L’dor V’dor: From Adults, to Teens, to Kids, Camp Shalom Inspires
There’s a reason so many people have been talking about summer camp: The camp environment provides daily Jewish living experiences that often prove to be transformational. It is the place where religious school lessons come to life, where Jewish friendships begin, and where the foundation for our children’s Jewish future is laid. Indeed, study after study cites Jewish camp as a critical factor in the development of a strong Jewish identity.
As the vice president and education director, respectively, of Congregation Beth Shalom of the Woodlands, we encourage parents in our congregation to make summertime Jewish time by enrolling their children in a Jewish camp. The Woodlands, however, is a surburban community an hour and a half north of Houston and its Jewish community – too far for daily commuting by most families in our temple. Therefore, for the last decade or so, we’ve set aside two weeks in June to run Camp Shalom, creating an opportunity for our kids (ages 3 to 12) to escape the Texas heat and enjoy the benefits of Jewish camp.
A few years ago, short on adult volunteers for Camp Shalom, we invited our teens – many of whom didn’t go to a URJ camp or only attended one session – to serve as madrichim (counselors). The educational philosophy at the Woodlands is to empower teens to continue their post B’nai Mitzvah Jewish education by educating younger children. This is the corps of our madrichim training. During the school year, on Sunday and Wednesday evenings teen’s both participate in an education program for themselves and help with the younger kids. Trained madrichim are given the opportunity to volunteer as counselors at Camp Shalom.
Today, the madrichim, with adult supervision, run the camp – organizing and supervising swimming, relay races, a movie night, craft projects, and Shabbat worship.
The beauty of Camp Shalom is empowering teens to administer and run the program. Prior to the beginning of each camp session, the teens and adults meet to plan the daily schedule. Immediately following each camp day, both teens and adults participate in a staff meeting. This allows continuity from one day to the next including evaluation and planning. Teens have the opportunity to discuss both the pros and the cons from the day and the ownership to adjust as needed. As challenges arise, teens and adults develop solutions together.
High retention of post B’nai Mitzvah teens is a significant goal of our education program and we believe that Camp Shalom is a key factor in our success.
Camp Shalom provides an opportunity for the teens – who often are one of only a handful of Jews in their schools – to be together, to build friendships and to bond with one another. During camp we realized that teens organized social activities beyond camp hours. Feeling that the temple is their home, inspiring them to engage Jewishly, and honing their leadership skills so they can take on other leadership roles in NFTY and in our temple are other benefits Camp Shalom offers them.
As one madrich put it, “Camp Shalom is special to me because I like to spend time with awesome children and teach them new things.” And that is just what he is doing. After an all-day trip to the lake, a 5-year-old camper insisted none of us could leave for home until we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Upon its conclusion, the camper added, “Now the Jewish one…”
Indeed, making a Jewish difference in our young people is what Camp Shalom is all about.
Maura Schofield is a vice president at Congregation Beth Shalom of the Woodlands in Texas. Helen Richard is the director of education and Camp Shalom at the congregation.