How do I answer the questions, “What makes Jewish camp Jewish?” and “How Jewish is camp?”

Well, the first one is easier than the second one. The Foundation for Jewish Camp produced this video providing a good point of reference for it in 2012. My short answer is about what it’s not. It’s not just that the kids and many of the counselors are Jewish. Then, what is it? It’s songs, traditions (like celebrating Shabbat together), spirit and values. It’s learning, food and daily ritual too.

The second question is more challenging. How Jewish a camp is depends on which camp you’re talking about and what you mean by “Jewish.” Do you mean, “How often is there formal prayer at camp?” “How much Hebrew is used there?” “What percentage of the campers are Jewish?” “Is the camp involved in caring for the world or community?” Concrete answers are easy to find on camp websites. Most list a daily routine and Shabbat rituals. The other questions are best asked to a parent of a current camper. In our region alone, there are camps that keep kosher and those that serve kosher-style meals. There are also a wide range of Shabbat celebrations. We have an embarrassment of riches to choose from in New England, so if you do a little research you can find one that fits with your family’s practice.

Another thing to keep in mind is that how Jewish camp is may be more important to you than it is to your child. Being able to see friends, learn new skills and create their own summer adventure may be what’s on their mind. If they bring a different idea of being Jewish home from camp, how much of a problem would that be? You (at least many of you) made it through diaper-changing, toddler melt-downs, inappropriate language and the first day of school. You’ve proved that you’re up to integrating new experiences into family life. You can do this too.