Send a Christian to camp

What is the most important spiritual gift that we can pass on to our children? What will protect them against the evil welling up within themselves, expressed in the senseless violence they now perpetrate against one another? They need the power of God, the armor of Christ, and the knowledge that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. How can we give them this, their rightful inheritance, in the face of so many forces that tell them otherwise? We offer here a suggestion for intentional Christian formation on a model borrowed from the Jewish community.

In the mid-1940s, as the smoke of battle cleared over Europe and the grim details of the Holocaust came to light, Jews in the U.S. realized that a new responsibility had been placed on their shoulders. While the number of Jews in the U.S. had steadily increased since the 1860s, American Jews tended to look for leadership and inspiration to the great centers of Judaism in Poland, Lithuania and Germany. Now those centers had been turned into ashes, and American Jews were on their own. The trend toward assimilation in the surrounding culture had to be resisted if the community was to survive. The next generation of Jewish scholars, teachers and lay leaders would have to be homegrown.

In light of this crisis, a group of Jewish leaders led by Mordecai Kaplan of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America developed a new idea. They envisioned a summer-long camp program that would offer the usual sports, crafts and outdoor activities, but would also provide intensive education and formation in Jewish life. They envisioned and went on to create camps that featured daily prayer and 90 minutes of religious instruction six days a week. The classes were taught by seminary professors, professional religious schoolteachers and rabbis who spent the summer at camp with their families. The classes involved homework and tests, and credit for the courses was accepted by the camper's Hebrew school at home. (Children are required to attend Hebrew school six hours per week for five years prior to bar/bat mitzvah.)