Perspectives Magazine/Yehudah Kaplan
Over the past decade, thousands of words have been spilled, in conversation and in print, over the alarming rate of our youth going off the derech. Accusations have been made against our school systems and against the parents. The rabbonim, the mashpiyim and even our store vendors have been blamed.
No doubt, there’s a kernel of truth to all of the above. There is however one area, which I feel has been overlooked, and interestingly enough, it is the first one to be mentioned by most educators. How much this is of influence, cannot be proven without thorough study, but surely a factor deserving of attention it is.
I am talking of the two month summer camps.
First the facts:
(Most of what is written here is regarding the boys camps, of which the writer has more an idea, but much of it is equally relevant to the girls programs.)
1) All the camps are being run by twenty two year old bochurim, and twenty year old girls respectively. Simply put: Three hundred children in the hands of a person who is not yet ready to have children of his/her own.
2) The curriculums, games, plays, night activities and songs, are being prepared by teenagers. No professional guidance provided.
3) Overlooking their work is the director, who sees the camp as a business enterprise and whose expertise in education is next to nothing. While traditionally there is a camp rabbi, he does not have much influence on the day to day workings of the camp.
4) The most important goal every staff member is told: Make sure the kids have a good time. Everything else is secondary.
5) In the boy’s camps, the counselors are generally the less chassidishe bochurim. This is simply due to the fact that any bochur interested in learning would prefer to go to a Yeshivas Kayitz or at least be a learning teacher. It is therefore usually the fun seeking, available, camp-style bochur who is spending two months with the kids as their role model.
Likewise, the head counselors of the boy’s camps must be the kind of bochur who is ready to sacrifice half a year of learning to prepare for the summer.
6) There is no academic standard that has to be met by the camp curriculum. In other words, it is impossible for a camp’s learning to fail. Emotional and behavioral intendancies are not the responsibility of the camp either. Once the summer is over, all staff members are scot free.
The results are only to be expected:
The unsettled seventeen year old counselors and waiters dictate the education; basic good ethics and traits, like not screaming in the streets, not ridiculing others, being respectful of your teachers etc., all become “nerdy” in camp. The camp atmosphere demands that you be with it. “It” is monitored by the popular night activity director who has just about managed not to get kicked out of yeshiva.
These same educators of our youth are also creating and cheering with the kids street-like chants, which are usually meaningless, and at times coarse. The more silly and immature one could be – the better counselor he is. The staff will generally not deny that the cheering is more for their own fun, than for the children.
The activities and programs are infiltrated with secular culture. Many a camp play was based on movies, which for some reason the play writers happened to have seen. The scavengers and shmayonkies may also have the same.
Then there’s the dress. The staff members, finally relived from their yeshiva shackles, could dress as hip as they wish. White shirt and dark pants are not ‘cool’. A green-yarmullka bearer is a hero. All campers wishing to ‘fit in’ follow suit.
The learning is a joke too. Unlike all other camps, Lubavitch camps do not provide married experienced teachers, who know their stuff and discipline professionally. In fact the learning teachers are even younger than the counselors. The results are; tampering with the learning, turning good kids into trouble makers, and a vicious cycle of bribes and punishments being implemented by the clueless, and occasionally careless bochur in charge.
The emotional damage is worthy of a study of its own. Publicly humiliating kids is daily procedure in the dining room, petting and picking is customary and creating outright competition is the fuel on which camp runs.
All of this is covered and packaged in a few attractive fluffy wrappers, which blind the parents and set them to rest. Mushy Rebbe songs, mishnayos ba’al peh contests, loads of fun and expensive trips, bring back home smiling kids. But the damage was done, and will only surface during the course of the school year.
The Rebbi attempts to excite the kids about learning and yiddishe values, but year after year, it falls flat. The teacher is simply not ‘with it’ – with camp.
In camp they were taught that learning is a non-issue, and here the teacher is trying to make it sound like it’s a life matter. Their counselors were ‘cool’, and this teacher is telling them that chassidishkeit is what’s important.
The chutzpah to the teacher soars, as a natural continuation of the fun. It is quite possibly also due to the fact that the teachers are subconsciously perceived as old-fashioned not-with-it people, as a result of the worldly camp atmosphere.
It cannot be expected otherwise. After being brainwashed for eight weeks that camp is the best place and being spoiled with treats, trips and fun; after enjoying ‘runaways’ from learning class and spending half a day in the swimming pool or the baseball court – the rebbis are being put up to heavy competition. One that they are bound to fail at.
As the year progresses, the rebbi somehow stitches up the damage done by the summer, and attempts to instill a learning ethic, derech eretz and yiras shomayim. But as the summer comes around, it all goes up in smoke as the next batch of teenagers set about blinding his dear pupils with the easier, cooler, alternative way of life.
Back in camp, camper and counselor have much in common; they both relate of a miserably boring year of irrelevant Gemarah, and dive into a “fun-packed summer experience of a lifetime”, one that shall “change your child forever”.
In the tug of war between the schools and the camps, the latter usually succeed. They have everything going for them, including the 24-hour atmosphere, the not being restricted to educational programs, not being answerable to any level of providing skills and knowledge, and an enthusiastic youthful staff anxious to partake in the fun.
The results are all well known to us.
The past few years have seen much of our energy invested in constructively criticizing our community. I believe that most of our homes, and the vast majority of our teachers, are doing only good. The real culprits are the camps.
One frustrated teacher once remarked that since the Rebbe originally set up the camps for non-frum kids, and since the camps are not managing to attract them, they are attempting to produce them on their own. A sad joke of bad taste, but one we cannot laugh away.
Our kids are not going off any derech – their striding strictly on the alternative path they were shown.