Camp Wise University: More than an Oxymoron
By Dr. Jeffrey Schein, Siegal College of Judaic Studies, Cleveland, Ohio
Camp Wise University – this was the moniker fondly bestowed on a pioneering new program that was initiated this summer - the product of a unique collaboration between Camp Wise - the residential camp of the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Cleveland, the Melton Center for Jewish Studies and education department of Ohio State University, and Siegal College of Judaic Studies.
In a seamless interface between formal Jewish learning, informal Jewish studies, and secular education, twelve college students were given the opportunity to serve as counselors and specialty staff at Camp Wise, while simultaneously exploring their Jewish identity and studying Jewish texts pertaining to such camp experiences through programming on topics relating to Judaism and Israel.
Camp Wise advocated for the program as part of its effort to strengthen the Jewish focus of the camp. “Our best camp staff are often pulled away from camp because of the need to take classes in the summer,“ says director Jodi Sperling, “and partnering with Siegal College and Ohio State made it possible to offer a course for credit. This course [enabled] them to do both. We create opportunities for them to grow Jewishly while they're with us.”
The Camp is driven by many of the same basic beliefs that are fundamental to the Mandel Foundation - developing educational leadership and strengthening agents of Jewish education, while stressing the importance of vision in guiding an educational institution. The Mandel Foundation’s investment in the JCCA Mandel Center for Jewish Education and professional development throughout the Cleveland Jewish community were critical ingredients in the success of Camp Wise University.
The Mandel Center at JCCA, actually served as a catalyst for the project through its highly successful Lekhu Lakhem fellows initiative - an intensive two year program of retreats, mentoring, and an Israel seminar devoted to Jewish learning and the development of a Jewish lens for camp life for day camp directors. Jodi Sperling Director of Camp Wise and Dr. Jeffrey Schein, respectively participant and senior consultant in the Lekhu Lakhem programs sought to replicate this experience for camp counselors who have daily contact with Jewish children and to drive Judaic learning down to the grass roots level.
Through its Mahar project for Jewish professional development, the Siegal College of Jewish Studies, the convener of the project and the primary designer of its educational and Jewish content, provided academic scholarships for the project participants.
Six of the participants were from Ohio State University; the others were from schools in Florida and Michigan. They earned three academic credits for the program.
Camping through a Jewish lens
“The course allowed the students to see Jewish camping through a completely new lens, and gave them the language to express the impact camp has had on their own Jewish journey,” adds Sperling. “It helped them to reflect thoughtfully on the creation of an immersive Jewish space, and their role in creating that for their campers. It made camp more than just "camp"; it validated … that Jewish overnight camp is a crucial component of the Jewish identity development of their campers.”
In addition to talking about community building and Jewish identity, the counselors at Camp Wise University lived these issues, using Jewish texts to build their skills and to enhance their own sense of Jewish identity and that of their campers. The application of the Jewish learning to everyday life created a powerful learning experience. “This was my first time studying Talmud,” noted one of the counselors, “It was really cool, especially when it related to real camp dilemmas.”
Dr. David Stein, professor of education and human ecology at Ohio State University summarizes: “Living, learning, and reflecting on Jewish texts, coupled with experiential learning, enabled the counselors to understand Jewish informal learning in ways that could not be accomplished in the classroom.”
To read more about Mandel Jewish Community Center in Cleveland click here
To read more about Siegal College of Judaic Studies click here
To read more about the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at Ohio State University click here
To read more about Camp Wise click here