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“How Goodly Are Thy Tents”
Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences
Amy L. Sales, Leonard Saxe

Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life

2003 • 200 pp. 6 x 9"
Jewish Studies

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"The American Jewish camping experience has become a major mechanism for building 'children's understanding and feelings about Jewish life,' report Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe in their book . . . a comprehensive study of Jewish summer camps."Jewish Book World

An entertaining ethnographic study of how Jewish summer camps foster Jewish sensibilities and education.

In the summer of 2000, social psychologists Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe, along with a team of colleagues, spent several days at each of twenty Jewish summer camps located throughout the United States. They spoke to camp directors, counselors, and other staff members, and they closely observed daily life, including mealtimes, special activities, and Sabbath rituals. The result of their investigation is this enlightening book. In addition to the rich ethnographic material gleaned from their participant-observation field study, the authors offer a national census of Jewish residential camps, organizational analyzes of camps, and social psychological surveys of the attitudes and motivations of the young adults who work at camps. "How Goodly Are Thy Tents" provides a vivid snapshot of the world of Jewish summer camps.

Jewish camps are often divided into two classes, those that are considered "educational camps" and others that are presumably non-educational. However, the authors believe that every Jewish camp has the potential to socialize Jewish children and young adults into k’lal Yisrael (the Jewish people). After documenting how the camp environment and the relationships formed at camp lead to social learning, the authors show how camp envelops campers and staff in a Jewish environment, exposes them to Jewish leaders and role models, and often teaches them Jewish history and Torah. Camps, they conclude, are extraordinary environments for the Jewish socialization of children.

Their analysis begins with an overview of Jewish residential camps. Drawing on their national census of such camps and on their field research, they present data on the range of experiences available and on the number of Jewish children and adults who partake of these experiences. They present an insider’s look at the camps, with descriptions of the characteristics of residential camps that can make them powerful socializing environments; analysis of the varieties of formal and informal Jewish education found at camp; and insight into the religious practices, Jewish space and symbolism that abound at camp. They also present data from the perspective of the professional staff and discuss the potentially far-reaching impact on emerging adults of a summer at a Jewish residential camp. Sales and Saxe conclude by considering ways in which the field of Jewish summer camping might evolve in order to become a model of and inspiration for Jewish education and community writ large.

Written for social scientists, educators, community professionals and lay leaders concerned with informal education, camping, children, ethnicity, and religion, this book will be of special interest to those interested in how culture and traditions are passed on to the next generation.

Also by Leonard Saxe: Ten Days of Birthright Israel

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

"What is perhaps most interesting about How Goodly Are Thy Tents is its conclusion that some of camp's strongest effects are on the counselors, not the campers. As it turns out, it is the staff of camps who develop the strongest bonds both to the camp in particular and the Jewish community in general. As they struggle to teach, organize, survive and, somehow, sleep, they—even more than the campers—are having their lives transformed. Moreover, because most staff are between the ages of 18 and 25, it is they, and not the campers, who are in the most critical period of identity development in contemporary American society—a time known as 'emerging adulthood.' To paraphrase a well-known camp song, the kids may be brats and the food may be hideous, but studies suggest that the experience of being a camp counselor is more than just fun and fooling around; it can be even more life changing than that of being a camper."The Forward

"This is a valuable book for all libraries that serve Jewish families."AJL Newsletter

"It contributes invaluably to the paucity of social scientific scholarship in informal Jewish education."
Journal of Jewish Education

From the Book:

"When the field of Jewish summer camping becomes a learning system, it will know more about informal Jewish education, community building, and the emotional aspects of Jewish socialization than any other institution in the Jewish community, and it will be able to inform the design of other programs whose mission is to educate and socialize. Perhaps children’s dislike of synagogue religious school and the high post–b’nai mitzvah dropout rate can be reversed with a shift in focus from the individual to the collective, from the intellectual to the emotional, from passive learning to active engagement, from the teacher as instructor to the teacher as facilitator, role model, and friend. Perhaps the low level of active involvement in Jewish life during college can be countered if campus organizations adapt aspects of the camp model. In these ways and others, camp will surely assume a leading position among American Jewry’s socializing institutions. And the lessons of camp may more broadly influence efforts in American society to build personal, group, and community strength."—from the Conclusion

AMY L. SALES is Senior Research Associate, Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Brandeis University.

LEONARD SAXE is Professor, Heller School of Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, and Director, Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:08:10 -0500