PHOTO: After overnight camps were canceled due to Covid in 2020, campers sported "We're Back" shirts at the 2021 Sephardic Adventure Camp.
BY DEBORAH MOON
For generations, children attending summer camp have discovered new passions, developed skills, gained confidence and created lifelong friendships. But camp has taken on an even more vital role in the lives of youth struggling under the weight of a two-year global pandemic. (Check out area camps below.)
“The pandemic has affected our children’s view of the world, their relationships and how they navigate in their daily lives,” says B’nai B’rith Camp Director Bette Amir-Brownstein.
Camp Kesher Director Meira Spivak adds, “Kids are in dire need of socialization in a safe and fun environment, and sleepaway camp is a great way to provide that.”
“Last summer, camp was the antidote for kids to come out of the pandemic,” says Camp Solomon Schechter Executive Director Zach Duitch, who adds that this summer will be just as crucial.
Sephardic Adventure Camp Marketing Manager Beth Jacoby says, “There has been no shortage of restrictions for kids … restrictions that have cut into face-to-face social time.”
Duitch lists seven challenges the pandemic has imposed on youth: prolonged isolation, traumatic stress and loss, social and emotional disconnection, negative self-talk, reduced physical activity, unhealthy emotional regulation (the ability to exert control over your own emotional state) and diminished emotional resilience (the ability to adapt to a stressful situation or crisis).
“Camp combats those stresses and reminds campers what is like to be a kid, to be social, to be away from parents and be led by different role models,” says Duitch.
This year, BB Camp plans to focus on mitigating Covid-19 risks and rebuilding campers’ social skills, connections and communities.
Solomon Schechter uses “Camp Builders” to help campers work on self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsibilities for decision making.
MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES
A recent JCamp 180 survey of Jewish camping senior professionals found their top concerns for this summer are “high levels of anxiety and mental health challenges among campers” as well as among staff.
“Mental health issues have been growing at summer camps over the last number of years and completely accelerated during the Covid pandemic years,” JCamp 180 director Sarah Eisinger told eJewish Philanthropy for a Feb. 7 article by Ben Sales.
BB Camp has used resources from the Foundation for Jewish Camp and Blue Dove Foundation to tailor staff training to provide mental health first aid, universal design and other resources to help campers succeed. BB Camp also has a group of mental health professionals who volunteer at camp and serve on the Mental Emotional Social Health Committee.
Solomon Schechter reaches out to families year round to learn about any trauma or loss children have experienced, which gives staff a peek into the needs children might have at camp. The camp has camper care professionals who can come in for one-on-one time with kids needing additional support.
“We also hired a therapist to help when campers’ needs are beyond what counselors can cope with,” says Duitch. “That is where the industry (camping) is headed – to make sure we have the right support at camp.”
All four Jewish overnight camps in the area (see pages 6-7) strive to be as inclusive as possible.
“We want to say yes more than no,” says Duitch of Solomon Schechter. “But we want to set up campers to succeed – to make sure we have great plans in place for success … for the kid and the camp community.”
“We try to accommodate as many campers as we can,” says Spivak of Camp Kesher. “This can play out with providing specialized meal plans as well as a large variety of activities for all types of campers.”
Despite being a small organization, Sephardic Adventure Camp has a very diverse camper base including neuro-diverse campers.
BB Camp is accessible to all children, regardless of abilities. The camp participated in and successfully completed the National Inclusion Project accreditation program in 2019.
Amir-Brownstein says the accreditation process recognizes and confirms that “our program is intentionally and successfully serving individuals with and without disabilities. Our focus is on allowing everyone to be part of the BB Camp community in the way that works best for them.”
“Success plans look different for all campers, and we establish accommodations with campers’ success in mind,” she adds. “We offer additional support through our Individualized Camper Plans, similar to a student’s IEP, setting up all campers for success.”
“Our commitment to inclusion is illustrated through our buildings, professional staff, staff development and programmatic accommodations,” she says. BB Camp’s Assistant Director of Community Care and Inclusion trains teams to understand camp's community care philosophy, create camper accommodations and develop programming that welcomes all children. BB Camp also has rebuilt its campus with all camp buildings now ADA accessible and has designated sensory areas available for children throughout camp.
BB Camp reports that the tight domestic labor market and the challenge of securing visas for their visiting international staff have made summer camp seasonal staff recruitment more challenging than in years past. For more information on available positions, visit bbcamp.org/employment.
Solomon Schechter has focused on retention, competitive wages and ensuring staff understand the life skills they develop at camp – “the emotional paycheck.” In partnership with the Samis Foundation, this year the camp is offering signing, retention and referral bonuses to make jobs more attractive. Check out openings at campschechter.org/about/employment/.
Sephardic Adventure Camp is always competing with other programs for staff and invites those interested to check out sephardicadventurecamp.org/info/join-our-staff/.
Camp Kesher has not seen a staff shortage for this summer.
Duitch says he hopes that this summer will be easier on staff than last year. “Last year, we created a bubble and staff was not able to truly refresh and recharge. We hope with everyone fully vaccinated, staff will be able to go home on session breaks and refresh.”
Options abound for summer camp experience
Portland is lucky to have four Jewish overnight camps nearby. B’nai B’rith Camp turned 100 last year. Camp Solomon Schechter was founded by Portland Rabbi Joshua Stampfer, z”l, in 1954. Each year, Congregation Ahavath Achim encourages families to explore the Sephardic Adventure Camp, the only Sephardic camp in the country. Camp Kesher joined the local camp roster in 2019.
Two other camps attract many area youth: • URJ Camp Kalsman is the Pacific Northwest residence camp affiliated with the Reform movement. Camp Kalsman’s 300 beautiful acres offer a great balance of education and recreation. They incorporate Judaism into many different activities. Campers learn new skills and hone existing ones in athletic, aquatic, artistic and nature programs. campkalsman.org
• Camp Miriam on Gabriola Island in British Columbia is affiliated with Habonim Dror, a movement based on the pillars of progressive labor Zionism, Judaism, socialism, social justice and hagshama (actualization of values). campmiriam.org
Beyond the locally affiliated camps, the Foundation for Jewish Camp lists specialty camps ranging from arts and aquatics to sports and wilderness skills. Search by interest, affiliation, region, grade, dietary restrictions and special needs at jewishcamp.org/one-happy-camper/find-a-camp/. The site also includes information on One Happy Camper grants for first-time campers that are funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
Families also can offset camp costs with an interest-free loan from Jewish Free Loan sponsored by JFGP. For application and more information, visit jewishportland.org/Jewish-free-loan.
B’NAI B’RITH CAMP
bbcamp.org | 503-452-3443 | email@example.com
Campground: Devil’s Lake, near Lincoln City, OR
Newly constructed ADA-accessible heated cabins (with bathrooms), lake activities, zipline, ball field, ropes course, newly constructed gym and amphitheater.
For 100 summers, BB Camp has been a vibrant and inclusive Jewish community, creating immersive experiences for children of all ages and backgrounds. Our intentional programming provides each camper with formative experiences to build on as they develop their own personal Jewish identity. We celebrate our diverse community and work tirelessly to create a balanced schedule of cabin and group activities, daily elective offerings, alternative Shabbat programs and more to ensure that every child makes the most of their camp experience.
Sessions of one, two, three or four weeks run June 28 through Aug. 16, for rising 2nd to 11th graders. Fees range from $950 to $4,000 depending on session length or specialty program. Scholarships and financial aid available.
Covid Mitigation Measures
In alignment with the American Camp Association’s Field Guide, Centers for Disease and Prevention and Oregon Health Authority’s overnight camp guidance and to accommodate Covid-mitigating protocols, BB Camp will continue updating Covid protocols as needed. Protocols include the following: vaccinations will be mandatory for all eligible campers and staff based on the current, up-to-date vaccination recommendations; testing prior to and during camp may be required; nonpharmaceutical interventions will be upheld, including separation between cohorts of campers, as needed, increased time for transitions, frequent handwashing and continuous evaluation of symptoms.
CAMP SOLOMON SCHECHTER
campschechter.org | 206-447-1967
Campground: Tumwater, Wash.
Amenities: 170-acre facility, private lake with dock and aqua park, boat house, art shed, amphitheater, dining hall, infirmary, sports shed, bog and river, full sports fields and ball courts, climbing tower, challenge course, zipline, hiking trails and yurt village.
Camp Solomon Schechter has a 68-year tradition of fun, friendship and Jewish experiential education in the Pacific Northwest. We create a unique, welcoming and spiritual Jewish environment for youth of all denominations entering 1st-12th grades. 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. These benefits last a lifetime. At CSS, 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. At Schechter, Judaism and joy are truly one!
Sessions of one, two or three weeks run from June 26 through Aug. 10. Costs are $1,420 for a one-week rookie session, $2,845 for two weeks and $3,620 for three-week sessions. The one-month Oded session for 11th graders is $4,400.
Covid Mitigation Measures
At CSS, we are guided by Jewish values, including Pikuach Nefesh, to save a life. We take the health and safety of our entire community very seriously. As such, under the advisement of our medical committee and with the support of our Board of Directors, we have expanded our vaccination policy to include the Covid-19 vaccine. Starting in summer 2022, Camp Solomon Schechter will require up-to-date Covid-19 vaccination for all campers, staff and visitors. CSS will adjust our health protocols as we continue to review the latest data and guidance from the department of health. We’re hoping that vaccinated camp communities have the flexibility of running a typical summer camp program without the mitigation tactics they were required to implement last summer. Camp Schechter is also following the American Camp Association’s field guide to implement recommendations provided by the CDC to reduce potential exposures and the spread of Covid.
campkesher.ncsy.org | 503-757-3037
Campground: Camas and Ocean Park, Wash.
Camp Kesher will be located at Camp Lacamas for one week. We will then spend a night of camping and water rafting and continue on to our second location in Ocean Park, Wash. The camp is 2.5 weeks long.
Camp Kesher is an outdoor-focused camp that includes exciting trips and activities, fun Jewish programming and incredible campers. Kids have an amazing time, making friends for life and eventually going with those same friends on TJJ, The Jerusalem Journey, our signature travelling program in Israel. Campers can also return as staff as early as the summer after 10th grade. One doesn’t have to have attended Kesher as a camper to participate as staff.
July 24-Aug. 10 (one session), current 3rd-7th graders are campers, current 8th-9th graders are teen campers, current 10th serve as specialty staff and current 11th and 12th serve as counselors.
Covid Mitigation Measures
We require vaccinations and testing beforehand (may be subject to change).
SEPHARDIC ADVENTURE CAMP
Campground: Cle Elum, WA
Heated pool, kayaking, basketball, hiking, color war, arts and crafts, Sephardic baking, lending library, mountain biking, Sephardic culture, GaGa, trout fishing, soccer and much more.
SAC is a warm, welcoming, modern Orthodox summer camp program, rich in Sephardic culture and located just 75 minutes east of Seattle. We offer fun recreational programming, plus fun experiential Sephardic activities that are unique to our camp. We are open to campers entering 3rd to11th grade. We feature a low camper-to-staff ratio, and our staff includes a certified medical team, outdoor specialists, Sephardic educators and community leaders. Our campers come from a diverse range of Jewish backgrounds and from locations across the nation and beyond.
One session June 22-July 11 for youth entering 3rd - 11th grade. Cost is $2,200-2,800 (scholarship opportunities are available).
Covid Mitigation Measures
We will be announcing our Covid protocol in the next month or two. We ran a safe camp last year for 103 campers.