You’re starting to think about summer and what you’re going to do with the kids for two-plus months — er, we mean, how you're going to provide your darlings with a meaningful and fun summer experience.
For interfaith families, Jewish day camp can be an especially good fit, so InterfaithFamily and the Foundation for Jewish Camp have teamed up to give you the best tips for making this decision for your family. Here are the top five things we think you should know.
1. The power of local
Because Jewish day camps are located much closer to home than Jewish overnight camps, the friends your child makes are also close to home, making it easier for camp friendships to last. Likewise, because many Jewish day camps are tied to host organizations like JCCs, you may find your family invited to different program offerings at convenient locations throughout the year. These events can offer you and your family an entry portal into a Jewish community that aligns with your family’s priorities.
2. Plenty of options
When it comes to Jewish day camps, there is a spectrum of choices. There are Chabad camps, JCC camps, Conservative and Reform movement camps, independent camps and synagogue camps. They vary widely in their approach to interfaith families. Jewish day camps also range in size, program, facility and mission. Check out websites for Foundation for Jewish Camp, the American Camp Association and the Jewish Community Center Association to learn more about the different options.
3. Set your own timeline
Many Jewish day camps offer short and flexible sessions so that your child can try out the experience without a serious time or monetary commitment. You could even try
multiple camp programs in one summer. You might quickly find, however, that you’ve found the right fit. One parent from Georgia shared with us, “Our 6-year-old daughter had the best experience; I’ve never seen her happier. The breadth of activities, the encouragement of the counselors to get kids to try new stuff, the field trips and the overall sense of community is unparalleled.
“As a Jewish-Catholic family that hasn’t quite decided our path toward religious education, the exposure to Judaism was a perfect taste for our daughter without being over the top.”
4. Fun for the whole family
When you send a child to overnight camp, you say goodbye at the bus stop and don’t necessarily see them again until visiting day, but day campers come home every day. You’ll get to hear what they’re actually doing on a daily basis — not just when that weekly postcard comes in the mail with a quickly scrawled, “I’m having fun!”
You’ll also see the same group of parents at pick-up and drop-off. Often, the grown-ups at the bus stops make friends just as easily as the campers do.
5. Good prep for overnight camp
Many Jewish day camps have ties to Jewish overnight camps, so older day campers can get “dip-your-toes-in” experiences at partnering camps. Liz Broberg, of B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon, said day camp offers an easy entry point for interfaith families “because the Jewishness is more integrated through the values practiced than a study of Torah or a celebration of a specific holiday.”
The Jewish curriculum, she said, “is accessible and relatable to everyone, whatever your faith or affiliation. It infuses Jewish values like tikkun olam, kehillah, simcha, manhigut and more into the everyday camp culture. These are values that many parents agree are important for their children to learn and practice.” JN
Jenni Zeftel is director of Day Camp and Strategic Programs at Foundation for Jewish Camp. Lindsey Silken is the editorial director at InterfaithFamily. This is adapted from a piece that originally appeared on interfaithfamily.com.