Color Wars to College Tours: Unexpected Benefits of Jewish Overnight Camp

by Sheryl Hirsch, CJP Staff

Eight years ago, when we toured Jewish overnight camps with our daughter, Amanda, we were excited about the adventures, friendships, and connection to Jewish life that awaited her. When she began her first session the following summer at Camp Tevya in Brookline, New Hampshire, we were thrilled not only with her experience, but with the deep connections she made. With new friends from New England, Florida, and elsewhere—and staff members from Israel, the U.K. and Latin America—she gained invaluable exposure to different cultures and perspectives. But little did we know that Amanda’s friendships from Jewish camp would benefit her when she, as a junior in high school, began touring colleges.

Amanda visited her first campus last fall, when she joined camp friend Emily and her dad on a trip to Penn State. There, the girls checked out the University Park campus, visited camp friends from Sharon and Newton, and had a blast. (Of course, what’s not to love about a college when you ditch the parent and have freshman girls showing you around campus, taking you to a fraternity party and accompanying you to a football game ((the Nittany Lions beat the Temple Owls, 30-13.)) As the school year progressed, I went online and planned college visits; the process reminded me of when our family toured camps years before. Like many moms with an 11th grader, I mapped out the college tours around school vacations.  Our first campus visit occurred at the end of February break, when my husband Jim, our eighth grader Garrett, Amanda and I ventured out west—that’s west on the Mass Pike–to UMass in Amherst. We figured it was good to start close to home.  Although it was 15 degrees and snow mounds covered much of the campus, we enjoyed our inaugural collegiate expedition—and also got to visit with Amanda and Garrett’s cousin, Sam,  who shared how he was enjoying his freshman year.

When April vacation came along, Emily joined Amanda and me on a trip to Bloomington, Indiana, (by plane, and then by rental car) to visit Indiana University. The college tours enabled me to spend time with Amanda, which I appreciated. She’s busy with school and dances four days a week, and I work full time, so we don’t spend much time with each other. Traveling together was a treat (for me, at least!).  Additionally, I gained a new appreciation for the friendships Amanda has made at Camp Tevya. At each university we visited, Indiana, Maryland and Syracuse, Amanda met up with friends from camp. Thanks to those special bonds, her friends happily shared an “insider’s view” of the schools, gladly showing her around campuses, dorms, apartments, and sorority and fraternity houses. We had always hoped that camp would strengthen our daughter’s Jewish identity and enable her to establish lifelong friendships, but we never anticipated those bonds would be a bridge to her next journey in life, college.  


About the author:  Sheryl Hirsch is a marketing communications manager at CJP. She and her husband, Jim, live in Needham, MA, with their two children, Amanda and Garrett, and their cockapoo, Kelsey.  Amanda is a high school senior and returned to Camp Tevya this summer as a junior counselor. Garrett is a ninth grader and is also at Camp Tevya, enjoying his fifth summer along the shore of Lake Potanipo.

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Great post, Sheryl! My sister and I had, and today still have, similar experiences that stem from our many years at camp pembroke. My husband and his sister had extremely positive experiences at camp hillel and have great connections from that time to this day. Our boys, both long timers at camp Grossman and now counsellors can tell the same story of looking up friends on their college tours. For many, Jewish camp experiences have a long lasting impact on Jewish identity.