Source: Foundation for Jewish Camp
Camp Works: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp, a newly published research study, provides systematic and quantitative evidence that summers at Jewish camp create adults who are committed to the Jewish community and engaged in Jewish practice. Utilizing the most recent National Jewish Population Survey and 25 local community studies completed between 2000–2008, this report offers the fullest picture to date of the impact of Jewish summer camp. The influence of summer camp on the ways in which adult Jews choose to engage with the community and the degree to which they associate with other Jews can be felt long after the last sunset of the summer. The impact is striking, especially when compared to their peers who did not spend their summer months at Jewish camp.
At the heart of this study are analyses of the 2000–01 National Jewish Population Study (NJPS 2000–01) and 25 local Jewish population surveys. The goal was to compare the Jewish attitudes and behaviors of adults who had attended Jewish camp as children with those of adults who did not attend camp as children. In other words, 20, 30, or 40 years after attending camp, do we find the marker of camp attendance on the ways that adult Jews think, feel, and act about being Jewish? We focused upon 13 different areas of adult behavior or attitude, chosen in part because of their repeated occurrence in these 26 studies, and in part because they constitute considerable diversity in measures of Jewish involvement. They include synagogue membership, attendance at a Passover Seder, donating to Jewish charities, feeling “very emotionally attached to Israel,” and others.
To achieve an accurate measure of impact of Jewish camp in shaping Jewish identity, this study used a logistic regression analysis to statistically control for influences other than Jewish camp on adult Jewish behaviors, such as prior Jewish education and family background. This method allows comparisons of adult behaviors of former campers and non-campers whose Jewish background and upbringing had been similar before anyone boarded the camp bus. After the adjustment, to the extent possible, for other factors that might influence an adult’s Jewish identity, it may be assumed with some confidence that the remaining differences found between adult Jewish behaviors of campers and non-campers—expressed as predicted probabilities after logistic regression—actually reflect the direct influence of the camp experience.
Camp attendance was found to be associated with an increased likelihood of adult participation and identification in every one of the 13 areas probed. Camp increases the likelihood of an adult’s Jewish engagement by magnitudes ranging from 5% to 55%, depending on the type of engagement.
The camp impact varies widely across the range of behaviors. The likelihood of lighting Hanukkah candles increases by a mere 5% among camp alumni, while the likelihood of feeling “very emotionally attached to Israel” increases by a remarkable 55%. The median gap between campers and non-campers in childhood across the 13 categories of adult measures is about 25%.
Camp attendance increases the likelihood of adult participation and identification in every one of these areas. As adults, campers are:
- 30% more likely to donate to a Jewish charity;
- 37% more likely to light Shabbat candles;
- 45% more likely to attend synagogue monthly or more;
- 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel.
Notably, and reassuringly, the evidence that camp exerts a measurable impact upon adult Jewish involvement years later ranges across four data sets encompassing 26 Jewish population studies conducted between 2000 and 2008. The findings from the NJPS 2000–01 data set are the most conclusive, owing to its fuller complement of controls for childhood Jewish socialization and education. At the same time, the evidence from local studies comports with, augments, and supports the general results found in NJPS 2000–01.
Let’s return to the opening question: What do children bring home with them from a stay at Jewish overnight camp? The analysis indicates that they bring, first of all, an increased inclination to practice Jewish behaviors in their lives, from Shabbat candle lighting to using Jewish websites, and to appreciate the value of Jewish charity. Secondly, they bring an increased inclination to value and seek out the experience of Jewish community, whether in the immediate sense of joining other Jews in prayer or in the more abstract sense of identifying with fellow Jews in Israel. These acquisitions will enrich the lives of campers now and in their adult future.
The impact of camp on Jewish community awareness should not come as a surprise. A summer at overnight camp can be many things, but above all it is an experience in living as part of a community. Campers and counselors live together for weeks, removed from outside influences, forming bonds of friendship and loyalty that will be, for most, unlike any they have experienced in the past. They grow together, learn about themselves, and acquire new skills of self-reliance and peer interdependence.
The bonding experience of camp not only builds a long-lasting taste and yearning for community; it also creates habits of Jewish practice. It makes Judaism part and parcel of life’s most joyous moments. Moreover, those moments are experienced as integral parts of life in a beloved community.