A More Accurate Analogy? Thinking About Synagogues, not Schools, and Camps

June 16, 2013

Source: eJewish Philanthropy 


Jeffrey Kress critically examines the idea of making supplemental schools more “camp-like” which has gained much momentum over the past year. He suggests a different way of comparing communal education and camps.

He writes:

"In the bounded system of a camp, or at least in our hyper idealized image of it, all subcomponents of the organization (the formal education program, but also the sports program, swimming, dining, etc.) are geared to maximize the growth – socially, emotionally, Jewishly – of the youth participating therein. Starting our discussion with a comparison to the congregational school already assumes that the Jewish growth of youth will be relegated to only one part of the synagogue. The reverse analogy would be to imagine that Jewish education only happens during the times at camp designated as “class” or “learning group,” a notion regarded as heretical by camp professionals. Rather, camp becomes a holistic learning environment because of coordination of a variety of elements to suit the developmental needs of campers. Drawing the analogy to a congregational school implies that there is a designated place, time, and subset of personnel with primary responsibility for youth outcomes. There is a danger, to put it bluntly, of letting the rest of the congregation off the hook in terms of youth development.


It is tempting to hone in on the real and significant differences between congregations and camp and abandon attempts to learn from the camp context. However, we might also benefit from switching the parameters of the discussion. Rather than asking how a piece of one organization can be like the entirety of another organization – “how can congregational schools be more like camps” – a better question may be “how can congregations be more like camps?”… "


He concludes:

"… Making synagogue schools more like camp is too low a bar. Having the congregational rabbi “on board” (a term I have often heard used to indicate the tacit support of a rabbi for new initiatives in the school) is insufficient. The question of how to make synagogue school more like camp already sets us up for communal failure. The answer – however complex it might be – relates to making our synagogues more welcoming to youth, and in developing the types of authentic and diverse rituals that allow all youth to become meaningful parts of a community."


Read his entire article at eJewish Philanthropy

Ira J. Wise cites a collection of recent articles discussing the camp – school comparison on his blog.

Updated: Jul. 30, 2013