Have Faith in the Camping Experience

By Jodi Matson

February 14, 2006

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Despite the fact that I am Jewish and my husband is not, 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 have 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.





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About 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.