Summer camp is looking a little different this year in the Jewish community, but camp directors and attendees are making the best of it.
At KinderCamp, one of three day camps offered at the JCC of the North Shore, youngsters ages 3 ½ to kindergarten can swim in the pool, play musical instruments and celebrate Shabbat – all staples of the camp. However, because of Covid-19 guidelines, they’re limited to small groups in the water. They’re also required to use their own instruments instead of sharing them, and they must socially distance.
“I have to say, it was a lot of work to do it, but it seems really seamless,” camp director Heather Greenberg said. “The only difference, apart from other things, is wearing a mask. When they’re closer together, they have a mask on.” She describes the situation as “everything they would [do] in a typical summer that is not typical.”
For JCCNS day camps that were able to reopen under Phase II of the state guidelines, schedules have incorporated such measures as screening for Covid-19 and using PPE. Among camps elsewhere, there have been tough decisions to close, including at Camp Grossman at the JCC of Greater Boston, with virtual and socially distanced options instead.
Earlier this year, when Massachusetts was facing higher numbers of coronavirus cases, day camp directors wondered whether their summer offerings might have to close as well.
“Throughout the process, the uncertainty was pretty stressful,” said Jessie Stephens, director of Camp Simchah for children in grades one through seven. “We were hiring staff, having the interview process, and wondering if we would not have camp this year … Whether camp would run was the biggest question.”
At the JCCNS, the answer was ultimately yes. As of last week, Camp Simchah, KinderCamp and an inclusion camp for children with disabilities had reopened.
Meanwhile, Chabad of the North Shore has reopened one of its two summer camps – Mini Gan Izzy, for youngsters ages two to five. Camp Director Rabbi Sruli Baron said he hoped to reopen the other camp – Camp Gan Israel, for children in grades one through seven – in late July or August.
Baron said that he wants to do “whatever is humanly possible to protect the campers and families.” He praised the camp facility in Swampscott as “a great facility” that is “well-equipped for the circumstances.” And, he said, “We have a very, very thorough policy to address both cleanliness and hygiene among campers and staff.”
Citing state and local guidelines, the JCC of Greater Boston canceled in-person offerings this summer but has been holding virtual and socially distanced events. These included drive-in movie screenings on June 24-25, which sold out. In early July, youngsters and their families could sign up to receive a “summer-in-a-box” package with items such as jump ropes, chalk and plant seeds. The organization also teamed up with organizations including JewishBoston.com to post virtual and in-person events for families through an initiative called Bost(ON)Summer.
At the JCCNS, camp directors described having to comply with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while also complying with the Marblehead Board of Health. Stephens, the Camp Simchah director, recalled participating in Zoom calls with the CDC, the JCC Association of North America and the American Camp Association.
“It really gave us a good idea of what it would be like if we were allowed to run the camps,” she said. “Since March, the big questions were whether we could run the camps, when, and what are the restrictions.”
There are certainly changes to each day. According to Stephens and KinderCamp director Greenberg, youngsters must pass a daily check in before they are cleared to attend. Once they’re in camp, activities might look different when attendees are wearing masks and divided into smaller groups.
Some activities had to be canceled, such as the Friday Shabbat at Camp Simchah, because campers could not be all together in the same place.
Asked what would happen if a camper tests positive, Greenberg said, “A doctor is supposed to notify the state. We [would] notify the Marblehead Board of Health, who would tell us what the next step is.” She said that such a decision would be “based on the child, the group, the camp,” at the direction of the Board of Health.
“So far, everybody, thank God, is healthy,” Greenberg said.
And even if you can’t see the smiles behind the masks, the youngsters and staff are enjoying themselves.
“Kids are not meant to be socially isolated,” Greenberg said. “It’s important to be active with other kids. We provide that in a very safe environment. They do social distancing on activities, and on an activity when they can’t social distance, they wear masks.
“They go with the flow. They’re so happy to come. It’s hard for kids who are not able to be with friends, of any age – and adults.”