CESJDS needs to go to camp3 min read

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CESJDS needs to go to camp3 min read

photo by Ben Robinson

photo by Ben Robinson

photo by Ben Robinson

Kayla Liss, Guest Writer

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If you were to visit me at Camp Ramah in New England, I would tell you to come on a Friday night, when all of camp is together singing after Shabbat dinner. These moments are my favorite in the whole entire world. Everyone’s singing, everyone loves it and someone’s probably crying. Moments like these perfectly capture what makes Judaism at camp so incredibly special. But we also sing similar songs during the CESJDS Shabbaton, so why are they so much more special at camp?  

Naturally, school has a more defined structure, while camp is more relaxed. The primary function of school is to learn, while at camp it is to have fun and socialize within a Jewish atmosphere. Yet for some reason, I feel more spiritually connected to Judaism at camp than I do at school.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. According to University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin, “Adults who had a Jewish overnight camp experience as children are significantly more likely to exhibit Jewish behaviors as adults.”

I learn different ways to connect to Judaism during the summers than in school. My Tanakh classes have taught me how to analyze and derive personal meaning from the Torah, Ancient and Medieval Jewish History class teaches me about the origins of my religion and Jewish Life Cycles class teaches me more than I would ever need to know about Jewish weddings. But I would rather be at camp.

Jewish camps and schools work to achieve similar goals: to immerse kids in Jewish culture and teach them core Jewish values. Yet I feel that camp does a better job at connecting the kids with Judaism and making them feel Jewish. How does camp do this?

The carefree atmosphere of camp makes all the difference. Campers have fun with praying, benching and learning–activities that can otherwise be mundane–while still learning valuable information. I’m not the only one saying this.

“Camp Works: The Long-Term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp,” by Steven M. Cohen, Ron Miller, Ira M. Sheskin, Berna Torr, states that “as adults, campers are 21% more likely to feel that being Jewish is very important.”  

Despite their differences, school can still take a page out of camp’s book. Little things, including allowing kids to do hand motions during birkat hamazon at the Lower School, or minyanim doing one service a week outdoors, will brighten up certain activities while still maintaining their educational integrity. Day schools can transform the Judaism aspect of their curriculum from something purely educational to something that is immersive, fun and educational at the same time.  

Making Jewish experiences more enjoyable is not a huge undertaking. Rather, it’s in the little things. When talking about a tashlich service, Spiritual Educator at the Jewish Community Day School in Watertown, Mass. Oren Kaunfer said, “Everyone is sitting on the ground. It’s got a camp feel to it … It’s taking Jewish experiences and making them more memorable and exciting and deepening them.”

It is true that at its core, school is about education. By design, school is more serious than camp, but who’s to say that students should not be able to also have a little fun at school and have experiences that are proven to be life changing?

By making a few small changes, schools can achieve their goals of immersing students in Jewish culture and teaching them core Jewish values in ways that will last a lifetime.

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