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Not your average book party: A month of Jewish summer camp in one night

The unique event in Brooklyn marks the launch of Sandra Fox’s book about Jewish summer camps in postwar America

Some guests attending the upcoming celebration of a new book about American Jewish sleep-away camps are going to be surprised.

Rather than listening to an interview with book author Sandra Fox, they’ll be doing arts and crafts, participating in Maccabiah events and even commemorating Tisha B’Av.

The unique event, to be held on Feb. 23 at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, New York, was the brainchild of Fox herself. Her book, The Jews of Summer: Summer Camp and Jewish Culture in Postwar America, is a scholarly yet entertaining read on the history of American Jewish summer camps.

“This experiential event will touch on many elements of Jewish summer camp life from the 1950s through the present,” Fox said. “We’ll have Jewish dancing and singing, and Hebrew and Yiddish circles.” In another nod to camp culture, guests will be able to go over to the canteen for a snack or a drink, although this time they’ll be able to order an alcoholic drink as well.

Fox is hoping that people will come in the proper spirit, and even dress in summer camp clothes.

In the decades directly following the Holocaust, American Jewish leaders anxiously debated how to preserve and continue creating what they considered authentic Jewish culture, fearful that growing affluence and suburbanization threatened the future of Jewish life.

Many communal educators and rabbis contended that without educational interventions, Judaism as they understood it would disappear altogether. They pinned their hopes on residential summer camps for Jewish youth: institutions that sprang up across the U.S. in the postwar decades as places for children and teenagers to socialize, have fun and experience Jewish culture. Adults’ fears, hopes, and dreams about the Jewish future inflected every element of camp life, from the languages they taught to what was encouraged romantically and permitted sexually.

But adult plans were only one side of the picture: The campers and counselors themselves also helped shape these sleep-away camps to mirror their own desires and interests, and often were the ultimate deciders as to whether to accept or resist the ideas and ideologies their camp leaders promoted. Focusing on the experiences of campers and camp counselors, The Jews of Summer demonstrates how a cultural crisis birthed a rite of passage that remains a significant influence in American Jewish life.

The book party will begin at 7 p.m. at Congregation Beth Elohim, 271 Garfield Place, Brooklyn. Register here.

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