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Ramah Darom, URJ Camps including Jacobs, announce summer cancellations

With the uncertainty over what the loosening of restrictions on public gatherings will look like, and whether anything that involves crowds ...

With the uncertainty over what the loosening of restrictions on public gatherings will look like, and whether anything that involves crowds will be able to happen, the Reform camping movement and the Conservative movement’s Ramah Darom announced today that there will not be any in-person camp sessions this summer.

The Reform movement’s 15 summer camps include the Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, and Camp Coleman in Georgia. The movement also cancelled its annual Israel youth trips and in-person youth activities, affecting about 25,000 campers and participants.

Camp Barney Medintz, Camp Judaea and Camp Blue Star have not announced a decision. The Ramah camps in Colorado and Wisconsin announced a delayed opening to at least the first of July.

For camps in the South, decisions needed to be made, because the Southern school schedule means camps in the region begin much earlier than in other parts of the country. Many camps begin in the first part of June, because many school systems begin the second week of August.

The messages to parents generally began with “broken hearts” in relating the news.

Anna Herman, director of Jacobs Camp, said “if at any point new information emerges and conditions change that lead us to be able to provide some other form of in-person gatherings, we will do so as a top priority.”

Ramah Darom is exploring the possibility of alternative programs, and “as soon as we are able to safely bring people together at Ramah Darom, we will." Possibilities include aidah reunions, special retreats and other new experiences throughout the year.

The URJ camps decided to make the announcement to cover the entire summer, because “there are too many known and unknown risks for us to create an acceptable pathway forward for this summer.”

Herman said “it has become clear that the risks posed by COVID-19 threaten our most sacred value — the health and well-being of our children, staff, and faculty that attend camp — along with their communities back home.”

In a note to the camp community, Ramah Darom Director Geoffrey Menkowitz said “at this time, State of Georgia ordinances do not permit us to operate.” While there may be the legal possibility to operate as things continue to open up, “the guidelines provided by medical professionals, industry experts and government authorities all indicate that any camps opening this summer must plan to experience some level of infection.”

Not wanting to expect to manage a COVID infection in camp, the Ramah Darom medical committee recommended to the board that camp not operate, as “we have deemed the many risks involved with exposure to COVID untenable.”

In his video message, Menkowitz said “We have been holding onto hope that it might be possible for us to still get back to camp this summer... It has become clear that camp as we know it and love it is not possible right now.”

Ramah Darom will have a series of Zoom meetings for parents, starting May 3, to discuss plans.

Jacobs Camp is starting a series of meetings on April 29.

Camps are generally giving parents the option of making the 2020 camp payments into a donation, a payment toward 2021 or available for refund. Tuition payments that are converted into a donation are eligible toward a $10 million Grinspoon Foundation challenge match for Jewish summer camps.

According to the Foundation for Jewish Camp, there are about 300 Jewish overnight and day summer camps serving 180,000 campers annually, and the system-wide financial hit could be $150 million.

Having started attending summer camp at the age of 10, Herman said “The thought of a summer without song sessions or evening programs or Maccabiah is one that I can’t really comprehend — and honestly never thought to be a possibility.”

Ramah Darom and Jacobs Camp have been providing an extensive array of online gatherings for campers since the shutdowns began, especially Shabbat and Havdalah programming.

The URJ said "In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, we’ll share additional information about Movement-wide opportunities to participate in regional and specialty camp programming focused on creative arts, science and technology, sports, Jewish learning and worship, songleading, and more," noting that over 400 online youth programs had already taken place since shelter-in-place orders started.
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Southern Jewish Life: Ramah Darom, URJ Camps including Jacobs, announce summer cancellations
Ramah Darom, URJ Camps including Jacobs, announce summer cancellations
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