Campers have a lot of opinions when it comes to technology: why TikTok is better than Vine, which filter is best on Instagram and what the best apps are. Parents have opinions, too: whether that screen will mush brains, the need to reach their child 24/7 and their child’s independence.
All these thoughts can either implode or wash away with one simple rule: No cellphones at camp. It’s a policy more camps have begun to enforce, as ever younger children have more access to the technology.
There are pros and cons to cellphones at camp. In a study by Michigan Medicine in Science Daily in May 2018, interviewees described how cellphones could be used for educational opportunities. But many interviewees also responded that campers participated less in the activities if they had a cellphone.
At Tizmoret Shoshana, a Jewish music camp based out of Baltimore and run in New York, all technology is banned.
“Art requires a lot of presence, and the ability for children to concentrate has gone downhill with the age of cellphones,” said Mark Singer, founder and director.
The camp does allow exceptions. One camper who is a composer is allowed to bring her composition software, and another camper who is blind is allowed to use a Braille laptop under supervision.
The YMCA’s Camp Conrad Weiser in Pennsylvania also prohibits screens. Camp should be a place where outside distractions are not possible, said Director Cory Evans, where relationships are made and where independence and social skills are cultivated. Screens are prohibited even for emergencies, Evans said, as campers can relay inaccurate or incomplete information to home.
Another no-screens camp is Beth Tfiloh Camps in Reisterstown, Maryland.
“It’s real simple: It interrupts the daily routine,” Director Sam Bloom said. “Anytime the phone rings or somebody texts you, you automatically look at it.” Even younger children now have phones, he said.
Other camps are somewhat more lenient. At Camp Shoresh, a Jewish day camp run from Baltimore, campers can carry cellphones but they’re not supposed to use them during regular camp hours.
“We believe that being at camp is an opportunity for your child to experience a world beyond home. This allows children to develop autonomy, independence and a stronger sense of self,” Director Rabbi Dave Finkelstein said in a letter to parents to explain the cellphone policy.
The Tennis Institute in Baltimore has a similar policy. “Yes, but not on the court,” Executive Director Lenny Scheuermann said.
For camps that do restrict screen and phone use, it’s not always a popular move.
“Definitely some girls feel like they can’t live without their phones. This is a way for them to learn they have a life without their phone,” Singer laughed, “and can develop their talents deeper. It makes them much calmer. They’re able to focus on the instructor and interact more.”
Parents, too, have mixed responses, though they are usually against cellphone use.
Sometimes, Singer said, parents care more about cellphones than campers. “We had one parent who was calling and said she missed her daughter, and we said usually it’s the other way around.”
Evans said a family once had their child sneak a cellphone into camp. The son was put in the same cabin as a homesick child, whose mother wanted him to become more independent at camp. “The first [kid let] the second use his cellphone to try and get his mom to pick him up,” which ruined the mother’s goal. Evans explained that the parents need to be able to trust the camp to make necessary calls.
Bloom similarly said that parents should trust the camp. “When it comes to parents looking to communicate with their kids, it’s a different issue,” Bloom said. “Camp is a place where kids can have an experience outside of their home, similar to sports and school.”
Since his arrival, Bloom said, BT Camps is more communicative with parents. For example, it takes candid photos of the campers and frequently posts on Facebook, Instagram and emails parents in a more unbiased and professional manner than the child would.
“Campers and parents agree that they get so much more out of the camp experience when the campers are fully present,” said Talia Rodwin, assistant director at Habonim Dror Camp Moshava. “Campers express that camp is a welcome break from the stress of social media and a time to be with friends in a genuine way.”
If this doesn’t quite sound like a typical summer camp, that’s because it isn’t. And yet, in the Jewish community, more and more young adults are choosing to spend a weekend of the year reliving the glorious innocence and freedom of their childhoods by booking a reservation at summer camps meant exclusively for them.
“The idea came when I was living in D.C.,” said Carine Warsawski, founder and CEO of Trybal Gatherings, which operates at four locations, including their East Coast site in Great Barrington, Mass. “LivingSocial did a program called ‘Camp for Adults,’ and then I had the idea to do an adults camp for Jews. Jewish summer camps have existed for a century. We are trying to make them accessible to a new demographic.”
But why would grown men and women choose to spend their time engaging in the type of experience originally intended for children?
“I think that we live in an increasingly noisy, distracted world, and we crave an opportunity for connection,” Warsawski said. “And we offer that connection, whether socially, Jewishly and in many cases romantically. Trybal offers things people don’t have in their backyard, whether it’s macramé, or horseback riding or looking at the stars. In today’s world, connection is more sacred than ever, and people are looking for that connection.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Klig, director of Camp Nai Nai Nai, which operates three Jewish adult summer camps, said that they offer something that young Jews aren’t finding at traditional institutions.
“People are looking to make connections, to meet one another and have a sense of belonging,” Klig said. “A lot of times the classic Jewish institutions, such as synagogues and JCCs, aren’t connecting with young Jews where they are. This is not where millennial Jews are headed to on a regular basis, and people are looking to connect in a new way.”
According to Klig, camps like hers allow people to “disconnect from technology and reconnect with your inner child.”
Camp Nai Nai Nai launched in 2017 with 125 campers at its East Coast location, according to Klig. This year, the camp will more than double that number. Meanwhile, Trybal Gatherings expects to have 150 campers at their camp in Massachusetts during Labor Day weekend, said Warsawski.
Both camps said their campers come from all over the place.
“Every year we get more and more from a wider area,” said Warsawski. “We’re glad to see people from the mid-Atlantic joining us for camp.”
Both Warawski and Klig mentioned that campers often were either those who had gone through summer camp as children, or who had never been before and were curious about the experience. According to Warsawski, those she called “FOMOs” are “people who didn’t go to camp as children, but now as adults have the chance to do that. The nostalgic are trying to reconnect with an experience they had as children. The do-overs were people who had maybe not the best experience at camp or in Hebrew school and want to give Judaism another chance.
“Sometimes, you have to be ready to embrace what Judaism offers,”
Warsawski said. Lodging at Trybal includes modern cabins and a retreat center. Meanwhile, options at Nai Nai Nai run the gamut from tents, bunk houses and deluxe rooms, according to Klig. “Most campers are in bunk cabins,” she said. “It most closely resembles a true summer camp experience, with eight to 10 campers in a bunk. It’s a great way to meet new people while you’re there.”
As for food, at both locations everything is either kosher or kosher-style, while, as Warsawski put it, offering a “millennial twist” to traditional camp food.
“We have guacamole bars; we do barbecues; we have a gourmet grilled cheese bar, with sourdough and a three-cheese melt,” she said. And, for those not concerned about falling off the wagon, alcohol is permitted at both camp locations.
Activities at Trybal include bubble soccer, pickling, yoga and dance parties, while Nai Nai Nai features escape rooms, a mud obstacle course, terrarium making and, on one occasion, a Harry Potter-themed
“We have play shops, not workshops, because there’s no work,” said Klig. “There are between eight or 12 activities available at any given time.”
According to Klig, campers “inevitably walk away with new friendships, and
with a really memorable experience and with a greater sense of connection to the Jewish community.”
“The magic and immersive experience is that you get to connect on a deeper level,” said Warsawski. “People leave inspired to stay engaged in Jewish community. We excel at helping people find Jewish connection and meaning in their everyday lives.” JN