Jewish Life | Surprise Lake Camp

Jewish Life


To give Jews from a wide range of backgrounds life-enhancing experiences that emphasize the joy and values of Judaism and that instill a greater appreciation of and pride in their Jewish identities. This is done through fun, interesting, meaningful cultural activities, through rituals that are comfortable and understandable, through a spiritual appreciation of the natural world, through establishing a relationship with the State of Israel, and through nurturing an ongoing connection with the camp community. 

Click here to hear one of our Shabbat songs entitled "Celebrate Shabbat Shalom."

Additional Information

Jews: Although SLC, as a recipient of public funds and as a welcoming institution, serves non-Jews who wish to attend, part of our mission is to promote Judaism. Non-Jews (who comprise less than 5% of our population) are therefore expected to participate fully in cultural programming.  

Wide Range of Backgrounds: Our population is from a wide range of religious backgrounds, from highly secular to an occasional modern Orthodox child. We warmly welcome Jews from mixed marriages and non-traditional families as well as Jews of color. We seek to offer our diverse participants multiple points of entry into Judaism by giving them different ways to connect with Jewish traditions and customs and even opportunities to figure out their own ways of observing them.  

Life Enhancing: It is our belief that the ultimate goal of Jewish learning is to add meaning and quality to life. This is done at camp by offering a Jewish framework for understanding, exploring, and appreciating life’s wonders, mysteries, and challenges, by building Jewish identity and providing a sense of belonging, and by creating pleasant times and positive memories that enrich the human experience and make participants feel good about the Jewish community and themselves.  

Experiences: Our Jewish educational program is informal and experiential: We emphasize Jewish activities and discussions and avoid lectures and other formal techniques. We believe learning is most effective in our setting when the campers don’t even realize they are learning. 

Joy: We present a model of Jewish living at camp that is upbeat and uplifting. There is an emphasis on song, on creativity, on spirit, and on positive energy. We teach a Judaism that celebrates life, one another, and our traditions, and seeks to reach people who may have been alienated in other settings. 

Values: Jewish tradition is particularly rich in ethics and values. It is the basis for many of the norms of behavior in western society and has much to offer Jewish children regardless of their level of observance. Our children will live better lives to the extent they internalize Jewish values at camp, and they will have stronger Jewish identities to the extent that they associate positive behaviors in society with the values of Judaism.  

Greater Appreciation Of and Pride In Their Jewish Identities: As Jews in American society, the people we serve are often a minority in a culture that often offers incentives for being assimilated and disincentives for being different. Many American Jews thus tend to be drawn away from their identities as Jews, and it puts the future of the American Jewish community at risk.  

Camp seeks to address this problem by placing its Jewish participants in a setting where they are not a minority and by making them feel better about their Jewish identities. Using the special power of the twenty-four-hour-a-day environment that has made the use of retreats so popular in corporate and academic America, camp enhances Jewish identity by focusing on building appreciation and pride.  

Fun, Interesting, Meaningful Cultural Activities: The hallmark of our Jewish programming is making people feel good about being Jewish. But what makes people feel good tends to vary based on how old they are. And while we primarily serve children, we also serve adults in programs for staff, alumni, and families. We therefore need to approach programming for different age groups differently.  

For younger children, who respond best to affective experiences, the emphasis is on fun and on experiences that reach them emotionally. We believe it is more important for our younger children to have a good time in a Jewish context than to acquire knowledge or information about Judaism. If they leave camp associating positive feelings with being Jewish, then they will seek out learning as they grow older.  

Teens and adults tend to benefit more from programs that are thought-provoking, particularly if they address issues that affect their current lives. Thus discussion formats, which allow for the exploration and debate of ideas and which encourage participants to examine the meaning behind traditions, are used more for older participants, and the imparting of information is given greater emphasis.  

Ritual Observance That Is Comfortable And Understandable: Some level of ritual observance is central to the culture and traditions of Judaism. Rituals serve as reminders of values and symbols of beliefs. They also give structure to our lives that results in a sense of belonging, familiarity, and personal security.  

For rituals to be positive, however, they must be comfortable and understandable. Unfamiliar rituals, without explanation, can be alienating. Care must be taken at camp, therefore, to make sure that rituals are explained to participants with limited backgrounds. Conversely, those with more religious backgrounds are offered optional opportunities for more advanced ritual observance (traditional services).  

Spiritual Appreciation of the Natural World: SLC has a deep commitment to Jewish values and traditions that emphasize the wonder of nature and our responsibility to protect it. We believe that Judaism and nature are integrally connected, that this connection is particularly meaningful and relevant in today’s world, and that we should provide participants with experiences that raise their consciousness about this connection and inspire them to treat our planet better because of it.   

Israel: Israel is the Jewish State, and as such, it is a unique and special resource for Jewish culture and pride. We seek to enrich the Jewish experience we provide by bringing Israelis to camp, and by running Israel programming at camp.

Community: Camp provides its participants with an opportunity to join a unique Jewish community. Campers make friends that often stay with them throughout their lives. As these circles of friends attend one another’s simchas, their Jewish identities are reinforced. Many even marry people they meet at camp. Being part of the camp community enriches and strengthens their Jewish identities, and the ability to continue to be part of the camp community when one’s camp days are over through Alumni activities adds lifelong value to camp’s Jewish program. 



Winter Address:  520 Eighth Avenue - 4th Floor, New York, NY 10018

Summer Address:  382 Lake Surprise Road, Cold Spring, NY 10516

Phone: 845-265-3616   Fax: 646-582-0138   Email:  [email protected]