In recent years, healthy eating and lifestyle initiatives have grown in popularity among Jewish summer camps. This year promises to prove the trend is only growing.
“Parents are definitely concerned about what the camp is serving,” said Jennifer Silber, executive director of Habonim Dror Camp Moshava in northern Maryland. In addition to concern about the quality of the food their children are consuming, Silber said the camp must also work hard to accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions each year. “There are plenty of parents who have a lot of questions about what kind of food we serve — is their kid going to be hungry? — pretty natural parental instincts.”
The campers themselves have become increasingly interested in taking part in the process as well. Campers at Moshava are encouraged to help harvest the camp’s organic garden, and when a meal features ingredients picked from their own garden, Silber said, the pride the campers emit is palpable.
Even the camp’s Tikkun Olam project is devoted to healthy eating. Each year, campers help harvest the fruits and vegetables grown at First Fruits Farm and prepare it for donation to area soup kitchens.
“We get extremely high ratings for our foods, and that’s probably part of it,” said Silber. “The kids really feel like they’ve contributed and they’re part of the process.”
At Camp Zeke, the healthy lifestyle trend that has developed among many Americans inspired the founders to create the camp in the first place.
“There’s a sort of this awakening in the United States when it comes to healthy living,” he said. Instead of “bug juice” and candy hunts, parents today want to see their kids eating fruits and vegetables.
The camp opened last year, and co-founder Isaac Mamaysky said he expects enrollment to grow by more than 50 percent in the 2015 season. Mamaysky describes his campers as the mini-version of “the people you find in the produce section of Whole Foods in their gym clothes.”
Unlike Moshava, where campers harvest the produce but don’t cook it, Camp Zeke doesn’t have its own garden or farm but does offer campers the opportunity to cook with the food staff brings in from local farms. In the future, Mamaysky said the plan is to expand the kitchen even more to allow more exploration on the culinary side of healthy living.
At Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa., where enrollment is at a five-year high, variety is the overriding theme of 2015. Camp staff spent much of the off season enhancing the programs offered to their campers and even developing some new programs.
In traditional camp settings, said Jonah Geller, Capital Camps’ chief executive officer, campers’ time was split between a set of very basic programs, such as games and arts and crafts. In the interest of providing campers with a more meaningful camp experience, Capital Camps has begun offering kids the chance to specialize in one subject or another, building their own schedules around whatever activities most interest them.
“We’re really trying to be more intentional in lesson planning so that kids can learn specific skills — whether it’s camping skills, sports, fine arts, ropes course and team building — so kids feel challenged, they feel like the time they’re spending in each of these activities is meaningful time,” said Geller. “We want to make sure that, when they’re at activity periods that they are really embracing the opportunity to learn new skills, to practice those skills and to get better at things that they want to.”
At Beth Tfiloh Camps, staff have developed a variety of specialty camps that allow campers to hone in on what interests them the most. With Theater Camp, varsity and junior varsity sports camps, travel camp, arts camp, a new community service camp and a high-level lacrosse camp and many more, kids are able to immerse themselves in a host of different activities. To allow kids to participate in as many different programs as they wish, BT camps has also amended the length of their programing, offering more sessions for fewer days.
“Even though with the traditional 8-week day camp there might be some benefit, that’s not what kids and families are looking for,” said the camp’s director, David Schimmel.