(lubavitch.com) Bonfires at overnight camps throughout the country will have spare marshmallows and graham crackers this summer. Day camps are scrounging for campers and parents are searching for scholarships.
Welcome to the summer of the recession.
As many camps are witness to a drop in registration and a hike in financial aid requests, Chabad camps around the world are presenting creative ways to ensure their camps’ appeal, and affordability.
“A parent called me this week and told me that her daughter was registered at a church camp because they had given her a full scholarship,” recounts Rabbi Hertzie Richler. “She lost her job four months ago and as a single parent there was no way she could afford camp tuition. I arranged for a substantial scholarship, told her to send whatever she could, and enrolled her child for three weeks of camp. I just received a $100 check from her.”
Richler is director of Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, an overnight camp for 200 public school children affiliated with their local Chabad houses. Overlooking the San Bernardino National Forest, the campsite is 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Its impressive facilities and program are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Though Richler says the camp is not planning to downsize in any way (“it will be as fun as it has always been”), he admits that today’s playing field is inherently more complicated. “People are not giving like they used to,” he says, “and requests for scholarships are up.”
Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, director of Chabad of California, provides a significant amount of scholarships. The camp is also a recipient of up to $1800 per child from the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s JWest Campership Program.
According to Jerry Silverman, CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp, Jewish summer opportunities are not doing as badly as their sports or theater counterparts. “Based on current data, nonprofit Jewish overnight camps will maintain a flat enrollment overall for summer 2009 vs. summer 2008 despite the struggling economy,” he says. “This is a terrific accomplishment driven by the outstanding work camps have done in working closely with all of their families.”
The Foundation funds 65,000 Jewish campers annually because, “there is no doubt—as both statistical and anecdotal evidence confirm — that nonprofit Jewish overnight summer camp is a transformative experience. Camp’s 24/7 environment offers a unique and magical setting, allowing campers and staff alike to “live Jewishly.”
Approximately 90 percent of the teenage girls attending this summer’s Un-Camp operated by Bais Chana are attending on scholarship. A considerable amount of those funds are coming from the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Campers are also benefiting from a trust established in memory of Charlotte Rohr, by her two daughters, Evelyn Katz and Lillian Tabacinic. As more and more monetary requests flow in, longtime director Hinda Leah Sharfstein continues to service each of them, believing that the program is vital.
“The Un-camp is different from most summer programs; it is not just fun and games,” Sharfstein says. “Within the next few years, these girls will start making the most important decisions of their lives, including who they will marry and their relationship to the Jewish community.” The program, complete with answers to tough questions (“What does the Torah say about abortion,” or “What if I feel guilty?”), combines community service options, intense classes, and sports. Sharfstein says that this age group is the most crucial sector her organization serves.
For 120,000 younger children, Gan Israel day camps in 40 countries offer meaningful summer fun. Camp Gan Israel of the North Shore, in Swampscott, Massachusetts, is combating the economy with 15 percent discounts for its campers. Surprisingly, registration is up 25 percent this year. Rabbi Yossi Lipsker says that directors and counselors have “captured the spirit of overnight camp, bottled it, and imported it for the kids of the North Shore.”
Camp, says Lipsker, is even more effective than Hebrew school, which is only for two afternoons a week. “Gan Israel is an upbeat, Jewish environment from morning to late afternoon,” he says. “It creates a real sense of Jewish community.”
“Even if a parent calls me with zero money, I can’t not accept his child,” concludes Richler in California. “This could be the child’s only Jewish experience for his life.”
Whether at overnight or day camp, there is a place by the Gan Israel campfire for every Jewish child. And a s’more as well.