and B. Cohen (eds.), Studies in Jewish Education and Judaica in Honor of Louis Newman (1984); Sh. Shulinsinger-Shear Yashuv (ed.), Kovetz Massad Volume ii: Hebrew Camping in North America (1989).
[Burton I. Cohen (2nd ed.)]