It’s every kid’s dream: studying Torah at summer camp.
Maybe not, but the girls at Camp Seed in Elkins Park don’t seem to mind. Perhaps it’s because Camp Director Shira Reiner has tried to blend wholesome fun with valuable learning.
Camp Seed is an Orthodox day camp for girls entering grades one through seven. The camp uses the facilities at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel and receives guidance from Rabbi Reuven Goldstein of Young Israel of Elkins Park.
This year is the camp’s biggest yet. For the first time, it will run for eight weeks instead of the typical four. The number of campers has increased, with 80 girls now attending.
Reiner founded the camp four years ago and still directs its operations.
“I used to just plan my kids’ summers,” she said. “Every year, around January, I started thinking what are we doing this summer? I would hang up a calendar on the refrigerator and write every activity that we were going to do, whether it was at the library or getting a season pass to a place. We would go with a lot of the Elkins Park families.”
The camp was a natural continuation.
“When this camp started I felt, ‘Oh, this is so much fun. I get to plan activities for all these girls.’ I really enjoy it,” she said.
“I’m blessed with my own bunch of daughters,” she said with a laugh. “The camp really started because I was looking for my own family for a camp that was wholesome, inexpensive and a lot of fun.”
In large Orthodox families, spending thousands on camp tuition is not feasible, she said. However, low budget does not mean low excitement at Camp Seed.
“We have sports every day. We have art. We do trips once a week or we bring something in. We’ve brought in [giants zorbs] and had somebody to do a game show”
“We do regular camp stuff,” she said, listing activities like color war, tie-dye, camp carnival, obstacle courses, theater and dance lessons.
Reiner even managed to include a camp staple, swimming, in the schedule, while ensuring the preservation of Jewish values like modesty.
She explained: “We go swimming at the Kids First Swim School in Jenkintown. They allow us to have just women lifeguards, and it’s just us girls swimming. We make sure that it’s modest. They never allow men into the building while we’re there.”
Learning, or studying Jewish texts, is also an integral part of the camp.
“Every day, they learn with Mrs. Frimi Levi,” Reiner said.
Due to Levi’s interactive lessons on Jewish law, “the girls love learning,” Reiner said. “It’s part of our itinerary every day. Mrs. Levi applies [the text] to their lives. She asks them questions. They’re always engaged. The girls really love it. It’s really hands on.”
The camp also upholds another key Jewish value — the lending of goods for free to fellow Jews.
“Camp Seed started a free-loan fund, a gemach. The oldest bunk created wedding arches that we are going to advertise,” she said. “They’re free to borrow to the Philadelphia community.”
In addition to fulfilling a commandment, the gemach aims to bolster the confidence and self-sufficiency of the oldest campers, Reiner said.
“When the girls see at a wedding that these are the arches that they glue-gunned and put together and created, they’re going to feel so good about themselves. It’s about empowering the girls. They’re making a difference.“
Perhaps the most unique feature of Camp Seed is its partnership with the national Project Seed organization. The national group sends Jews fresh from seminary or yeshiva to live in communities across North America. The objective is to “spend their summers instilling Torah values … through Torah study, recreational events and day camps.”
All counselors at Camp Seed are young women volunteers from across the U.S. sent to Philadelphia through the larger Seed organization. Reiner houses them all, totaling nine this summer, in her Elkins Park home.
“They come, they live with us, they run the camp in the day. They bring tremendous ruach (spirit). After camp, they do programs for the community. Young Israel of Elkins Park provides the funding,” she said, for various activities.
For campers, the Seed counselors are yearlong role models.
“The relationships that the girls have with their counselors often extend throughout the year. They come to our community once a month and do the same programming. It’s wholesome. The girls could just play music and dance and have an ice cream party. It’s not about doing something extravagant. It’s more about quality time together.”
Reflecting on the benefit of the older girls, Reiner mentioned the need for older figures in a youthful Orthodox community.
“We have a young community in Elkins Park,” she said. “They’re providing our girls with older role models. We really want the girls to have an incredible summer, and they are.”
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