It’s all happening in one place: tie-dying, four square, s’mores, candle making, Giant Jenga, and drumming!  I feel like I’m at camp!

I am actually standing in the social hall of the synagogue where I work.  I am the Director of Education at Temple Israel of Natick.  My primary responsibility is to oversee the education program in our community: curriculum, supervision, programming.  My vision is to inspire children and parents to engage with the Jewish community throughout their life. Temple Israel is a relatively small organization in a huge Jewish community and I have made it a priority to create relationships with leaders of many educational organizations.  These relationships ultimately, I hope, will translate to inspiring families to engage in Jewish life beyond Temple Israel.

With well over 100 of Temple Israel’s children participating in a Jewish summer experience it seemed like a logical priority to cultivate relationships with camp directors.  We know that the immersive experiences kids have at camp have a major impact on Jewish identity and practice well beyond the summer months and into their adult lives.  We also know that KIDS LOVE JEWISH CAMP (they count down the days to camp after all).

Forming a relationship with the directors was easy: one member of our congregation is a director, several members and teachers work at camps and I am in a “community of practice” with another director.  Mostly importantly one of the parents who works at one of the camps approached me and pleaded with me to visit the camp where she works – she really wanted to show off Jewish life at her camp.

With only a few email introductions and phone calls, I scheduled visits to 7 camps in New England in the summer of 2016.

At each camp I was welcomed and greeted with warmth.  Each director spent hours showing me around camp and making sure I was able to connect with each of my students.  One director offered to row me out to the water trampoline to see one of my kids.  Each kid I connected with glowed.  I left each camp inspired and wanting to bring some camp to Temple Israel.

How could I bring the spirit of camp to Temple Israel?

How could I share Jewish camp with families not yet engaged?

Last fall, Temple Israel extended an invitation for a WINTER CAMP CARNIVAL. Senior staff from 11 Jewish camps brought their excitement, love, passion and the energy of camp with them to Temple Israel this past December.  Over 160 people in our community got a taste of Jewish camp (in the middle of winter!).

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What led to our carnival’s success?

  • Directors responded with enthusiasm because of the relationships I’ve cultivated with them.
  • Parents got involved by serving a liaisons between the camps their children attend and Temple Israel.
  • There was lots to do.  In 90 minutes, after a camp-like Havdalah, kids got to drum, make Hanukah candles, do spin-art, tie-dye, play four square, basketball, and life size Jenga, and make shrinky dinks.  Parents got to speak with directors. They could also observe directors and senior camp leaders interacting with kids.

img_4356Was it a success?

  • Based on anecdotal feedback, absolutely!  We’ve been ask to do it again!
  • We know that at least 4 families who had not committed to Jewish camp are now registered for Summer 2017. Many more families are talking about and asking about camp too.

The conversation about Jewish Overnight Camp is alive at Temple Israel. We will continue to promote Jewish camps, visit Jewish camps in the summer months and begin working to bring elements of camp into our education through programs like Ramah Service Corps.

A huge thank you to our partners and colleagues for making this event possible: Camp Ramah, Camps Eisner and Crane Lake, Camp Tevya, Camp Tel Noar, Camp Pembroke, JCC Camp Kingswood, Camp Avoda, Camp Bauercrest, Camp JORI, Camp CYJ, the NJY camps, and CJP.