a camp counselor kneels down to help three young campers in a kayak

Why Isn’t Summer Camp for Everyone?

by Tamar Davis, CEO

Many of us have fond memories of summer camp. For children and teens, camp can be an incredible bonding experience and a way to gain independence and other life skills, and statistics and testimonials show that Jewish camps in particular provide an opportunity to develop and strengthen Jewish identity. According to the Foundation of Jewish Camp, there were over 65,000 campers in Jewish camps last summer alone (a number that is actually down from previous years due to the pandemic).

Of course, we know camp isn’t for everyone. As a child, I went to an overnight camp for two summers, and absolutely hated it. Maybe in part due to my inherent dislike for showering in flip flops, or the effort it took to avoid stepping on goose poop near the lake…or maybe in part due to my struggle to understand what was being said and connect with the other campers through conversations in noisy venues. And at the lake or pool, where I had to take my hearing aids out to avoid getting them wet, forget it – I had no clue what was going on.

Regardless of my own childhood experience with summer camp, families everywhere should always have the choice of sending children to camp. All too often, this is not the case. Just last week, I had a painful experience with my own child at a day camp, where accommodations that were needed could not be made, which led to us switching to a different setting. At Gateways, we recognize that Jewish education doesn’t just happen in school settings, and that camp experiences are a key component of many young people’s engagement with their Jewish identities. We have staff who understand the summer camp experience deeply—such as Tali Cohen Carrus, the director of our Jewish Education Programs, who spends a month at Camp Ramah each summer—and we are piloting some options for providing meaningful support to camps for this summer, and as they already start to think ahead to next summer.  

Too many families struggle with finding a summer camp that can accommodate their children’s needs. We need to continue raising awareness and sharing resources so that all families can have the summer experience they choose.  

Shabbat shalom,

Signature of Tamar Davis

Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer