Last summer, our nonprofit Jewish camps were mostly closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year, armed with more knowledge about the disease and how it spreads, many camps are working to safely re-open. After a long, isolating year, a summer of outdoor fun is just what our kids need.

But just because camps are re-opening doesn't mean it will be business as usual. In fact, camp will look much different as new safety protocols are instituted. Recently, we spoke to Lisa David, Director of Camp Harlam, and Josh Sternberg, Director of Finance and Operations at Camp Havaya, about what they're doing to ensure a safe and fun summer for all.

Health and Safety Is Top Priority

Lisa David: "Health and safety is first priority for all of the camps in our region, so the day-to-day way we operate will look a little different. That could range from things like having a reduced number of campers to changing the way people eat in the dining hall. We're also looking at the health and safety protocols we have in place for treating people who are ill."

Josh Sternberg: "At Camp Havaya, health and safety has been our primary focus since we started planning for this summer after the High Holidays in the fall. We are looking at making big changes to how camp is going to look and feel, from keeping campers in pods to switching to family-style service in the dining hall."

Camps Are Instituting New Safety Protocols 

Lisa David: "There's protocols that we know and have committed to, but there's also things we are adapting as the situation changes. We are asking those coming to camp to commit to possibly quarantining, isolating, and testing before they arrive. Campers will be functioning in pods, and observing social distancing and masking while engaging with people outside their pods. We're also thinking about how to safely do group activities like Shabbat worship or singing."

Josh Sternberg: "We're going to have our campers in pods, at least at the beginning of sessions. When they interact with people outside of their pod, they'll wear masks and it will be outdoors and social distanced. We are most likely going have a closed campus, meaning staff will have to stay on campus for days off to maintain the bubble. We're looking at hiring additional medical and cleaning staff to accommodate new systems. The dining hall will have two separate seatings, including outdoor seating. However, the big unknown still is testing. We will likely have some sort of testing but we're still figuring out what it's going to look like."

What If Someone Gets COVID?

Lisa David: "Planning as if we can expect COVID at camp is a reality. We need to have a plan in place. Camp Harlam is part of a larger network of camps, so we've been working with medical experts from across North America. We haven't committed to a specific plan, but are going to have physical space to quarantine if someone is sick."

Josh Sternberg: "We have a COVID committee of doctors, nurses, public health professionals and we're having them pull together specific plans. We're also having spaces to serve as isolation spaces. We're also thinking about things like, if someone has to get home, how do we get them there? We're thinking about public health in general."

Despite Many Changes, Camp Will Still Be Fun

Lisa David: "This has certainly been a difficult year and, in some ways, that makes camp more important. We will still have the things that bring us together: the friendships, the opportunity to be outdoors, the opportunity to do fun activities. Frankly, for a lot of us, being able to turn the screens off is something we will look forward to."

Josh Sternberg: "Camp is still going to be the same. It's all about community and meeting friends and being with friends you haven't seen. We're still going to have the great food—everyone's going to have their grilled cheese and tomato soup and their french toast sticks."


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