Kids are spending far too much time sitting in front of screens and not enough time outside, and the Marcus JCC aims to fix that with some new additions to its summer camp program.
“We want to put a new emphasis on some of the things we find to be the heart and soul of camp,” said Mackenzie Sherman, who runs Camp Isidore Alterman at the MJCCA. “That means getting back to nature and being outdoors and not being on your iPad and getting to really engage with your peers in a setting that’s not just fun, but challenging.”
Kehillah, which means community in Hebrew, is the name of a new program hour at camp that lets kids have a choice in what they do and who they do it with, within the confines of their age group. It reinforces the idea that campers can truly interact with each other, enhancing their social skills and strengthening their sense of community.
“It’s an intentional period twice a week where kids can select an activity that’s fun for them and speaks to their personality and interests,” Sherman said.
“If you’re a kindergartner, for example, there might be eight different kindergarten groups that are all under the same shelter, or bunk. It’s kind of a breakout from your normal group,” he explained. “If you have a friend who lives in your neighborhood or goes to your school (but is not in your camp group) this is now your opportunity to break out and sit beside your friend and decode which activity you want to do. They can learn something about themselves and their abilities, with their friends.”
Another new program hour at CIA camp is Shuk, modeled after an Israeli market, bringing Israel to camp in a cultural activity. The kids will be given shekels so they can get a snack or some gear, Sherman said, and have “the interaction of a transaction – decision-making, saying please and thanks, ordering what they would like with the guidance of counselors and their peers. We can provide them with not just a transactional experience, but a Jewish cultural one as well.”
CIA will also have the usual, tried-and-true activities such as archery, boating, rock wall climbing, arts and crafts, swimming, fishing, a ropes course, and outdoor cooking.
Aside from CIA, MJCCA specialty camps include sports, performing arts, travel, and several just for teens. There are new themes for Camp Late Nights as well: Color War Night, Club J Night, Group Games, and Movie Night.
“Camp Late Night is really just an extension of the camp day,” Sherman said. “The program runs ‘til 8, with dinner and activities that revolve around a theme that we develop.” Color War Night, for instance, has kids divided into teams and competing in challenges such as relay races and organized sports. “They earn points; it’s goofy, but helps with team-building, communication, and working as a group.”
The Maccabi Color War camp is running during week 10 of summer when the JCC Maccabi Games will be held on site at the JCC. This program will mirror the competitive energy and pride of the Maccabi Games with camp relays and athletic games. Campers will also get to cheer on some of the JCC delegations at various Maccabi competitions. These events will all encompass and promote the JCC Thought for Sport guidelines, bringing ethics and sportsmanship to life through Jewish values, according to Sherman.
Meryl Rindsberg, director of day camps, said the whole premise of the camps this year is about unplugging for the summer and getting back to nature. “It’s really what we’re pushing a lot,” she said. “The staff here and the expertise and longevity they bring to the table is unmatched, really. We want to make sure the summer is a magical experience for these campers.”