Many of our community’s youth just came back from the Jewish Federation’s Annual Shabbaton that took place in March. I really pushed attendance this year, almost excessively. I created an additional flyer for my students so we could reach out to them again and encourage them to attend, I made phone calls, reached out to our “ambassador” parents and classroom moms to do their outreach, and activated our social media and WhatsApp channels with enrollment links. Actually, I spent a dedicated amount of time within my educator role promoting the getaway. I proclaim- I am a Jewish educator who advocates for camp, and what better way than to start with Shabbaton, as it provides a fine initial taste of Jewish camp. My goal was to have our students come back for more, and enroll to future Jewish camps, ledor vador.
I advocated because I was passionate about our future generation carrying the missions our team carries within our religious school–to be socially active, to perpetuate Judaism, to roll up their sleeves and engage in hands-on activities, to meet friends from neighboring communities, to develop their independence, to become familiar with Jewish living, to make Jewishly relevant choices, and if that is not enough, I pushed it because I wanted our kids to have pure fun.
To me it seemed like it would be ideal for children to be without parents monitoring the mundane routine of life. Being amongst friends, being able to make choices, and even crossing boundaries of bedtime curfews, or having a second serving of ice cream at dinner time, seemed like the ultimate child-friendly experience. What’s more, because it was on a Friday night, I wanted our kids to experience Shabbat. Even the packing part of camp became a valued experience and not only because of not forgetting that toothbrush or Jewish mother-required woolly socks! I made a big deal about packing that required white Shirt and Kippah, because that’s a Shabbat thing to do. I wanted our children to be aware and immersed in the ritual.
As an education director who also runs our temple religious school, I view Jewish camps as an integral part of a child’s holistic Jewish education. Maybe more so than religious school because students live Jewishly, breath Jewishly, hear Hebrew, and are able to make Judaic life choices independently, and in the shadow of their fun camp-like experiences, rather than their quotidian frame of living. The experience is so very child focused, that for some overnight camps, parents cannot even pay visits, nor can campers leave the premises, not even for certain family lifecycles! We as parents support that, as we hand over our children, and wave them goodbye at the bus taking them to camp. We hand them over to the professionals who have the expertise to create that Jewishly Warm and Relevant experience for our children, the experience I believe we all want our cherished future generation to have!
GAL KESSLER ROHS is the Education Director at Temple Beth David and her column appears as part of JLife SGPV’s monthly column written by our community’s Jewish professionals.