Why Jewish Camp?


For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent nearly every summer at camp. I loved being a camper — the fun, the memories, the surprises and the friendships. I have loved every camp job I have ever held: counselor-in-training, junior counselor, senior counselor, sports counselor, drama counselor, unit leader, assistant director and director.

But it was not until I became the director of Camp Milldale, the day camp of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, that I realized the true value of Jewish   summer camp. Camp Milldale is a caring Jewish community. that works hard to impart Jewish values. The value of v’ahavtah l’reach kamocha, (loving your fellow as yourself) is seen daily in every interaction.

I have learned it’s the small moments that count the most and make the greatest impact.

How do I define “small moments?”

A counselor holding a new camper’s hand; a child offering to trade popsicles because his friend likes the other flavor better; a specialist realizing that her activity is a camper’s favorite thing to do; a camper learning to dive, or earning his first opportunity to go down the waterslide. All of these small moments make camp magical and such an important rite of passage.

One of my favorite small moments involved campers Jacob and Ira, and took place two summers ago. These good friends were playing against each other in “gaga”  (Israeli dodgeball). Ira was hit out of the game and was very sad about it. Jacob saw that his friend was upset and deliberately got himself out so he could cheer up Ira. He sat down next to Ira, let him play with one of his action figures, and they both smiled and laughed. Jacob’s counselor told Jacob how proud he was, and Jacob replied (and I couldn’t make this up even if I wanted to), “I like dodge ball, but I like Ira better.” That is a small moment that makes a big impact.

We encourage our campers to connect to the greater good. Camp Milldale wants campers to feel good, but also wants campers to DO GOOD. Our focus on tikkun olam, (repairing the world) comes through in Milldale’s daily activities such as nature, Israeli culture, gardening and cooking.

“A core Jewish value found at synagogues around the globe is the idea that learning never ends, and at Camp Milldale we feel that is true in an informal setting as well,” says David Mitnick, assistant director of Camp Milldale.

Whether they’re singing Israeli or Jewish rock tunes around the campfire, or learning to swim, camp is an integral part of instilling independence and Jewish values, Mitnick explains.

The Foundation for Jewish Camping sums it all up best: “The impact of Jewish camp is immediate – campers return home connected to a community and friends that will last them a lifetime. And it doesn’t stop there. Children with pivotal Jewish camp experiences are more likely to become adults who value their Jewish heritage, support Jewish causes, and take on leadership roles in their communities.”

Dori Zvili is the director of Camp Milldale. A version of this column was originally printed on Jewish Baltimore Blog of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

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