What the Camp Study Was Really About

Our blog post, Why Intermarrieds Stay Away, on Steven M. Cohen’s new theory that the Jewish community is plenty welcoming of interfaith families, attracted many very thoughtful comments. I mentioned that this new theory was revealed in a study done for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, but until recently hadn’t had a chance to look at the study itself.

It’s a shame that all of the publicity seems to have focused on Cohen’s new theory, because the study – Recruiting Jewish Campers: A Study of the Midwestern Market — wasn’t about that issue at all. The Foundation for Jewish Camp had partnered with the Jack & Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund on an initiative to provide camps with the market research, marketing consultation, and training tools to enable them to reach new families. The preface of the study, which was the result of the market research, states that “enormous opportunity exists to engage a much larger number of Jewish children and teens. Particularly important is the opportunity to engage the children of mixed married families.” One of the specific goals of the research was to address this question: “How can Jewish camps reach out to Jewishly unengaged families and those mixed married who are raising their children as Jews in some way? How should their messaging and communication change for the same purpose?”

There is a lot of interesting discussion in the study. I was particularly glad to see the recognition “that if you want to predict whether a family will send their child to a Jewish camp, you’re better off knowing about how involved they and their children are in Jewish life. Once you know that, it won’t help much, if at all, to learn whether they happen to be an in-married or mixed  married family.” I’ve argued with Steven Cohen for years that instead of reporting on the Jewish behaviors of all intermarrieds as compared to all in-marrieds, it would be more helpful to report on the Jewish behaviors of Jewishly-engaged intermarrieds as compared to in-marrieds, because if the gaps are lower – which they are – the policy question becomes how can we get this population to be more Jewishly engaged.

Another interesting point made is this: “Camps need to recognize that messages which testify to their Jewish cultural depth and sophistication … probably alienate parents (and children) who feel ill-at-ease or unfamiliar with more intense Jewish cultural environments, such as may be symbolized by use of Hebrew letters and phrases.”

One recommended strategy aimed specifically at attracting the children of intermarrieds is “to focus initially (if not well beyond) on the selected subset of the mixed married who are congregationally affiliated. The congregationally affiliated mixed married are so much more engaged in Jewish camps–and  so much more aware of them–than their counterparts who are outside congregations.”

Another strategy: “the likely efficacy of offering scholarship assistance. Those who are the least attracted to Jewish camp are the ones who find camp least affordable.  Financial aid or incentives may be especially valuable in  prompting the least interested (such as many mixed married families) to sample Jewish camp for the first time.”

You can find the complete study on the Foundation for Jewish Camp website, or the Berman Archive website. It’s worth reading.

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