Summer camp is meant to be chock full of summer fun, and the Jewish Community Center Summer Camp is certainly that. But the camp is still a Jewish camp grounded in Jewish values, even if many of the campers are not Jewish.
The JCC’s camp accomplishes this by having Shabbat programming every Friday with all of camp. Though our campers are from diverse faith traditions, they get to participate in the joy of celebrating Shabbat, and they like it.
In the morning circle, campers come together with the Early Learning Center children to sing Shabbat songs and get the day started.
In the afternoon, the campers gather for Shabbat in which they say blessings over the candles, the grape juice (instead of wine) and the challah, said Talia Wagner, Keff program director. “We ask volunteers to hold the stuffed candles, challah and juice for the group.” Then actual challah is passed out for campers to enjoy.
“It’s important for campers to experience Judaism,” said Mike Steklof, assistant director of camping and youth. “After all, that’s really why we’re here.”
In the afternoon, Shabbat is made even more fun with a skit.
“I print out the Torah portion of the week, and we translate it into a skit that kids will understand,” Wagner said. “We have camp counselors who act out the skit for the children, and they really enjoy it.”
Recently, a skit was about how the Israelites were angry that God gave them manna instead of real food, so the skit was about being grateful for what you have. The actors used graham crackers instead of manna and the actors complained about them.
Another recent skit was about inclusion. The male actors were playing basketball, when a girl wanted to join. But the boys didn’t want to play with a girl. Then a camp counselor intervened and said that they should all play together and not exclude anyone.
The skits are purposely kept short, said Betsy Schwartz, senior director of camping and youth services. “Younger children can’t pay attention very long, so we make the skits short so that the campers can still get the important message of that week’s Torah portion.”
Schwartz said the parents of non-Jewish children have all responded positively.
“We like celebrating Shabbat with the campers,” Schwartz said. “The Jewish children get to practice their Judaism each week and celebrate together, and it exposes non-Jewish families to Jewish culture and religion. I’ve gotten lots of feedback from non-Jewish parents saying they are glad their children are learning about Shabbat.”
But they are also a little confused.
“Parents call asking, “What is this challah (often pronouncing it incorrectly), and where can I get it? My kid keeps asking for it!”
Shabbat becomes a teaching opportunity for parents, too.