Sunday, April 1, 2012

The New Zionism: Summer's Dawn

Judaism starts in the Summer - Literally!

Zionism of old may not be the new Zionism of today.

This is not to say that I'm a great fan of the concept of Zionism, but when camps like Young Judaea began getting popular, a new Zionism was born: Israel Consciousness...and this Israel would not be just an idealistic dream, it was now a living breathing entity. How many Jews have been directly influenced by "New Israel" that are in the 20-50  age bracket of today?

In religious circles it may not weigh as heavily as in pluralistic thinking, but Judaism today lives and breathes for Israel, a New Israel; one that is very successful in the World...and just maybe, the brainwashing of summer camps actually worked...for better or for worse.

I have very mixed feelings about Jewish Summer Camps, as I was a product of them, but one can not and should not deny their power and influence over Jewish Youth who are growing up fast into a Jewish Presence in the World.

Professor Arnold Eisen, a scholar of American Judaism and the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, proclaimed, "Nothing I do to build Jewish life, Jewish education, or the Jewish community is more important than getting more kids to Jewish camps."
Those are strong words from the ivory tower and quite the endorsement of Jewish summer camp. But Eisen wasn't the only head of a major Jewish academic institution who lauded Jewish summer camping at the Foundation for Jewish Camp's recent Leaders Assembly. He shared the stage with Richard Joel and Rabbi David Ellenson, the presidents of the Orthodox and Reform academies respectively, who both agreed that the answer to Jewish continuity can be found at summer camp.

All three academicians extolled the virtues of the summer camp experience for young Jewish children who seamlessly go from overnight hiking and canoe trips to Friday evening Shabbat services by the lake. The leaders of Yeshiva University, the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College took turns standing in front of 400 Jewish camping leaders at the FJC gathering -- from camp directors to donors -- to explain how their denomination would help to grow the Jewish camping phenomenon in the coming years. These schools train Jewish educators -- most of whom discovered or strengthened their Jewish identity at summer camp -- and with a $45 million investment from the Jim Joseph Foundation (divided among the three institutions) they will be able to prepare more young people who wish to work in the informal Jewish educational field of Jewish camping.
With over $90 million of philanthropic contributions coming through the FJC since its founding 13 years ago to benefit Jewish camping, it is clear that this is where donors are investing the most capital in what has become known as "Jewish continuity."
Approximately 72,000 Jewish children currently attend a Jewish summer camp. The statistics show that the Jewish summer camp experience has a tremendous effect on children and their Jewish identity. A recent study by the renowned sociologist Steven M. Cohen commissioned by the FJC shows that Jewish campers grow up to be connected to Jewish life and identify proudly within the Jewish community as adults. "The analysis indicates that they bring, first of all, an increased inclination to practice Jewish behaviors in their lives, from Shabbat candle lighting to using Jewish websites, and to appreciate the value of Jewish charity," Cohen concludes in the study. "Secondly, they bring an increased inclination to value and seek out the experience of Jewish community, whether in the immediate sense of joining other Jews in prayer or in the more abstract sense of identifying with fellow Jews in Israel."
Most Jewish summer camps are nonprofits and, historically, have not been able to compete with the lavish facilities and stellar sports programs at the privately owned for-profit camps. But that is changing. Over the past decade the hottest cause for major philanthropists in the Jewish community has been funding the growth of Jewish summer camps, which means seeding new camps and ensuring there are ample need-based scholarships to afford all young Jewish children the ability to experience the magic of camp.
Camp leaders have long recognized that a main reason more young people don't make Jewish camping part of their annual summer experience has been because they choose to focus on one interest like drama or a particular sport and seek out camps that specialize in those activities. FJC has put its attention into funding such specialty camps that concentrate on one main interest category but also infuse the Jewish magic for which Jewish camps have been known. FJC was able to open five new camps in 2010 as a result of the first Specialty Camps Incubator -- based on a business incubator model -- and now the second wave of that program has been launched resulting from the $8.6 million investment by the AVI CHAI Foundation together with the Jim Joseph Foundation.
There seems to be something inherently Jewish about summer camp. Indeed, when Jewish adults gather the conversation inevitably turns to Jewish camp memories filled with nostalgia. When two adult Jews meet for the first time, the game of "Jewish Geography" ensues and "Which camp did you go to?" and "Did you know so-and-so who went to that camp?" are the unavoidable questions.
As Eisen has written about Jewish summer camp, "For once in these kids' lives, Jewishness is not something they are or do off to the side of life, in Hebrew school or synagogue. It is not a subject for debate but simply there, taken for granted, a part of what happens 24/7."
No matter what the activity -- from baseball and boating to crafts and campfires -- the social aspects of Jewish camp all play out in a constant Jewish milieu. The benefits of those summer experiences are reaped over the course of a lifetime for the Jewish individual, and in turn for the Jewish community as well. Spring is upon us and we are now focused on Passover, but thousands of young Jewish children are already counting the days until school vacation and their own exodus to the freedom of another memorable summer at Jewish camp.

Rabbi Jason Miller blogs at and is on Facebook.

For better or worse- Zionism is a part of Judaism today.
[It would have been nice to know the truth of this when I was a kid who was involved in this]

May the State lead to a Messianic Climax soon in our Days; its better than Galus in the Diaspora, unfortunately.


Klishlishi said...

Most Haredi Jews do not hold by Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook's (1865-1935) belief that the irreligious Zionists who built up the State of Israel, by virtue of their zeal and sacrifice for nationalistic goals, were actually unconscious agents of the Divine redemption.

Instead most Haredim hold to the thesis "On the Redemption and its Converse" (1967) of the Satmar Rebbe (Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum 1887-1979), that Zionism is literally demonic in origin (he actually names the demon responsible!), that Zionists violated the oath (Talmud Ketubot 111) that the Jews made to God that they would not force a precipitate pre-Messianic mass Aliyah to Israel, that they provoked the Holocaust by unnecessarily declaring war on Hitler, that they brought about the raising of generations of irreligious Jews, that leaders like Herzl and Ben Gurion were the heresiarchs of modern times, that they caused the expulsion of one million Jews from Arab lands where they had lived for 1000 years, and that they have caused endless wars, terrorism and embroilment in the foreign affairs of the nations.

Most Haredim believe that if the current State of Israel dismantled its statehood and renounced what they view as an overreaching human initiative in a Divine preserve, then the Messiah would appear who would rebuild it on sacred and theocratic rather than demonic and democratic foundations. This is the strongly held opinion of most Haredim, who are set to become the demographic majority of Jews in Israel by 2030!

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