Choosing Jewish Camp
Among our four kids, only one is a product of Jewish camp. When the older three were of camp age, they were enrolled in a Jewish day school and we chose a secular camp for its diversity and the opportunity to broaden their circle of friends. For a series of reasons, we shifted course to public school but by then they loved their summer camps. When I joined JCC Chicago, seven years ago, the baby of the family was in second grade and I recognized an opportunity to shift course.
We decided to send our youngest, Charlie, to ‘Z’ Frank Apachi Day Camp that summer and then off to try his hand at overnight camp for Camp Chi’s four-day Try Chi experience. In the midst of planning a special Chi event to honor long-time Camp Chi Director Ron Levin’s 36th anniversary, I got to know the Camp Chi team and a beautiful group of alumni. Learning about the community from the inside, I had every confidence that Charlie was in the very best hands.
That summer, Charlie frequently came home with Apachi stories about new camp friends, that week’s Shabbat celebration, or something new he really loved checking out at camp. I knew that we made the right decision and was more so reassured when Charlie stepped off the bus from Chi—his very first words to me were, “I want to go back next summer for four weeks.” He did, and then chose to attend for eight weeks, and a full summer ever since. While missing the summer of 2020 broke his Chi heart, knowing he’s headed home come June is everything.
Choosing Jewish camp for Charlie made me realize what not choosing Jewish camp has meant for our older kids. Charlie has a strong Jewish identity, fostered by Shuk and Shabbat, services and song session, and a pure love of being part of his Jewish camp community. Not sending Charlie’s brothers and sisters to Jewish camp stands out as one of our biggest regrets as parents.
And I have good company in this space. One of our JCC Chicago team members recently shared a similar sentiment with me:
A couple weeks ago, I was on my morning run which took me past ‘Z’ Frank Apachi. As I approached the sign on Landwehr Rd., all that was running through my mind was what a great experience Apachi would have been for both of my children…. Had I known then what I know now, we would have rearranged our financial priorities to ensure our children were exposed and enrolled in [JCC Early Childhood] and Apachi Day Camp. The JCC child and family programs could have relieved some of the strain of the feeling of being a ‘Jewish island.’
I’m familiar with that island and what I have learned is that it’s not too late. My colleague now sends her son to Camp Chi and it’s been a true gift for him and their family. As for my family, the older kids found their way to Apachi and Chi as counselors and lifeguards and often express how much they wished they had joined these beautiful Jewish communities earlier. Indeed, there is something so special about being in an environment where Jewish identity is not only recognized but celebrated and nourished.
Come summer, Charlie and I will be at the Camp Chi bus stop with the biggest smiles and fullest hearts. We will be surrounded by families and campers who share those same feelings along with immense excitement to be part of Camp Chi’s 100th summer. Heading home, I may just stop off at Apachi to check out the new outdoor adventure specialty my son helped create. From Camp Chi ‘magic’ to the ‘Best Place Under the Sun,’ how very lucky we all are to have found Jewish camp.
President & CEO of JCC Chicago