A still summer lake, with a cool breeze flowing over it as a red morning sun stretches its fingers up over the trees. Birds chirping away as bunkhouses begin to empty of campers on the prowl for breakfast. The sound of soccer being played, obstacle courses being tackled, and … mimosas being imbibed?
If this doesn’t quite sound like a typical summer camp, that’s because it isn’t. And yet, in the Jewish community, more and more young adults are choosing to spend a weekend of the year reliving the glorious innocence and freedom of their childhoods by booking a reservation at summer camps meant exclusively for them.
“The idea came when I was living in D.C.,” said Carine Warsawski, founder and CEO of Trybal Gatherings, which operates at four locations, including their East Coast site in Great Barrington, Mass. “LivingSocial did a program called ‘Camp for Adults,’ and then I had the idea to do an adults camp for Jews. Jewish summer camps have existed for a century. We are trying to make them accessible to a new demographic.”
But why would grown men and women choose to spend their time engaging in the type of experience originally intended for children? “I think that we live in an increasingly noisy, distracted world, and we crave an opportunity for connection,” Warsawski said. “And we offer that connection, whether socially, Jewishly, and in many cases romantically. Trybal offers things people don’t have in their backyard, whether its macramé, or horseback riding, or looking at the stars. In today’s world, connection is more sacred than ever, and people are looking for that connection.”
Meanwhile, Lisa Klig, director of Camp Nai Nai Nai, which operates three Jewish adult summer camps, including one in Waynesboro, Pa., said that they offer something that young Jews aren’t finding at traditional institutions.
“People are looking to make connections, to meet one another, and have a sense of belonging,” Klig said. “A lot of times the classic Jewish institutions, such as synagogues and JCCs, aren’t connecting with young Jews where they are. This is not where millennial Jews are headed to on a regular basis, and people are looking to connect in a new way.” According to Klig, camps like hers allow people to “disconnect from technology and reconnect with your inner child.”
Camp Nai Nai Nai launched in 2017 with 125 campers at its East Coast location, according to Klig. This year, May 22-25, their Pennsylvania camp will be more than double that number at 260. Meanwhile, Trybal Gatherings expects to have 150 campers at their camp in Massachusetts during Labor Day weekend, said Warsawski.
Both camps said their campers come from a wide swath of the East Coast, including some from the Baltimore area. “Every year we get more and more from a wider area,” said Warsawski. “We’re glad to see people from the mid-Atlantic joining us for camp.”
Both Warsawski and Klig mentioned that campers often were either those who had gone through summer camp as children, or who had never been before and were curious about the experience. According to Warsawski, those she called “FOMOs” are “people who didn’t go to camp as children, but now as adults have the chance to do that. The nostalgic are trying to reconnect with an experience they had as children. The do-overs were people who had maybe not the best experience at camp or in Hebrew school and want to give Judaism another chance. Sometimes, you have to be ready to embrace what Judaism offers.”
Lodging at Trybal includes modern cabins and a retreat center. Meanwhile, options at Nai Nai Nai run the gamut from tents, bunk houses, and deluxe rooms, according to Klig. “Most campers are in bunk cabins,” she said. “It most closely resembles a true summer camp experience, with eight to 10 campers in a bunk. It’s a great way to meet new people while you’re there.”
As for food, at both locations everything is either kosher or kosher-style, while, as Warsawski put it, offering a “millennial twist” to traditional camp food.
“We have guacamole bars; we do barbecues; we have a gourmet grilled cheese bar, with sourdough and a three-cheese melt,” she said. And, for those not concerned about falling off the wagon, alcohol is permitted at both camp locations.
Activities at Trybal include bubble soccer, pickling, yoga, and dance parties, while Nai Nai Nai features escape rooms, a mud obstacle course, terrarium making, and, on one occasion, a Harry-Potter themed color war.
“We have play shops, not workshops, because there’s no work,” said Klig. “There are between eight or 12 activities available at any given time.”
According to Klig, campers “inevitably walk away with new friendships, and with a really memorable experience, and with a greater sense of connection to the Jewish community.”
“The magic and immersive experience is that you get to connect on a deeper level,” said Warsawski. “People leave inspired to stay engaged in Jewish community. We excel at helping people find Jewish connection and meaning in their everyday lives.”