Schools and Camps: Partnering for the Future

Jonathan Gerstl

Jewish camps and Jewish day schools each serve essential and overlapping functions in the development of Jewish youth, but for the most part these experiences are siloed and unconnected. The potential for productive collaboration, however, is vast.

Camps Airy and Louise are the only brother-sister Jewish overnight camps in the country, and have been in existence for almost a century. They seek to provide Jewish children in grades 2 through 12 from all economic backgrounds with opportunities for self-growth and life skills that enhance their Jewish identity in a single-gender environment, while creating friendships that last a lifetime. Recently, they have been working to create partnerships with Jewish day schools with three primary objectives:

1. To show children that their Jewish identity extends beyond their school day and into the wider world around them.

2. To enable students to live out Jewish values such as tikkun olam and tzedakah experientially.

3. To allow students to experience the ruach that is at the heart of the camp experience and to learn that having pride in your Jewish identity is not only important but fun.

We partner with several day schools, mostly in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern United States. The Jewish experience is particularly different in smaller Southern communities, without the support networks often found in the larger Jewish centers of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. By providing their students with a strong network of other Jewish children from all over the world (22 states and five different countries), we are able to help schools extend their vision in both time and space. What their students learn during the year continues throughout the summer, and by engaging with other Jewish children they often learn new traditions and enhance their Jewish identity in ways that complement their school experience. At camp, living in a complete Jewish environment provides a critical piece of Jewish education.

Many of the Jewish day schools with which we partner provide a strong Jewish foundation; it’s critical that students’ Jewish life and learning be reinforced through the summer months. Our partnership with Lerner Day School, located in Durham, North Carolina, for example, is designed specifically to meet this need. As part of an ongoing sponsorship, directors from Airy & Louise visit the school annually and talk with both parents and campers about the Jewish camping experience.

As a Jewish summer camp, we focus every week on teaching different Jewish values, middot. We recognize campers for exhibiting values such as kindness, hospitality and patience, and reward them with positive reinforcement during Shabbat by lighting candles, participating in services and receiving recognition in front of the entire camp. At Camp Airy, our “Mensch on the Bench” reinforces positive values with prime seating at the front of services each Shabbat.

In our partnership with Krieger Schechter Day School in Baltimore, we bring this camp experience in promoting Jewish values into the school itself. Several times during the year, we work alongside other Jewish camps to help educate students about different holidays and the traditions that surround them. We also have days where the camps are invited to conduct a service project for the students. For instance, we create Blessing Bags of toiletry items (toothpaste, sunscreen, lip balm, etc.) with the students for them to keep in their cars and give out when they encounter people who may need them. We may make soup mixes or trail mix to distribute to homeless shelters for those who are hungry. These service projects reinforce an essential part of students’ Jewish identity.

Pride in Jewish identity and tradition is not always an easy thing to grow. Jewish children are often a minority, and they may encounter negative stereotypes in sports and other areas. While attending private Jewish day schools may alleviate this problem, without ruach, it’s difficult to imagine the next generation developing a strong Jewish sense of self. Our partnership with the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland, is designed to specifically address this area by supporting their annual Intercamp Sports Competition.

The school organizes its own “Olympic Games” each year, and they decided to involve multiple summer camp partners to organize various teams. The teams aren’t limited to students at the school; camps are invited to bring in anyone currently attending to compete. The competition is held on a weekend in order to encourage participation from as many Jewish campers in the region as possible. By partnering in this way, not only does the school gain the benefit of additional competitors and a sense of competing pride from each camp, but also recognizes that the Jewish summer camp experience is a critical piece of the year-round Jewish educational curriculum.

In addition to our staff and campers visiting Jewish day schools during the school year, there is a reciprocal relationship during the summer months. Many of our day school partners visit our camps during the summer, checking in with their students and reinforcing the continuity of a Jewish education. By combining our resources, we offer students a much broader experience and enhance their Jewish identity in ways that neither organization could offer alone. By focusing on the three areas of identity, values and spirit, we are able to catalyze resources and help grow the next generation of committed Jewish adults.

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HaYidion Catalyzing Resources Fall 2018
Catalyzing Resources
Fall 2018