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Habonim Dror's Camp Galil in Ottsville, Pennsylvania.

Raising a Mensch

Why Jewish Camping?
Encouraging the next generation of caring, responsible Jews.

-- Stephen Shore, MD

Never before in the history of the Jewish people has it been so easy to be Jewish, be it cultural or religious, as it is in the later part of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century. In Western society, it is not deemed “alien” to be Jewish. This freedom and acceptance has allowed the Jewish citizen to aspire to new heights and become among the most respected, powerful, and successful members of the community. The Jewish people have flourished in this new age.

With this freedom of Jewish expression, comes challenges. The challenge to each of us is to decide if we want to be a member of the uniqueness that is the Jewish community. One could say that we are each a “Jew by Choice.” According to current sociologists, a Jew is defined as a "grandparent of a Jewish child". The implication is that the adult children chose to be Jewish and married a like-minded Jew to parent a child, to create and nurture a future member of the Jewish community. How do we assure ourselves of that future, the continuity of our community? How do we present this option to our children so that they embrace their religion and culture wholeheartedly? I am convinced of the crucial importance and value of Jewish summer camping in answering these questions and responding to these concerns.

Jewish camping in North America has been around for over 100 years. Initially, it was a time to get the kids out of the city to be in the country with their peers in a healthy environment. Today, in addition to the benefits of a summer spent outdoors, Jewish camp has become a place to develop and create a Jewish community, to find Jewish roots, to connect to the land and people of Israel and to live a 24/7 Jewish life. This is where Jewish passion, creativity, and spirituality can grow and leadership skills can be developed. This is where our community's next generation of leaders is nurtured.

The data have given scientific credibility to that which those of us who work in Jewish summer camping know instinctively. The informal environment of Jewish camp -- allowing kids to have fun and learn self- awareness while being led by young people close to their own age -- has grown leaders in the Jewish and secular world of today. The organized Jewish community is realizing this as well with the development of non-needs based incentive grants to encourage attendance at Jewish summer camps. By participating in the Overnight Camp Incentive Program, parents can give their children a life-changing experience that helps them become the Jewish adults of tomorrow in an affordable way. For the summer of 2008, 150 first-time campers can receive $1,250 toward an overnight Jewish camp experience through the incentive program.

A story comes to mind exemplifying the magic of Jewish camping. Seven-year-old Daniel came to camp for the first time in June 2000. He was one of the youngest and smallest at camp. His face on that day was wide-eyed and eager. Intimidated but willing, he became familiar with and subsequently participated in Israeli dancing. Seven years later as a gangly teenager, he was standing in front of a group of the youngest campers with a glow on his face, leading them in the same lively dance.

Daniel is but one example of the thousands of youngsters who develop Jewish identity, a deep connection to Israel and the Jewish people and leadership skills through Jewish camping.

As co-chair of Habonim Dror Camp Galil Board of Directors, now in our 62nd year, located outside of Doylestown, PA, I see myself 40 years ago much like the wide-eyed Daniel of the story. Having grown up at Camp Galil, I am now thrilled and proud to watch my own three children growing , learning, and leading at camp, identifying themselves as committed Jews through religion, culture and Israel. I see their counselors as leaders in the community. We invite you to explore our website to begin your journey into the wonderful world of Camp Galil or feel free to contact us or call (484) 684-6532 and ask for Abby, our registrar. To learn more about Jewish camping or for a complete list of Overnight Camp Incentive Program of Greater Philadelphia eligible camps, visit us.

I know that choosing Jewish camping has a strong and lasting effect in encouraging the next generation of caring, responsible Jews. Jewish camping is the right place and this is the right time.

Previous Columns

Raising A Mensch Section Editor: Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston parenting @ pjvoice.com
Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston is a practicing pediatrician, associate professor of pediatrics and Scientific Director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She welcomes your comments, questions, contributions and suggestions for future columns.

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