Finding the Joys of Jewish Community at Camp Ramah

August 26, 2011

Source: The Huffington Post


Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, blogged about his summer visits at Ramah Camps around the US, talking to kids, counselors and heads of program about their experiences. His impression is that the 40,000 Jewish campers and counselors still care about community and are drawn to return year after year to their camps to share in Jewish community building.

He writes:

"Summer camps are enjoying a period of revival despite the weak economy. And if you ask campers or counselors what they most enjoy about being at camp, it doesn't take long for them to tell you that the key is individual friendships and groups of friends: community. Eating with the kids in your bunk. Sharing adventures. Singing at the top of your lungs. Line dancing. Flirting. Pushing yourself hard, knowing others have your back. Concentrating on the game or the craft, and being aware, even without looking around, that your friends beside you are doing the same. Dressing up in white for the Sabbath, something you would have scoffed at if your parents had asked you to do it. Allowing yourself to be serious or to confess weakness or longing. Participating in prayer services, liking them and admitting you like them.


College-age counselors and even senior camp administrators have equivalent pleasures -- and the added satisfaction of responsibility, as individuals and part of a group, for making sure campers are safe, having a good time and growing well. Leadership too is fostered in community. One can be a grown-up, it turns out, without succumbing to aloneness. A lot of what campers enjoy most about their summer draws counselors back year after year as well.


That is why, for Jews a minority in America at less than 2 percent of the general population, and so a group that finds it difficult to transmit identity and commitment from one generation to the next, camping has taken on huge importance in recent years. For once in these kids' lives, Jewishness is not something they are or do off to the side of life, in Hebrew school or synagogue."

Updated: Sep. 20, 2011