The start of the Jewish camping season may have been a bit shaky this year with the swine-flu epidemic forcing some camps across the country to cancel sessions or delay their openings. Camps in our area rightly leapt into prevention mode, taking extra precautions as the campers departed, determined not to let some virus detract from the blessings that a Jewish overnight experience brings to thousands of children.
It's no longer news that Jewish summer camps provide one of the most important foundations for a lifelong connection to Jewish life. Judaism and fun away from the pressures of school and parents — that's the perfect prescription for instilling a strong sense of community and kinship. Throw in a little learning, Shabbat by the lake, and lots of dancing and singing, and it is virtually impossible to escape the spirit that infuses even the most unwitting camper.
Organized Jewry has recognized the impact camp has on developing Jewish identity, as well as helping shape the community's future leaders and thinkers; as a result, it has wisely invested heavily in camping in recent years.
The Foundation for Jewish Camp has leveraged millions of philanthropic dollars for staff development, Jewish programming and, perhaps most importantly, scholarships to allow more Jewish children to participate.
The foundation has partnered with federations around the country, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, to provide incentive grants for first- and second-year campers, knowing that once they're hooked, it's hard to walk away from the experience.
The Philadelphia Federation has gone further, allocating tens of thousands of dollars of local funds to enable area youngsters the opportunity to continue their summer connections.
Camp can be quite pricey — $7,000 and up for a full session.
Thanks in part to the aid, several camps in the area are reporting an increase in enrollment, despite the current economic recession.
In each Jewish camper lies the potential to become a Jewish educator or rabbi, a communal leader or innovator. Each camper has the potential to create lifelong relationships and connections — a best friend, perhaps even a spouse.
Camp alone might not be the antidote to Jewish apathy and disaffection, but it can go a long way toward forging the path toward a vibrant Jewish life.
Just as we must find resources to bolster formal Jewish educational experiences, we must do all we can to help summer camps fulfill their mandate and to enable as many campers as possible to reap the benefits.
Of all the items on our communal "to-do" list, Jewish camping must continue to be a top priority.