Constructs: Building Knowledge of Contemporary Jewry
April 2011
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Dear Friends,

Amy L. Sales

Amy L. Sales


A remarkable thing has happened. In just a few short years, Jewish summer camp went from an unrecognized field of practice into one of the most vibrant, well-financed, and exciting arenas for Jewish education. It is rare to see a field of practice emerge so rapidly and successfully, and we are pleased to be the investigators of this phenomenon.


In 2000, with funding from The AVI CHAI Foundation, we conducted a seminal study of Jewish overnight camps. (See Limud by the Lake and How Goodly Are Thy Tents.) Eight years later, the Foundation asked us to revisit the camps from the original study in order to document changes and uncover opportunities for future investment. We eagerly delved into gathering data at these camps and at seven others added to round out the sample.


In some regard, the camps were as we had left them, but in other respects they were stunningly changed institutions. We noted, for example, a new emphasis on fundraising, extensive upgrades to facilities, more elaborated staffing structures, and evidence of stronger Judaic programming. Efforts were underway to expand the reach of camp through millions of dollars in incentive grants as well as a national effort to incubate new camps.


Limud by the Lake Revisited gives a sense of the dynamism of the field of Jewish summer camp and its significant accomplishments. At the same time, the report exposes needs, raises questions, and suggests possibilities for the future. We hope this research will help sustain the remarkable momentum in the field.


Amy L. Sales

Associate Director, Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

Director, Fisher-Bernstein Institute for Jewish Philanthropy and Leadership

Limud by the Lake Revisited: 

Limud by the Lake Revisited

Growth and Change at Jewish Summer Camp

Amy L. Sales

Nicole Samuel

and Matthew Boxer

Read the report

Among Study Features: 

  • Field observations at 22 Jewish overnight camps.
  • Interviews with nearly 500 informants at all levels in the camp system-executive directors, directors, assistant directors, unit heads, specialists, bunk counselors, and shlichim (Israeli emissaries).
  • Two surveys of staff at 20 of the camps in our sample, the first administered at the beginning of the 2008 camp season and the second the following spring. 
  • A survey of 4,100 families with children at these camps.
  • A survey of 423 families with a child of camp age who has never been to a Jewish overnight camp.
  • An analysis of data from the Foundation for Jewish Camp's 2008 census of the field. 
  • A re-analysis of data from 2008 applicants to Taglit-Birthright Israel, both those who had been to a Jewish summer camp and those who had not.

Among Study Findings:

  • In many regards, the campers in our study are Jewish "elites." A majority are receiving Jewish education during the school year and have a connection to Israel. Their parents are members of a congregation and are themselves products of Jewish education.
  •  Most parents say that the camp is more Jewishly observant than their home. The decision to send the child back the following summer is not influenced by the camp's level of observance but by whether or not this level of observance is what they want for their child.
  • Two-thirds of the staff have a strong connection to Jewish traditions and customs and to Israel, far greater than the percentage among the broader population.
  • The Jewish young adults who work at camp place highest value on their friendships and their intellectual lives. Lowest ratings go to physical fitness and social activism.
  • For the Israelis, the strongest feelings evoked by camp are a sense of pride in being Israeli, serving their country, and being Jewish. Indeed, 86% said that their summer at camp "very much" made them feel proud to be Israeli.
Constructs is the e-newsletter of Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Steinhardt Social Research Institute, and Fisher-Bernstein Institute.


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