Now that I’m experiencing triple digit temperatures, I know that summer is upon us (I mean, really upon us). As someone who has led nearly thirty (I started young) trips to Israel, many of which took place during the summer; and as a former resident camp director; I know the power of those two incredible Jewish experiences that often take place during the summer months.
Not just learning about, but experiencing Israel firsthand is essential for the Jewish soul. Walking where Kings and Prophets and Judges walked, hearing a resuscitated “dead” language, seeing a raucously diverse Jewish universe in which different ethnicities and accents (and food!) and politics and practices come together – and sometimes, when they don’t. All this and so much more happens – still happens – in that tiny sliver of land, thousands of miles away.
And camp? The parallel with Israel is that a Jewish summer camp also creates and provides its own Jewish universe – with its traditions, language, experiences (and once again, food). I have no hesitation saying that I continue to fall back on the extraordinary experiences I encountered at camp, and I am not alone.
These are two of the “legs” of the Jewish identity stool – two powerful and influential Jewish environments that, as data have shown, contribute to a strong, dynamic Jewish identity. And as any student of physics will explain – or, as anyone who has actually tried to sit on a two-legged stool will attest – the strongest foundation for that stool is three legs. Israel experiences – essential and irreplaceable. Summer camp – once again, extraordinary and unique in what it offers.
And the third of those essential legs that creates positive, engaged Jewish citizenry? Jewish education and more to the point, rigorous, innovative, enthusiastic Jewish Day School education. Surveys from national and local agencies, data from university studies – and the anecdotal evidence of lay and professional leaders and members of the community – all point to day schools as the third pillar (how many times can one use “leg” as a metaphor?) to support Jewish identity.
Clearly, these three experiences are not available for everyone in the American Jewish community. For some, it’s a matter of cost, and for others, it’s a question about whether those opportunities even exist in their cities. For those who do have these opportunities, whose children are able to benefit from these experiences, the combination of these experiences provides an incredible pathway to knowledge – and pride – and a sense of connectedness. The blend of non-formal and formal education found in camp and in a day school, coupled with the stirring of the Zionist heart in Israel – there’s no more powerful path toward a Jewish future.