She was responding to the post of a (new to me) blogger, The Curious Jew, who had written about whether or not Jewish summer camp should be viewed as a luxury. (And The Curious Jew was actually responding to a Jewish Week editorial about summer camp written by Rabbi Burg, the International Director of NCSY.)
If you haven’t already, I recommend that you read all three posts/editorials – but in the meantime, I wanted to weigh in with my own thoughts on this subject.
Let me start by saying that I went to sleep-away camp as a child (Camp Young Judaea – I didn’t grow up Orthodox) and it was, without a doubt, the most formative experience of my youth.
Camp is where I learned to love Judaism. Although CYJ is no longer a very observant camp, from what I hear, at the time, it was very “masorati”. I learned to daven at CYJ. I learned to say birkat ha’mazon. I came home from my first summer at camp (in the 4th grade) and asked my parents to keep kosher. (Much to their chagrin, I’m sure. And yet they kept sending me. And I, eventually, became a vegetarian.)
Camp taught me the marvels of being a part of community – with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with that. Throughout my decade-long journey of becoming shomeret mitzvot, that feeling of community remained a driving motivation.
Perhaps most of all, the unabashedly Zionistic Camp Young Judaea taught me to love Israel – a love that led me to spend three years there as a young adult and then, at the age of 25, to finally make aliyah. (As many of you know, I lived in Israel from 1997 to 2008. My husband – also an oleh – and I married in 2002 and in 2008, we moved to Kansas City.)
Without any exaggeration, I can say that the years that I spent attending camp – and serving on the regional mazkirut and going to conventions – formed the person that I am today.
And yet, I can say with equal certainty that unless we win the lottery (literally or figuratively – but probably the latter, since we don’t play the lottery), our three children will not be going to summer sleep-away camp.
It’s just not in the budget.
This pains me to some degree, but I also know that many of the incredible gifts I got from camp – yiddishkeit, Jewish identity, Zionism, community — are values that we are already providing our children. Both in our home and in the communities we have chosen to live in.
To me, camp falls into the same category as expensive after-school activities. They are wonderful and can no doubt provide innumerable benefits to a child. But they are still a luxury.
If camp becomes a “necessity” in order to provide children with a positive religious experience, as The Curious Jew alluded to, then that tells me that my husband and I need to work harder at home.
If camp becomes a “necessity” in order to provide our children with a social experience that makes them feel “normal” (i.e. the chance to interact with a bunch of similarly identified peers), then that tells me that my husband and I need to reevaluate our choice of community.
If we made a million dollars a year, would we send our kids to camp? In a heartbeat. We’d also probably increase our food budget beyond $500 a month!
But unless and until our financial reality changes drastically, I will continue to maintain that Jewish summer camp – much as I loved my own camping experience – is squarely in the “luxury” category.
Hopefully I didn’t step on any toes. Obviously the conclusions that I draw are for my family – and my family alone. But I’d love to know how you all are dealing with summer camp decisions. Is this a dilemma you are facing in your home?