Spending Shabbat under the stars. Incorporating Jewish prayer and ritual into everyday life. Sitting around the campfire for Havdalah. Learning about Israel. And thriving in a Jewish community. These are the hallmarks of Jewish overnight camp that have been etched into the hearts of Jewish children and teens for generations.
Research from the Foundation for Jewish Camp, with its motto "Jewish summers, Jewish future," shows that Jewish kids who attend Jewish camp were more likely to marry other Jews, have a Jewish circle of friends, and participate in the Jewish community as adults.
JUF partners with camps and community organizations
The Jewish United Fund has been instrumental in helping families send children to Jewish summer camps throughout the Midwest. "JUF offers two grants for first-time campers," said Hallie Shapiro, JUF Senior Associate Vice President of Family and Teen Engagement. "The One Happy Camper grants and Camp Coupons are geared toward different populations; kids in public school and those attending Orthodox day schools. These grants are not need-based, but rather an incentive to send children to Jewish overnight camp for the first time for a minimum of 19 days."
Every year, JUF also works with 11 Midwest Jewish overnight camps to help families with financial need-based scholarships. Applications can be made only through one of the eligible camps. "Scholarships are based on financial need and may be given year after year," said Jody Slate, JUF director of Israel Experience. "Each year, we understand how our scholarships make a difference. So many families are faced with unemployment, divorce, debt, health issues, and more. For many campers, camp is a place to escape the hardships of home and is even considered their home away from home. We're glad to help families better afford such an important part of their children's' Jewish identity."
"We see firsthand that scholarship dollars make an impact on the families," said Debbie Berman, chair of the JUF Scholarship Committee. "Camp is expensive and also a vital piece for so many children's Jewish journeys. We never want parents to have to make the choice between Jewish camp and other obligations. Applicant families span from the unaffiliated to more observant and are spread out geographically, so we get a real sense of the needs across our community."
Stefan Teodosic, co-chair of Midwest Jewish Camp Directors (MJCD) as well as Beber Camp Executive Director, explained that MJCD's goal is a collaborative effort to get every Jewish kid to Jewish summer camp. "Going to Jewish summer camp is the most transformational vehicle for driving Jewish identity," he said. "It builds life skills as well as develops future generations of Jewish leaders. Our goal is to help families work with JUF to make the right fit."
Jewish camp makes an enduring impact
Attending the first summer of Camp Ramah in 1947, Chaviva Jacobson felt its influence throughout her life. "You go to camp 350 miles away from Chicago and you meet the most wonderful girls your age. The boys are handsome, intelligent, can lead a Shabbat service, read from the Torah, and they both become your lifelong friends." Jacobson, author/lecturer on artist Marc Chagall, added that Ramah's art and music programs generated her lifelong passion for art.
Involved with Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) for many years, Terry Hendin felt that camp played a large part in enhancing her Jewish identity, knowledge, and interest in Israel. "It provided personal growth, independence, self-confidence, and forging lifelong friendships, many continuing 55 years later. Clearly, camp influenced my life's direction, visiting, studying, and moving to Israel in 1975 and spending my professional life as a Jewish communal professional."
For Hilary Most, summers at Camp Chi left a lasting impression and showed her Judaism in a new light. "I went to secular camp first, but Camp Chi made the difference. We didn't know they were instilling Jewish values in us, but they did it every day, making it fun, yet meaningful. Because of Camp Chi, I will only send my children to Jewish summer camp."
Check out onehappycamper.org in the fall to apply for the summer of 2020. For more information, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (312) 444-2895.
Overnight camps eligible for JUF Scholarships: Agudah Midwest/B'nos Ma'arava, B'nai Brith Beber Camp, Camp Chi, Habonim Camp Tavor, Camp Moshava Wildrose, Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), Camp Ramah Wisconsin, Yeshivas HaKayitz, Camp Nageela Midwest, Camp Young Judaea Midwest, and Chavayah. For more information, email email@example.com , or call (312) 444-2895.