Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
In the City Camp (ITCC) is an innovative Jewish day camp that follows an overnight camp model. Our non-profit, independent, affordable, replicable summer camp provides an intentional, culturally Jewish experience for campers ages 5-14 and produces many of the same character-building results as overnight camp: lifelong Jewish friendships, increased self-confidence, and deep connections to the Jewish community and Israel. Our day camp format allows us to impact the 90% of Jewish kids who are not attending Jewish overnight camp.
Starting in 2012 with just 65 campers, ITCC enrolled 440 Jewish campers who attended a total of 1,164 camper weeks during the 2016 summer season. That represents a 577% increase in enrollment since inception.
"I found a fruitful world, because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children." Talmud, Taanit 23A
The idea for In the City Camp originated with founder Eileen Price’s desire to pass on to her children the rich Judaic background she received in her childhood. Eileen grew up in a Jewish home and participated in numerous Jewish experiences – Jewish day school, multiple trips to Israel, March of the Living, and others. But none of these experiences ignited her passion for and connection with Judaism as much as her experience with Jewish camp.
By 2012, Eileen and her husband David were raising their four kids in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Atlanta. The local Jewish community center had moved to the suburbs years earlier, leaving the vibrant, young, growing, urban Atlanta Jewish community with few resources.
After a summer of schlepping her family to an inconvenient Jewish day camp that did not provide the program she desired, and following her daughter’s second unsuccessful attempt at Jewish overnight camp, Eileen did what any good Jewish mother would do – she started her own camp!
Eileen created an innovative Jewish day camp that follows an overnight camp model in which Jewish learning is infused into every aspect of camp life. In the City Camp's (ITCC) mission is for both campers and counselors to form a meaningful connection with the Jewish community, develop a love for the state of Israel, and create strong Jewish friendships.
ACCESSIBLE, NURTURING, INCLUSIVE
“The Torah reminds us that we are made ‘b'tzelem Elohim,’ in the image of God. If God is infinite, then every creature made in God's image will reflect a different finite aspect of that infinite Source of Life.” Rabbi Brad Artson, “Walking in a Crowd, Standing Alone: Shabbat Parashat Pinchas”
“Genesis 18 commences with a description of Abraham's act of warm hospitality, as he welcomes three unknown travelers into his camp to eat and refresh themselves. This episode of hospitality is regarded as a hallmark value of Jewish tradition, as well as another example of Abraham's character, namely his love and concern for human beings.” - Jeffrey M. Cohen
From its inception, ITCC has made deliberate choices to create a welcoming, accessible, and nurturing Jewish environment that recognizes and honors individual differences and needs. The camp provides the following unique benefits:
• Affordability: ITCC’s cost is low as compared to the cost of Jewish overnight camp. Four weeks at day camp averages $1,200-$1,600, versus four weeks of overnight camp, which costs approximately $4,500 (in the Southeast U.S.).
• Low barrier to entry for unengaged/unaffiliated families including interfaith, Russian-speaking, and Israeli families. Shorter sessions and the ability to see kids every day make Jewish day camp a less risky proposition than overnight camp.
• Diversity: Already known for welcoming Jews throughout the Atlanta community, ITCC was recently one of only eight camps nationwide to receive the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s “I Belong to Jewish Camp" Engagement Grant. This grant supports ITCC’s ongoing efforts to become even more welcoming to LGBTQ Jews, Jews of Color, interfaith families, and young families who are making critical decisions about how they will structure their Jewish lives. Although they represent the emerging face of American Judaism, these population groups are not equally welcomed into all facets of the mainstream Jewish community. ITTC has a deep commitment to nurturing our diverse Jewish community by assertively reaching out and inviting these individuals and their families into camp life.
• Welcoming campers with special needs: ITCC works with families to ensure that children with special needs are equipped for success at camp. ITCC allows professionals that families work with during the year to accompany their children at camp, allows families to hire personal one-on-one camp “shadows”, and offers speech therapy and tutoring on site to interested families.
• Ability to reach kids at a younger age: Kids must be at least 8 years old to attend most overnight camps, while children as young as 4 or 5 can attend day camp. For many, ITCC provides the first step on a child’s Jewish journey.
• Camper choice: Recognizing the individuality of each camper, ITCC empowers campers to choose the activities they pursue each day. Additionally, since families sign up on a week-to-week basis, families have maximum flexibility in determining how long and which weeks their child attends camp each summer.
• Direct pipeline for family participation: Jewish content and values reach camper parents each day when kids talk to their parents after camp and bring home Jewish artwork and Shabbat challah.
• The counselor community: All of ITCC’s counselors are Jewish. This decision was made not just to provide excellent Jewish role models, friends, and mentors to campers, but also to create a cohort of employees who will learn, connect, and grow Jewishly themselves. ITCC has designed the counselor position to compete with business internships: positions are competitive, the counselors are well paid, and there is a progressive job path from Junior Counselor, to Counselor, to Senior Counselor, to Site Director, to several year-round positions.
"On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord." ~~ Exodus (Shmot) 35:2
In many ways, Shabbat is at the heart the ITCC program:
- Friday’s schedule is different from all other days of the week which highlights that Shabbat is a special day. Each Friday morning begins with a special camp-wide program.
- A camp-wide Mitzvah Hour and Oneg Shabbat program marks the end of each Friday and each week of camp. Durning mitzvah hour we engage campers and guests in a community service activity. During Shabbat oneg we sing, give out camper awards, watch a slideshow of photos from the week, and enjoy Shabbat challah. We invite camper parents and members of the community to join us for both of these activities.
- Every Friday each camper receives a challah dough to bake at home with their families. This provides an easy way for families to celebrate Shabbat together – which many of them do for the first time because of camp.
“How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to start to improve the world.” Anne Frank
"Tzedakah and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah" Jerusalem Talmud, Pe'ah 1:1.
Tikkun olam, tzedakah, and social justice play important roles in the ITCC curriculum. Each week during Mitzvah Hour, campers first learn about the importance of doing for and giving to others as they engage in a community service project. Some of our Mitzvah Hour activities include making sack lunches for the homeless and writing letters to American and Israeli soldiers.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.” (Psalms, 5-6)
ITCC honors the centrality of Israel in Jewish life by:
• Hanging Israeli flags all over camp
• Singing the Hatikva daily
• Singing Hebrew songs daily
• Teaching Hebrew words each day
• Learning Israel facts each day: Did you know that McDonalds in Israel is kosher?
• Israeli cooking – pita, hummus, chocolate balls, Israeli salad, etc.
• Israeli dance and music
• Art projects with Israeli themes
• Israel Day: Camp-wide Shabbat program during which campers place notes in a mock Western Wall, get henna tattoos, experience “Israeli army training,” learn Israeli dances, and make Israeli food.
• Interacting with our many counselors who have spent time in Israel
ITCC delivers culturally Jewish, non-denominational, age-appropriate content to appeal to a diverse Jewish community using fun and repetition to ensure impact. For example, our summer theme of kavod (respect) permeated daily camp life and activities:
• While playing kickball, campers learned about respecting other players and exhibiting good sportsmanship.
• After eating lunch, campers showed respect for camp by cleaning up their spaces.
• Every week one camper from each age group who exhibited kavod received a special kavod bracelet.
• Staff remind campers to “show kavod” to guests and activity leaders.
Other examples of how ITCC makes Jewish wisdom accessible and applicable to our campers include the use of:
• Hebrew words of the day - Ima/Abba, Shalom, Boker Tov
• Israel facts of the day - Did you know the glue on stamps in Israel is kosher?
• Core Jewish themes – “Man was created in g-d’s image “
• Jewish/Israeli cooking, dance, and art
• Jewish and Hebrew music
• Jewish content in sports, drama, and nature activities. For example, telling campers about Jewish sports heroes while playing baseball.
First, some stats about our campers and staff:
• 440 unique campers attended camp in 2016. Up from 364 in 2015 and a 577% increase since inception in 2012.
• Campers participated in a total of 1,164 total camper weeks.
• On average, campers attended 2.65 weeks of camp. Returning campers attended a higher average of 2.95 weeks.
• 6% of campers came with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) indicating they had special needs of varying types.
• 28% of campers do not belong to a synagogue.
• 65% of campers attend public or non-Jewish private schools.
• 100% of our 45 counselors are Jewish.
• We awarded $30,000 in need-based scholarships during 2016.
ITCC’s post-camp parent survey revealed:
• 92% of parents indicated their kids connected with Judaism in a meaningful way during camp.
• 96% of parents indicated their kids connected with their Jewish counselors in a positive way during camp.
• 94% of parents would recommend In the City Camp to friends.
• 97% plan to return to ITCC in the future. 59% of those would like to come for at least 4 weeks, because they "know In the City Camp is not a specialty camp; it's a day camp based on an overnight camp model and kids who attend multiple weeks develop lasting friendships, form a stronger connection to Judaism, and feel a “summer home" comfort at camp that encourages them to try new things."
• 12% of families indicated "We are not especially involved with the Jewish community during the year, but we will likely seek out more Jewish opportunities as a family based on our experience with In the City Camp." 3% said "In the City Camp will likely remain the primary way our family experiences Judaism."
Read Facebook reviews to hear directly from our camper parents: https://www.facebook.com/InTheCityCamp/reviews
“Only our children can write our future” - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
We interpret this to mean that as we help to shape the next generation of Jews - both our campers and our staff - it is our obligation to create space for them to have a voice, to ask questions, and to bring personal experiences to camp that enhance our community. For example, in morning bunk meetings, we ask campers to tell us about their Jewish homes, what they do to celebrate holidays, etc. We also regularly solicit feedback from campers, staff, and parents so we can understand how our program is working well and how we can improve.
Throughout Jewish history and literature, there are recurring themes of teaching the next generation and hospitality to “strangers.” In our case we define “strangers” as people who have not always been part of or fully welcomed into the Jewish community.
What we have learned in applying this wisdom is that details and delivery matter. Like Abraham and Sarah in the desert, we work hard to create an “open tent” where everyone feels welcomed, honored, and nurtured. Jewish content is interwoven in all camp activities, and delivered by dynamic Jewish counselors who make being Jewish cool. We model Jewish behavior and ethics every day during the summer and all year long as we communicate and interact with campers, camp families, staff, and partner organizations.
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