Longer days and warmer temperatures mean only one thing for a subset of Pittsburgh Jewish professionals: Summer camp is coming. And with buses set to roll and swimming pools ready to be filled, there’s plenty to be excited about.
At Camp Gan Israel, plans are underway to make summer 2022 memorable for campers, said Rabbi Elchonon Friedman, who helps run the camp. He’s especially looking forward to the return to “normal.”
Gan Israel, like other camps, spent the past two years balancing COVID concerns with children’s programming. That meant the cancellation of several trips and activities due to risks of viral spread, Friedman said.
Gan Israel will remain cognizant of health and safety this summer, Friedman said, but he’s excited for campers to enjoy previously canceled programs and to resume more typical social interactions.
“One of the most important things in life is being able to interact with others, to have patience, to create friendships — these are the basic building blocks of life,” he said. The last two years of social distancing brought with them a reduction in peer-to-peer instruction. At summer camp, kids “go through a learning curve of how to deal with others.”
This summer, especially, should be a reminder of why camp and its various experiences are critical, Friedman continued: “They teach us how to be a mensch.”
Rachael Speck, day camp director for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, said she’s looking forward to welcoming back programming “that’s been missing for the past two summers.”
Whether it’s gathering as an entire camp for Shabbat or flagpole, going on field trips or even just carefree mingling, “we’re excited to get back to all of that.”
As for what’s new this year, Speck said that the JCC is increasing its inclusion efforts.
During the past three years, the JCC — through its summer camps and after-school programming — has worked with Connection Counseling & Consultation Inc., a local agency that provides services to children and adults who might be categorized as neurodiverse. This summer, CC&C representatives will be on-site daily at J&R Day Camp and South Hills Day Camp, Speck said.
By offering a continuous presence at camp and helping more than 800 campers with various emotional and mental health needs, CC&C professionals can ensure every child has a positive and successful summer, Speck said.
Along with increasing its commitment to inclusion, the JCC is enhancing its property.
Speck pointed to planned renovations of the locker rooms and amphitheater space at Henry Kaufmann Family Park in Monroeville and said that by improving outdoor areas, like the amphitheater, not only will there be more shaded space for campers but a spot to welcome families for Shabbat or Havdalah-related programming.
Rabbi Sam Weinberg, of Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, said he, too, is excited for campers and families to experience the benefits of summer camp.
“After the past two years, it’s no small thing to say that we’re excited to go on trips again,” he said.
While Camp Hillel plans to treat participants to a host of great regional outings, Weinberg said he’s especially excited for campers and staff to receive uniquely designed summer 2022 gear.
“We’re getting cool bags,” he said. “I’m not sure if they’ll be drawstring, but they’ll have two-to-three fonts, at least, and some surprising colors.”
Many people don’t realize what camp gear represents, Weinberg continued. “The summer is about surprises, untapped potential and overflowing ambition. Nothing better embodies that than a really cool bag you get from your summer camp.”
Camp Hillel will visit Kennywood, nearby parks and other places that were harder to visit the past two years. But what’s really exciting, Weinberg said, is the thought of seeing so many campers smile when they see everything that’s been ordered for the summer. “We’re getting T-shirts, bags, even gray hoodies,” he said. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.