experiments, instruments & measurement book

Camp Connect

This report was originally produced as part of a larger report of findings entitled Spreading and Sustaining Innovation: Accomplishments and Lessons Learned. Background information about the Coalition of Innovating Congregations, the partner organizations, and the initiatives for congregations are found in the full report. The full report and executive summary are available online and for download at www.innovatingcongregations.org/all.
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Camp Connect

Most families in Camp Connect congregations send their children to overnight camp, although fewer than a quarter send them to Jewish overnight camp. Survey data reveal areas in which congregations may have influence over the decisions that families make in regard to overnight camp, especially in children’s and parents’ relationships, the perception of Jewish overnight camp, and actively engaging with parents in their research about overnight camps.

Camp Connect began in 2011 as a grant opportunity for a select group of congregations in the Coalition of Innovating Congregations. The project was a joint effort of The Jewish Education Project, which oversaw the programmatic aspects, and the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), which provided funding for congregations and thought partnership. The program sought to meet two goals:

  1. Significantly increase the number of children in Camp Connect congregations who go to Jewish overnight camp.
  2. Create a model of yearlong Jewish living/learning that integrates and connects to summer camp with emphasis on experiential learning that results in measurable whole person learner outcomes.

This section reports on two surveys that supported the congregations and the supporting agencies in learning about the first goal.

In Year One (2011-2012), the program included 4 congregations:

  • Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn Heights (Conservative)
  • Temple Shaaray Tefila of New York (Reform)
  • Temple Sinai of Roslyn Heights (Reform)
  • Westchester Reform Temple (Reform)

In Year Two (2012-2013) it included 6 congregations:

  • Temple Beth Sholom of Roslyn Heights (Conservative)
  • Temple Shaaray Tefila of New York (Reform)
  • Temple Sinai of Roslyn Heights (Reform)
  • Temple Israel of New Rochelle (Reform)
  • Community Synagogue of Rye (Reform)
  • The Village Temple (Conservative)

The Jewish Education Project administered a survey for all parents in the Camp Connect congregations with children between Kindergarten and 12th grades to learn about where they sent their children to camp and how that decision was made. The surveys were distributed in January-February 2012 and 2013. In Year One, 582 parents responded to the survey (a 37% response rate). In Year Two, 355 parents responded to the survey (an estimated 25% response rate, but it is unknown how many people received the second survey because some congregations distributed the surveys on their own). After the analysis in Year One, many new questions about families’ decisions emerged. In order to respond to these questions, the survey in Year Two asked mostly different questions from Year One. In Year One, the survey focused on learning about motivations of parents who sent their children to Jewish overnight camp. In Year Two, the survey looked at the motivations of all parents who sent children to overnight camp. Both surveys aimed to help the sponsoring agencies and participating congregations better understand how to increase “heads in beds.”

Heads in Beds

In both surveys, more than three-quarters of respondents sent children between 3rd and 4th grades to overnight camp. Children in 2nd grade and lower were excluded from the “heads in beds” count. Among all children in the surveys, a relatively small number (14-23%) attended Jewish overnight camps (defined as camps with a Jewish mission).


In both years, the survey data indicate that children begin enrolling in overnight camps in 3rd through 5th grades. By the 6th grade nearly all children in the survey samples had attended an overnight camp.

Gray Camp: A Middle Ground in Camp Choice

In the first survey, open-ended responses revealed that parents perceived Jewish benefits from some camps that did not fit the FJC definition of “Jewish camp.” Benefits included being in an environment of nearly all Jewish children, eating kosher food, and having some Shabbat experience. Therefore, in the second year of the survey, respondents were broken into three groups:

  • Jewish camp families – families that sent children to FJC-defined Jewish camps
  • Non-sectarian camp families – families that sent children to non-sectarian camps
  • Gray camp families – families that sent children to camps that were not defined as Jewish but had Jewish aspects such as kosher food, Shabbat experiences, and/or majority Jewish children

Although nearly twice as many families reported sending children to non-sectarian camps as Jewish camps in Year Two, nearly half of those families were sending children to so-called “gray” camps.




What Influences Parents’ Decisions To Send Children To Jewish Camp (Or Any Camp)?

In 2012, Jewish camp families reported that they were more interested in the general Jewish “feel” of a camp than in its affiliation – such as URJ or Ramah – or other Jewish aspects. Parents also reported that familiarity – meaning knowing other children at the camp – was more important in choosing a camp than recommendations they received from friends or professionals.


Survey results in 2013 showed that parents sending children to the three types of camps (Jewish, Non-Sectarian, and Gray) applied distinct decision-making processes. Jewish camp families did less research about camp than other families and ascribed less importance to recommendations than did the other groups. In general, Jewish camp families appeared to take fewer actions in making their decisions about camp, perhaps indicating that their minds were made up about camp early on. Non-sectarian camp families did more research and ascribed more importance to friends and camp consultants, indicating that they were doing more “shopping around.” Unsurprisingly, non-sectarian camp families were least interested in Jewish aspects of camp. Gray camp families shopped around like their non-sectarian camp counterparts. However, the gray camp families indicated more interest in some Jewish aspects of camp, especially the social aspects (“Allows our child to be in an environment with other kids like him/her”).


When looking at qualities of camps, each of the three groups had their own interests as well. In addition to caring more about Jewish aspects of camp than the other two groups, the Jewish camp families were more interested in affordability and financial incentives. The gray and non-sectarian camp families, on the other hand, were more interested in high quality and camp reputation. It is possible that these families perceive Jewish camps to have lesser quality because they are promoted as affordable with many financial incentives. Both gray and non-sectarian camp families also perceived Jewish camps to be “too Jewish” and lacking in diversity among campers. However, gray camp families were more likely than the non-sectarian camp families to say that their children would want to go to a Jewish camp.

In addition to interests in camps, the 2013 survey asked parents about their Jewish behaviors. Jewish camp families perceived themselves to integrate Judaism into more aspects their lives. They were also more likely than the other two groups to indicate that they celebrate Shabbat, visit Jewish cultural institutions, and read Jewish books, listen to Jewish music, or watch Jewish films. Non-sectarian camp families reported fewer Jewish behaviors. Their most common Jewish behaviors were eating Jewish foods and supporting Jewish causes and they less commonly reported having mostly Jewish friends and sending their children to Jewish preschool. Non-sectarian camp families reported their least likely behaviors to be celebrating Shabbat and reading Jewish books, listening to Jewish music, or watching Jewish films. Gray camp families reported fewer Jewish behaviors than Jewish camp families but more than non-sectarian camp families. They especially stood out in sending children to Jewish preschool, to which they were more likely than both other groups to send their children.


Finally, the 2013 survey indicated that about half of families that send their children to non-sectarian or gray camps had looked into a Jewish camp. This indicates that congregations may be able to influence more families to enroll their children in Jewish camp if they carefully market the camps to parents based on their values and interests for their children.

Congregations Can Have Influence

Results from Years One and Two of the Camp Connect Parent Survey confirmed that many factors contribute to families’ decisions about overnight camp. Although there are some factors over which congregations can have no influence (e.g., a parent’s history with overnight camp), there are areas in which congregations can position themselves to have influence in the decision-making process:

  • Children’s Relationships: For many families, it is important to send their children to camps where they know other children. By creating cohorts of families early on, congregations may be able to encourage Jewish overnight camp attendance to groups of families.
  • Parents’ Relationships: Parents in all three camp groups (Jewish, Gray, and Non-Sectarian), value recommendations from friends. This is especially true among Gray and Non-Sectarian camp families. In addition to creating cohorts of families, congregations should take note of personal relationships among parents and leverage recommendations among them.
  • Perception of Jewish Overnight Camp: The messages congregations deliver about Jewish overnight camp are very important in parents’ decisions. Non-sectarian and gray camp families reported that Jewish camps were more affordable and were “too Jewish.” Congregations should consider promoting the cultural and peoplehood aspects of Jewish camp. They should also consider toning down the promotion of scholarships and affordability.
  • Research About Camp: Non-sectarian and gray camp families reported conducting more research about the camps they sent their children to than did the Jewish camp families. Congregations have the opportunity to be a part of this research process; by learning where families are getting their information and what information they seek, congregations can market Jewish overnight camps more effectively.


This report represents nearly five years of data collection, analysis, and reflection. We wish to thank our consultants Cindy Reich (the Experiment in Congregational Education) and Anna Marx (The Jewish Education Project) for their work in compiling this report as well as collecting and analyzing much of the data presented in the report. We also gratefully acknowledge Cyd Weissman, Director of Innovation in Congregational Learning at The Jewish Education Project, for her leadership, The Experiment in Congregational Education and its director, Dr. Rob Weinberg for taking the lead in coordinating the evaluation efforts for the Collaboration to Sustain Innovation, and Dr. Bill Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer of The Jewish Education Project for his guidance and insight.


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