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6 Tips for Choosing a Jewish Camp
By Jess Michaels
Mazel Tov! You have made the important decision to send your child to a Jewish overnight camp. By sending your child to a Jewish overnight camp, you will be providing your child with the opportunity to gain important life skills such as leadership, sportsmanship, self-confidence and the sense of community within a Jewish environment. There are many different Jewish camps to choose from so you want to make sure you do your research to find the right camp for your child.
Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind when doing your search for a Jewish overnight camp.
Camp director – No matter what type of camp you are choosing, you want to inquire about the camp director’s background and if he or she is a year-round camp professional or a seasonal employee. Year-round camp professionals spend the year planning for camp and focus their program on youth development.
Philosophy – Each camp has its own philosophy so you want to make sure the camp you are choosing reinforces your own family’s values. A Jewish camp’s philosophy will also give you a sense of how they incorporate Judaism into the camp program.
Jewish Denominations – There is a Jewish camp for every practice. Whether you are looking for a camp that is Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, for children being raised in two faiths or that have more of a cultural focus, you can find the right Jewish camp for your family.
Jewish values & program – At Jewish Camps, Judaism is integrated into the camp program so you want to ask about the level of observance & Jewish learning. This can include anything from art projects where campers make their own Shabbat candles to learning Jewish recipes to hiring Israeli staff to give campers a sense of Israeli culture. Parents also want to inquire about the camp’s core Jewish values. Inquire about Tikkun Olam, the concept of repairing the world through community service, if the camp has more of a cultural emphasis or is more about Jewish learning and prayer.
Traditional or specialty – There are both traditional and specialty camps for many of the denominations of Judaism. Traditional summer camps offers children a varied camp experience with many different camp activities such as swimming, archery, ropes course, etc. Specialty camps focus on a specific camp activity or related camp activities for a given period of time.
Shabbat Services – Find out if there are Friday and Saturday services, if they are required and what type of service it is. Also ask if there are restricted activities during Shabbat.
Food – Talk to the camp director about the food served at camp. Is it Kosher, Kosher style or Glatt Kosher, etc.
Outside review – Make sure the camp is inspected each summer by the Department of Health and find out if the program follows a nationally known accreditation process. The American Camp Association (ACA) is a non-profit organization that has the only camp accreditation program in the country. Ask if the program has chosen to participate. ACA accredits summer camps based upon 300 health, safety and program standards.
If you need assistance in finding a Jewish Camp, you can call the American Camp Association, NY and NJ for free one on one advice at 212.391.5208. The Foundation for Jewish Camp offers a $1,000 credit for first-year campers. Visit www.onehappycamper.org for more information on this wonderful program.
Jess Michaels is the Director of Communications for the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, a not for profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of the summer camp experience.