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Jewish Summer Camp Prepares Students for Campus Challenges

Jewish Summer Camp Prepares Students for Campus Challenges

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Introducing impressionable children to strong cultural role models has never been more important. While the Middle East conflict is transpiring thousands of miles away, its polarizing effects are having obvious consequences at home. This is especially true on college campuses, where tensions are escalating.

Two important things are clear: 1) The way universities handle sensitive controversies has enormous bearing on the future leaders they produce 2) Jews who plan to study at college or university will need to arrive fortified with a solid understanding of history and their cultural identity.

Parents play a pivotal role in preparing their children for success in college and in life, but they don’t have to do it alone. If you’re a Jewish parent, here’s why sending your children to the right summer camp can help them become strong Jewish leaders in a variety of contexts.

How Summer Camps Nurture Jewish Identity, Community, and Values


Jewish summer camps help kids develop a deeper understanding of their identities in healthy, approachable ways. Historically, this has been a question of cultural survival in the US following World War II. Today, it remains an important part of keeping Jewish traditions alive, as just 2.4% of American adults are Jewish and antisemitism has been on the rise.

Camps accomplish this by facilitating activities and discussions rather than lectures; they foster learning by doing and celebrating rather than through divisive rhetoric. This approach is important because it helps campers connect with their faith and culture in positive, natural ways that emphasize personal agency over passively absorbed dogma. Examples of identity-building programming include:

  • Camp-style Shabbat services
  • Bar, bat, and B Mitzvah programs
  • Exploring the natural world through a spiritual lens
  • Kosher dining experiences
  • Social integration with campers from diverse backgrounds, practices, and experiences
  • Israel Day activities

It’s important to note that although Jewish camp helps nurture campers’ identities, campers are never taught to develop prejudice or bias against people with other religions, ethnicities, or identities. Rather, any camp that truly represents Jewish values will teach campers that any form of prejudice is irreconcilable with Jewish law and morals.

One way Jewish camps do this is by providing opportunities for campers to meet Israeli citizens and Israeli-Americans. These cultural ambassadors can help kids and teens to get an authentic glimpse into what it’s like to live in Israel and Gaza under normal circumstances, not just in wartime. This is important because it allows campers to get a sense of the complex relationships Israelis, Israeli-Americans, and Jews have with their homeland, government, and neighbors.

In addition, campers can learn how different the experiences and worldview of various people in the Jewish diaspora are, and that no two people will feel exactly the same way about their identity. As a result, campers learn not to reduce people of any ethnic or religious identity to a stereotype; if Israeli and Jewish communities are so diverse, they will quickly realize that their Arab counterparts must be, too. Further, one cannot learn the significance of Israel for the global Jewish population without understanding the many meanings it has for its own residents.


Summer camps also foster a strong sense of Jewish community by welcoming kids and teens who have widely varying connections with Judaism, by providing access to caring adult Jewish role models (including Israelis), and by helping kids build a lasting, valuable network of “camp friends.” In addition, some camps encourage kids to establish a relationship with the State of Israel by way of exploring both the roots of Judaism and global concepts of Jewishness. All of this is essential in providing young campers with the following:

  • A sense of personal, religious, and cultural belonging
  • Ways to access support, especially in times of crisis and high rates of antisemitism
  • An understanding of how Jewish history impacts present realities
  • The knowledge that they are not alone, and that they have much to offer the world
  • Knowledge (and knowledgeable resources) for protecting themselves against anti-Israel propaganda, but also propaganda as a whole, as it poses real harm to all faiths


“Jewish values” as such can represent an incredibly diverse array of concepts and practices, as can the values of any ethnic or religious community. However, some of the most important core Jewish values are rooted in love, compassion, and honoring G-d, and they are especially important to keep in mind during times of conflict. Examples include the following beliefs:

  • All human beings are created in the likeness of G-d
  • All innocent human life is sacred and that respecting human dignity is paramount
  • Seeking social justice is a way of seeking G-d
  • It is the duty of every person to leave the world a better place than they found it
  • Israel belongs to the Jewish people, but Jews must respect the strangers among them and treat them with dignity
  • World peace should be the goal of every human being

In other words, there is a real sense in which sending your child or teen to Jewish summer camp can not only make them stronger and prouder as Jews, but also more compassionate, knowledgeable, and respectful human beings, as a whole. When it’s time to go to college, your child will be better prepared not just to be well-grounded in their Jewish identity, but to offer and consider diverse perspectives in any situation. This in turn can help them to become strong, wise, and empathetic leaders — wherever life takes them.

Prepare Your Child for College and Leadership With Surprise Lake Camp

Surprise Lake Camp is a nonprofit organization that provides a home away from home for generations of young people. We believe in the value of community and friendship. Our Jewish values and identity shape our connection to nature. We’re dedicated to helping young people unplug, grow, and develop values, confidence, and skills to last a lifetime, adding to SLC’s storied history as the nation’s longest-running Jewish sleepaway camp. Learn more about how we celebrate Judaism at SLC.

SLC is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide beneficial camp experiences to as many children as possible. When you make a charitable gift, you give children life-changing opportunities. Partner with us to support camper confidence, growth, friendships, and Jewish identity. Donate today!