By Lisa Hornung
Nationwide, kids missed plenty of camp this summer, forced to stay at home by the coronavirus pandemic. In Jewish Louisville, though, some of those campers are finally getting some good news.
Kids who secured camp grants and scholarships for 2020 through the One Happy Camper program (OHC) will have to re-apply in 2021, said Alison Roemer, senior director of Jewish journeys and experiences at the Jewish Community of Louisville (JCL).
But the good news is they will receive the same level of financial assistance.
“Anyone who got a OHC grant is guaranteed the same amount as 2020,” Roemer said.
The news will likely come as a relief to parents who wondered if their children, who have already missed one season at camp, would have to compete with a new class of applicants for the same amount of funding.
OHC grants are completely covered by JCL, using a grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence. Originally a national grant program, OHC is now the responsibility of local communities.
Campers aren’t the only ones getting some good news. The JCL did not ask for grant refunds from the camps where the money was already allocated, Roemer said, effectively donating almost $90,000 to Jewish camps.
The news came as Jewish Louisville campers, and their parents, spoke to Community about what they missed most about camp and how they tried to compensate for its absence.
Alex Schwartz, 15, was going into his eighth year at Camp Livingston in Indiana when the season was canceled.
“I love camp, and I was really sad not being able to see my friends,” he said. “I still talk to them, but it’s just different in person.”
Alex’s mother, Allison Schwartz, said that camp has been an important factor in her son’s development.
“It’s really taught him so much about himself and his leadership skills,” Schwartz said. “It helped him learn at an early age to adjust to uncomfortable situations. It has built his confidence to excel in so many other areas of his life back in Louisville.”
Schwartz called camping a “sacred time” for kids like her son, allowing them to “disconnect from social media and the pressures of everyday life and go into a non-judgmental space.”
Elise Goldstein’s children have mostly outgrown camp now. Her daughter Arianna went to GUCI, and her son Drew, 18, would have been a counselor this year at Livingston. Goldstein herself is a GUCI alumnus.
“Jewish camp gives kids very positive Jewish experiences that are priceless,” she said. “They’re in a place with all Jewish kids, everybody’s Jewish and, you know, they’re amazing opportunities to make friends and strengthen Jewish identity and meet other Jewish kids from around the region.
“I’m very grateful for my personal opportunity to go to Jewish camp,” Goldstein added. “It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and our kids have just benefited beyond words at sleepaway Jewish camp.”
Robin Weiss said her eight children have greatly benefited from camp. She still has two – Ada, 15, and Noa, 12 – who are at camp age, so it felt strange having them home all summer.
“We are just not used to having the kids home at the summer anymore,” she said. “You know, it was just like we didn’t even know what to do with them.”
The kids, both of whom attend Camp Livingston for separate one-month sessions, benefit from the time apart.
“We can always tell, like in September, they’re fairly nice to each other, Weiss said. “By May, it’s like, ‘Please let camp start soon!’”
Weiss knows there are more serious reasons the kids benefit from camp.
Aside from the physical and social development camp offers kids, Weiss placed an even higher value on Jewish development.
“We can talk about being Jewish all year long, and we can do things that we associate with being Jewish in our family, whether that be going to services or having Shabbat or baking challah, or lighting candles,” Weiss said. “But when they go to camp, they can experience the spirit of Judaism, in their friends and in the songs, and it’s not something being forced down their throats.”
Bob and Shifrah Bornstein have two sons – David, 17, and Jonathan, 13 – who usually attend Beber. This summer David channeled his energy into the culinary arts, learning to smoke chicken and brisket and make his own bagels. At the same time, Jonathan took up golf to while away the summer hours.
It just wasn’t the same.
“The kids are able to make friends [at camp] that hopefully they will keep for life, said Bob Bornstein, who, like his wife, went to camp themselves. “Camp instills compassion and empathy for others and helps them to further their Jewish identity, all while having a great time and learning new skills.”
Roemer said it is her goal is to help every child who wants to attend Jewish overnight camp to have that opportunity.
“I hope to connect with families who are raising Jewish children to let them know about the One Happy Camper grants and financial assistance that are available to our community.”
Want to go?
Families interested in One Happy Camper grants for 2021 can contact Alison Roemer at firstname.lastname@example.org.