April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Camp Shalom: Making Strides in the Jewish Camping Experience

While Jewish day schools provide children with academic growth, religious values, and emotional development, there is something special that the Jewish camp experience offers. A sense of spirituality. Of connection. Of intense relationship building. It’s a place where kids have a chance to connect with nature, to explore their own creativity, to shine on the sports-field. They can learn about Torah, Parsha, and biblical characters without a test looming. This is why Camp Shalom believes that a positive summer experience is not a luxury, but a necessity for all Jewish children, and has taken major strides to extend this opportunity to a wider percentage of the Jewish community.

 

The camp has a unique philosophy: that prayer, Torah, and practicing good midot are not strictly reserved for the school year. The summer should also have those pillars, built into the framework of creativity, sports, and “fun.” Camp is a time to grow socially, to blossom while supervised under structured activities. Shalom hires all of its head staff with a background in education, who then offer guidance to the counselors in their leadership skills. This helps facilitate proper social development in the campers.

The camp has been open for more than 40 years, and while it was a function of the former Clifton/Passaic Y, in its later years, it was on the verge of closing. Rabbi Yehoshua Gold was hired to run the camp seven years ago, and has grown the enrollment from 75 children to approximately 700 today. When the Y shut its doors last year, Camp Shalom found new space in the former Ma-Tov campus, and had its inaugural summer on the sprawling grounds in Old Tappan, NJ.

During the year, Rabbi Gold is the Director of Student Activities for the Maor High School, a division of SINAI Schools in Livingston, NJ, and when school ends, he jumps right into the camp, investing all of his energy into its success. Said Rabbi Gold, “I love going home every day and knowing that I can make a difference in the lives of children.” The rabbi works together with a camp administration and board who aim to continue to make the camp experience one that is widely affordable to all.

“Camp Shalom’s rates are 20-30 percent less than other similar camps in the area, without having to skimp on activities or facilities,” said Yosef Levine, camp board member. “We hope to continue to maintain that.”  The camp is run as a non-profit, and offers scholarships when available. Due to limited scholarship funds, the camp cannot offer all the help needed within the community to allow every child to attend. Therefore, they are also trying to create new means to raise extra funds to help other children attend camp.

“Some camps make a box and throw the kids in it. At Shalom, we create many boxes, and the children can find the right place to fit,” Levine said, emphasizing that the camp has several different specialists who teach courses in 20 different types of crafts, sports, and drama activities, and the kids are offered this variety. The camp also employs over 250 staff members, many of whom have been working together for several years. The continuity of counselors and specialists, and low-turnover rate in employees adds to the unique sense of dedication that can be seen across the board.  The camp is for children ages 3-14, but also boasts a free Counselor-in-Training program, which allows for former Shalom campers as well as any incoming 9th graders to train to become educated staff members.

Camp Shalom is currently one of the largest stand-alone not-for-profit camps in the New York/ New Jersey Metro area, and just announced plans to partner with the sleep-away camps Dora Golding and Dina. It will act as a feeder, and children will have the option of visiting and experiencing the sleep-away environment, preparing them for the full summer sleep-away experience.

But the bigger, long-term plan is to purchase new land and create a full-service, modern facility, with an indoor-gym, outdoor courts, a pool, and a shul. There will also be cabins to help maximize the opportunities for the community. Camp Shalom hopes to create a board of members to manage this project, and Levine and Gold envision that the campus will be a usable space for the greater community to host shabbatonim, weekends away, school retreats, and other programs, both large and small.

All the arrows are pointing the right way for this camp. The combined efforts and the talents of many individuals have come together to enable this camp to grow exponentially in the past few years. Says Rabbi Gold, “I want people to think of Camp Shalom as a community organization.” The endless dedication has paid off, and as the camp continues to build on itself, the entire community will be able reap the benefits. For more information, please visit the camp’s website, www.CampShalomNJ.org.

Sarah I. Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck.  She is working on her first book.  To read her essays, please visit www.writersblackout.wordpress.com.

By Sarah I. Abenaim

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