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  • Toni Davison Levenberg

Engaging Gen Z in Conversations About Judaism At Camp

Photo credit: Steve and Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC

Camp is the perfect setting for Jewish education. Judaism is pervasive in everything that happens. From singing Modeh Ani together in the morning to singing Shema together in the evening, what happens in between really leads to the informal Jewish education in our beautiful setting.

Day in and day out Jewish camps teach our campers how Jewish values should guide their lives. They learn empathy, compassion, inclusion, and the value of friendship and the value of family. Campers and staff learn how to live Jewishly, and we hope they will bring what they learn, and most importantly, what they live, home with them at the end of the summer to influence the way their family relates to Judaism.

Luckily for us, the campers and staff are a captive audience while they’re at camp, and we can experiment with different methods of delivering Judaism to them throughout the course of a camp session. This summer, at the Steve and Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC, we brought back sicha (discussion), at camp on Shabbat afternoons. We had moved away from this discussion model for a few years because we thought we were engaging our campers poorly and that it had become boring to them: we were doing too much talking-at and not enough engaging-with.

We spent some time this summer reevaluating how to communicate with and teach our Gen Z or Parallels (our campers), as they’ve started referring to them. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Sichot (discussions) needed to be the right, bite-size, length that our campers are accustomed to learning in. The topics needed to be relevant to our campers. They needed to be led by dynamic staff who were able to connect with our campers. The topics also needed to be engaging and interesting to our staff so that they, too, would be engaged.

  • Saturdays are relaxed, fun days at Camp that definitely look different than the rest of the week. Following a Shabbat service, our campers get to choose which “Shabboptions” they want to participate in from a list of about fifteen offered activities. In between our afternoon Shabboptions, our campers met at a designated location per age group to eat a snack and participate in sichot. The whole time block for snack and sicha is thirty minutes.

  • Some weeks, we engaged in a sicha about the same topic with each age group as we tailored the conversation to be age-appropriate. Some weeks, we chose a different topic per each age group depending on something that was relevant to them that week at Camp or what was interesting to them in general.

  • We started with a discussion in each age group about the Shehechayanu. We focused on “firsts.” We talked about marking Jewish time. We defined the prayer. We explored different times in Judaism that we recite this prayer. Needless to say, we had productive discussions with every age group in Camp about this prayer, and we engaged both our campers and staff through this sicha. Other topics included tzedakah, kehilah, leadership kashrut, Jewish continuity and more.

We know that sicha is not a new thing nor is it incredibly creative or inventive. However, it was successful because of the intentionality behind the discussions, the facilitators, the relevance of the topics to our community, and the length of time the sichot took place. It was an awesome start to a new program to engage our campers Judaically. We absolutely intend to continue it into the summer of 2018, and we are already working hard on creating the curriculum for this summer. We also welcome guest educators to visit us and engage with our campers as well!

Toni Davison Levenberg just completed her 12th summer at Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River, Wisconsin where she is the Director. Toni has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida, and she is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Jewish Professional Studies and Non-Profit Management at the Spertus Institute. Before Interlaken, Toni was the Assistant Director of House in the Wood Camp serving inner-city Chicago children, the Assistant Director of JCC Camp CHI's Perlstein Resort & Conference Center, and a Software Engineer with two major technology consulting firms. Toni and her husband, Jonah, are the proud parents of 6 year old Jaron and 2.5 year old Nava. Jaron is a student at MJDS, and Nava spends her days at Gan Ami at the JCC.

There are so many educational opportunities in Milwaukee. If you would like some help finding the right program for your child, contact Tzipi Altman-Shafer to talk about how you can “Go Jewish” with your family (414-963-2718 or

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