Camp Solomon Schechter

Ready for an unforgettable summer? Photo by CSS

Overnight summer camp is an All-American tradition. Imagine a clear lake, surrounded by reeds and water lilies, with a private sandy beach and all the amenities: diving board, pedal boats, kayaks, water trampoline, and SUPs. To get to the beach, you walk through a large lawn shaded with beautiful trees. Now add a soundtrack to this idyllic scenery – laughter and joyful cries in Hebrew and English of kids having the time of their lives in an unforgettable summer. Welcome to Camp Solomon Schechter, one of the oldest and largest Jewish summer camps in the state of Washington.

Camp Solomon Schechter started operating in 1954 on Whidbey Island and moved to its current location, a green private campus near Olympia, in 1968. The camp was founded by a group of independent conservative rabbis that wanted to create a Jewish summer camp that combined love of nature, Jewish values, and a deep connection to Israel. Kids from all over Washington and Oregon come to camp, as well as kids from Canada and Israel. Many return every summer and then continue on to become counselors.

The Summer Camp Experience

Sam Perlin, the camp’s director, knows firsthand about the addictive nature of the camp. Sam himself started as a basketball coach and physical education teacher at Schecter, and returned summer after summer.  “I mentor many young adults that were campers at Schechter and they often say that camp was the most defining Jewish experience for them; one that they cherish and remember. Spending time away from parents, socializing, learning to get along with others. . . These are the things you learn at camp and not anywhere else…”

A typical day at camp starts with waking up, not too early, at 8:00 am. Followed by a full American breakfast that includes morning favorites like pancakes, eggs, hash browns, cereal, and fresh fruit. After breakfast, comes flag ceremony and T’fillah, the morning prayer. This is no ordinary prayer you might know from the synagogue, it’s a combination of singing, meditation, maybe some yoga or a nature hike, and a lot of gratitude. Sam mentions that many parents are surprised to hear that their children love this part of the day the most!

The day continues with “Nikayon,” cleanup of the cabins. The cabins consist of bunk beds and attached bathrooms and showers. Then it’s time for the real fun to begin: sports and art activities, water activities, and attractions like ropes challenges course (low and high), a giant swing, and a 35 foot tall zip line through the trees. In addition, the kids enjoy fishing, nature trails, and basketball and tennis courts, all inside a private and gated campus.

Food for the body and soul, or, what is Ruach exactly???

Having fun in the outdoors can sure build up an appetite. The children and counselors enjoy full meals supplied by the camp’s kosher kitchen. The chefs use lots of fresh fruits and veggies to prepare crowd-pleasers such as pasta, pizza, and burritos. Shabbat is celebrated with a special meal with all the staples — chicken, Matzoh ball soup, pot roast, Challah, and cake.

Every summer camp has nature hikes and water activities, Schechter also has “Ruach.” This is an elusive term that Sam likes to use when describing camp. Ruach is the special atmosphere that engulfs the camp grounds on Friday evening and throughout Shabbat; it’s the twinkle in the eyes of the counselors that create unique cultural programs like “Ben-Yehuda Experience,” “Tel-Aviv Beach Party,” Yomanut (art day), and the Maccabiah sports games. Ruach is the positive energy and the warm connections that are built between the kids and the natural connection to their Jewishness that they discover at camp. “At camp, we express our Jewish values to create a strong and positive Jewish identity. A big part of that is nature and the love and support we have for Israel,” says Sam.

Celebrate Israel for a strong and positive Jewish identity, Photo by CSS

The “Madrichim,” youth counselors, go through different training like CPR, emergency response, life-guarding, and social skills. Most already have vast experience working with kids, in the Tzofim, for example. In fact, the Tzofim’s local training manager, Maya Lior, will also be managing the counselors at camp and will oversee the cultural Israeli-related programs. Cultural events and evening programs at camp also include singing and dancing, the traditional talent show, and lots of other “Ruach” opportunities.

Summer camp is for parents too…

Sending the kids away to summer camp for a few weeks can be a very enriching experience for the kids and a real treat for us parents. Just imagine the peace and quiet at home, so relaxing…

However, many parents may have concerns. What if my kids miss home terribly? What if they cry and want to come back? Sam assures me that the staff at Schechter are trained and ready to deal with these situations. “We are experts in dealing with homesickness. The key is to comfort the child and move forward. We also notify the parents but, usually, we don’t let the child talk directly to the parents; this only makes things worse for both. By the second day of camp, kids adjust, make friends and forget to miss home. We see it every summer.”

What about cell phones? Camp Solomon Schechter has a no-electronics policy. Phones and sim cards are given to Sam for safekeeping. But kids can still use phones or iPads to listen to music. “I find that disconnecting from the phones, internet, and social media is very powerful. It opens the kids for social experiences and engagements that are missing in today’s digital age.”

Fun in the sun in the real world, Photo by CSS

Tips for first-time-camper parents:

If your child never spent a night outside the home, it may be good to start with a sleep-over. Spending a night or two with friends or relatives can be a great pre-camp preparation for younger kids.

Visit Camp Solomon Schechter as a family! There are a number of options for family camps in May and June. Come explore the beach and lake, enjoy all-inclusive meals in the dining room, and hang out with other families from the area. The kids will be glad to return to a familiar place in the summer and continue the fun with their friends.

Once sleep-over is mastered successfully, try a week-long camp especially designed for kids entering 2nd-4th grades. Once your kids have fun at camp, they will be ready for more! Send them to the full session for a summer of memories and life-long friendships.

First-time campers can also apply to the “One Happy Camper” campership program. This program offers a substantial discount for eligible campers. You might want to explore other scholarship options through the PJ Library program, different synagogues in Seattle, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and directly from Schechter. Kids traveling to camp from Israel receive a discount of 20%, and there are quite a few that come all the way from Tel-Aviv and Zichron Yaakov; tell your family and friends!

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