By Leah Snyderman
As the world slowly returns to normalcy, the question of what was normal in the first place has arisen. Whatever it was, a new normal is being created, and this summer will likely help shape it.
With kids out of school, camps and other summer programs are pioneering this new normal. From sleepaway camp to travel, Jewish teens across the United States shared what their summer of 2021 looks like.
Jewish sleepaway camp is a staple of summer in the Northeast, so with kids missing out on the experience in 2020, they are even more excited to be back.
“It’s like having a second life,” said Asher Waldman, 13, from Bryn Mawr. He attends Camp Cedar in Maine with his younger brother, Austin, following in their father’s footsteps.
According to his mother, Amy Waldman, going to camp provided Asher with the opportunity to try new things he wouldn’t have been able to do at home.
“My own children have become passionate about activities that they were exposed to at camp, not necessarily things I would have signed them up for at home,” she said. “As a parent, sending your children to overnight camp is incredibly difficult.”
However, all feelings of uncertainty are dissolved when seeing pictures of her kids smiling and getting letters from them thanking her for sending them to camp, she said.
Many camps have ensured their campers would be safe from COVID-19 by requiring proof of negative tests and keeping bunks separated for the first week or two.
B’nai B’rith Youth Organization runs training programs throughout the summer for its members. BBYO is a movement for Jewish teens around the world to gain valuable experiences and connect with other Jewish teens — locally and internationally.
International Leadership Training Conference is a 14-day program at B’nai B’rith Perlman Camp in Lake Como.
Rachel Glazer, 16, from Cleveland chose to “spend [her] summer with BBYO to enhance [her] leadership skills and make new friends.”
Not only are they making new friends, but they’re gaining valuable skills and discovering their Jewish identity, all while being provided with a community by BBYO, according to Maya Sullum, 17, from Clarks Summit, and Hailey Weisberg, 17, from Cleveland.
Like many summer camps, BBYO had to cancel its programs last summer, so teens were especially excited for this year. To protect the teens from COVID-19, they were required to show a vaccine card or a negative COVID-19 test before arriving, and they are screened daily.
Adam Crasnow, 17, from Orlando, said being connected to his faith and community makes spending his summer there “100% worth it.”
Amber Zeitz, 17, from Voorhees, New Jersey, has looked forward to ILTC since the beginning of 2020.
“I chose to spend my summer with BBYO at ILTC to connect with Jewish people internationally and grow a new family,” she said.
Travel is starting to rebound as well, as countries are beginning to open their borders to tourists. While summer travel programs for teens are limited, some are up and running.
Dara Hammel of Voorhees and Hallie Jayson and Ziva Davis of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, are spending their summers traveling around Israel.
“After spending my time at home for a year-and-a-half due to COVID-19, I can finally say that I am happy to be in the country I love,” Jayson, 17, said.
All three girls are attending Ramah Israel Seminar, a six-week travel program for graduated campers who attended a Ramah camp in the United States.
“Whether our daily itinerary includes a sunrise hike on Mount Arbel or a visit to an IDF memorial in conjunction with a discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I reflect on how lucky I am to spend the next four weeks in Israel, learning and expanding my connection to Judaism,” Hammel, 17, said.
Although she’s only been there a week, Hammel said she already feels more spiritually connected to her Jewish roots.
Davis, 17, feels at home in Israel as well.
“It is so comforting to be surrounded by Jewish people who share similar values that I do,” she said.
Leah Snyderman is an intern for the Jewish Exponent.