Finding the Right Jewish Camp

Some expert advice on making a good match

by Abby Knopp

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Ah, camp! Summers of fun and friendship – plus the chance to develop leadership, self-confidence, independence, and the ability to get along with others. Then there’s Jewish summer camp, which offers all of the above while infusing Judaism into everyday life in joyous and meaningful ways.

If you’re sold on Jewish camp for your child, or even thinking about it, the next question is, “Which camp?” With more than 155 Jewish overnight camps across North America – and more and more specialty camps – choosing the right one can seem like a daunting task. That’s why we’ve compiled some key questions you should consider and suggested steps to take in the process. There is a perfect fit for every child and family. Find yours by first thinking about the following:

Social environment: The social environment of a camp is comprised of the children who attend, its staff and its size.

Questions to consider: Will my child be happier at a large or small camp? Will he prefer bunkmates who live nearby or does a more diverse geographical population interest him more? Will he feel more comfortable with kids who attend day school during the year?

Programming: This includes daily and evening activities, the structure of the day, the amount of individual choice, and the length of the camp session.

Questions to consider: For how many weeks would my child like to go to camp, or would we like her to go? Would she prefer programming that is elective-based, unit based, cabin based? Are there any unique activities that she is looking forward to? How much free time is there?

Staff and administration: Each camp structures its staff differently. Some have a large staff with individual responsibilities whereas others have teams that do the work jointly.

Questions to consider: What ratio of camper-to-bunk counselor do I think is appropriate? How much communication do I want with the staff? Do I want to see photos of my child every day? Should the camp have a social worker or someone similar on staff?

Spiritual, cultural, and religious life: Jewish life at camp can be the most magical part of the experience; Jewish camp is a place where Judaism is integrated into everyday life and each camp does so in a very different way. It’s important that you learn about the level of Jewish observance and Jewish learning and celebration so that you can determine what works best for your child and what is most aligned with your personal values.

Questions to consider: What’s the educational mission of the camp? How frequently would I like my child to use Hebrew, if at all? Do I want my child to have a specific time each day for learning? What kind of Shabbat celebration would I like at camp? Is it important to have rabbis and/or Israeli counselors at camp?

After you’ve considered all of these questions, browse the list of Jewish camps via the Find a Camp tool at www.JewishCamp.org/findacamp and narrow down your choices. Check out the websites of camps that meet your criteria and contact them by phone. We suggest, if possible, visiting your top contenders with your children while camp is in session. If you do have an opportunity to visit camps, here are some things to think about while there:

  • Are living areas divided by age/gender?
  • What is the dining hall like? What food alternatives are there for those with allergies or who are vegetarians or vegans?
  • What about sports facilities? Does my child want a ropes course, ball fields, tennis courts?
  • Are the bathrooms communal or in-bunk?
  • Is there a lake? A pool? Does my child want to learn water sports like waterskiing or sailing?
  • What arts facilities are there? Is my child interested in ceramics, woodworking, theater?

Once you’ve found your match, don’t forget to visit www.OneHappyCamper.org and see if your first-time camper is eligible for a grant of up to $1000. Happy camping!

Abby Knopp is vice president, Program and Strategy at the Foundation for Jewish Camp.