THINK BACK TO one of your fondest memories as a child. When prompted, many of us will conjure a memory of our time at summer camp. Jewish adults might even say that their Jewish camp experience was the most formative of their childhood and provided them with the sense of Jewish identity they carry with them to this day.
For more than 10 years, I was a camp director at two Jewish day camps, including our own Camp Gan Shalom. During those summers, I witnessed first-hand the transformative impact a camp experience can have on the life of a child. Each summer, I heard campers singing Jewish songs at the top of their lungs, swaying arm in arm with other Jewish youth from all across our community. I watched shy and timid young kids, who on the first day did not want their parents to leave, become outgoing, boisterous, and strong-willed campers that were begging their parents to sign them up for just one more week. And, I saw the camper, with tears in his eyes, hugging his mom at pick up on the last day because he did not want the experience to end.
Camp provides a child, as well as the staff, a series of gifts. A gift of Jewish identity. A gift of friendship. A gift of community. A gift of individuality. A gift of leadership, growth and opportunity. A gift of caring. A gift of love and giving. These experiences can only happen at summer camp, where kids get the perfect balance of structure and freedom. The growth and self-discovery that happens at camp simply cannot be replicated anywhere else.
The summer camp context fosters creativity, leadership, responsibility and compassion. Kids can be truly themselves, try new things, be celebrated for who they are, and feel a true sense of belonging. By the end of the summer, camp becomes like a family with kids and staff helping and supporting one another. Our young-adult staff mentor and guide the younger kids and are ultimately seen as loving super heroes and form a unique bond.
These opportunities and so many more await our community’s youth this summer. Join us at one of the many local opportunities! Registration for Camp Gan Shalom, our Jewish Federation Summer Day Camp, is now open and can be found on our website: www.jewishsgpv.org. We look forward to seeing you this summer!
Jason Moss is the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. He can be reached at email@example.com.