Summer camp is sunshine, swimming and sing-alongs, but it’s also a lot more. Camp feeds kids’ minds, bodies and spirits in myriad ways that can even make something as simple as waiting for a turn become a meaningful learning experience for the whole child as they practice patience and following rules. Whether attending day or overnight camp, for one week or one month, your child will inevitably benefit from a camp imbued with character-building Jewish values.
Throughout summer, campers participate in activities that help them grow as individuals. Mastering a new swim stroke contributes to a child’s feeling of accomplishment and physical well-being. Playing gaga, putting on a skit or navigating a new friendship can help hone communication skills while also teaching the importance of strategizing, empathy, being a team player and trying new things.
Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa, a sleepaway for ages 8-17 is located in the San Bernardino Mountains. As one of seven North American camps run by Habonim Dror (Builders of Freedom), a global Labor Zionist movement founded in 1935, its campers learn cooperative living skills, sharpen their critical thinking skills, find their voices, connect with their Jewish identity and forge lasting friendships as they take ownership of their camp experience. “The camp is an immersive experience and one that empowers children,” says Gilboa’s camp director, Dalit Shlapobersky, “Given that Gilboa’s “kibbutz-style cooperative living” informs its whole child approach, it’s no surprise that campers discover their individual strengths and those gained from being part of a compassionate, accepting community. Of course, says Shlapobersky, “Camp is super fun all the time. We still do archery, kayaking, hiking, arts and crafts and pool everyday. So it’s a classic camp experience with all the expected recreational activities.” Whether getting messy during Dirty Fun workshops or decorating the dining hall for Shabbat, performing in camp shows or sharing opinions in spirited social justice discussions, painting cabins or playing basketball, campers gain self-esteem and the tools to make a difference, and impact change as Jews.
Extending the camp connection, Gilboa offers continuing education year-round as “a way into the camp for new campers to get familiar with the counselors and the type of programs,” says Shlapobersky. A leadership component, for ages 14 and up, pairs teen co-counselors with counselors, often former campers themselves, serving as mentors on how to run these two-hour sessions.
Jewish Federation’s Day Camp Gan Shalom, for ages 5-14 with locations at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center and at Temple Beth Israel of Pomona, prides itself on being “a home away from home for each of our campers,” says Director of Youth and Camp Programming, Aaren Heller. “One of the great things about Jewish camp, even for secular Jewish families, is that campers socialize with Jewish peers…” For Heller the words “whole child” connect deeply with the Jewish camp experience promising a well-rounded and valuable choice for any child. Gan Shalom campers “spend their days exploring new activities, developing skills they already have, making lifelong friendships, and having fun.” Additionally, camp’s daily and weekly Jewish routines, including morning singing of Modeh Ani, afternoon farewell of Shalom Chaverim, and making challah from scratch each Friday helps foster a positive association with the Jewish community. During camp “… kids get to enjoy their time being children while simultaneously developing their identities through new experiences and play.”
A former Gan Shalom counselor herself, Heller says she hires many Gan Shalom alumni as counselors. “These staff members love working at camp to help give back to the amazing program that they experienced as kids. I feel that this really brings something special to our camp culture because our counselors draw from their own experience as kids to drive them.” Like the Camp Gilboa counselors, Camp Gan Shalom counselors become role models inspiring a new generation of campers and members of the Jewish community.
It’s gratifying to know there are many terrific camp choices (Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps are also worth noting). When you enroll your child in a camp grounded in Jewish values, they will gain much personally. The Jewish camp experience nurtures the whole child, bringing them happily back to these camps annually until, one day, they return as parents of new campers. _
Ronna Mandel is a contributing writer to JLife. You can find her blog at goodreadswithronna.com.
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