I just finished my final Jewish summer camp visit of the season today, visiting 7 of our congregation's children at Camp Deeny Riback, the regional JCC camp in Morris county. I had a great time, surprising children, sharing lunch, and catching up on their fun. I have visited 5 other camps this summer prior to this, seeing over 20 children from B'nai Shalom. Each visit can involved hours of driving, often more time in the car than actually on the ground in camp. Why do I do this?
Jewish Summer Camp is a tried and proven winner. Along with day school and an Israel experience prior to HS graduation, it is the most impactful thing you can do for Jewish children if you want ongoing adult identity, affiliation and families. Their rabbi knows this, but they don't. But if I show up, they think, "Hey. Wow. My rabbi is here! What's up with that?" And I tell them all the same thing: 1) I am here to see you and to visit you because I care about you and I miss you; 2) I am so proud of you for going not just to camp, but to a Jewish Camp that has Shabbat, Israel, and Jewish Education in the program; 3) I am envious of the fun you get to have all summer, and wanted to be a part of it; and, 4) I happen to have all these popsicles/frisbees (or whatever) and needed to give them to "somebody!"
In other words, I tell them the God's honest truth, and by actually being there they know I believe it.
Jewish camp is important. It's really important. That is why I fundraise to help our families who can't afford it go to Camp Ramah - the Jewel in the crown of Jewish summer camping. That is why I work with all camps to find scholarships and make it possible. That is why I give my own scholarships to my congregation's children who need.
Jewish camp should be a right, not a privilege. There is very little else that we do that has such a profound and lasting impact on our children.
So thank you to all the directors who welcomed me, and to my families who make the commitment to keep our children's Judaism strong straight through the summer months. The reward is, quite simply, the future.