There’s a joke in my family.
Whenever something happens that I can’t remember or wasn’t a participant in, I must have been at camp.
Bad stuff happened? Couldn’t have been Fran’s fault. She was at camp.
That family road trip to Florida and the newly opened Disney World that Fran doesn’t remember? She must have been at camp.
And wasn’t that a really fun trip to Martha’s Vineyard the year the film “Jaws” came out? Fran doesn’t remember the beach? She must have been at camp.
Baby brother got hit with a brick in the backyard. The culprit couldn’t have been Fran. She was at camp.
Why the good-natured teasing? Because I went to sleepaway camp for much of each summer. My sister and brother are much younger, so they were at home when I was at camp.
Were they jealous of my experience? That’s a complicated question. Did they try to make me feel like I missed out? Also complicated.
I used to feel left out. Now, not so much – whatever I missed at home was overshadowed by the experience of those days and nights in the Maine woods.
For me, camp was a transformative experience. A summer spent with girls from all over the country. A chance to play sports, even if I didn’t play very well (and I didn’t). An opportunity to hike and explore the outdoors. Room for creative arts and drama. Even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it was a pretty remarkable experience for a small timid kid from the suburbs.
And then there was the start of my lifelong career – a stint as co-editor of the camp newspaper led me to where I am today.
After my summers in Maine, I attended URJ Camp Kutz, in Warwick, New York. The summer Leadership Institute at the Reform movement’s camp, which closed after the summer of 2019, was an amazing experience for those of us active in the National Federation of Temple Youth. And again, in a roundabout way, that contributed to my future career choice here at Jewish Rhode Island. (Don’t miss reading about Rabbi Andrew Klein’s experience at Camp Kutz, on Page 5.)
My point here is that camp, in whatever form you might choose, from a few days a week for a young child to a longer, overnight stint for a preteen or teen, does make a difference. And it’s not just the memories. You learn to get along with others. You get an opportunity to try new things. You get a break from your parents and caregivers (and they from you). You find activities where you excel. You start on the road to self-sufficiency and self-confidence.
In my case, I didn’t attend Jewish camp until my teens. But since this column is in a Jewish newspaper, I’m going to give you a few facts about attending Jewish camp. These are according to research by One Happy Camper, a program from the Foundation for Jewish Camp that targets first-time campers and their families. OHC offers incentive grants so that more children can experience camp.
According to OHC’s research: 96% of parents agree that Jewish camp makes their child proud to be Jewish; 87% of OHC campers return to camp for a second summer; 95% of Jewish camp families are likely to recommend their Jewish camp; and 79% said OHC positively affected their family’s connection to the overall Jewish community.
Also, according to a Camp Works study adults who went to Jewish camp as kids are 37% more likely to light candles regularly for Shabbat, 55% more likely to feel very emotionally attached to Israel and 45% more likely to attend synagogue at least once a month.
If you haven’t thought about the benefits of summer camp for your children, maybe you should. There are plenty of nearby camps; some are advertising in this issue of Jewish Rhode Island. And if you are looking for a camp for your child or grandchild, the Foundation for Jewish Camps has a camp finder to help, at https://jewishcamp.org/one-happy-camper/find-a-camp.