(JTA) — All Reform Jewish summer camps will remain closed for the 2020 summer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has learned.
The landmark decision, made Thursday afternoon, will affect 16 overnight camps across the country, which collectively served some 10,000 campers in 2019. The Reform movement, the largest in the United States, is the first to suspend its entire summer camp network.
Overnight camp is a centerpiece of the American Jewish community, with children often attending and sometimes then working at the same camps that their parents attended. Lasting anywhere from a few days to eight weeks, camps generally include Jewish education, prayer, Israeli cultural activities and Hebrew — along with sports, arts and crafts, and the like.
Whether the camps can operate given the pandemic has been an increasingly pressing question. Some states are beginning to lift some of the restrictions they imposed to slow the spread of the disease, and mounting evidence suggests that children are less vulnerable than adults.
At the same time, public health officials say returning to business as usual would not be safe, and many camps require campers and their families to travel great distances to attend. Camp directors have told JTA that state and local social distancing regulations, as they are now, would prevent camps from opening.
Also Thursday, two Conservative Jewish Ramah camps, in Colorado and Wisconsin, announced that they would be delaying their start dates to at least July 1 and June 30, respectively, because of the pandemic. A third Ramah camp, in Georgia, is expected to make a similar announcement soon.
But they are continuing to leave open the possibility that overnight camp will be possible for at least a portion of the summer.
“Based on the current situation, including available data, government regulations, and our health standards, it appears unlikely that we will be able to run camp at all this summer, though we remain hopeful that we can join together for at least part of the 2020 camp season,” Ramah in Wisconsin’s executive director, Jacob Cytryn, wrote in an email to community members. Ramah in Wisconsin has run every summer for more than 70 years.
In the Cleveland area, Camp Wise also has canceled this summer due to the coronavirus. The camp, according to its website, was founded in 1907.
“Camps are about groups of children and staff who are together every day,” read a statement from Michael Hyman, president and CEO of the Mandel Jewish Community Center, which runs the camp. “For the well-being of campers, their families, our staff and the community, it was best to cancel the operation of all camp programs for the summer of 2020.”