Besties at Camp Yavneh: Friendships formed at sleepaway camp last a lifetime. The author is the second person from the right. Courtesy of Shuli Weinstein.
Sad as it is, summer 2016 is over and the long school days have begun. But it is never too soon to begin thinking about next summer’s big plans. I beg that you look into a Jewish summer program which could include either an overnight camp or a teen tour; I promise that the program will change your life forever. You will come to understand why each year, thousands of Jewish youth excitedly await their next summer at one of the hundreds of Jewish overnight camps or tours around the United States or Israel. I am one of those kids who counts down the days to return to my summer home, Camp Yavneh in Northwood, N.H. I have attended this amazing place for the past eight summers.
I bring home from camp an infinite amount of memories and experiences. These memories include paint night, reading Torah, late night barbecues, leading zmirot (Jewish songs), and white water rafting. While many campers learn to play a new sport or how to sail, teens who attend Jewish camps learn these skills plus many lessons they will carry with them for a lifetime.
First, the relationships formed at camp are unbelievable. The Jewish world is small so people who have attended a Jewish camp find many connections through mutual friends later on in life. In the past few years I have found dozens of Yavneh alumnae at various places such as my host family for the Maccabi Games in Milwaukee and through conversations with older members of my synagogue, Adath Israel in Merion Station, Pa. Camp connections seem especially helpful during the college years. Dozens of my older friends found roommates for freshmen year by using camp friend connections. Later in life, connections with fellow campers may lead to job opportunities.
Teens who attend a Jewish overnight camp learn so much about Judaism. They recite morning prayers, the blessings before and after the meals, and learn how to read Torah. Campers are also exposed to how Shabbat is traditionally celebrated including the lighting of the candles, the words and tunes of the blessings and the rules to follow to keep the day holy. Many campers may not follow all of these traditions at home so experiencing them at camp feels special. Some of my friends have only been to synagogue or had Shabbat dinner a handful of times in their lives, however, at camp we have a festive Friday night dinner every week with matzah ball soup, challah, and a variety of chicken. We also sing zmirot and have a Friday night tisch filled with slow songs before going to sleep. Camp exposes Jewish youth to the traditions that come with observing Jewish practices.
Campers also learn to love the ruach, or spirit, of Judaism. Some of my favorite Shabbat songs from Camp Yavneh include, “Hamalach Hagoel” and “B'shem Hashem.” To recreate summer’s treasured moments at home, I have enjoyed teaching my family and friends many of the songs we sing on Friday nights. These fun singing and dancing experiences create strong ties between camp friends and with the Jewish religion.
Finally, Jewish camps expose teens to the incredible and unique culture of Israel through programming such as mock shuks and Israel day, where we make pita and participate in army training exercises. These events educate campers in a fun and memorable way. Some camps also incorporate Hebrew into their programming to establish a foundation in the language.
These camps host Israel-related activities, to foster support of Israel, and encourage teens to travel there as well. Many Jewish camps offer an Israel trip before junior or senior year, after campers have completed their on-site experiences. I am so excited to attend Na’aleh next summer. Na’aleh is the oldest division in camp and includes a six-week trip to Israel. After we complete our trip, we head to camp for one day to tell the younger age groups about our amazing experiences and answer any questions they might have about the Holy Land. As a young camper my dream was to float in the Dead Sea, and I wanted to hear all about their Dead Sea adventures. I can’t wait to share my own Dead Sea stories next summer.
By attending a Jewish overnight camp, teens learn about more than sports and outdoor activities. It is vital that teens attend Jewish camps in order to keep the next generation engaged with our traditions and the Land of Israel. I urge everyone to consider these life-changing programs and sign up for a Jewish camp or teen tour in order to make summer 2017 amazing! You won’t regret your choice and will carry these amazing lessons, experiences and friendships with you for the rest of your life.