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JCC Chicago’s ‘Big Idea’ for changing Israel education at camp

Israel at JCC Chicago camps now looks dramatically different today than it did 30, 10, and even two years ago.

jcc big idea image
A BIG IDEAS counselor and campers creating their own tracks using professional mixing and audio editing software.

More than a decade ago, I sat in a seminar with directors of Jewish camps from across North America where the speaker challenged us to create connections at camp between kids and Israel that were about more than just "falafel and camels." The audience responded with a few laughs and chuckles, some finding humor in his statement and others, like me, feeling the discomfort of knowing that we might be falling short in our presentation of Israel at camp. 

Since then, JCC Chicago day and overnight camps have applied the same approach they use for continually updating activities to enhancing Israel Experience & Culture programs at camp. Similar to introducing a new methodology for swim lessons or adjusting staff training to meet the learning styles of millennials, Israel at JCC Chicago camps now looks dramatically different today than it did 30, 10, and even two years ago. Through language, history and science, along with food and music, campers engage in hands-on activities that present a richer picture of life in Israel today.

This summer, JCC Chicago is launching a new camp that will not only change the makeup of Jewish day camp in Chicagoland, but will also create a new framework for developing personal connections to Israel.

BIG IDEA at JCC Chicago is the first-of-its-kind technology camp in the Chicago area. Creative and curious campers choose from 13 different workshops, including gaming, graphic design, coding, robotics, electronic DJ-ing, mobile app development, music video production, and more. Campers are encouraged to explore, learn, engage, and achieve in the spirit of Israel's high-tech industry. 

JCC's partner in bringing Israeli innovation to Chicago is BIG IDEA Educational Projects, the leading Israel tech education organizer since 2008. The program and instructors provide expertise in technology summer camps along with a commitment to launching the next generation of entrepreneurs and thinkers.

We believe that summer shouldn't feel like school; it's for experimenting and creating while having fun. BIG IDEA offers all of this and more. Each day blends time spent on computers with "unplugged" activities-swimming, sports, art. All workshops are interactive and campers need no previous knowledge to participate. Technology exploration takes place in small groups of no more than eight campers, allowing for individualized attention and collaboration. Instructors from Israel and the U.S. encourage campers to find their passions and then help take them to the next level.

By meeting tweens and teens where they're at in the world of technology, BIG IDEA introduces them to a new context for Israel as a world leader in tech development and innovation. At BIG IDEA, campers gain new skills, explore new interests, meet new friends, and appreciate a new view of Israel. Alongside everything they learn in their workshops, campers' pride in the story of modern Israel's success in technology creates a meaningful connection to contemporary Israel that goes way beyond the days of falafel and camels.

BIG IDEA takes place at the Bernard Weinger JCC in Northbrook from June 18-August 10. The program is designed for campers entering 4th-9th grades. Sessions last for two weeks. For more information, visit or call (847) 272-7050.  

Jamie Lake is the former assistant director of JCC Camp Chi. She currently serves as the marketing manager for the 12 JCC Chicago day and overnight camps.

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