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Summer camp plays a significant role in the socialization of North American Jewish youth. It is a place where young people form their moral and spiritual identities and gain values and skills to contribute positively to the world. Overnight camps provide a unique opportunity to deepen character and strengthen virtues, build connections with each other, form a sense of belonging, and become mensches (people of exceptional character) who have a positive impact on the world.

Approximately 180,000 children and young adults attend or work at the 300 Jewish day and overnight camps in Foundation for Jewish Camp’s (FJC’s) network each year. We propose to work with camp cohorts to identify, refine, and design best practices in character virtue development and evaluate their impact on the minds, hearts and behaviors of campers and staff. Based on a landscape survey we conducted this year, we learned that the virtues most important to camps are relational—those that enable campers to relate to each other well and build inclusive community together, specifically loving kindness (hesed in Hebrew).

We seek to answer: “How do activities and rituals at Jewish overnight camp nurture and promote character development in adolescent campers and camp staff?” And, “What are the best practices that support young adult camp staff to model and nurture kindness in themselves and others?” We will conduct qualitative and quantitative research, employ Virtue Ambassadors, and convene Learning Circles to develop new virtue development resources and practices. We will develop training materials for staff, produce webinars for the field, speak at conferences, and publish articles and research findings.

The impact of our proposed project is exponential. We will share all resources with our network of 300+ camps, rippling out to the hundreds of thousands of campers, parents, and staff who participate in camp across North America each year.