Laura Drachler had to hustle to finish one last task before she could drop off her kids at Congregation Beth Israel’s Camp Stein for the summer. On May 14, both Max, 14, and Zoe, 12, received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and by the time they arrive at camp, they will be fully protected.
Drachler was disappointed last summer when CBI didn’t offer its traditional sleep-away camp in Prescott due to health and safety concerns. She always loves taking her kids to camp, because that’s where “lots of personal and social growth happens,” she said. She hoped summer of 2021 would be more normal.
Now she’s ready to capitalize on that optimism, and her kids “can’t contain themselves,” she said. “From the kids’ perspective, this is their start.”
Max and Zoe want to be with camp friends and reconnect with their Jewish identity, she said. “To be honest, I don’t know what they’ll do this summer at camp — they just want to go.”
Jason Bronowitz, CBI’s director of camp experience, said CDC guidelines will be followed and there will be limits to off-camp trips, but “our goal is to have as normal a summer as possible, while maintaining a healthy campus.”
Other local camps are preparing to get back to a more normal summer as well.
Shemesh Camp at Martin Pear Jewish Community Center won’t have any virtual programming this summer. After garnering a year of experience dealing with COVID safety measures, Kim Subrin, chief officer of camping and family services of MPJCC, said this summer will be about getting back to camp essentials. And she feels more confident about safety this summer since every specialist on staff is a teacher with experience running programs during COVID.
Subrin’s looking forward to offering campers Krav Maga, art, baking and even a zoologist. But mostly she’s just anticipating the fun of summer camp.
Camp: Destination, founded by Desert Jewish Academy and located on the campus of Temple Beth Sholom of the East Valley in Chandler, will be back on campus June 1 with small groups of 15 kids and two counselors.
Emily Zappa, camp co-director and DJA’s head of school and teacher, is excited to welcome campers back in person. Still, she stressed that the staff will limit camper interaction and will remain on campus every day to go over protocols ensuring everyone is kept up to date as information changes.
Where campers once would have gone on field trips, this summer the subjects of field trips will come to camp. But nothing will be virtual this year.
A return to in-person camping has come with mixed reactions, said Zappa. “Everyone is super happy that we’re back on campus, but some
parents are still thinking about it. But for the most part, it’s been a huge positive reaction.”
And there’s an excited vibe among the staff, she said. This marks “a starting point as everyone finds a new norm.” COVID has reset things, and this summer “is kind of a reboot.”
Camp Rimon at East Valley Jewish Community Center will also have small pods of campers, and in a change from last summer, campers will go swimming twice a week in Tempe where they will have the pool to themselves, said Pam Morris, camp director.
“We’re looking forward to a great, fun summer with lots of returning campers and new ones as well,” she said. Already the camp is nearing capacity. There are more campers than last year, but still fewer than in years past.
Rimon will continue some virtual programming this summer. There will be a virtual Lego camp and virtual field trips for all campers. “We’ll embrace all of the technology we have at our fingertips to make sure camp is just as amazing as it always was,” Morris said.
She’s most excited about new virtual reality technology for the older campers and adults. Campers will be able to visit the Western Wall, the depths of the ocean or just play games together, all without leaving campus.
Morris took the glasses out for a test run and visited Anne Frank’s house where she could read notes on the wall and see the bookcase the family hid behind. “It makes you feel like you’re right there,” she said. Whatever happens with COVID, she is sure virtual reality is here to stay.
Last summer, Temple Chai Cantor Ross Wolman and his family spent time exploring national parks. “We showed our kids love of the land and of our neighborhood,” he said. As nice as that was, it still wasn’t the same as being at Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California, where they would have been if not for COVID.
But they’ll soon be headed back to Newman, even if it won’t look exactly the same — safety protocols will be intact and there will be no traipsing to wine country on days off given that staff won’t be allowed off the grounds.
Newman is the regional Union of Reform Judaism camp and Temple Chai, in addition to other local Reform congregations, send several campers each year.
Wolman said camp is a place to “cement Jewish identity,” something he’s anxious to help foster once again.
“Creating immersive identities has such a great lasting effect on kids; it teaches community, how to thrive independently and apply Jewish ethics to every day lessons and creates lasting friendships,” he said.
Wolman summed up the feeling of many preparing for camp this summer: “I’m lucky to be back.” JN