Joseph Reimer

Joseph Reimer 

Associate Professor of Jewish Education in the Education Program and the Hornstein Program  







The great advantage of having the kind of quantitative data that these inventories provide is that camp leadership no longer has to rely solely on anecdotal reports, but in addition has harder data on which to build a more successful camp program. The stronger the camp program, the better chance the leadership can also build a more vibrant Jewish vibe. 

Jewish summer camp Hannah Schafer at Flickr

Using Data
  to Grow Jewish Mission 
  at Jewish Summer Camp


Data inventories offer information that is related to Jewish life at camp. From these results, camp leaders can see how Jewish life at camp fits into the larger picture of how their constituents view the larger camp culture.


Jewish summer camps come in so many different flavors. There are strictly Shomer Shabbat camps, heavy-on-Judaism camps, Zionist camps, specialty camps, and the majority that are culturally Jewish. Camps can be culturally Jewish in a lot of different ways. Some focus on the arts, others on sports, some on Israel and still others on outdoor adventures. And let’s not forget those camps that offer fun and games without much programmatic embellishment. If a Jewish camp can find its constituency, the camp can be Jewish in any way it pleases.

In recent years the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and other Jewish foundations have become convinced (and I heartily agree) that the American Jewish community has a stake in Jewish residential camps and their capacities to offer both campers and staff meaningful and powerful Jewish experiences. Summer camps are immersive environments in which many Jewish youth will likely have the most extensive and intensive North American Jewish experiences of their young lives. We ought to care about the Jewish quality of those summer experiences.

But how can these foundations help the “culturally Jewish camps” to develop their Jewish missions? The FJC leadership knows from experience that there is no simple formula to accomplish that goal. Each camp has developed its culture and its resistance to changing that culture. Camp people are highly sensitive to the charge that “your camp can become more Jewish.” Often they like their Jewishness just the way it is.

To respond to these sensitivities and yet encourage change, the FJC has launched the Hiddur program to work intensively with eight different Jewish camps from New Hampshire to Oregon. These camps applied and were selected for Hiddur. Each has been assigned an experienced coach to help that camp’s leadership to design a change process that will work best for their camp culture. The coaches have been working with both the lay and professional leadership and have met as well with the summer staff that will be most involved in the change process. Hiddur was designed to be a three-year change process and the camps are now entering the second year of that process. I serve as a coach to the coaches.

I want to focus on one aspect of Hiddur. Each Hiddur camp uses two data-gathering inventories to help the leadership gain a more accurate perception of how its constituents view many aspects of the camp program.

The first, called the CSI, is completed by parents of the campers right after the summer. They are asked to rank how satisfied they were with the camp experiences their children had that summer. The second, called the SSI, is filled out by the camp staff at the end of the season and reports on how satisfied the staff was with its summer experience. Both inventories were designed by a marketing firm that gathers and analyzes the information for each camp.

Using the data collected in these two datasets, camp leadership can learn not only how their constituents viewed their summer experiences but also how their ratings compare with those of other comparable camps. Optimally, the leadership can use this information to pinpoint where the camp experience fell below the constituents’ expectations and where there is urgent need for change for the coming summer.

Rarely does the camp’s Jewish program emerge as one of the areas for urgent change. Rarely will the majority of parents or staff focus their attention on the Jewish aspects of the camp experience. They simply do not weigh in on these aspects compared to the quality of the food or the rotation for days off. Yet the inventories do offer some information that is related to the Jewish life at camp. From these results, camp leaders can see how Jewish life at camp fits into the larger picture of how their constituents view the larger camp culture.

I would argue that a camp’s Jewish life is intrinsically linked to the whole of the camp culture and atmosphere. You cannot isolate the Jewish program from all else that is going on in the camp. If we take, for example, the crucial question of how can the bunk counselors play a more positive role in camp’s Jewish mission, we need to know first what is most pressing on their minds. We need to attend to how they relate to the senior leadership and to campers if we have any hope of convincing the counselors to be more actively engaged with the camp’s Jewish mission. Abraham Maslow was correct to insist that you can only address “the higher needs” once the basic needs are satisfied.

On the more positive side, parents and staff may also indicate what about the camp experience they most value. I suggest we pay careful attention to those positives, for they indicate where we can build strength upon strength. If constituents love the arts at camp, that is where we might focus the Jewish growth for this camp. Let’s engage those staff most intensively and ask them how–with additional resourcesthey can enhance the Jewish qualities of that arts program.

In change processes like Hiddur, the leadership needs to know with more precision both which basic needs are not being met and which areas are strengths to build upon. The great advantage of having the kind of quantitative data that these inventories provide is that camp leadership no longer has to rely solely on anecdotal reports, but in addition has harder data on which to build a more successful camp program. The stronger the camp program, the better chance the leadership can also build a more vibrant Jewish vibe. 




This article was published in the Hornstein Program's November 2016 issue of Impact. If you would like to quote any part of it, please attribute content to Joseph Reimer, Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, and link to this page. All rights reserved.