Back in 2009 we saw adult summer camps starting to pop-up around the country. These retreats brought grown-ups back to relive (or for some the first time) all the fun they had as kids. We had run summer camps for young adults and college students in Eastern Europe, and realized that a Jewish version would kill it.
Summer camp, and especially a Jewish summer camp, is one of the most magical and special environments to be found anywhere. Some Jewish summer camps can sometimes achieve cult-like status, creating lifelong devotees. If you could live there year round, you might just try.
When we lived in Poland in the 1990’s while working for the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, we help to organize Jewish summer and winter retreats for families, college students and seniors. These retreats were really summer camps for all ages and the critical start of the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland after the end communism.
Fast forward to California— After six years of running Jewlicious Festivals for college students and young adults in early spring in Long Beach, we knew it was time to expand to the summer. But what should the format be? Should we recreate summer camp? What about a summer camping music festival?
Inspired by camping and music festivals that we were going to organizing Shabbat Tent, and years of running Jewish summer camps, plus a grant from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles Valley Alliance — we created Camp Jewlicious together with the team that were running the Jewlicious Festival: a hybrid Jewish music festival summer camp themed retreat starting in 2010. The program ran for three amazing years at Brandeis Bardin in Simi Valley and burned out, rather than faded away.
We discovered during those three summers that Jewish summer camp works for young adults in America even if they were not previously indoctrinated at Jew-camp before.
In the intermediary years we ran a couple of summer camping trips, all the while searching for a venue and the funding to host our next summer camp.
Thanks to the amazing team at the Dovid Oved Retreat Center and Bnai Akiva LA, and the generosity of the Alevy Family, we were able to launch Camp Neshama in 2016. Due to its enormous popularity, we are now going to organize multiple Camps and retreats each year!
Why is it called Camp Neshama? We spoke with two dozen young adults about names, and in the end, Camp Neshama captures what we hope to achieve. It’s a Jewish camp with soul. While some of the young adult camps are just glorified bar weekends in the woods and around swimming pools, we are building this camp to be about more than just a party.
Learn more at CampNeshama.org
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