New Jewish Specialty Camps: From Idea to Reality

In 2008 the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) launched the Specialty Camps Incubator thanks to a generous grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation.  This innovative new program, modeled after a business incubator, was established to create five new nonprofit Jewish overnight camps dedicated to a specific skill or area of interest while introducing and integrating Jewish culture. One of the goals for the new specialty camps was to attract Jewish teens who were not attending Jewish camp.

The Jim Joseph Foundation engaged Informing Change (formerly called BTW informing change) to design and implement a multi-year evaluation of the program and camps.  The report that resulted is called New Jewish Specialty Camps: From Idea to Reality.  It presents key findings and recommendations from the evaluation.

Read the full report here.

Preliminary Research on Special Needs in Jewish Overnight Camp

The field of Jewish camp has become increasingly aware of and responsive to the numbers of children with special needs and physical disabilities in recent years. As a first step towards initiating field-wide changes in this arena, Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) is engaged in a research project mapping current, potential, and desired services available to children with emotional, intellectual, and physical disabilities at nonprofit Jewish overnight camps across North America

Laszlo Strategies delivered the results of the research (conducted in early 2013), the first of its kind in the Jewish community.  The survey garnered results from 170 camp staff members (from 124 camps), 262 parents, and 141 campers. 

We are pleased to share that the majority of those involved in camp – including staff, campers, and parents - care about this issue and agree that every Jewish child, regardless of a disability or special need, should be able to attend a Jewish camp.  Most involved prefer an inclusion model, with clear recognition that not every camp is able to serve every need and that, in some cases, a separate program might be preferable. 

While the field is making progress in the types and amounts of services offered, there is still more to be done.  Below are the highlights from the survey. The full findings are available at


  • The field of Jewish camp is serving 2340 - 2590 children with special needs - more than originally estimated. 
  • The majority of the special needs population in Jewish camp have neurological disabilities. Few camps are equipped at this time to properly serve children with more significant/complicated disabilities.
  • 43% attend public school, 4% of these children attend Jewish day school, and 24% attend a specialty school for children with disabilities. 43% attend a synagogue based religious school and 47% had attended a Jewish day camp.
  • 93% of parents were satisfied/extremely satisfied with their child’s experience at Jewish overnight camp.


  • 36% of camps offer special programs for this population.
  • 55% of camps have a designated staff member (part time or fulltime) to oversee campers with special needs. This staffer engages with the family during the intake process, selects and trains camp staff, acts as a support during crisis situations, communicates with parents and other outside supports, creates and evaluates individual camper plans.
  • Inclusion camp staffs appear to want the non-inclusion staff and campers to have a better understanding of their population.
  • Parents of special needs campers are extremely satisfied with the way camps are infusing Jewish values/learning for this population of campers.


  • The biggest barriers to serving more children with specials needs are not attitudes or wheelchair ramps– rather lack of training and knowledge followed by funding.
  • 47% of parents report the cost of overnight camp as a barrier.
  • It is not as important as previously thought that siblings attend the same camp. 43% of parents report “it would be nice, but it is more important that they go to the camp that best serves their individual needs.
  • Parents report the  biggest factor in choosing a camp for a child with special needs are: 43% - the camp offers good supports and accommodations for children with a disability like my child 34% - It is a jewish camp where my child can connect to our heritage and community
  • More camps are serving children with disabilities/special needs than are advertising it to the public through their websites and marketing materials. 


FJC is currently creating a plan of action to advance the field of Jewish camp in this arena including convening experts in the field of camping and special needs which will take place in the fall of 2013.  This plan will be revealed in the winter of 2014.Sound research and solid data are required in order to make the informed decisions that will move FJC closer to achieving our goal: increasing the number of children attending nonprofit Jewish overnight camp.

We commission our own research, and we also draw on the wealth of knowledge that Jewish sociologists and researchers have contributed toward our understanding of camp and its long-term effects.

All FJC-commissioned research and a selection of external studies are available for download below. We invite you to learn more, and to share these with your community.


Since 2006, FJC has partnered with communities across North America on the One Happy Camper program to grow enrollment and increase awareness.  Tens of thousands of campers have experienced Jewish overnight camp as a result of this program.  The studies below evaluate the success of the program.

One Happy Camper North American Executive Summary (2014)
This report provides a brief overview of the successes of the OHC program this year and its influence in a family’s decision to choose Jewish overnight camp. 

Here is the full detailed report.

One Happy Camper Retention and Scholarship Study (2012)
This study presents findings from the One Happy Camper (OHC) Retention Study, fielded among 2009 and 2010 OHC recipient families to understand their behavior in terms of returning to camp and scholarship needs.


CAMP WORKS: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp (2011)

Steven M. Cohen, Ron Miller, Ira M. Sheskin and Berna Torr

FJC’s CAMP WORKS provides systematic and quantitative evidence that summers at Jewish camp create adults who are committed to the Jewish community and engaged in Jewish practice. Utilizing the most recent National Jewish Population Survey and 25 local community studies completed between 2000–2008, this report offers the fullest picture to date of the impact of Jewish summer camp.

The influence of summer camp on the ways in which adult Jews choose to engage with the community and the degree to which they associate with other Jews can be felt long after the last sunset of the summer. The impact is striking, especially when compared to their peers who did not spend their summer months at Jewish camp.

Camp attendance increases the likelihood of adult participation and identification in every one of these areas. As adults, campers are:

  • 30% more likely to donate to a Jewish charity;
  • 37% more likely to light Shabbat candles;
  • 45% more likely to attend synagogue monthly or more; and
  • 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel.

Please download the full CAMP WORKS study, and share it with your community.

CAMP WORKS: Statistical Highlights
An Information Visualization of CAMP WORKS

This brochure offers a graphic view of the findings of CAMP WORKS: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp, and folds out into a 12x16” poster.


To ensure that our resources are invested wisely, FJC conducts demographic and regional studies to examine the camping population in a given area and learn more about the preferences and attitudes of Jewish families with camp-aged children.

Jewish Camping in the Philadelphia Area
Prof. Steven M. Cohen, Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, Dr. Minna Wolf

Jewish camps have been demonstrated to exert lasting, long-term influences upon adult Jewish identities. In fact, a mounting research literature testifies to the educational effectiveness of Jewish summer camps. The purpose of this report is to understand how participation in Jewish camping can be further expanded in the greater Philadelphia area.

The study draws on a survey of and interviews with Philadelphia area Jewish parents in order to provide actionable information to better understand the parents and campers who constitute their market. The report addresses the following questions, among others:

  • Which sorts of Jewish families patronize Jewish camps?
  • What are the incentives and the obstacles to Jewish camping? How important is cost as a barrier?
  • How can camps persuade those who have never experienced Jewish camping to consider sending their children?

A Study of Russian Jews and Their Attitudes Towards Overnight Jewish Summer Camp (2010)
Dimitri Liakhovitiski
Commentary by Abby Knopp

One in every six Jews in North America is from a Russian-speaking family. But Jewish communal institutions--including schools, synagogues, and camps--have met with little success in engaging this population in cultural and social activities. We wonder: Why aren’t Russian Jews participating in Jewish institutional life in numbers proportionate to the size of their population?

With the goal of attracting a substantially higher number of children from Russian-speaking families to overnight camp, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, with the support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, commissioned a study of Russian-speaking parents to begin to learn about their attitudes toward camp.  This research also has the added benefit of being the first national survey of Russian-speaking Jewish parents that explores the decisions they are making with respect to Jewish education and recreation for their children, as well as the potential there may be to tip the scales in favor of Jewish choices in the future.

Recruiting Jewish Campers: A Study of the Midwestern Market (Spring 2010)

This study is the third in an ongoing series of market research studies the Foundation for Jewish Camp has commissioned to learn more about parents attitudes and behaviors towards Jewish summer camp. Written by Dr. Steven Cohen and Judith Veinstein, the report provides the field of Jewish camp with a deeper understanding of Midwestern Jewish families and their connection to the Jewish community, particularly exploring intermarried families in which one parent is Jewish and the other is not.  Together, with the analyses of Los Angeles and Toronto parents, this report moves the field closer to a complete picture, illuminating both the particularities and similarities of Jewish parents across North America.

We are grateful to the Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund for their support of this new research.  It will enable camps in the Midwest and beyond to develop the appropriate strategies to reach a broad Jewish audience, increasing the number of Jewish children influenced and shaped by summers at Jewish camp.

Jewish Overnight Camps: A Study of the Greater Toronto Area Market (Spring 2009)

This study was conducted by FJC in partnership with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, an organization dedicated to improving access to and attendance at Jewish summer camps. Lead researcher and preeminent North American Jewish sociologist Dr. Steven M. Cohen and co-author Judith Veinstein revealed the needs and consumer practices of the Jewish parents in the Greater Toronto area. While almost one-in-four Jewish camper-aged children in the Toronto area attended a Jewish summer camp in summer 2008, many parents are concerned with the cost of camp, and those unconcerned with cost tend to believe that non-sectarian camps can provide their children with higher-quality activities and facilities.

This research will enable the camps in and around Toronto, as well as across North America, to develop the appropriate strategies to better reach their audience and thereby increase the number of Jewish children influenced and shaped by summers at Jewish camp.

Jewish Overnight Camps in Southern California (Fall 2007)

Due to the generosity of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, FJC conducted a market study of the Jewish community in Greater Los Angeles. This study, led by Dr. Steven M. Cohen, investigated motivating factors behind parents' decisions to send their children to Jewish summer camp. This important first study continues to serve as a template for how FJC conducts community-based studies.



Generation of Change: How Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties are Reshaping American Jewish Life (September 2010)
Jack Wertheimer

This study examines the identities and attitudes of today’s young cohort of leaders, and explains the effect of their childhood involvement in Jewish activities on their adult leadership behavior. A whopping 71 percent of young leaders surveyed attended Jewish summer camp, as the study explains: “The rates of participation by these leaders in Jewish summer camps, youth movements, Hillel, and other forms of Jewish education are extraordinarily high, suggesting that many of the young leaders were groomed rather than having bloomed on their own.” Clearly, the potential of raising leaders at Jewish camp is enormous, and we look forward to helping camps harness this potential.

How Goodly Are Thy Tents: Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences
Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe

An entertaining ethnographic study of how Jewish summer camps foster Jewish sensibilities and education. Written for social scientists, educators, community professionals and lay leaders concerned with informal education, camping, children, ethnicity, and religion, this book will be of special interest to those interested in how culture and traditions are passed on to the next generation.

Read more about this book or order copies.

Research Findings on the Impact of Camp Ramah
A Companion Study to the 2004 "Eight Up" Report
Dr. Ariela Keysar and Dr. Barry A. Kosmin

Read a summary or the full report.