Pamela Rae Schuller says she can hardly imagine her childhood without Jewish summer camp.
A New York-based standup comedian and disabilities activist, Schuller has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes her to make involuntary movements and sounds.
“I grew up in a body over which I had no control. Camp helped me to see that while Tourette’s was part of me, it wasn’t the only part of me,” she said. “Camp was the first place I began to openly talk about Tourette’s. … It was the first place I felt celebrated.”
Schuller will share her memories and amusing observations at “A Jewish Camp,” a community gathering on Sunday, Dec. 15, from 3-5 p.m. at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Baltimore North in Pikesville.
Sponsored by The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Center for Jewish Camping and 13 area summer camps, the event will introduce families to the benefits of Jewish summer camping while providing camp-themed entertainment, s’mores and a kosher dessert reception.
Performing there will be local comedian, juggler and circus performer Michael Rosman. In addition, camps will have tables with materials and representatives available to speak with interested families and individuals.
“A Jewish Camp” will also feature a keynote address by Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting and youth development expert, author and physician affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. Gilboa is a product of Jewish summer camping, as well as the parent of four Jewish summer campers.
“Camp is usually the first opportunity kids have to be in a less structured environment away from their families. And that’s really good for kids,” said Dr. Gilboa, who provides parenting advice on her website, AskDoctorG.com.
“Camp gives them the tools to figure out what they like, to learn new skills and to try new things that are hard — away from grownups,” she said. “They learn to advocate for themselves, have more autonomy, make choices. They also learn to forge relationships with charismatic adults who are not their parents, and to meet and introduce themselves to new people. They learn how to miss their families, while also having a good time.”
Camp is also important for parents, said Dr. Gilboa, because “it gives us a chance to choose a safe and encouraging place for our children, and then to let go of them. One of the metrics of good parenting in our society is the expectation that we should know where our child is at every moment. That is a false, damaging metric. It’s bad for kids, and it’s bad for parents.”
Summer camping is important for Jewish continuity and communal engagement, Dr. Gilboa said.
“Camps and youth groups — these are the experiences that keep kids engaged in Judaism,” she said. “When they go to college, these are the things that make kids say, ‘’I think I’ll go to that Hillel event,’ or later, ‘I’m going to join a synagogue.’”
But the majority of Jewish children in the United States do not attend Jewish summer camps. “Some parents are scared of sending their children to an openly Jewish camp because, ‘What if the place is targeted [by terrorists or anti-Semites]?’” she said.
Dr. Gilboa — who belongs to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that was the site of the 2018 mass shooting — said she understands these fears and concerns. But she stressed that “Jewish camp is part of the answer [to anti-Semitism], not the problem. If a child goes to Jewish camp, they know they have a community around them. They aren’t alone and disenfranchised. They are facing challenges, they learn together and have meaningful conversations about difficult topics. They build resilience.”
Although she is now in her early 30s, Schuller said she still goes to camp during the summer. Last summer, she visited 22 summer camps where she performed her standup routine and spread her message of inclusion and tolerance.
“Camp is the most magical place on the planet,” Schuller said. “If I could, I would spend all year there!”
Saadya Zakheim, who chairs The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping, agreed.
“I grew up going to Jewish summer camp, and that’s a key ingredient in why I’m still a practicing Jew,” he said. “When I look back on my most positive Jewish experiences, they took place mostly at camp.”
For information about “A Jewish Camp,” visit associated.org/campconnections or contact Evan Willner at email@example.com or 410-369-9315.
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