This is the first year our interfaith kids are going to a Jewish summer camp. I’m Catholic, and my husband is a pretty secular, though not entirely without faith, Israeli. Our house is a fluid mix of both traditions, and we have a good time being both. I go to church alone occasionally, and my kids join me on Easter and Christmas. We are not members of synagogue, but are regulars at our local JCC and do some holiday observance there.
Our kids are getting older, 8 and 10, and my husband is worried that they are lacking in Jewish education and decided that this was the time for them to learn. That’s why they are going to a Jewish day camp. I agreed, partially because it will be good for them and also because I didn’t think it was my place to say no. But I am also worried about how they will fit in. This camp is one of the more inclusive ones, but still I have to imagine they will feel like outsiders, at least in the beginning. How can I prepare them for this experience?
You’ve Got Some Questions to Ask
JODI BROMBERG: Take a three-pronged approach.
First, think about why you’re sending them to Jewish day camp. What do you hope they’ll learn? Is it religious? Cultural? A sense of peoplehood or community? Specifically, think about what it means to be “both.” How do you want your kids to identify? Do you mean that you’ll be practicing two religions, or educating your children in both, or that you have a desire to expose your kids to your religion while educating them predominantly Jewish? The clearer you and your husband can be about your own goals, the better. How will you reinforce those values at home?
Second, you should talk with camp leaders, and ask lots of questions. It sounds like you’ve done your homework. But if you haven’t already, consider asking: Do you welcome children of interfaith families? What percentage of interfaith campers and counselors are at your camp? Does the camp have a definition of who is considered Jewish and who is not? How is that communicated to staff and campers? What training do staff get on working with interfaith families? What will the camp do to ensure that your children are welcomed? How will it communicate what they are learning each week, so you can talk with them about it?
Third, talk with your kids about why you’re excited to send them to camp, and keep your ears open to what they’re experiencing there. As a Jewish camp alum, I’m a big fan! My kids are younger than yours, so they’re not off to camp yet, but the thing I most remember is the joy I felt in being there. From Shabbat or Havdalah with hundreds of my closest friends to lively song sessions, it was fun and easy, and gave me context and meaning for Jewish life. At the end of each summer, I’d sob in the car ride back to New Jersey, heartbroken to be leaving camp. Now, I know your kids are at day camp, not sleep-away (yet?) but I hope for them an experience as meaningful and life-changing as mine.
Jodi Bromberg is CEO of 18Doors