Jewish Overnight Camping Experiences

Why is this important?

Jewish overnight camping has demonstrable long-term effects upon Jewish engagement, elevating several measures in general, as well as those measures particularly reflective of the Jewish educational philosophy of the camp.1 Campers in these settings are enrolled for a period of three to eight weeks in a round-the-clock Jewish ambience, and they often go on to serve as staff members in those camps. In such intensive settings, overnight camps build strong friendships among young Jews and deepen commitment to Jewish practices and cultural expressions.

What are the trends?

While, outside of Orthodoxy, participation in other forms of Jewish learning is shrinking, participation in Jewish overnight camping is growing, both in North America and in Greater Toronto. The number of young campers in the Toronto area grew by 8% between summer 2014 and summer 2015. In the same period, the number of camp staff also grew by 8%.

At the same time, we see some disturbing trends. While campers and first-week campers are up, the number of fifth-week campers is down 7%, suggesting that campers are staying for shorter stays. In addition, the camps expanded capacity by 9%, but they failed to keep up an equivalent expansion in campers resulting in declines in occupancy rates – 8%, respectively, for week 1, and 18% for week 2.

What’s new?

In addition to UJA’s One Happy Camper Program, which provides an incentive grant for first time campers, UJA’s Silber Family Centre for Jewish Camping introduced PJ Goes to Camp as an opportunity for young children and their families to be introduced to Jewish camping and whet their appetite to return summer after summer. In the summer of 2017, UJA’s Silber Family Centre for Jewish Camping will introduce the Weekender as a pilot program to bring an increasing number of Jewish youth to summer camps.

How are we doing?

Growing participation in overnight camp is a key goal of UJA . The increasing number of beds will pay off only if more campers can be recruited, and more campers can be induced to spend longer periods in camp. Both are priorities.

[1] See, Steven M. Cohen, Ron Miller, Ira M. Sheskin, Berna Torr. Camp Works: The Long-Term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp. Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). Spring 2011: Steven M. Cohen and Steven Fink. Building Progressive Zionist Activists: Exploring the Impact of Habonim Dror. Habonim Dror Camp Association. 1 December 2013: Steven M. Cohen. Camp Ramah and Adult Jewish Identity: Long-Term Influences on Conservative Congregants in North America. RAMAH: Reflections at 50: Visions for a New Century. National Ramah Commission. 2000: