Jewish summer sleep-away camp is meaningful in many ways to Jewish teens. It’s a place for them to get away from the stresses of home and school, meet new friends and serve as a holy place to connect with God. Notably, since prayer at camp greatly differs from services at a local synagogue, it can strengthen a teen’s connections to Judaism.
Many campers believe this to be true, saying that camp services have a special spirit and energy.
“Camp services are fun, really energetic, and always try to get everyone interested in services. Services at home are more focused on praying, and generally not as energetic as camp services,” said Sam Opinsky, a sophomore at Parkway Central High School who attended Camp Sabra this past summer.
Other teens credit the people at camp for making services there unique. At home, while a synagogue may still be a community, the camp community may hold deeper bonds since it not only is smaller, but also offers a “family atmosphere” where everyone is accepted.
“[GUCI] services are all about the people there, and friends, counselors, and service leaders singing along really helps make you feel like you belong,” said David Fox, a sophomore at Whitfield School and camper at Camp GUCI in Zionsville, Ind. “At home, services are about the prayers… but I often find myself getting more distracted at home.”
Camp also allows for nontraditional ways of prayer that home services often do not.
“For Friday night services at camp, everyone gathers at the lake,” said Ellior Rose, a sophomore at Whitfield and Camp Ramah camper. “We all sit on benches in an octagon shape facing inward. This is different than services at home since typical services are much smaller and contained inside a building.”
At some camps, campers get an opportunity to share their thoughts on prayer with the rest of the group.
“The experience of writing my own service part is definitely the most meaningful experience with prayer I’ve ever had,” said Fox. “I don’t really think there’s any time I’ve felt that way praying at home except for my bar mitzvah.”
Perhaps what separates camp services most from traditional services are the distinct songs heard at camp.
“The different tunes are special because I only sing them at camp and it’s with a community of people who know the tune just as well as I do so we can all sing loud and proud together,” said Rose.
For a variety of reasons, many Jewish young people not only prefer services at camp, but they also find them more meaningful than services at home.
“Camp services are just really different and special,” said Opinsky.