Beth Israel of San Diego completed its first summer camp experience for children in grades kindergarten through seventh grade. More than 80 kids were enrolled in the congregation's summer camp, which contained innovative programming mixed with a traditional Jewish camp experience.
Gilad Hoffman, director of youth services, led the summer camp experience, personally connecting with parents to make sure their family was comfortable at camp. Hoffman created a camp that was a mix of traditional experiences with new activities that kids today enjoy. For example, kids spent half the day participating in programs such as Mad Science, Jedi Engineering with Lego and karate. The other half of the day was devoted to typical camp activities including arts, crafts, and celebrating Shabbat on Fridays.
"Beth Israel decided to run the Summer Camp Experience as a way to engage a younger group of kids -- from kindergarten through third grade -- who are not quite ready for youth groups, but looking for ways to include a relationship with the congregation," said Hoffman. Until this year, Beth Israel's only summer camp offering was for preschool-aged students.
The summer camp experience also included a B'nai Mitzvah Boot Camp, designed for students entering their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The program gave them a glance into what the B'nail Mitzvah process entails, including meeting with clergy, getting their Torah portions, attending a B'nai Mitzvah service, and participate in a Shabbat service. The campers also participated in volunteer work, as well as had fun with traditional camp games including an on-site sleep over Saturday evening. Students volunteered with Jewish Family Service senior programs, helped pack more than 250 bags at the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry, and spent time with the Hunger Project helping those who came to Father Joe's Village.
The summer camp experience was also unique because of the staff that served as counselors. All the counselors had a previous connection to Beth Israel. Many were former preschool and religious school students, while others were participants in the Madrichim program or youth groups. This connection to the congregation created an enriching environment for camp-goers.
Hoffman is proud that summer camp was able to connect completely different types of people with each other and with Beth Israel. For the first time, young families and kids interacted daily with high school and college students. Before this summer camp, these groups would not have come in contact before. Hoffman plans to expand the Camp Experience at Beth Israel next summer.
A Reform Jewish synagogue, Beth Israel is San Diego's oldest and largest Jewish congregation. The synagogue recently celebrated its 150th anniversary and has a membership of about 1,200 families.