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Have Faith in the Camping Experience

February 14, 2006

Despite the fact that I am Jewish and my husband is gentile, when we first discussed marriage, we agreed that our children would be raised Jewish. However, that statement alone does not clearly define what that process would be. Our plan was to have our children attend Hebrew school and Shabbat (Sabbath) services on a regular basis, become Bar/Bat Mitzvah, participate in Jewish youth group activities and go to a Jewish summer camp.

My husband has been very supportive of this plan and actively participates in many of these events. His support and participation in our family's pursuit of a lifestyle that is dedicated to maintaining my Jewish heritage and traditions has been critical in the emotional harmony that my family has enjoyed. I believe that my children, although they are the product of an interfaith marriage, have a tremendous sense of what their religious orientation is and feel very comfortable with their family lineage. They demonstrate an open mind and tolerance for people who come from different cultures and religious backgrounds. My sense is that their ability to not discriminate is a direct result of their parents' respect for each other's backgrounds. I also think that my children, Andrew, Jeremy and Danielle, ages fifteen, thirteen and ten respectively, understand that a core part of being Jewish means that you must accept others and try to make the world a better place for all.

Furthermore, as members of a Reform congregation, where it is not uncommon at all for there to be interfaith families, my children have been exposed to this type of multi-faith parenting. They have also benefited from being involved in the type of Jewish institution where there is no distinction made among families that are comprised of single- or dual-faith parents. Therefore, their expectations regarding their upcoming summer camp experience were no different from those they have in their daily lives.

For this reason I was not concerned about the fact that all three of my children would be attending Camp Coleman, a Jewish sleep-away camp located in Cleveland, Georgia. Camp Coleman did not ask for our family's religious history or background when admitting our children, so, as parents, we never harbored any anxieties as to whether our children would be made to feel uncomfortable.

Granted, I suffered a tremendous amount of separation anxiety because this was the first time they would be away from home for nearly one month and all at the same time. None of my apprehension was the result of my fear that they would experience difficulty fitting in with the other campers or staff or feel uncomfortable with the culture of a Jewish camp environment due to my interfaith marriage. I knew that this would not be an issue for them at all. In fact, their first sleep-away camp experience was an exceptionally happy one in which they felt very much a part of the culture.

Every year Camp Coleman receives outstanding reviews from many of our Temple Beth El congregants and numerous other Jewish congregations in my Florida region. I was very eager to give my kids the chance to have not only a camp experience, but a "Coleman" experience where Jewish kids from Florida to North Carolina live, play, eat, sleep, pray and learn together on a daily basis.

Attending Camp Coleman has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for Andrew, Jeremy and Danielle. They returned from camp enthusiastic about their camp life and their Jewish heritage. Their knowledge and love of Judaism simply grew while they were there and they brought that back home with them. Having the opportunity to go to Camp Coleman has definitely helped to solidify their Jewish identity. Many of the friendships they have made will last a lifetime. In the summer of 2006, Jeremy and Danielle are able to return as campers and are eagerly looking forward to another incredible and unforgettable time at Camp Coleman.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.
Jodi Matson

Jodi Matson is the youth chair of her children's Jewish youth group, and supervising director of a local Jewish summer day camp. She and her family reside in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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