My Daughter Is Going to Jewish Camp: Am I Ready?

By Jim Keen


Reprinted with permission of the author from The Detroit Jewish News.

April 26, 2007

This summer, Gabby, our oldest daughter, will be going to a Jewish overnight camp. She will be gone for two weeks, and it will be her first extended time away from us. I’m having a bit of a problem with the whole concept of camp. My wife Bonnie, who is Jewish, asked me if I was uncomfortable because it was a Jewish camp. Ironically, even though I am Protestant, it’s not the Jewish part that is so hard for me.

During the 11 years that I have been committed to raising Gabby Jewish, my feelings towards Jewish programs for my children have evolved. In my early days of parenthood, when we first signed her up for pre-school at the JCC, I wasn’t initially prepared for her to be in a Jewish program. Through wonderful experiences, however, I came to love the JCC Early Childhood Center. Moreover, once she graduated from pre-school, I was on board with her attending religious school and Hebrew school at our temple. So now, a camp with a Jewish foundation seems natural; it’s simply her being away from home that I’m not ready for.

I guess my camp-phobia stems from lack of personal experience. I never went to overnight camp when I was a kid. I don’t remember any of my friends going, either. The only “memories” of camp that I have for comparison come from movies. Think about every camp movie you’ve ever seen: The Parent Trap (Gabby has no twin sister–although, some mornings that fact is in doubt); Little Darlings (I can’t explain the plot here–this is a family paper); Friday the 13th (it took place at a camp–it counts).

While my friends and I managed to avoid the camp experience, my wife is from Boston where going to camp is as common as growing up with a wicked-funny accent. “Well, we live in Michigan–and nobody goes to camp here,” I thought grumpily a few months ago while looking through brochures. Then friends told me that going to camp is just as automatic for Michigan’s Jewish kids. My lame rationale was blown. I was toast.

Bonnie persisted. She got me to look into a camp in Wisconsin. Yes, the state all the way across Lake Michigan. We had heard many wonderful things about this camp from friends whose kids go there. We almost signed her up, but in the end figured that it would require us to take a vacation to drive her there and a vacation to pick her up. So, no decisions made.

Then one day, Gabby told us about a camp in Michigan where her friend Hannah goes. We looked at the website–so far so good. It seemed very nice. After meeting with the camp’s director, Gabby was bouncing full of enthusiasm. I took one look at her face and knew that I better start getting used to the idea of her not being around for half of July.

Yes, it took a while, but I finally turned my thinking around. How could I not send her to camp if she wanted to go so badly? In my heart of hearts I knew that it would be a wonderful experience for her–one that would help her grow and become more independent and self-confident. She’s not going to get that by me holding her hand every minute of the day.

In the meantime, I have her younger sister, Molly, to smother with dad-daughter bonding for that part of the summer. Not wanting to upset Molly, I delicately told her about Gabby’s two-week camp plans. She responded with a huge smile on her face, “Why not three weeks?”


About Jim Keen

Jim Keen is the author of the book Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner's Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.