Sleepaway Camp and the Future of Jewish Life
Jeremy J. Fingerman is the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
Last week, I had the distinct privilege of attending the presentation of the top-line results of the new Pew Research Center study of Jewish Americans. Among the small group were several of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s key funders, philanthropists and trustees. Overall, the people in the room had two immediate reactions to the news that so many Jews living in the US today are non-practicing or don’t identify with Judaism: Why is this happening and what can we do about it?
As a Jewish communal professional involved in identity building and continuity, the findings were not surprising to me. These are the challenges the field of Jewish camp faces every day, the challenges that push Foundation for Jewish Camp and our colleagues in the field to work harder, to get more kids to camp and to make every minute that they are at camp count. According to the Pew findings, 44% of practicing Jews reported attending Jewish overnight camp as opposed to only 18% of those who are non-practicing. We read those results to mean that those who experienced Judaism through the lens of Jewish camp were influenced to make it part of their lives long after they attended their last campfire. We believe that many of those children may have had no other Jewish experiences growing up besides camp.
In his remarks on the findings, Dr. Steven M. Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner, made the case for Jewish camp. His comments echoed those that he shared on the release of our research, Camp Works, “We don’t have to repair the lack of adult engagement in Jewish life. If you invest in Jewish youth, you’re going to automatically get all kinds of engagement. With Jewish camp…you continue to see the results 20, 30, 40 years from now.” Camp is a place where children live joyous Judaism and explore our religion on their own terms. At FJC, we work hard every day to make sure more kids have that opportunity each summer.
As we have conversations with our many colleagues and partners in the field and beyond regarding the implications of this study, I am confident that together we can and will work to create a more vibrant Jewish future.