Alternative experiences await children at Jewish summer camps


While many children spend the year looking forward to a traditional camp experience of wilderness exploring, s’more roasting and color warring, others may feel drawn to a more niche experience that appeals to their specific passions in sports, arts, cooking or even farming.

For these children, the Jewish community offers programs that meet their interests.

“Our J Camps programs are camps that span ages from as young as 2 all the way up through 15,” said Emily Stern, the senior director of the JCC of Greater Baltimore’s J Camps program. “And we offer a variety of camp programs from our general day camps through specialty camps, to really create a dynamic camp program that reaches the interests of every camper.”

These specialty camps, Stern said, include their Maccabi Sports camp, the Habimah Arts camp, the Tennis Academy and CSA Karate.

For the Maccabi Sports camp, she explained, the JCC is currently looking into ways to organize a sports program that includes low-contact games and drills, which may include basketball, track and field, soccer, flag football and baseball. The Habimah Arts camp offers performing arts activities such as acting, dancing, singing and magic and visual arts activities such as cartooning.

The tennis academy, Stern said, is open to all skill levels from beginner to advanced. Meanwhile, CSA Karate, she said, offers “not just karate, it’s a little bit of all martial arts.”

Lastly, the JCC will also be offering a four-week culinary camp at Krieger Schechter Day School this summer. The experience, Stern said, will be divided into distinct phases and will include a sweet week focusing on baking and pastries, a savory week for more general cooking and a chocolate week, which she expects campers to be particularly excited about.

URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy
campers at URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy (Courtesy of URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy)

Meanwhile, campers who sign up for the Union for Reform Judaism’s 6 Points Creative Arts Academy can expect a summer heavily focused on artistic adventures.

“It is the overnight camp that is dedicated to skill building in the arts at the intersection of the exploration of arts and Judaism,” said Jo-Ellen Unger, the camp’s director. “In our camp, we don’t stop being Jewish to be artists, and we don’t stop doing art to be Jews. Everything is woven together using the core values of our camp.”

The camp is located on the campus of the Westtown School, a boarding school in the Philadelphia area, and accepts students from third to eleventh grade. Groups at her camp are organized both by age and by major, Unger said. The majors available include dance, vocal music ensemble, instrumental music ensemble, musical theater, classical contemporary theater, visual arts, photography and creative writing. While campers will spend the majority of their time focused on their chosen majors, they are also free to take electives from the other disciplines for a more rounded experience.

The work of the campers culminates in a showcase, where the performing arts campers put together a production for the local community while the non-performing arts campers display their work in a gallery. In past years, as many as 400 people attended the showcase, though this coming year the staff is considering livestreaming the performance due to COVID-19 concerns.

Another camp option is the Pearlstone Center’s Tiyul Adventure Camp, which “blends Jewish wisdom, nature connection and edge experiences for an amazing summer,” said Mira Menyuk, the camp’s director.

In addition to more customary camp activities like swimming, zip lining and exploring the wilderness, the program teaches agricultural skills such as planting seeds, harvesting fruits and vegetables, farm-to-table cooking and interacting with animals.

“Tiyul Adventure camp is distinctive in its wilderness skills and farm-based programs and our ability to teach with the land, not just on it,” Menyuk said. “Each camper will leave Tiyul Adventure Camp with a deeper sense of connection to the earth we live on, Jewish values and, as a product of that, themselves and others.”

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