Ah, Jewish summer camp. Who among us does not have fond memories of attending one? Okay, maybe one guy in Piscataway, New Jersey, but I spoke with his friends and family and he's always been a bowl-of-borscht-is-half-empty sort. For the rest of us, however, we look back fondly at our time of frolicking with fellow Jewish campers at Camp David Ben Gurion or whatever yours was called. It happened in those more carefree times, back when gas was less than a dollar a gallon and research had to be done in those quaint structures called libraries. (Ask your grandparents about them).
We could tell each other that we're the Chosen People, without it coming off that we were bragging.
The same activities that differentiated us from our friends at home became the activities that united us with our friends at Jewish camp. We could wear a yarmulke, sing Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals), attend Friday night services, and tell each other that we're the Chosen People, without it coming off that we were bragging.
For all Jewish children, even those who attended Jewish day schools and live in strong Jewish communities, Jewish camping offered the opportunity to experience Jewish living in a world that was without parents and daily pressures and that was with peers and a supportive environment. Just the "without parents" thing alone made it worth the money, at least for us kids. A month without my parents nagging me? Where do I sign up?
And yet, I hear you asking (I have extremely sensitive hearing), "Mark, with all the countless Jewish summer camps in existence, how can I possibly separate the good ones from the bad ones for my own children attending as campers or counsellors." Hey, relax. I've got it all figured out for you. That's why Jewlarious pays me the big bucks. Just kidding. That's why Jewlarious gave me a research grant to investigate the issue. Still kidding. That's why I investigated the Jewish summer camps completely on my own, at great expense to my budget and cholesterol, to present you, my treasured readers, the following report of the worst Jewish summer camps in America.
The Official 2009 Bad Jewish Summer Camp Report
(Note: Camp names have been changed to avoid one of the great Jewish traditions – lawsuits, but they know who they are.)
Camp Kishka - Piscataway, New Jersey
There will be no overbearing staff bullying and harassing your loving children at Camp Kishka. That's because there's absolutely no staff. Which explains the cut-rate fees. Once you drop your children off, they're completely on their own. No supervision. No counselling. No discipline. In the 14 years of this camp's existence, there have been fires, riots, hazings, gambling, kidnapping, hostage-taking, food fights, and substance abuse. And for those campers older than eight, it's even worse. Learning independence skills has its place, but three weeks with strangers in New Jersey and only P.A. system announcements to keep order – is not the place for it. We recommend both that you avoid Camp Kishka and send the New Jersey Department of Protective Services a letter of concern.
Avoid Camp Kishka and send the New Jersey Department of Protective Services a letter of concern.
Camp Farblondzhet – Dripping Springs, Arkansas
There's nothing wrong with a camp specializing in Jewish musical theater. Campers and parents were excited about having their children star in the camp's version of the iconic "Fiddler on the Roof." That was before it was determined that rights to produce the musical were far too costly. A quick decision was made to adapt "My Fair Lady" for a Jewish audience. Which explains why dozens of upset parents walked out during the songs, "On the Street Where You Shvitz," "I'm Getting Mikva'd in the Morning," "I Could Have Qvelled All Night," "Get Me to the Mohel on Time," "Wouldn't It Be Haimish?" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Knish." Even surprise guest appearances by alumni Pauly Shore and Andrew Dice Clay failed to prevent the parents from demanding a refund.
Camp Pupik – Last Chance, Colorado
After undergoing a bankruptcy, Camp Pupik was sold to its current owners, Todd and Ginny Lambert, a Christian couple who vowed not to change a thing about the 47 year old Jewish camp. Still, campers and their parents notice some subtle differences from previous years. The popular arts & crafts program, Sculpt Your Own Menorah, has been changed to Sculpt Your Own Crucifix. And the tasty weekend brisket dinner is now a weekend glazed ham dinner, with ambrosia salad and a big glass of milk. Families whose children decide to convert to Christianity at the end of their camp session receive a 25% discount on all fees.
Camp Shmendrik – Monkey's Eyebrow, Arizona
At approximately half the cost of the other camps, Camp Shmendrik appears to be a tremendous bargain. Campers soon find out why. Since there is no motorboat, or even a rowboat, water-skiers are pulled through the water by three of the camps lifeguards, who make motorboat sounds for authenticity. Since there is no budget for construction paper, the arts & crafts counsellor has the campers make projects using their letters from home. Meals consist primarily of matzah and water, "to honor our ancestors who had no time to prepare an elaborate meal while they were fleeing one foe after another." And instead of showing movies, the counsellors act out scenes from their favorite films, using hand-shadows. Their compilation of hand-shadow scenes from "Yentl" is said to be particularly moving, at least for those not winging tomatoes at the hands.
Camp Tchatchke – Yeehaw Junction, Florida
A camp dedicated to teaching life skills would seem to be a valuable commodity in today's world. And yet all the life skills taught at Camp Tchatchke appear to be in the service of catering to the owners' every need. Campers spend their days babysitting the owners' children, cleaning the owners' house, giving the owners massages, running errands for them, washing their cars, tending their garden, and cooking their meals. There are competitions for who can do the most for the owners and even an awards ceremony where trophies are awarded for varying degrees of service to the owners, who enjoy practicing their hypnosis skills on the campers.
Jewlarious highly recommends that you avoid all of these camps.