“Canceling a summer,” said Pinemere Camp Executive Director Mitch Morgan, “is extremely emotional for everyone involved.”
But given that families entrust Morgan and his staff with their children, he said, it was a decision they felt that they had to make.
For Morgan and Pinemere Camp, it was not only a question of whether they should open, but whether they even could.
Plans were discussed that would have involved testing all campers and staff for COVID-19 three days before arrival, the day of arrival, five days after arrival, mid-session and then again three days before returning home. Those plans were dashed when it became clear that, besides the logistical and financial issues with such an undertaking, the tests would not be accurate or fast enough.
“Once we concluded our research, it was clear that even with the best testing, we couldn’t open camp in a healthy and safe way,” Morgan said.
At Pinemere, which is located in Stroudsburg, the decision to close was not an easy one. And, of course, it’s not the only one faced with choices of that magnitude. Jewish day camps and overnight camps with significant local presence are all grappling with the same issues.
Camp Harlam, in Kunkletown: closed. Camp Modin in Belgrade, Maine: open. Camp Ramah in the Poconos, and Ramah Day Camp, at the Mandell Education Campus in Elkins Park: both closed.
“It’s just so sad,” said Elana Rivel, director of the day camp.
In mid-March, Rivel said, her staff and board knew that, at the very least, it was not going to be a normal summer. It wasn’t until the beginning of May that cancellation seemed like it might be the only option. At the overnight camp, the difficulties of even opening under current conditions were clear even sooner, according to executive director Rabbi Joel Seltzer.
“Around the middle of April it became increasingly apparent to us that the medical advice was shifting from ‘How can we keep COVID-19 out of our camp communities this summer?’ to ‘How will camps deal with COVID-19 when it enters their camp communities this summer?’” he said. “That shift in thinking, along with the understanding that this disease is highly communicable, especially in dormitory-style living, was the beginning of our realizations that camp as we have always known it would not be possible this summer.”
There were talks back at the day camp about running an adapted version of camp, with shorter days and bunks kept separately from one another, but it just seemed to drive home the initial belief: that the pandemic “would not allow us to run a Ramah experience,” Rivel said.
On May 20, both camps, keeping in mind recommendations from medical experts, the American Camping Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Ramah camps nationwide, announced that they would not be open in 2020.
“We are working on creating a menu of engaging, educational and social programs for our camp community this summer,” Seltzer said.
Some other camps, however, have chosen to give it a go.
At the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood, Camp Kef will be open for its 49th summer.
“The big question for us had always been not if we were going to be able to have camp,” said Amy Krulik, executive director of the JCC, “but when we were going to start.” When Gov. Tom Wolf announced on May 22 that day camps would be on the list of establishments set to reopen during Pennsylvania’s yellow phase, beginning June 5, they knew they were good to go.
Krulik has worked with the Camp Kef staff to develop a protocol to run camp safely. The bunks will be smaller, and have limited interaction with the children and counselors of other bunks. To prevent the mixing that comes during the typical early care and late care, the camp day will simply be extended, keeping everyone with their bunk for the duration of the day. Instructional swim will be scrapped for free swim, divided by bunk. Decks and railings will be cleaned between periods.
Gan Izzy, the day camp at Lubavitch of Bucks County, also will run in a modified way.
“We always had a plan A, B, C,” said Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov, executive director and senior rabbi at Lubavitch. A was a perfectly normal summer, and C was totally virtual. Plan B, then, is in effect.
The days will be shortened from their typical length. Because campers are typically driven off site get some time in the pool, that practice will be discontinued. The myriad day trips they typically offer will meet a similar fate.
“We have the Jewish spirit and the fun of our staff,” Shemtov said.
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