Never Too Old for S’Mores

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Summertime and it's camp for — seniors? Check out the growing trend.

Not many people attend summer camp with their parents. Mindelle Pierce went with her mom when her mother was in her 90s.

They chose a two-week program for senior adults at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn. Aside from typical camp activities such as swimming and arts and crafts, there were myriad specialty programming for senior adults: lectures on health and nutrition, genealogy, flowers of the Torah, and biblical prophets, as well as trips to area cultural activities, including the theater and the philharmonic.


Some 80 participants ranging in age from their 50s to 90s attended the camp.

The Isabella Freedman program is among a number of senior camp programs across the United States, including a handful that are geared to Jews. Yet despite the growing population of American senior citizens, the number of senior camps has been dropping slightly, according to the American Camp Association, which has 225 senior camps as members.

That has made for a challenging environment for Jewish senior camps, too. One such camp, the Block and Hexter Vacation Center in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, closed due to lack of demand. With more resorts available in exotic locales and seniors more active than they were a few decades ago, mountain camps have lost some of their cachet.

“The new senior is more active and discriminating in taste than the senior of prior generations,” said Elliot Forchheimer, assistant director of the New Jersey Y Camps. The camps will be hosting Russian Jewish adults at the Kislak Adult Center for two weeks in June and two weeks in August, in Lakewood, Pa., about three hours from Philadelphia.

Of those attending in the past, one group, said Phyllis Lauer, administrative director of the center, came from the Klein JCC.

To help stem the tide, some camps have changed or are planning changes to their offerings in hope of attracting a new generation of older adults.

“With tweaks and changes, these programs should be able to thrive,” said Adam Weinstein, director of the Berkshire Hills Emanuel Camps-Adult Vacation Center in Copake, N.Y., which offers kosher food and Shabbat services. There are plans to split the summer into five one-week programs.

“We’re looking at programs that will also bring in a younger crowd of seniors,” said Irene Drantch, director of the Circle Lodge Retreat in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., an 85-plus-year-old facility that is affiliated with Workmen’s Circle and draws anywhere from 25 people a week to a capacity participation of 135 for its Yiddish Week.

Pairing sightseeing with educational lectures is the raison d’etre for Road Scholar, formerly known as Elderhostel, which offers about a dozen Jewish programs that explore Jewish culture, history and religion.

Jewish programming has been available since the organization was founded more than three decades ago, and Road Scholar works with an array of Jewish organizations, museums, synagogues and educators, according to its public and media relations office.

Camp Isabella Freedman will be held from July 6 to July 19 this year.

This article originally appeared in the supplement, "The Good Life."

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