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Federation Mission: To Make Camping an Option for All Jews

August 24, 2011 By:
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Rachel* became a single parent overnight when her husband died of a massive heart attack. She and sons Scott and Adam, then 8 and 12, were emotionally and financially devastated. "He died suddenly without a pension or life insurance, leaving little money for such luxuries as Jewish summer camp," said Rachel.

Yet Rachel viewed camp as a necessity for her sons who she felt "needed both an escape from too much sadness plus a safe haven for them to explore their Jewish identity." Thanks to Federation's commitment to providing a Jewish overnight camping experience to families in financial need, Rachel was able to give both boys a respite from their profound loss plus an opportunity to discover their identity as Jews.

For the third consecutive summer, Scott* and Adam* attended Camp Galil, which has provided a kibbutz-style cooperative living atmosphere for Jews of all denominations for more than 65 years. This year, 237 young people received some $176,000 in needs-based scholarships that allowed them to attend 40 camps throughout North America. Next summer, Adam will become a counselor in training at the camp which has provided him with a strong sense of "who I am as a Jew."

Rachel commented that opportunities for Jewish engagement in their suburban Philadelphia community, where there are few Jewish families, are quite limited. "My younger son used to complain to me that he had no Jewish friends. Now, he has invited all of his camp buddies to his Bar Mitzvah, and he couldn't be happier," she said.

It gives Rachel great satisfaction to see her children chat in Hebrew at home and talk lovingly about Israel. "I grew up attending Jewish summer camp and it really helped me to develop a love for Judaism," she said, adding that, "thanks to camp, my sons have a safe, supportive second home where they are free to explore their identity as Jews."

Shoshana* and Ron* are Israelis, finishing up their graduate school studies at a local university. They attended an open house at Camp Ramah, one of the eight local Jewish day camps supported by the Jewish Federation's needs-based scholarship program. The couple thought that Ramah would provide "an authentic American Jewish day camp experience" for their son, Gal*. The couple, who will return to Israel next spring, have wonderful memories of attending Jewish summer camps in Israel and credit this experience with building their strong Jewish identity.

Although Shoshana attended Reform movement camps in Jerusalem while Ron spent summers at camps sponsored by the Conservative movement, both institutions conveyed a strong sense of community that nurtured their development as Jews. After touring the Ramah campus in Melrose Park and talking with the camp director, they were convinced that the mix of strong Jewish content and a wide-range of sports activities would be "the perfect complement" to the synagogue day school experience that they have provided for Gal since the family arrived in Philadelphia.

It has been a memorable summer for Gal, a native Hebrew speaker. "His Hebrew fluency made it effortless for him to relate to the prayers taught at camp," said Shoshana, adding that "Gal has come home each day proudly singing the prayers in a different melody." Both she and Ron concur that Gal's love of Jewish music will stay with him throughout his life as will his sense of responsibility for and connection to nature and the greater community that Camp Ramah nurtures.

The couple is grateful to Federation for awarding them a scholarship, which made this "experience of a lifetime" more affordable. This year, Federation awarded 290 needs-based Jewish day-camp scholarships to area families, totaling $110,125.

Federation, in conjunction with the Neubauer Family Foundation and the Foundation for Jewish Camp also supports One Happy Camper. This is an incentive grant for children not enrolled in an immersive Jew- ish experience like Jewish day school or Yeshiva. The grant enables them to attend Jewish overnight camps throughout North America and Canada. There is no financial need requirement for this program, which awards up to $1,000 for first-time campers and up to $750 for second-year campers who received the first-time grant in the previous year.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

For more information about Federation support for Jewish camping and to apply for next summer, call Drew Martin at 215-832-0530 or email: dmartin@jfgp.org.

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