09 July 2011

Wexler Oral History Project goes to camp!

Some of Tracing the Tribe's best summers were at camp. The memories last a lifetime.

Even those who only spent long weekends or a week here or there at various youth organization activities went home imbued with a sense of camaraderie, new knowledge and singing essential songs together.

The National Yiddish Book Center offers an interesting look at Jewish summer camps. There are videos of oral history interviews, links to the full interview texts and to the Wexler Oral History Project.

Summer camps, then and now, play an important role in identity for American Jews. Various studies of camps - such as one on the Conservative movement's Ramah system of camps - indicate that children who attend Jewish summer camps develop a much stronger identity with their heritage and also are more likely to become leaders in their communities and to maintain a more Jewish lifestyle.

According to the Yiddish Book Center's link:
Among the camps mentioned:
  • The Sholem Aleichem Folks Institute, known for its commitment to Yiddish literature, founded Boiberik in 1923.
  • Camp Kinderland was founded and was eventually associated with the Ordn Shuln with communist leanings. (The photo above left is of Kinderland)
  • The Workmen's Circle founded their socialist summer camp, Kinder Ring.
  • The Farband, Labor Zionists, created Kinderwelt around the same time.
  • Camp Hemshekh was the Bund's summer camp, founded in 1959 by Holocaust survivors.
Kinderland and Kinder Ring still exist but in different locations.

As everyone who has ever attended a Jewish summer camp knows, each was its own world with its own family. Shared experiences with social values, fun, Jewish culture, shows, plays, camp songs and Shabbat ceremonies all contributed to "family" life. And everyone thought that their camp was the best of all of them.

The Wexler Oral History Project interviewed campers of diverse ages about their summer experiences, including friendships, memories, values and loves.

See the videos at the link above, visit the full texts of these and more at the project's digital archive here.

Learn more here on the Wexler Oral History Project.
When it came to choosing a camp for your children, there were a number of factors to weigh: language, socio-political views, location, and cost. Many New York Yiddishist organizations created summer camps to help people get out of "The Big City" for the summer.

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