Fostering Jewish identity through overnight camping

By: Amanda Wener

As the laundry piles up and the duffle bags get unpacked, campers may return to their every day lives, but they will never forget the amazing experiences of a summer at sleep-away camp.

Between campers and staff, over 2,000 Montreal youth benefited from a Jewish overnight camping experience this past summer learning new skills, building confidence in themselves and trying new things.

Matthew Golfman (left) and brother Brandon

“My favorite memory from camp is when I was a captain for Colour War and our team won. Being a Colour War Captain, I gave myself higher expectations and led my team to victory throughout two days,” Matthew Golfman, 15, said reflecting on this past summer. “It gave me a chance to develop my leadership skills and build confidence.”

From trying different activities to learning to live with others in such close quarters for an extended period of time, overnight camping has a transformative impact on children and teens alike. Aside from gaining independence and responsibility, campers develop values and skills that stay with them for a lifetime.

Corrine Ruimy

“I love that I can apply the things I learned at camp to my everyday life. As a human relations student, I can take my camp experiences and apply them to working with different people, conflict resolution and leadership development,” said Corinne Ruimy, 20, who spent her summer as a Lands Sports Supervisor at camp. “My favorite thing about camp is that the campers and staff are incredible. Everyone comes from diverse backgrounds but we all get along and blend well together. The campers look up to the staff and seeing the campers so happy is really a great feeling.”

For Alexandra Elharrar’s mother, Lisa Brookman, this feeling of community and unison came across strongly in her daughter’s first time experience at sleep away camp.

“Alexandra had a wonderful experience at camp. The camp’s ability to embrace children and make them feel like a family away from home in a warm and loving environment was so incredible,” she said.

Alexandra Elharrar

And Alexandra couldn’t agree more! Between bonding with her ‘big sister’ CIT (Counselor in Training), arts and crafts and cooking activities and learning about new cultures, she came home with a duffle bag full of memories.

“On Friday nights, you get to eat a Shabbat dinner that is different than the other nights. After dinner, you get to do Jewish singing and dancing together,” Alexandra, 9, explained. “We got to stay up a little bit later and then sleep in on Saturday morning.”

The Jewish component of overnight camp gives children an opportunity to explore and engage in their Jewish identity; for many, camp is the first place they have extensive Jewish connections.

Sabrina Bercovitch

“With minimal Jewish education, it was my summers at camp that really solidified my connection to Judaism. Spending my youthful summers in an environment where I could be proud to be Jewish had a tremendous impact on my life choices,” said Sabrina Bercovitch, who now works as a Jewish community professional. “A cornerstone of my Jewish identity is because of camp. I developed myself as an individual, as a leader and as a Jew.”

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