A summer without camp? The thought was incomprehensible. I had my life ahead to travel and explore the world, yet only childhood for camp. Soon, I would be inundated with the stresses of being an adult, and it felt as if I was being forced away from my youth. I wanted to be in Malibu; I wanted to be a Jewish camper.
Letters from Jewish summer camps have not changed much since 1963, when Allan Sherman recorded the classic song, "Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah!" Kids still write about what they had for lunch, what their cabin is like and their bunkmates. Though a national Web site allows one-way e-mails from parents to kids, Jewish summer camps still expect campers to write their folks the old-fashioned way -- with pen, paper, stamps and envelopes.
Day schools are fine for school days. Synagogue is great for Shabbat and High Holidays. But for those weeks when children are in cabins, singing and laughing with friends, Jewish camp is a singular experience of 24/7, full-tilt boogie Judaism.
"Although I attended religious school, summer camp is where I first became connected with being Jewish," said Fred Reisz, a Brentwood attorney and father of two toddlers who was a Camp Hess Kramer camper from 1975 to 1979, then a camp staffer from 1980 to 1985. "I think it's important to realize that these summer camps are 'Jewish summer camps' as opposed to summer camps for Jews; you get a sense of your heritage and it instills a pride and joy in being Jewish."
In Kibbutz Negba, a dozen Israeli teenagers attending a summer camp in the guesthouses of this Negev kibbutz were asked to model small trees, and then decorate them with photographs of themselves.
School's out and the kids are home. Unless you happen to run a summer camp, chances are you're in need of some serious kid-friendly activities. So, before your child memorizes the daytime line-up on Nickelodeon, check out these low-cost summer events for families.