This post originally appeared on RJ.org
Recent studies confirm what we’ve known for years: Jewish summer camp significantly impacts lifelong Jewish behavior. Below are some ideas for ways that you can help your congregants and campers integrate their experiences:
1. Send Them a Postcard
Although we live in an internet age, there is nothing better than receiving at letter at camp and knowing you’re being thought of. A postcard can be sent from clergy and/or the Temple board. Building a relationship with the camper makes them fell welcomed by the larger community.
2. Have a Pre and Post Camp Session
Welcome campers and their families for a pre and post camp session. Give them a chance to build their excitement as well as express and new-camper jitters and reassure them their choice is a good one and celebrate their accomplishments!
3. Organize a Send-off party
More and more temples or groups of camp parents from a congregation (or a few neighboring congregations) are staging send-off parties. These could be backyard barbecues or a get-together for camp-bound kids and parents after temple services. No matter what form they take, these events help first-time parents and campers meet their peers prior to boarding the camp bus; as such, it often provides a welcome confidence boost. (Hint: Take photos and send them to the local newspaper and the temple bulletin/newsletter.)
4. Host an event for camper parents and send a congregational care package – While campers are at camp, host an event for parents! Have each family bring a small item that’s fun for a camp care package (enough units for the number of campers at camp from your synagogue). Parents schmooze and assemble care packages for all the campers from the congregation, and all the kids from your congregation will feel great when they get a care package from their synagogue!
5. Arrange a Camp Visit
Organize a group of prospective campers and camp families to visit camp and see it in action. Current campers love to show their friends around as well as see friendly faces from their home communities.
6. Welcome Them Back and Let Them Share with the Congregation!
Set up a time for the youth to talk about camp! Give them a few minutes to share, ask them to participate in services, have them share their experience with younger youth in Religious school, or let them lead a whole camp-style service! Welcome older campers to be madrichim in your religious school.
7. Share camper letters with the Congregation – Include letters from campers about their summer experiences in your temple bulletin, email newsletter and on your website.
8. Leverage Local Counselors
If you are fortunate to have URJ Camp counselors in your temple or community, they can prove to be very persuasive salespeople. They are the role models that parents want their children to emulate — and they have tremendous credibility with younger kids, who naturally look up to them. Ask your camp director or assistant director to provide you with a list of camp staff in your area and contact information so that you can tap into this powerful (yet often under-utilized) resource.
9. Recognize those who are going to camp
Find a prominent place in your Temple and place a photo of each youth going to camp on the wall. Place their photos and bios in your e-newsletters and on your websites. Celebrate their choice.
10. Have the Campers Make an Outreach Plan for Your Congregation
Encourage them to look around at your congregation’s neighborhood and come up with some ideas for ways to reach out. You may be surprised at the result!