Similar to most, the summers of my childhood were spent in some sort of a camp, but never a Jewish camp. I wonder if I would be any different than I am today. Would I be more religious? Would I seek to marry a Jewish partner? Based on the findings of a Pew Research Center Report, 38% of Jews surveyed have attended a Jewish camp in their childhood. This specific statistic is not separated by age like some of the others in the report; however, almost half of the respondents were between the ages of 18 and 49.
There is only so much these numbers can tell us so I went straight to the source and interviewed members of the OC Jewish community. All reflected positively on their memories of camp life. Shira Menter started attending a Jewish camp at the age of 11. The camp not only taught the importance of social justice and equality, but also gave her a stronger sense of her Jewish identity and strengthened her bonds within the community. Though she speaks highly of her experience, one disadvantage is that spending a summer away kept her from making connections at home. For others who participated in camp life, this caused them to create two identities: one with their jewish friends and one with their non-Jewish friends. Josh Friedman, who was involved in camp life for nearly fifteen years, expresses similar beliefs as Shira and states that Jews who attended camp as children will be more likely to seek out similar experiences in college and later on in life.
It’s unclear if experiencing Jewish camp as children leads to seeking out Jewish partners. The numbers from the Pew report, however, show that six out of ten Jews who responded to the survey married a non-Jewish spouse between the years of 2000-2013. Intermarriage continues to become increasingly prevalent among Jews today. Based off of the experiences that were shared with me, it seems that the more you participate within the community, the more inclined you will be to find a Jewish partner, but that does not mean that non-Jewish partners are completely discounted.
Many factors contribute to how we choose our partners and also how we shape our Jewish identities. Participation in Jewish summer programs aids in strengthening children’s identities and encourages them to pursue similar experiences as they get older, but it may prevent children from developing meaningful relationships back home. If I had spent my summers in Jewish camp, I think I would be more involved than I am now within the community. At the same time, I believe we choose how to shape our identities. How we were raised may influence those choices but does not determine them.
Dvorah Lewis is a contributing writer.