By Janna Zuckerman
Program Manager, Center for Jewish Camping
Kids today live in a world that is filled with thousands of choices. Extracurricular activities, ranging from sports to dance to computers, are just some of the options filling their time during the school year. In the summer, they can spend two months doing whatever they enjoy most – swimming, traveling, camping and more.
With so many fascinating summer programs to choose from, Jewish summer camps need to be cutting-edge to keep up with the competition. The field of Jewish summer camp has definitely changed from generations ago, and is changing more and more each summer.
Don’t worry – summers at Jewish camp are still filled with friendships, canoe trips, Israeli dancing and color war, but it also so much more than that. Jewish camps are evolving to meet the changing expectations and demands of consumers. Camps now offer a wider range of choices (food, activities and session-length) to accommodate every child.
I spent the summer visiting an array of Jewish day and overnight camps, so I saw first-hand how the field is changing in an innovative and exciting way.
1) Specialty Camps and Programs
Jewish camps are constantly improving to attract kids who might not otherwise consider a Jewish camp. Is your child passionate about sports, arts, theater, film, outdoor adventure or science and technology? Today, many Jewish camps are adding specialty tracks and electives to interest kids who want to spend their summer doing these special activities. Additionally, some new Jewish camps have been built to attract different segments of Jewish youth to strengthen their Jewish identity and contribute to their specialized interests. I had the pleasure of visiting Camp Zeke, a brand-new specialty camp which launched this year in the Poconos. This camp celebrates healthy, active living through, yoga, strength training, dance, sailing and krav maga — all while celebrating Jewish values, culture and tradition.
2) More Choices: Shorter Sessions & Healthier Food
Summers at Jewish camp used to mean you would attend the entire summer, or at least a full month. In the world of Jewish camp today, it is rare to see a child or teen spend a full summer at just one camp. Instead, they are taking advantage of camp sessions that range in length – from just seven days to three or seven weeks! There are even five-day short-stay programs for younger campers to get a taste of camp! We are fortunate that many of our Associated “partner camps” have these rookie programs for campers entering second grade. Additionally, camps are meeting the needs of consumers by changing the menu and providing healthier options. Many camps serve locally-grown fruits and vegetables – no more bug juice — and provide gluten-free options for those with celiac disease.
The Jewish community is very diverse and constantly changing so camps are evolving and becoming more inclusive. Children from all backgrounds should feel safe at Jewish camp. The Foundation for Jewish Camp works closely with day and overnight camps across the country to ensure that interfaith families, those with disabilities, children of Russian or Israeli families and those from lower income families feel comfortable at camp. In the next year, The Foundation for Jewish Camp will work to significantly increase camp options for all children and provide staff training and education to ensure all campers feel welcome at camp. Many of our local day and overnight “partner” camps have special inclusion programs that allow campers to participate fully in the camp experience.
4) Affordable options
Last summer, The Foundation for Jewish Camp launched a new pilot program called BunkConnect – a user-friendly online referral platform designed to help moderate- and lower-income families access Jewish camp at special introductory rates between 40 to 60 percent off! This year, BunkConnect will extend to camps throughout the entire country. Other affordable camp options like the One Happy Camper Incentive grant made possible by Foundation for Jewish Camp and many overnight camps help make the cost of camp more reasonable for parents. Additionally, many camps offer scholarships and financial aid so kids from all backgrounds to experience camp’s magic.
The field of Jewish camp is changing constantly and there are many other reasons to choose Jewish camp! Meet with Janna – free community camp expert and learn how to find the perfect day or overnight camp for your child! Janna works closely with local camps, and conducts on-site visits during the summer to see them in action. In addition, Janna works with the National Foundation for Jewish Camp office to keep abreast of the latest trends and cutting-edge camp opportunities.
Stop by a convenient coffee shop location to talk camp, drink coffee, & s’more! Janna will be available to provide you with camp insider information and more. Learn more at associated.org/talkcamp.