Research on Jewish Youth

Camp Works!


Much has been written about the power and impact of Jewish summer camp. We invite you to read on!



Creating an Engaged Future: Findings from the URJ Youth Alumni Impact Study (2018)

By Miriam T. Chilton and Alex Pomson

In Fall 2017, the URJ engaged Rosov Consulting to measure the lifelong impact of URJ youth programs. There have been many such alumni studies in the Jewish community in recent years focused on questions of Jewish continuity, identity building, and other traditional markers of success. In this study, we set out to ascertain if the URJ’s youth programs are achieving the goals of the URJ: to strengthen communities that transform the way people connect to Jewish life and build a more whole, just, and compassionate world. By measuring against these organizational objectives, which often went beyond the traditional measures such as whether our alumni are married to other Jews or lighting Shabbat candles each week, we were able to measure how Reform youth experiences such as URJ camps, NFTY, and congregations help alumni flourish as Reform Jewish adults while inspiring them to positively impact the world.

Against a backdrop of the changing composition of Jewish and American family life and the increasingly competitive race for college, the URJ enjoys some of the highest camper retention rates among the network of Jewish summer camps, and current NFTY participants eagerly share their positive experiences in post-event surveys. While these are important markers of current success on participants, we also want to understand the impact beyond those experiences. This study is one of several investments the URJ is making to measure and evaluate the success of our work in fostering a more whole, just, and compassionate world.

In surveying alumni, we set out to measure:

Does participation in these programs as children inspire alumni to find joy and meaning in Jewish life as adults?
In what ways do Reform youth experiences influence the choices alumni make for themselves and their children?
In what ways does participation in Reform youth experiences lead to a flourishing Jewish community?
This survey of more than 3,000 alumni (aged 25+) from among more than 375,000 alumni of URJ youth programs was compared to the Pew Center’s 2013 Portrait of Jewish Americans. The study found that the URJ’s youth programs create quality, lifelong Jewish outcomes, the benefits of which are “paid forward” at least one generation.

The research points to a continuum of influence that starts during a person’s childhood and youth, continues through their college years, and sees expression in Jewish engagement and identification during adulthood, even many years later.

Across different types of experiences, the Reform Movement delivers youth programs that have long-lasting impact. Read the key findings here.


ACA’s Youth Impact Study – Phase 1 Findings (2018)

The purpose of the Exploratory Phase, or Phase 1 of the Impact Study, was to identify distinct and transferable outcomes of the camp experience among emerging adults who attended camp as a child. Specifically, the research team explored the outcomes of camp that are distinct from other developmental contexts, such as school and sports, how camp participants use those outcomes to navigate work and school, and what happened at camp to facilitate outcome development.

Informed by these themes, the research team is now building a survey to determine the most distinct and transferable outcomes of camp and the camp mechanisms that promote these outcomes among emerging adults who attended camp as a child.  Approximately 250 first-year staff will complete this survey as a part of the Mapping Phase (Phase 2 of the Impact Study) starting in January 2018.

CAMP WORKS: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp (2011)

The influence of summer camp on the ways in which adult Jews choose to engage with the community and the degree to which they associate with other Jews can be felt long after the last sunset of the summer. The impact is striking, especially when compared to their peers who did not spend their summer months at Jewish camp.

Camp attendance increases the likelihood of adult participation and identification in every one of these areas. As adults, campers are:

  • 30% more likely to donate to a Jewish charity;
  • 37% more likely to light Shabbat candles;
  • 45% more likely to attend synagogue monthly or more; and
  • 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel.

Download the report HERE. Or download the graphic representation in this BROCHURE.


Generation of Change: How Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties are Reshaping American Jewish Life (September 2010)

By Jack Wertheimer

This study examines the identities and attitudes of today’s young cohort of leaders, and explains the effect of their childhood involvement in Jewish activities on their adult leadership behavior. A whopping 71 percent of young leaders surveyed attended Jewish summer camp, as the study explains: “The rates of participation by these leaders in Jewish summer camps, youth movements, Hillel, and other forms of Jewish education are extraordinarily high, suggesting that many of the young leaders were groomed rather than having bloomed on their own.” Clearly, the potential of raising leaders at Jewish camp is enormous, and we look forward to helping camps harness this potential.


How Goodly Are Thy Tents: Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences

By Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe

An entertaining ethnographic study of how Jewish summer camps foster Jewish sensibilities and education. Written for social scientists, educators, community professionals and lay leaders concerned with informal education, camping, children, ethnicity, and religion, this book will be of special interest to those interested in how culture and traditions are passed on to the next generation.

Read more about this book or order copies.


Blogs & Articles

The Best Way We Can Prepare Our Children for Life’s Tests

Camp: A Living Laboratory of Judaism

Making Mensches for the 21st Century

By Jeremy J. Fingerman

“Educators and leaders of Fortune 500 corporations identified critical skills that are necessary to navigate in, compete in, and contribute to our complex and global society in the 21st century. They have found skills like creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, leadership, and responsibility missing from young hires … Camp is a great place where children are able to practice and perfect these 21st century skills. Through challenging activities with their bunkmates, campers practice teamwork, communication, and leadership skills. The fun games they play encourage humor, creativity, and collaboration. By overcoming obstacles, they build resilience and reinforce life lessons individually and as a community. The power of Jewish camp is that kids develop these skills all within a Jewish context, with Jewish values and joy-filled experiences …”

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Why (Jewish) Summer Camp?

SUMMER CAMP can be a transformative experience for children. We at PJ Library are staunch supporters of the summer camp experience. Not only have we sent out a number of PJ Library books relating to Jewish overnight camp, but we have also partnered with as part of our PJ Goes to Camp effort.

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How Summers at GFC Prepared Me for College

By Samantha Sheppe and Scott Greenberg

For the last decade or so of my life, summertime has been spent away from home, away from screens, away from parents. After such a long time, camp is easy and natural. Being away from home means nothing when you know how to make new homes with new people. This is camp: home away from home. But it wasn’t always like this! Over the last two summers I was a counselor for ten year olds, and I love to tell my kids the “made-up” story of a boy who cried so much in his Niviim year that he almost didn’t come back to camp….

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18 Lessons HSJ taught me about Jewish Leadership

by Sydney Gold

Every year I drive down Morrison road, through the infamous HSJ gates, my heart racing as my car begins to painfully slowly encroach upon the cabins. And each year, as my car meanders down those roads, I always end up noticing in a sign, drilled into the Mississippi dirt. A small metal board stands up from the ground, supported by two legs, reading CAUTION, FUTURE WORLD LEADERS AT WORK AND PLAY. This sign always grabs my attention in the midst of the pre camp rush. It’s because in my eight years at Jacobs, I’ve come across few statements that encompass camp as completely as this one.

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Summer Camp Impact Seen High In New Study: Strongest evidence yet of effect of camping on Jewish identity, adult engagement.

By Julie Wiener, Associate Editor, The Jewish Week

When your child grows up, do you want him or her to feel an emotional attachment to Israel, go to synagogue and donate regularly to Jewish causes?

Then start packing a duffel bag, and load it on a bus bound for a Jewish sleep-away camp.

A just-released report — the most comprehensive analysis so far of the impact of Jewish camp experiences — offers the strongest evidence yet that a summer of bug juice, fresh air and color war leads to significantly stronger adult Jewish engagement.

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