The Decade in Jewish Education

A couple days ago JESNA (“advancing Jewish learning, transforming Jewish lives”) chose what it considers to be the best in Jewish education of the decade. At the conclusion of their top 10 (actually 11) list, they invited others to share their own lists. And so I have. First, here’s the JESNA list (in no particular order):

  • Taglit-Birthright Israel
  • Funding Partnerships
  • Consumer-centric Education
  • Rise of Innovation Sector
  • Congregational Educational Change Initiatives
  • Revitalization of Jewish camps
  • Online Jewish Learning
  • PJ Library
  • Jewish Service Learning
  • “Public Space” Jewish Education
  • Focus on Outcomes

And now, here is my list of the best in Jewish education for the past decade:

Jewish Camping – I may be biased as the rabbi of a large Jewish camping agency, but Jewish summer camps are just about the only thing working these days in terms of informal Jewish education (I’ll get to those 10-day free Israel trips in a moment!). Thanks to Elisa and Rob Bildner who had the foresight to found the Foundation for Jewish Camp and to mega-donor Harold Grinspoon, Jewish camps are on the rise. The euphoric experience that thousands of Jewish kids and teens feel for a month or two each summer is the Jewish education world’s home run.

Technology – From online distance learning to Jewish utilization of social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), no one can dispute that modern technology and communication have removed borders and made the global Jewish community feel much smaller. Many Jewish organizations have figured out how to use Web 2.0 applications to their advantage and many more are just beginning to navigate the terrain. I have to single out Darim, who’s “committed to assisting Jewish organizations in their efforts to increase their professionalism and relationship-building capacity through the effective use of technology.”

Indie-Minyans – I was surprised JESNA didn’t mention Hadar, which I consider the decade’s premier example of do-it-yourself Judaism, albeit in a professionalized way. Hadar began the decade as a start-up minyan (in a cramped NYC apartment) and ended it as a dynamic community that includes a yeshiva, minyan, and think tank. Hadar is educating 20- and 30-something urban Jews in fresh ways, and the established synagogues and seminaries are certainly watching closely.

JDate – Yes, I’m including an online dating website as one of the best in Jewish education for the decade. JDate has 650,000 members worldwide making it a substantial community. While it may not be a traditional education website, its members learn a lot about Judaism while searching for their potential mate. It also forces many unaffiliated Jews to feel connected with a Jewish community, and to consider their own Jewishness (and their future Jewishness). It also helps “strengthen the Jewish community and ensure that Jewish traditions are sustained for generations to come” more than most educational initiatives.

Pro-Israel Groups – I’m always amazed at the level of involvement so many unaffiliated Jews have with organizations like AIPAC and StandWithUs. These groups are committed to educating the Jewish community about Israel’s history, culture, people, and politics, as well as its struggle to survive.

Jewish Service Learning – The past decade was all about a new form of tikkun olam. More Jews than ever combined Jewish learning with a zeal for pursuing justice. This one-two punch caused organizations like AJWS, Jewish Funds for Justice, and Avodah to flourish. Jews were able to apply their Torah learning to real life situations (business ethics to the Enron and Madoff scandals, ethical kashrut to the Rubashkin/Agriprocessors debacle, pursuing global justice to Darfur, pikuach nefesh to post-9/11 security systems, etc.).

Inclusion – Gay rights in the Jewish community came about through education. The Boston-based Keshet discovered new ways to educate the community about GLBT inclusion, while a gay Orthodox rabbi came out of the closet to help create and promote a film about homosexuality in the Orthodox world. The Conservative movement’s seminaries opened their doors to gays and lesbians, and the decade ended with the majority of Reform and Conservative rabbis willing to perform commitment ceremonies for same sex couples.

Informal Ed – In each decade, JCCs and Hillels have had to adapt to new trends. These are the community centers for the Jewish people and thus, have to offer everything the Jewish community seeks — whether in the suburbs, the city, or on campus. Learning Torah with a local rabbi under the same roof you can practice Yoga, swim laps, send your toddler to pre-school or your teen to high school, have a Kosher lunch meeting, go to the theater, and rally for Israel is truly impressive. It’s possible that our JCCs are the most underrated educational agency in our Jewish community.

Post-Denominationalism – I believe the last decade prepared us for true post-denominationalism in this new decade. The last ten years saw the rise of community day schools and high schools, and therefore the growth of Ravsak — the network of these non-denominational schools. It also became common for Reform and Conservative congregations to merge in an effort for both of them to survive. In most cases, these bi-denominational mergers proved flawless. Family foundations and federations created programs, fellowships, and new organizations that transcended the movements. With mega-money from the Bronfmans, Schustermans, Steinhardts, Wexners, Davidsons, Grinspoons, and Adelsons came programs that no one denomination could claim — the STAR Foundation’s Synaplex and PEER programs, Taglit-Birthright free Israel trips, PJ Library, Avi Chai, PEJE, etc. The growth of organizations like BBYO, Melton, and Clal also demonstrate a post-denominational, informal educational spirit.

Interfaith – Through the out-of-the-box education offered by the Jewish Outreach Institute and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, the Jewish community began to consider interfaith families in new ways. While the Reform movement was quick to welcome the interfaith family, the more traditional movements need to be educated on why this is of paramount importance to the future of Jewish peoplehood.

Conclusion: The Jewish community is always changing and it is through education that we reach new heights. In the new decade, we’ll begin to see the impact of the young Hadar-influenced leadership on synagogues and temples across the country. New advances in technology will allow us to share Jewish wisdom across continents at lightning speed. We’ll see much more collaboration between synagogues, federations, camps, and youth groups to create community-wide endeavors that will save money and reach more Jewish people quicker. We’ll also begin to determine whether the mega-philanthropists and federations are really getting the bangs for their millions of bucks with the Birthright Israel investment. Because if we don’t see real results in the coming years, we’ll regret how much money was spent on middle-class 20-somethings for their free-ride to Israel at the expense of many other important educational initiatives. Finally, the alphabet soup of Jewish communal life will get smaller as we weed out redundant organizations, and support creativity and innovation — the hallmarks of Jewish education.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Hanukkah Lights

I once heard Rabbi Abraham Twersky tell a beautiful story that I found inspiring. As a young child, the rabbi explained, his mother would light one extra Shabbat candle for each child in the family. As his parents welcomed a new baby into the home, they would add another Shabbat candle. Rabbi Twersky recognized how warm it felt to know that there was more light in his home on Shabbat simply because he was alive. Certainly, his parents felt that the world was a little brighter because of their son, but this was a tangible way for him to embrace his importance and appreciation.

Similarly, on Hanukkah, many families participate in the tradition that each member of the household lights his or her own hanukkiyah. It is a way for each family member to contribute to the brightness of the Festival of Lights. Lighting the Hanukkah candles reminds us of the miracle told about the small cruse of oil that lasted for eight days in the Temple. When we each light the Hanukkah candles, we help keep this important story alive. Indeed, it is a story that is so much a part of our Jewish history and heritage.

There is something beautiful about the increased flames that illuminate from the Hanukkah lights on each successive night of the festival. A famous debate took place in Talmudic times concerning the order in which the Hanukkah lights should be kindled. The school of Shammai claimed that on the first night, eight lights are lit and then they are gradually reduced by one each night. The school of Hillel disagreed, arguing that on the first night one light is lit, and thereafter, the number is increased. Hillel explained that as we increase the light, we increase the holiness in the world. Of course, we follow the opinion of the school of Hillel.

The story of the Hillel/Shammai debate reminds me of the last night at the summer camp where I serve as rabbi and was once a camper. Once darkness has fallen on the lake, a torch is illuminated to kindle the large seven-branched menorah created by the late Irving Berg, long-time Artist-in-Residence of Tamarack Camps. The first candle is lit by the most senior staff members who “graduated” from their camper years in the late 1980s. The second candle is lit by those staff members who “graduated” in the 1990s and so on until last summer’s class of former campers approach the menorah en masse, arm-in-arm, to light their first candle as camp alumni helping the menorah to burn brighter. With each successive candle of the menorah, the holiness and joy of our camp community is increased. The burning flames remind us that our history is rich with the commitment of so many people at camp and within our extended community. We are reminded that camp is our heritage. And it is a warm and bright feeling.

During this Festival of Lights, occurring in the darkest season of the year, let us reflect on the brightness of our world. Let us remember that the world is a little brighter because we are alive. If we all keep that in mind, we will also remember to look for the miracles in our own time.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

A Healthy Learning Opportunity
Reprinted from the Detroit Jewish News

When I was a camper, I do not remember my counselors ever reminding me to wash my hands before a meal. Nor can I remember bottles of hand sanitizer being readily available in the dining hall. I also do not recall learning the proper etiquette for sneezing and coughing at camp.

Much has changed.

The H1N1 flu has affected many camps this summer. At Tamarack Camps, protocols and preventative measures were discussed months prior to the summer. In consultation with the ACA (American Camp Association) and the CDC (Center for Disease Control), our health director, along with our doctors, nurses and medical committee, devised proactive implementation plans and executed them effectively.

Pump It Up Tamarack - Campers and Staff with Hand SanitizersDealing with extra health precautions this summer has certainly been a challenge. However, as every educator knows well, any situation can become an opportunity to learn.

Concern for our own personal health is a core Jewish value. Many of the Torah’s commandments promote good hygiene, though their stated intention was ritual purity rather than physical cleanliness. In the Book of Leviticus, one learns how those afflicted with a severe skin disease were treated. In order to contain the skin disease (a form of leprosy), the afflicted were quarantined. They were kept outside of the community to prevent the contamination of the camp through the spread of their disease. The quarantine ensured the holiness of the camp and the health of the inhabitants.

The Talmud records numerous references concerning the importance of personal hygiene and preventative medicine. In tractate Ta’anit, the rabbis consider the human body as a sanctuary. In honor of God, the rabbis ordained that one must wash one’s face, hands and feet – daily. In tractate Yoma, for example, the rabbis recommend oil as a hygienic agent, especially in the case of wounds and eruptions, as well as a gargle.

The Shulchan Aruch, the premier code of Jewish law, explores the importance of personal hygiene in great detail. Washing one’s hands, our tradition teaches, is important not merely for the spiritual reasons of maintaining holiness when eating and praying, but also for hygienic reasons.

Maimonides, a scholar and physician, encouraged the Jewish community to observe rules of personal hygiene, such as hand-washing before eating.

This unfortunate strain of Influenza, which has put all overnight camps on high alert this summer, has created some teachable moments. Offering the Hebrew word “labriyoot” (to your health) when someone sneezes has a newfound seriousness this summer. A particularly meaningful part of the week at camp is watching campers pray for the speedy recovery of their fellow campers through the words of the misheberach blessing during Shabbat morning services, using the tune popularized by Jewish songwriter Debbie Friedman. And while campers may be discouraged from performing the mitzvah of visiting the sick when the patient is contagious, it is a valuable lesson which has developed into creating get well cards.

The level of preparation displayed by Jewish camps has been exemplary. It is a testament to the emphasis we all place on good health and preventative medicine. Camp in 2009 is a place where it is common for campers to have their temperatures taken twice daily as a precautionary measure for early detection of the flu. It is a place where counselors constantly remind campers to wash their hands and brush their teeth, and where hand sanitizers are found on every table in the dining hall.

It might feel like a time of challenging health issues, but it has also proven to be an incredible opportunity for teaching about the value of good personal hygiene. Hopefully, at the end of this summer, each camper will have a new found appreciation for cleanliness, good health, and the important Jewish value of hygiene.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Irving Berg

When I was an 11-year-old camper at Camp Maas in Ortonville, Michigan, I had the privilege to be part of the group of campers in Deroy village who designed and built a concrete sculpture. “Priestly Blessing” is an artistic representation of the hands of the kohen (priest) offering his blessing. The artist who led the project was Irving Berg (right), the long-time artist-in-residence of Tamarack Camps.

Irving Berg died on March 21, 2009 at 87. It is impossible to walk around the Tamarack property (1,500 acres) without encountering his sculptures. The Irving Berg Sculpture Garden is one man’s permanent contribution to a Jewish camp. With these sculptures Irv will continue to educate Jewish campers about their heritage even after he no longer walks this earth.

This past summer (2008), I facilitated a scavenger hunt of sorts with the oldest campers at Camp Maas — the Teen Service Staff (TSS). The group of sixty teens who would be entering 11th grade were divided into smaller groups and then sent out in search of some of Irv Berg’s sculptures. They had to decipher the Jewish message each sculpture represents and then report back to the group. Many of the Jewish teens remarked how they had spent many summers at camp seeing these works of art, but never considered the deeper meaning behind each sculpture.

A wonderful tribute to Irv’s legacy at camp was created in Summer 2008. Award-winning animator Gary Schwartz created an animated documentary of Irv Berg’s sculptures. The film can be viewed below.

As the rabbi of Tamarack Camps, I had the distinct honor of officiating at Irv Berg’s funeral. The hesped (eulogy) that I delivered is available online and the obituary is available at the Detroit Jewish News website.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Elliot Dorff

The other day I had the chance to listen to Senator Barack Obama on a conference call for American rabbis. The most impressive part of the phone call was not the Democratic Presidential nominee’s ten minute talk. Rather, it was a rabbi who spoke on the call before Obama. Rabbi Elliot Dorff (right) of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles spoke beautifully and powerfully about his political views.

Rabbi Dorff’s latest book has just been published by the Jewish Publication Society. (It seems that he has been publishing books at the rate of Jacob Neusner lately.) This book, For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy of Jewish Law, presents an intelligent and accessible guide to the philosophy that shapes Halakha (Jewish law). While the book is about the Jewish legal system, Dorff also answers the difficult theological questions concerning the relationship of belief in God and the revelation of Torah with observance of Halakha.

Jay Michaelson wrote a praiseworthy review of Dorff’s latest book for the Forward. In his review, Michaelson laments the fact that no such book was available to him while he was growing up in the Conservative Movement. In his closing paragraph, Michaelson asks whether this book would have satisfied his philosophical questions when he was a young camper at the Conservative Movement’s Camp Ramah. Michaelson dismisses the question because he was more of a rationalist back then anyway. Regardless, I appreciated what Michaelson had to say about Jewish summer camp and how the feelings that occur at camp might just be enough of a reason to subscribe to the system of mitzvot (commandments). Michaelson writes:

“…one of the great successes of Jewish summer camp is how it provides an immersion experience: The love is felt, obviating the need for explanation. Who knows? Maybe I could have been told, ‘You know that feeling you get, when the davening is beautiful and the weather is fair; when your friends put their arms around you and sing ‘Lecha Dodi’? That is the reason we do this — because what you feel inside is love, and God is the name we give it.”

Amen to that. And to Rabbi Elliot Dorff for writing a book that will help so many work through their difficult questions concerning belief and the observance of Jewish law in our modern times.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Forced Ritual

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been busy working at Camp Tamarack, getting ready for the campers to arrive later this month. However, I couldn’t resist commenting on S.L. Price’s wonderful column in the June 2, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated titled “Seafood for Thought”.

Yesterday morning at Shabbat morning services at Tamarack I spoke to the camp supervisors about Jewish prayer ritual. I also compared the morning tefillot (prayer services) to playing a sport as the flow of the service moves from “suit-up” to “warm-up” to “practice” to “game-time” to “cool-down”. I spoke of how much of the ritual within prayer is spontaneous and that is precisely how it should be.

Al Sobotka OctopusIn S.I., Price remarks how the Detroit Red Wings ritual of octopus throwing during the playoffs at Joe Louis Arena (and Al Sobotka’s octopus twirling) is a spontaneous crowd ritual that should be preserved, contrary to the reprimands of commissioner Gary Bettman. Price contrasts this fifty-year-old ritual with the forced rituals of the 21st Century National Basketball Association where fans have to be instructed to yell “Dee-fense” by the JumboTron monitor.

I’ll take a Zamboni driver twirling an octopus on the ice any day over a halftime show of dancing clowns. And there is certainly something to be said of spontaneous rituals during the Jewish prayer service over a congregation of robots all being told that they should all point their pinky finger at the Torah (see Noam Neusner’s Jerusalem Post article “The Pinky Paradox”). There is room for directed ritual behavior, but there’s also something beautiful about spontaneity — whether at a prayer service at synagogue or camp… or on the ice at the “Joe”.

Congrats to the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

eCamp Israel

I recently learned about a new program that merges three areas I am passionate about –Jewish camping, Israel, and technology. Israel has always embraced high technology and modern communication. Part of what has made the almost sixty-year-old nation’s economy flourish in the past two decades has been the success of its hi-tech sector. Now a new summer camping initiative is making the hi-tech experience available to Jewish youth who are interested in spending a summer in Israel and also interested in technology.

eCamp Israel is a technology summer camp based in Israel and open to American Jewish youth. As a member of the rabbinic cabinet of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Project Reconnect, I was asked to look into the feasibility of including eCamp Israel as one of United Synagogue Youth’s summer options in Israel. USY sends hundreds of teens to Israel each summer, and this program would allow some of those teens to specialize in a hi-tech track while in Israel.

I am very impressed with this new program. eCamp’s mission is to “help young people realize their highest potential, discover their talents, and reach for their dreams”. Their cutting-edge e-workshops will allow each individual camper to express their creativity, and the youth participants will work on their own projects in a collaborative environment (open-space computer lab).

eCamp, located in a residential educational institution near Caesarea, will not be a “computer camp” where kids sit in front of a computer all day. Rather, the camp will encourage the campers to go outdoors to do the normal summer camp activities like sports, swimming, and nature exploration. The camp will motivate campers to create a better world through the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) with each camper receiving a certificate for 5 hours of community service per session.

eCampers will meet with entrepreneurs including the founder of ICQ, now the originator behind the AOL Instant Messenger, visit leading Israeli research centers such as Intel, Microsoft, Google, Motorola, and train in the Israeli Air Force’s flight simulator. Participants will have experience theoretical developments by visiting leading academic centers such as the Technion and Weizmann Institute. Shai Agassi, a hero in Israel’s technology world and the founder of Project Better Place, will be eCamp’s Chief Scientist. When I spoke with Nir Kouris, co-CEO of ecamp and an Israeli entrepreneur, he explained that “As one of the global centers of technological innovation, it is time Israel gives back some of our know-how and share it with children from around the world.”

The idea of an International Technology Summer Camp in Israel is brilliant. Jewish youth already flock to Israel in droves each summer and many of them have to put their technology interests on hold during that time. So, while most Jewish youth won’t be able to use Instant Messenger while they travel in Israel this summer, the campers at eCamp Israel will be introduced to the hi-tech gurus who developed the infrastructure to run Instant Messenger. This program will open the gates for Jewish youth to the #1 success story of Israel – Technology Innovation.

eCamp is just one more piece of great news in the world of Jewish camping. Recently, the Jim Joseph Foundation and Foundation for Jewish Camping announced a $8.4 million partnership grant to create a Specialty Camping Incubator. The Incubator will create four Jewish specialty camps based on skills such as athletics, computers, and arts according to the successful model already established for Jewish camping.

It is truly remarkable to see the innovations taking place in the field of Jewish camping. It makes me want to be a kid again!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day

I just received an e-mail message from Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the director of the National Ramah Commission which oversees all of the Ramah summer camps. In his message, Mitch describes the Facebook project taken on by Ari Magen, an 11th grader who used to be a camper at Ramah Poconos. Ari created a Facebook group encouraging all his friends to wear their Ramah Poconos t-shirts to school on November 15. When he began this effort in September, he had no idea how powerful a tool he was creating for the entire Ramah camping movement. According to Ari, over 1000 Ramahniks saw his message and joined the effort.

As I was reading Mitch Cohen’s e-mail about “Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day,” I thought how funny it would be if I was wearing a Ramah t-shirt today by coincidence. I unbuttoned my flannel shirt and looked down to see that I was in fact wearing a Camp Ramah Yahad in Ukraine t-shirt (pictured). Without even trying I participated in this effort.

Here is Ari’s description of “Wear Your Ramah Shirt To School Day”:

I went on Facebook and created an event called “Wear Your Ramah Shirt to School Day.” When I created it, I was only thinking about the Poconos campers wearing their shirts. I didn’t even think about the other Ramah camps. I was very excited for all of Ramah in the Poconos to don our latest Ramah Shirt. On everyone’s profiles, groups, and events there is a feature called a “Wall”. The wall is a place where people can just write stuff and it can be seen by whomever visits the event site.. The next day, I logged on and started to see comments on the events wall. I expected to see a few comments from my friends, but I realized that these weren’t chanichim from Poconos, but from all of the other Ramah camps. Since I intended for the event to be just for the Poconos, I was very surprised to see other people joining in. But, when I went back and re-read the title of the event, I realized that Poconos wasn’t in the title. You know how every camper thinks their Ramah is just “camp.” Then, I thought “Wow, this was a great mistake that I made!!”

I began receiving questions such as, “I was in Israel this summer, can I still participate?” or “I work, can I wear my shirt anyway?”, or I wasn’t at camp this summer but I want to join in. Is that okay?” and my favorite question was, “I wear a uniform to school, what should I do?” Realizing that people were taking this so seriously, I changed the description of the event to, “Wear your latest Ramah shirt to show your Ramah pride!!! If you wear a uniform I’m very sorry you can’t wear it to school. This is open to all Ramah camps, from Poconos to Israel and everywhere in between!!!! If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to message me.”

Every couple of days I checked to see how many people were “Attending”. After the third day or so it had reached 100 people. After about 3 weeks, there were over 900! Then I put out a challenge to try and get to 1,000 people. By the time I went to bed last night (after choosing which of my many Ramah t-shirts to wear), there were 1058 people.

Make that 1059 Ari. Even if #1059 was by accident.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Goo Goo for Ga-Ga

Ga-Ga at CampIt’s amazing what you find on the Web. Somehow I stumbled upon a number of YouTube videos of people playing Ga-Ga, the Israeli dodgeball game that is played in a pit and mostly at Jewish summer camps. So I decided to do a Wikipedia search for “Ga-Ga” and discovered the following:

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, despite his lanky frame, was noted for being a champion ga-ga player in his Habonim days. According to his official online biography, Cohen won the Habonim UK ga-ga championship on multiple occasions and in 1992 led his country to a silver medal in the world ga-ga ball championships eventually coming in second to the undefeated Australian Habonim team.

(Source: Wikipedia entry for “Ga-Ga”)

So Borat plays Ga-Ga. Who knew?

Here’s a video clip of a Ga-Ga game, titled “Jew Ball?”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Is Camp Ramah TOO Jewish?

The Forward just published an interesting article about a long-standing debate: “Is Jewish summer camp fun enough?” Many parents of Jewish day school students argue that their kids should get a “break” over the summer and not be subjected to more Jewish education. Of course, Jewish summer camps that emphasize prayer and Talmud Torah (Jewish learning) like Camp Ramah, Camp Moshava, Camp Yavneh, Camp Stone, etc. also have other activities like sports, waterskiing, art, and drama.

The opening paragraph of this article is misleading. Columnist Rebecca Spence writes, “At Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Jewish campers wake up every morning at 7:30 and daven the morning prayers. After some swimming or maybe a Frisbee game, the older kids can, if they want, daven again in the afternoon. And at the end of a day that includes a 45-minute Judaic learning session, well, they can… daven again.” Add up the time spent in prayer services (even including the “optional” afternoon and evening minyanim), the 45-minute class, and mealtime and these campers are still left with many hours of typical camp activities.

Rabbi Mitch Cohen (Ramah)My colleague Rabbi Mitch Cohen (pictured), director of the Ramah Camps, makes a bold (but true) statement in this article, explaining, “Families who spend a fortune on day school education and then send their kids to nonreligious programs in the summer in some ways are wasting their investment.”

The trick of course is to create summer camping experiences that emphasize Jewish living 24/7 with prayer services, learning opportunities, and Shabbat observance while also offering serious summer activities like sports. Having served as a staff member at three of the Ramah camps (Wisconsin, Nyack, and Canada), I can honestly say that they are successful at this synergy.

For three summers I served as the director of the Ropes Challenge Course at Camp Ramah in Nyack and was always cognizant of the synergy between Jewish education and outdoor camp fun. In that vein, I published a curriculum that was used at Ramah to teach Jewish values, Hebrew, and Torah to the campers while they were participating in the Ropes course and climbing wall.

I’m optimistic that the Foundation for Jewish Camping will work to ensure that Jewish summer camps where Judaism is a focus will be able to provide top-notch extra-curricular programs like sports taught by instructors one would find at the best sports camps in the country, as well as outdoor adventure activities that rival any secular camp.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller