I will am attending summer camp.
However, Camp Jewlcious is not your typical summer camp in LA. For starters, the average age of the campers is 25. There are no counsellors, visitor’s day, curfews, or color-wars and camp lasts only four days. Instead of sing-a-longs, there are rock concerts. Cabin raids have been replaced by cabin parties. In fact, many of the things which might have gotten you kicked out of camp as a kid are now permitted.
The evolution of Camp Jewlicious starts with my experiences at the largest summer music festivals across Europe and the States. These festivals collectively attract millions of young adults annually. I dreamt that perhaps one day we could create a summer music festival for Jewish young adults. We would invite Jewish performers, find a rural setting with space for camping out, simultaneous performances, and space for communal meals.
Instead of Shabbat being something that we did between sets alongside the blaring music, Shabbat would be a day of alternative programming like during summer camp. We would provide yoga, hikes, meditation, discussion groups, Sabbath services of different flavors and many other programs. Havdallah would be celebrated around a massive bonfire with singing and dancing, and then just like that the music would start again. The festival would be a fusion of summer camp and a music festival. In fact there were already two other summer music festivals reminiscent of camp, “Summer Camp” near Chicago” and “Camp Bisco” in upstate New York.
This dream of starting a summer music and camping festival did not surprise my wife Rachel.
Our experience showed that festival weekends are trans-formative experiences which transcend differences and strengthen the identity of the participants. We started organizing the Jewlicious Festival for specifically this reason in 2005 when Rachel was director of Long Beach Hillel. Jewlicious Festival today attracts a thousand young adults from twenty states. Co-created with an organizing committee of young adults, the festival celebrates all things Jewish with concerts, workshops, films, over fifty presenters and has been described by one participant as “a weekend unlike any other in Jewish history.”
Academic investigations of music festivals explain why the Festival has been so successful in its mission. According to one recent studies published by Jan Packer and Julie Ballantyne last year, the festival a young person chooses says something about their identity. It provides “a new social context removed from the expectations and routines of everyday life..and allows participants to reflect and re-evaluate their own self-understand and self-acceptance.”
Young people don’t go to festivals for the music, “they go,” said Prof. George McKay author of Glastonbury, “because of the mass experience, the event itself. It fulfills a basic human need that many of us want to surround ourselves with like-minded people at festivals - it’s life affirming.”
“For some, membership of a tribe gives them self esteem,” says Prof. Adrian North, “if you are with people you think are cool it reaffirms your own lifestyle choices - you’re basically patting yourself on the back.”
With communal disaffection for young Jews at an all time low in LA and around the country— young Jews need a pat on the back more than ever. According to studies, most of these young Jews are not interested in communal life, not sure about Israel, not likely to raise a Jewish family. But they are interested in life-affirming experiences, festivals, music, culture, and membership in a tribe - precisely the elements that make summer music festivals so attractive. When young Jews come together at a Jewish festival it reaffirms and strengthens their own Jewish identity - and we have a lot of fun.
Thanks to support from generous sponsors, our summer camp music festival is not just a dream. Camp Jewlicious, a mashup of a Coachella, summer camp and Dirty Dancing, is a potent reaffirmation of Jewish identity which is fun, meaningful, and bound to impact the Jewish future in creative and positive ways.
Yonah Bookstein, a leading voice of the next generation of American Jewry, is an internationally recognized expert in Jewish innovation, founder of the Jewlicious Festival, and executive rabbi at JConnectLA. Rabbi Yonah is a frequent contributor to JewishJournal.com, Jewlicious.com and HuffingtonPost.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiYonah