Young Judaea brings ‘big-tent Judaism’ to local youth

Young Judaea brings ‘big-tent Judaism’ to local youth

Young Judaea offers a popular summer camp, but its leaders also work to connect young Jewish Pittsburghers throughout the year.

Pittsburghers at Camp Young Judaea Midwest (Photo courtesy of Camp Young Judaea Midwest)
Pittsburghers at Camp Young Judaea Midwest (Photo courtesy of Camp Young Judaea Midwest)

Pittsburgher Chaim Steinberg — a teacher at Community Day School and city coordinator for Pittsburgh Young Judaea — didn’t attend Jewish day camps as a child. He didn’t have a lot of “Jewish experiences” growing up.

But, in his senior year of high school, he started working at the Emma Kaufmann Camp, or EKC, in Morgantown, West Virginia. The job, which lasted for six full summers, introduced him to the mother of his children and led him to become a Jewish educator.

His mission at the Pittsburgh chapter of Young Judaea is simple, he told the Chronicle.

“I want to create a more complex and nuanced interaction with Judaism and the practice of Judaism,” Steinberg said. “Young Judaea does pluralism really, really effectively — there seems to be a space for all [forms of Judaism and Jewishness], and that’s an exciting thing to see.”

Young Judaea is seeking campers for its summer sessions in central Wisconsin. There, participants take part in activities centered around Jewish values and Zionism at an 80-acre lakefront facility about three hours north of Chicago.

Camp Young Judaea Midwest has served campers since 1969 — and there’s a loyal contingent of Pittsburghers who attend year in and year out.

“We focus on an individualized approach while teaching campers to work in a group setting that fosters mutual respect, friendship, leadership and development,” Camp Director Hannah Wallick said. “Our pluralistic approach allows campers and staff to learn, grow and play together and to encourage them to make informed choices about their Judaism and connection to Israel.

“With the help of the CYJ community,” she added, “camp is a place where kids can be the best version of themselves.”

Steinberg’s children go to Camp Young Judaea Midwest in the summer. So does Merav Amos’ youngest daughter, who also attends Community Day School.

“She started going three years ago — we started when it was still in the middle of COVID,” Amos said. “This is a great camp. It’s a small camp. It’s intimate. The counselors know every kid.”

At Camp Young Judaea Midwest, there are about 150 kids in all.

The bonds they form there are strong, Amos said. Her daughter recently trekked to Chicago for the bat mitzvah of a fellow camper. She was accompanied by other Pittsburghers who go to the camp every summer.

“They come with friends, and they make new friends,” Amos said. “It’s beautiful — it’s a wonderful camp.”

Young Judaea also works to connect young Jewish Pittsburghers throughout the year. Between camp sessions, the group sponsors various events and activities. To paraphrase Steinberg, though, it’s not Jewish teens hanging out. It’s teens hanging out Jewishly.

The group had a Chanukah celebration with a local women’s organization, blurring the line between tzedakah, service and ceremony. Young Judea members recently volunteered at a food bank. And they enjoy talking Jewishness and baseball and attending Pittsburgh Pirate games.

A child does not need to be a camper to take part in the year-round activities with the group, Steinberg said.

“I like how Young Judaea has incorporated Judaism into all the little places,” Steinberg said. “There is an acceptance of everybody here — Judaism can and should be like a great, big umbrella.”

Barbara Baumann, a Pittsburgh parent and president of the board of directors for Camp Young Judea Midwest in Wisconsin, said she thinks of Camp Young Judea as “being pluralistic both in regard to religious practice and Zionism.”

“It’s big-tent Judaism,’ is the way people say it now,” she said. “We want to include everybody’s practices and what it takes to make sure everyone can be comfortable.” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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