Earlier this summer, in between eating cheese curds and dodging moose as I drove around Wisconsin, I went back to a Jewish summer camp for the first time in almost 10 years. Why was I wandering around the Midwest, swatting at flies and drinking “bug-juice” by the pitcher?
As part of an ongoing partnership with the Foundation for Jewish Camp, a national organization that helps raise awareness and support for Jewish camps, the Jewish Outreach Institute spent time working hands-on with this organization to help camps reach all those on the periphery of the Jewish community. Currently, Jewish summer camps primarily attract and engage campers from families that are already engaged in Jewish life. The premise of the summer project is that Jewish camps can better reflect the contemporary diversity of the Jewish people, including the great number of intermarried families, Jews-of-color and others traditionally marginalized from the Jewish community. In addition to working with camp directors on marketing strategies to recruit campers from these underrepresented target populations, JOI program officers traveled to eleven different camps to train camp staff members on the importance of embracing Jewish diversity and providing a safe space for campers of all backgrounds. By helping these camps identify opportunities to grow to become more inclusive communities, we hope that camps will increase the number of new campers they welcome each summer.
The sessions were transformative opportunities for the counselors to reflect on how they welcome those of different backgrounds to camp, and by extension, to the Jewish community. And on a personal note, it was a privilege to spend time with the incredible staff at these camps and work with them to create even more welcoming and inclusive environments. As an alumna of the Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, IN a Reform Jewish summer camp, I know how magically empowering camp can be. I hope that our efforts this summer and the big steps these camps are taking will make the Jewish summer camp experience more accessible to all!