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Can COVID-19 Slow Down Soon Enough to Save Jewish Campers’ Summer?

Canada’s latest COVID-19 vaccination projection covers all those who wish to be immunized by fall 2021, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. With set immunization quarters outlined by the federal government, the fate of resuming regular summer activities, including overnight camps, remains to be seen.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place across the country, this past summer saw several camps improvising a day-camp model mere days or weeks ahead of campers’ arrival. 

“It was definitely tricky,” says Halley Ritter, director of Jewish Programming at Camp Massad Manitoba. 

Ritter says that in the world of overnight camps, while adjusting and adapting on the fly is nothing new, expecting teenage counsellors to become experts in public health certainly was.

“The fact that we had to work beyond our usual framework and our usual structure really threw us for a loop, especially considering our staff is so young,” she says.

Camp Massad Manitoba was among the handful of overnight camps in the province that operated in a day camp capacity. The day camp operated with campers being bussed into the camp every morning about one hour north of Winnipeg, getting their temperatures checked and having parents filling out a daily screening form. These measures, along with socially distanced programming, required a lot of teamwork, Ritter says.

Canada’s nation-wide distribution plan targets vaccinating high-risk groups such as health care workers and seniors between December and March 2021, according to CTV News. Vaccinations to the general public can be expected between April and June while the lowest risk individuals should receive shots by September to December of this year.

Additionally, Canada’s approved vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech is only approved for Canadians aged 16 and older. This comes as a result that children are less impacted by the virus and the fact that clinical trials have prioritized adults, CTV News reports. 

Considering camps’ main clientele falls below the aforementioned age bracket, Ritter does not foresee a normal summer anytime soon.

“Because of last summer, I am a bit of a pessimist now — a realist,” she says. “I don’t foresee us being able to run a camp program safely as we used to. One of the most important things about summer camp is that it is a safe place in terms of cultural exploration and exploration of one’s identity, but also in health and safety. I don’t think it would be responsible to run a program before we’re absolutely sure we can safely.” 

Summer camp is unique in forming identity in Jewish youth as it offers an independent exploration of what Judaism means, Ritter says. Camp Massad is the only Hebrew immersion residential camp in North America, offering another important facet of Jewish experience, according to their website.

“The beauty of camp is that it’s an adult-free zone where kids are allowed to have experiences that are fun and posit a free opportunity to ask questions. There are no expectations for the kids to believe or identify with anything specific.”

Ritter says that learning about Jewish culture and tradition outside of the classroom through lived experiences at camp is more personal for youth than in other contexts. While there is hope that the vaccine transmission is both rapid and effective at reducing caseload, Ritter says in the long-term, another summer without regular camp will not be detrimental for Jewish youth.

“I foresee us having to adapt again to a different summer program and it really hurts my heart because I wish that we were able to speed things along,” she says. Ritter says she believes that nonetheless, the love of summer camp will remain long past COVID-19.

 

Belle is in her fourth and final year studying Journalism and Humanities at Carleton University. She is president and chapter coordinator for HC Carleton and is so excited to publish some incredible content this year along with the rest of the team and writers. When she isn't writing or managing things for the chapter, you can probably find her out for a run, in for a nap or watching the latest true crime doc on Netflix.
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