At Jewish summer camps, Israel may be part of the experience


Jewish summer camps often offer a program that other camps do not:  a trip to Israel. Almost all camps offer intensive life experiences, but traveling to Israel is an intensive experience in Jewish identity. 

Most Jewish camps in New England integrate Israeli experiences into their programming, such as having Israelis on their camp staffs, teaching Israeli folk dancing, having a day devoted to Israel, singing Israeli songs and featuring Israeli art projects.

However, as Cohen Camps, with locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, puts it, “The capstone of the camper experience, the Dor L’Dor Leadership Program, guides our oldest campers through Israel itself, many for the very first time – and back to camp in a new role, sharing their Israel exposure with younger campers.”

Camp JORI, in Wakefield, describes its “Israel Journey” as “a once-in-a-lifetime experience to connect with the history, people and natural beauty of Israel.”

These are three- to six-week experiences, which may be followed by additional weeks back at camp. Camp JORI notes that “Participants will then return to JORI as Counselors in Training (CITs) for the last two weeks of the summer at camp to continue their training to be future counselors.” Similarly, Camp Young Judaea in New Hampshire offers a 12-day leadership program back at camp after a five-week trip in Israel.

Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire extolls the value of experiences in Israel, saying, “Campers develop deep love and appreciation for the place of Israel in contemporary Jewish life. We believe that there is no greater gift than an immersive leadership seminar in Israel.” 

Yavneh details what campers may expect: “Campers immerse themselves into the society and people of Israel through travel, lectures, volunteer sessions and other hands-on experiences. Dynamic tour leaders are selected for their ability to bring the sights, depths and nuances of Israel to life, leaving participants yearning for what the next day has to offer.”

Some camps, such as Camp Ramah, which has locations nationwide, conduct additional programs, such as an add-on week-long program in Poland, a semester of high school in Jerusalem, and a day camp in Jerusalem for younger campers.

Many camps also offer specialty tours of Israel. For instance, since URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) Camps include a couple of sci-tech camps, they offer a trip in Israel with an emphasis on sci-tech. Other tours emphasize social justice or sports.

Finally, there are some camps that are exclusively in Israel, even for younger ages. Camp Kimama has locations in North America and Europe, but also on the coast of Israel, which attract campers from many countries.

Subsidies are available to offset the cost of some camps. RootOne ( provides substantial vouchers for some programs, and the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island has a few programs of its own for residents of Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts.

The Alliance’s Gift of Israel Savings Program starts as early as third grade and provides matching funds on a 1:2.66 basis, which can add up by the time the child goes to Israel, in 10th grade or later.  In addition, residents through age 26 may qualify for stipends, and teens may also apply for needs-based scholarships. For more information, email, or call 401-421-4111.

LARRY KATZ ( is the director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.

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