Embracing Jewish Identity, Learning to Lead: The Lifelong Benefits of Working at Summer Camp

February 5, 2024Rachel B. Handloff

The recent rise in antisemitism on college campuses has sparked concerns among students, parents, and communities. As the challenges faced by Jewish students navigating higher education persist, there is a growing need for safe spaces that celebrate Jewish identity and foster a sense of belonging. A supportive Jewish environment offers an opportunity for personal and professional growth while counteracting intolerance. URJ camps provide a respite from the challenges of college life, offer a warm and affirming Jewish community, and allow students to cultivate skills they can use in their future careers.

Summer camp provides many opportunities to build valuable competencies. For instance, a cabin counselor gains experience in managing others (campers) and collaborating with teammates (co-counselors). Students who choose to work on the media team build their expertise in digital marketing, photography, videography, and blog posting. Young people who aspire to join the medical field can hone their skills by assisting at the health center, gaining experience by caring for sick and injured campers.

Jewish summer camps are known for creating close-knit communities that value inclusivity and camaraderie. College-age students who choose to work at these camps become part of a community that shares common values, traditions, and pride in their Jewish identities. The environment promotes a deep sense of belonging and connection, making it an ideal space for personal growth.

Counselors work side by side, helping children celebrate joyful moments and encouraging them as they face challenges. Working with co-counselors while celebrating and supporting campers creates cherished memories for everyone involved!

Open dialogue is crucial in today's world; Jewish summer camps provide a safe space for campers and staff to express their thoughts freely, having meaningful conversations about Jewish culture, history, and current events within a supportive community. This free exchange of ideas encourages critical thinking and furthers a greater understanding of diverse perspectives, both valuable skills to have while on a college campus.

Working at a Jewish summer camp allows staff to celebrate their Jewish identities while helping campers discover their own Jewish pride. The camp environment encourages everyone to be proud of their heritage, leading to increased self-confidence and empowerment. This confidence, coupled with enhanced skills and new knowledge, follows students when they return to campus. Working at a Jewish summer camp can prepare college students for their future careers. Camp roles often require leadership, communication, and teamwork skills - all of which are highly valued by employers. Working on a camper care team, facilitating cabin activities, organizing evening programs, and staffing overnight outdoor adventures can all elevate one's sense of self, not to mention a resume. URJ camp counselors develop these skills in a dynamic, challenging environment. The shared experiences, traditions, and memories created during the summer create lifelong friendships and connections with like-minded individuals, which can contribute to a more expansive world view and open doors to future opportunities.

Working at a Jewish summer camp transcends a typical summer job. It is a deliberate choice to counteract the rise in antisemitism by supporting havens of warmth and acceptance surrounding Jewish identity. URJ camps nurture personal growth, foster connections, and instill a deep sense of pride. This experience not only has the potential to shape future endeavors, but also serves to build resilience and unity in the face of adversity - creating spaces where Jewish college students can thrive and embrace their identity.


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