by Jeremy J. Fingerman

This summer, I walked into GUCI in Zionsville, IN, and immediately felt like I was part of the family. Why? Besides hearing a rousing rendition of “Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem” and the overwhelming number of Midwestern smiles and “hellos” I received, the thing that made me feel most like a part of the GUCI family was being introduced not as the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, but as former GUCI campers Jeff, Evan, and Andrew’s uncle! As I see over and over on my camp visits – now 85 different camps – Jewish camps are each families on their own and they are part of our larger Jewish family.

Jewish camps constantly create a sense of community and instill Jewish values. This results in campers feeling connected and supported throughout their lives in their camps and the Jewish community as a whole. Recently, Kutz Camp hosted BBYO for their first-ever inter-organizational Maccabiah Games. When the games broke out, NFTY president and Kutz camper Evan Traylor gave a speech that included the following excerpt:

“At this pivotal time in human history, two Jewish youth groups, both alike in dignity yet separated for years by mere organizational and programmatic designs, joined together on the eve of arguably the most unstoppable alliance yet. On this day, as BBYO and NFTY join as one, our minute differences fade into irrelevance as our commonalities shine with brilliance.”

What profound words, which have meaning for all of us! We truly are all a part of one larger Jewish community, and we know that Jewish camp teaches that every day. Yet another great example of creating extended communities is the July 4th celebration that Henry S. Jacobs Camp hosted this summer, bringing together Camp Darom, a Modern Orthodox camp also based in Mississippi and serving the Deep South. Organizational and denominational boundaries can disappear in the camp environment.

We can clearly see how and why campers learn about the power and importance of being part of a larger community at camp. Anecdotally we have talked for years about how camp creates educated, engaged, enthusiastic, and committed Jewish adults, but until recently we couldn’t back it up with statistics.

Last year, the Foundation for Jewish Camp released a study called CAMP WORKS: The Long-Term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp by Steven M. Cohen, Ron Miller, Ira M. Sheskin, and Berna Torr, which provided evidence that summers at Jewish camp create adults who are devoted to the Jewish community and engaged in Jewish practice. The study offered quantitative proof on the influence of camp on the ways in which alumni choose to engage with the community and the degree to which they associate with other Jews long after their last summer at camp. Some highlights from the research are that as adults, compared to non-campers, campers are:

  • 30% more likely to donate to a Jewish charity;
  • Camp Works: Strengthening the Jewish Family 37% more likely to light Shabbat candles;
  • 45% more likely to attend synagogue monthly or more; and
  • 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel.

Further proof that Jewish camp creates community by the cabinful and helps to build a more vibrant Jewish future.

Jeremy J. Fingerman is the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.