A Jewish Summer Camp That Doesn't Feel Like One

Children Milk the Cows, Plant a Garden and Cook Kosher Food

By Jordana Horn

Published February 02, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
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I wanted a camp that would be inclusive of all kinds of Judaism — secular, Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, unaffiliated. I wanted a kosher camp with healthy food. I wanted a camp with a culture of kindness rather than air-horn-encouraged competition. And I was certain that this kind of camp didn’t exist — until I found it at this parlor meeting in my own hometown.

Jewish camps are very different from how they were when I was a kid. Back then, it was either Jewish camp as in daven-and-call-the-dining-room-[aruchat-ochel or Jewish camp as in the-campers-are-all-Jewish-but-it’s-not-a-Jewish-camp-if-you-know-what-I-mean. Perhaps now that Jewish camp is not necessarily a given for many families, Jewish camps have gone out of their way to be more diverse.

Back then, not many Jewish camps were transdenominational. And back then, camps were less specialized and more generic. These days, the options are almost endless. You can send your kids hiking in the mountains with a group that will still do morning prayers, and you can send a child with cancer to a Jewish camp for children who have life-threatening illnesses.

As it turns out, my search had been too “old-school”: Rather than visiting camps, my search would have been easier if I’d simply made a list of all the things I wanted in a camp, no matter how esoteric. Since there are so many camp options out there, chances are that the option does exist — or that someone is about to start such an option.

Eden Village Camp director Yoni Stadlin’s pitch was down to earth — literally. The camp, a comparatively new one in the Hudson Valley, is a Jewish environmental overnight camp. Kids work in the farm, doing everything from making challah and grape juice for the Sabbath to helping cook the food they eat. The campers milk goats and collect eggs, and when they want a snack, they pick it from a garden, not from a vending machine.

The director’s enthusiasm was contagious, as were the ringing endorsements of other campers. “It’s going to be so cool,” my younger son said, almost bouncing up and down with excitement at the thought of Eden Village Camp. When I asked him why, he said: “Because it’s going to be so much fun. We’re going to do planting and hiking and swimming and rock climbing. It’s all that and it’s kosher and Jewish, and we’re going to have Shabbat with new friends.”

Yes. He and his brother, after all, are all those things: fun, caring, interested, kosher and Jewish. And now, their camp will be, too.

Now that the decision is made, I can use the months ahead to savor our time together, all the sweeter because of our impending separation — and perhaps to sneak the occasional thought about whether it is too “helicopter mom” to put prestamped, pre-addressed postcards home in their backpacks when they go.

Jordana Horn is the former New York bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post and a contributing editor to the parenting website Kveller.com.


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