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Jewish Summer Camp for Kids

By Edited Jul 13, 2016 1 2

Why Faith Based Camps are Important in Strengthening Your Child's Jewish Identity

One of the most important things that I do as a Jewish parent is send my children to a faith based summer camp that instills both a love of Judaism and all things outdoors. Even though I never attended this kind of summer camp as a child, for many reasons, sending my children to one is, in my opinion, one of the most important things I do to deepen our faith in my children.

Jewish Summer Camp for Kids

Why Jewish Summer Camp?

I am an intermarried Jew-my Sicilian husband has bestowed upon our children and me an Italian moniker that is not your typical Jewish last name. When we decided to buy the home where we would raise our family, we purchased it in a town that one friend of mine described as “where renegade Jews live.” Located only two miles from the next town, which has a significant Jewish population, it is like living in a totally different world.

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This book was written by a man who is happily raising his children in the Jewish faith, yet he is not Jewish. This is the story of how his wife and he have made it work.

When I taught elementary school in the town with a large Jewish population, in my class of twenty students, having ten or twelve who were Jewish was very common. While the Jewish population of the town where I reside has significantly increased over the years, my children have only had about ten Jewish kids in their grade, and not all of them come from families who practice their religion. Explaining the holidays we celebrate to their peers and sending in special treats like Hamantaschen or matzah for different festivals and celebrations was one way I have helped my children deal with being a minority.

But for six glorious, fun filled weeks each summer, my children are not a minority. While they have non-Jewish peers in their bunks and counselors who do not practice Judaism, it is a world where no explanations are necessary.

A friend of mine, who sends her kids to a more expensive “glamour” camp, once said to me that since many of the children’s bunkmates were Jewish, it was just like going to a Jewish camp.

I quickly corrected her and explained that no, there is a world of difference between her children‘s experiences and mine.

How is Jewish Summer Camp Different from Secular Day Camps for Kids?

Faith based summer camps and regular summer camps have many similarities. They offer all kinds of outdoor activities, from sports to swimming, and lots of creative arts and crafts. Kids are kept busy, active and have lots of fun with their peers.

The differences between the two camps are small, yet truly signigicant.

From the time my children enter the campgrounds, they are immersed in the Jewish culture. A sign, Bru-cheem Haba-eem ("Welcome" in Hebrew) is the first thing they see. All signs in the camp are written in English, Hebrew, and transliteration (Hebrew words written into English letters). Bible verses are written under the words where they are applicable. (There is roller hockey and mini golf, but to date, no relatable Bible verses have been found for these activities).

Before any activities for the day begin, all of the children come together for announcements and the singing of Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem. It is interesting to note that in my synagogue, the music instructor begins teaching this song in the third grade. I can always tell who attends Jewish summer camp, as they already know the words and sing it with pride.

Camp Davis Hatikva 2012

JCC Nashville

After the announcements, the day’s activities begin. They do not differ from regular day camp, except that many have a Jewish connection. For example, cooking is called “Kosher Cooking”, as the dietary laws of kashrut are followed. There are plenty of arts and crafts, and many have Jewish themes.

The camp follows the Jewish dietary laws, as children from all branches of Judaism-Reform to Orthodox-attend. If there is meat served with lunch, no ice cream is served as a treat later on, it will be some kind of Popsicle. On dairy days, the children are served ice cream.

Most importantly, before each meal, the Hebrew blessing over the food, the motzi, is recited. This is a gentle reminder to children, most of whom do not recite any kind of grace before eating, that we are to be thankful for our bounty.

Fun Crafts to Do

Jewish Educational Toys Star of David Bead Craft
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Perler beads are a classic camp craft. These Jewish designs are just a sample of what kids create in camp.

Special Guests and Activities

Jewish Olympians and More!

Over the course of the summer, my children will meet different people who visit the camp. It is not uncommon for Israeli teens to visit and talk about life in Israel. Jewish musicians, like Rick Recht, also make appearance.

Jewish Summer Camp Israel Week
Olympic athletes, who are also Jewish, visit the kids to inspire them and share how their faith is important to them. This is always one of the most popular days at camp!

In the middle of summer, there is an entire week devoted to Israel, and it concludes with a big Israeli carnival. It is the highlight of that week’s events.

Tikkun olam-repairing the world-is an important aspect of Judaism. One person can solve all of the world’s problems, but we all can do something to make it a better place than how we found it. This is not lectured to the children, but they are made aware of this by doing mitzvoth. These are things that we are commanded to do by G-d.

For example, school supplies are collected for children who need them in other communities. Canned and boxed food is collected for the local Jewish food bank, as they can only accept foods with a Kosher label.

Meet Rick Recht

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Rick Recht is a popular guest at camp! Kids love his music and it sends a positive message.

Another aspect of any Jewish Federation run camp is the Special Needs programs it has. For parents of children who have different needs than other campers, their choices of summer programs are limited. Most secular day camps cannot accommodate children with disabilities. This makes it difficult for parents who work outside the home to find care for their child during the summer months.

Jewish Summer Camp Special Needs Program
This is not true of Jewish Federation camps. Most have their own programs designed to include every kind of camper. Every year, my children have at least one child who has their own one-on-one advocate and helps out with the other kids, too. In fact, one of my son’s closest friends from this past summer was a boy with autism. He has continued this friendship and they plan on being in the same bunk this upcoming summer.

A Must Have for Camp

JanSport Superbreak Classic Backpack Black
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A sturdy backpack is a camp necessity. My kids take one and it holds their towel, change of clothes, flip flops, goggles, snack and water bottle.


The one activity that separates the Jewish summer camp experience from a secular one is Friday, when Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is celebrated. All campers wear their camp tee shirts and for the last period of camp, they all come together to sing songs and say the Sabbath prayers together.

While attending Jewish summer camp may not be everyone's answer for curing the summer doldrums, as a Jewish mother, it is the only summer camp experience I want my children to have.



Apr 7, 2013 7:40pm
Hi MommyMommyMommy--I am not sure I agree with segregated camps for children but I certainly understand your position. As a writer of two books on the Halocaust and a five time producer of Fiddler on the Roof, I have an understanding for Jewish traditions and the desire for exclusivity. Anyway two big thumbs from me and a rating for an informative article.
Apr 8, 2013 12:54pm
Thank you for reading, Marlando.

Please note that Jewish Federation camps ARE NOT SEGREGATED in any way, shape or form. There is NO EXCLUSIVITY.

Anyone can attend camp as long as they are a member of a Jewish Community Center. Our local JCC has a large non-Jewish membership-the facilities are fantastic and everyone is welcome to join.

My children attend camp with non-Jewish children of all religions and colors and their counselors are also not all Jewish.

If anything, Jewish camps bend over backwards to accommodate and INCLUDE children of all abilities. I know that local secular camps do not have programs for special needs children, which is why many non-Jewish children with differing needs attend the JCC camp as my children.

I send my children to a Jewish camp to enrich their faith in ways outside of our home and Hebrew School. The fact that one of my son's best friends is a special needs child who is not Jewish, or that one of my older daughter's best friends from camp is African American demonstrates what an inclusive and positive experience it has been for them.
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