On Resilience & Summer Camp

It is no understatement to say that the past weeks, months, and years have been challenging. For our community’s children and teens, the world around them has been wrought with mental and physical health concerns. For many, the pandemic also meant the loss of a crucial safe haven: overnight Jewish summer camp.

Thankfully, more than 70,000 Jewish campers in North America – including thousands from Greater Washington – have now returned to those safe havens. With every gathering, song, splash, and sunscreen-glazed memory, camp communities are experiencing a renewal: of spirit, of Jewish-identity building, and of true resilience.

I cannot overstate the importance of these camp moments for our community’s children, or that none of them would be possible without the crucial work of our dedicated and talented camp leaders and staff.

The world continues to throw curve balls at these professionals, but they are adapting to ensure their charges are cared for. In the wake of COVID outbreaks, some have created quarantine groups to keep campers safe while continuing to engage them.

At one camp in particular, when several kitchen staff fell ill, the rest of the camp team stepped up to make sure campers were fed. And, of course, when a fire sadly destroyed the dining hall at Camp Airy last week, staff made sure that campers were safe, fed, and able to continue their summer as planned. (Federation has allocated $25,000 in emergency funding to Camp Airy. If you would also like to help meet current needs and support rebuilding efforts, I encourage you to donate directly to the camp’s Tomorrow Fund.)

As a father, a Jewish communal professional, and a former camper and counselor myself, I could not be more grateful to those who make camp happen. I know firsthand just how meaningful these two months of the year can be, and why so many live “ten months for two.” And the anecdotes are backed by solid research into camp’s long-lasting impacts. We know from our partners at the Foundation for Jewish Camp, for instance, that 7 out of 10 young Jewish leaders in their 20s and 30s attended Jewish summer camp.

It is rare to find another offering that serves as an entry point for many people’s Jewish journeys, instills a sense of belonging and fosters rich ties amongst campers, and establishes connections to and with the broader Jewish community.

That’s why Federation is proud to provide pivotal camp scholarships to hundreds of local families through our Annual Campaign, with thanks to all of our generous donors. Through One Happy Camper scholarships for first-time campers, and financial aid funding made available through our local camp partners, we are committed to ensuring this life-changing experience is accessible and affordable for every community member who seeks it.

The months and years ahead will undoubtedly continue to challenge us. But together, we are ensuring that our next generation has the spaces, close-knit community, and leadership skills to help move our vibrant Jewish community forward.

Shabbat Shalom,

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