Monday, October 20, 2014 Tishri 26, 5775

The Tim​e of Their Lives

July 15, 2010
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If you're among the fortunate, your children are off at overnight camp having the time of their lives. Even better, they're spending this record-hot summer soaking up the joys of Judaism along with the rays of the sun.

But not all of us -- and our kids -- are so fortunate.

Enrollment has remained steady at many of the Jewish camps in our area this year, but that's not good enough. Directors are reporting that they had to turn away many would-be campers due to a lack of sufficient scholarship funds.

The financial burden is a key factor holding back children from what could be, by most accounts, one of the most transformative experiences available for the young today.

Another is reluctance. How many in our community consider Jewish camp for only a moment, if at all, before opting for another program believed to be bigger or more specialized?

In an encouraging convergence that recognizes the pivotal impact of weeks in the tribal wilderness, local communities are partnering with camps, funders and the Foundation for Jewish Camp to step up the nationwide campaign to promote Jewish camping. Philadelphia is part of this effort, with funds raised by Federation to distribute scholarships and incentive grants.

The 12-year-old Foundation for Jewish Camp has played an instrumental role, partnering with Philadelphia and elsewhere to provide money for first- and second-year campers, and in that time, helped double the numbers at Jewish camps across the country -- close to 80,000. At a foundation-sponsored gathering for camp staff, funders and other interested parties at a private home on the Main Line -- held in concert with the group's annual board meeting this week -- the magic of a childhood infused with camp came across loud and clear. It was the voice of a college senior who most eloquently captured the essence of the experience.

"I feel like, without my life at camp, I would be this person lost in space without passion or direction," said Molly Wernick, who after 10 young years at Camp Galil, of the Habonim-Dror youth movement, now serves as its educational director. "Galil -- Jewish camp -- helps me understand who I am, where I come from and why it is so important to take care of the people in my life."

Galil is just one of many camps in our region and beyond that are crying out for more kids to experience Judaism on their own terms. Now all we have to do is ensure the continuation of grants, even as we encourage our camps to do all they can to provide experiences that can compete with other types of summer adventures.

Studies show that the most active members of our community went to a Jewish overnight camp. So allowing our kids to experience the beauty of Shabbat in a pine grove or in an amphitheater by the lake is not just good for our children and our families. It's good for all of us.

See you on Visiting Day. 

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