Summer camp: Bring on fun & friendships

PHOTO: CAMP SOLOMON SCHECHTER Day of Service. With overnight camps cancelled last year, CSS held several COVID-safe Days of Service last summer at camp. For one project, camp families and camp alumni painted COVID-era messages on these camp benches.


With the news that overnight camps in Oregon and Washington will be allowed to open this summer, Jewish camps in both states are gearing up to provide this much needed outlet for youth. (See roundup of OR/WA Jewish Overnight Camps below.)
“After such an isolating year for the kids, we must put their needs first and get them in camp this summer,” says Camp Kesher Director Meira Spivak.
“Every publication we receive about the state of our youth in this pandemic indicates they are suffering from depression, isolation, screen overload and anxiety,” says Camp Solomon Schechter Executive Director Zach Duitch. “The best way to counter this is through summer camp.”
Zach and B’nai B’rith Camp CEO Michelle Koplan took lead roles with the Oregon and Washington camp coalitions to negotiate the opening with the states’ health authorities and governors’ offices. (See story in the March 31 Jewish Review.)
Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced on March 17 that Oregon’s overnight camps will be allowed to open and operate in 2021 and said they will release guidelines by mid-April. Washington Governor Jay Inslee released overnight camp guidelines as part of his COVID19 Outdoor Recreation Guidance update of March 23.
“It is imperative that we get our campers back to camp as soon as it is safe to do so,” says Zach. 
“We have been working with the state for several months to create a plan to do this successfully," says Zach. "We have been working with professionals across the nation to be prepared to reintegrate campers back into in-person social situations and ease the transition through ‘campy’ activities before the rigors of school in the fall.”
Michelle concurs the year has been rough on youth and definitely short on fun. “They have had limited (if any) in-person time to socialize and develop much-needed social and emotional skills,” she says. “We are so excited to welcome our campers back to BB Camp. We can’t wait to be a part of their joy, Jewish identity-building and having them play outside (and away from screens) with their kehila (community)!”
Another regional camp director who has stepped up for a broader role this summer is David Berkman, the director of Camp Kalsman since it opened in 2007. This summer, he is overseeing COVID-19 protocols for all 15 camps under the auspices of the Union for Reform Judaism.
“It’s an ugly job, but someone has to do it ... Never have I understood that saying better,” says David, who is the URJ COVID Response Director. “Of course, I would rather be focused on campouts, Maccabia and song sessions than COVID-19 mitigation and prevention. My love for summer camp, and Jewish summer camp in particular, runs very deep. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to help my colleagues ensure the health and safety for nearly 10,000 participants this summer.” 
There is a unifying theme in Jewish camps’ approaches to opening this year. All the directors spoke about putting a focus on safety. 
“The concept of pikuah nefesh, the sanctity of life, is central to all of our decisions,” says Camp Kalsman Acting Director Rabbi Ilana Mills. “Safety has always been our number one concern and continues to be this year.”
State, national and camp guidelines will make this year look very different.
“Some of the changes at camp will include limiting interactions between groups of campers, scheduling additional transition time in the daily schedule for sanitization, wearing masks and distancing when interacting with kids in different cabins,” says Michelle. “The BB Camp team is dedicated to staying innovative with programs and ensuring there is meaning and ruach (spirit) at camp, even while following protocols that are in place to keep the community safe.” 
At Camp Kesher, Meira anticipates “a lot of ‘meals under the stars’ and outdoor eating will mark a clear distinction between this and past camp years. Sounds pretty fun to me!” 
“For CSS, cabin groups will be smaller, and there will be a lot more small-group activities,” says Zach. “We are working on creative ways to maintain the emotional closeness of Shabbat, Havdalah and services while maintaining social (physical) distance.”
In some camps, the safety guidelines will reduce camp capacity. 
“The current state guidance in Washington State requires that we keep 6 feet of distance between campers while they sleep,” says Zach. “This means that CSS will be running at about 75 percent capacity.”
Though Oregon guidelines have not yet been released, Michelle expects a similar drop at BB Camp. 
“We know that cohort sizes will be far reduced to our typical summer of up to 24 campers and staff per cabin,” says Michelle. “We anticipate a 20 to 25 percent reduction in camper capacity due to COVID safety protocols.”
Camp Kesher and Camp Kalsman do not expect to limit capacity given the size of their facilities, which will allow the camps to meet all safety guidelines in the available space.
All the camps have COVID safety information available on their websites. 

Office: 6443 SW Beaverton-
Hillsdale Hwy. #234, Portland OR 97221
Campground: Devil’s Lake, Lincoln County, on the Oregon Coast
This 14-acre camp features new ADA-accessible camper cabins (cabins are heated with restrooms and showers), zip line, pool, ropes course, basketball court, tennis and pickle ball court, ball field and a full aquatics facility.
BB Camp provides safe, nurturing and fun experiences, inspiring individual growth, leadership and enduring Jewish identity. Using our new cabins and recreational facilities, our summer camp program offers a wide variety of activities, including aquatics on our lakefront and heated swimming pool, outdoor adventures taking advantage of the natural beauty of Oregon, visual and performing arts, athletics, challenge course and zip line, Shabbat celebrations and so much more!
Specialty programs include BB Surfs (7th-9th grade), Outdoor Jewish Adventure (OJA), Israel Trip (11th-12th grade), Staff-In-Training (12th grade).
BB Camp serves campers from rising 2nd-graders to 12th-graders with 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-week sessions beginning June 29 and ending Aug. 17.
Fees range from $1,461-$3,934, depending on session length or specialty program. For more information on grants and financial assistance, visit:

Office: 6688 SW Capitol Hwy., Portland, OR 97219
Campground: In Salem 
Macleay Conference and Retreat Center is an incredible campus. It includes an outdoor pool and hot tub, sprawling fields, impeccable grounds, an indoor gym, auditorium, game room and more.
Camp Kesher, NCSY’s newest summer program in the Pacific Northwest, is a sleepaway camp for Jewish students who love the outdoors and are striving to reach new heights. Camp Kesher offers 3rd–9th graders the opportunity to spend two weeks connecting with nature, their peers and their Jewish heritage.
July 25-Aug. 8, campers currently in 3rd - 9th grade. $1,500 including the registration fee. Camp Kesher has received an incredibly generous scholarship grant; contact camp for details.

Office: 117 East Louisa Street, #110, Seattle, WA
Campground: Tumwater, Wash. 
CSS is a fully equipped Jewish summer camp nestled on 175 acres and includes a private lake, access to a river, miles of hiking trails in our forested wetlands, and access to our challenge course, zip line tour, climbing tower, various sports fields, gaga pits, river floats, swimming and boating.
CSS has a 67-year tradition of fun, friendship and Jewish education in the Pacific Northwest. At CSS, we value each child as an individual and strive to support their social and spiritual growth. A summer at CSS enables children to try new activities, improve social skills, gain self-confidence, make Jewish friends, become independent, and discover talents and abilities they never knew they had. We emphasize the values of integrity, derech eretz (respect) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). We do this through activities and teva (nature) to create our ideal Jewish community. CSS is a fully immersive, welcoming and spiritual Jewish environment. 
CSS offers a variety of options for rising 1st-through 11th-graders. Session prices vary by length from $1,350 to $4,200. A Gesher Israel Trip for 12th graders is $4,500.

Campground: Cle Elum, Wash.
Campers learn the beauty, values and ethics of Sephardic Jewish living. Activities include kayaking, archery, basketball, field sports, swimming, dance, drama, arts & crafts, Sephardic baking, Torah learning, field trips, Sephardic culture sessions and much more. Moreover, all days begin with and include Orthodox prayer services, and each week culminates with the observance of Shabbat.
Full session (2nd- to 11th- graders) June 23-July 12, $2,700; CIT’s $2,200. One week session (2nd- to 4th-graders) June 23-30, $1,300. Scholarships available.

Office: 11410 NE 124th ST #622, Kirkland, WA 98034
Campground: Arlington, Wash.
Camp Kalsman’s 300 beautiful acres offer a great balance of education and recreation with great sports and arts facilities and a pool.
Camp Kalsman is committed to our six core values: friendship, kehilah kedoshah (sacred community), Reform Jewish identity, chesed (kindness), connection to Israel and our relationship to teva (nature). Activities include: Arts – painting and ceramics; Performing arts – improv, theater, musical, writing; Music – guitar; Sports/waterfront – biking, archery, frisbee, soccer, basketball, lake, pool; and Experience – hiking, cooking, outdoor survival skills, gardening, animal care.
1-week to 18-day sessions June 23-Aug. 18 for current 1st- through 10th graders with fees ranging from $1,600 to $4,200. Counselor in Training (11th graders) June 23-July 25 is $4,750.

You can find overnight Jewish summer camps across North America at


In addition to the financial assistance each camp has available, One Happy Camper camperships are available for ANY Jewish overnight camp.
Thanks to the generosity of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, first-time campers from the Greater Portland area who are attending any Jewish overnight camp are eligible for a One Happy Camper campership of up to $1,000.
Families sending their kids to camp can get an interest-free loan for up to three years rather than putting camp fees on their high-interest credit cards. The Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland has increased its maximum loan amount to $5,000 for eligible applicants.  There are eligibility and guidelines the committee follows similar to a financial aid application. For information call 503-892-7417, email   or visit


Learn about local Jewish day camp offerings in the April 28 Jewish Review roundup of Jewish Day Camps. One new offering: Mittleman Jewish Community Center has obtained a special license to offer a summer program for 3- to 4-year-olds through the Early Learning Division. 
Camps: Submit your camp information by noon, April 21, to


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