Jewish Summer Camps Trying To Ban Gadgets While Embracing Technology

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At a Jewish summer camp in upstate New York, they’re giving kids digital filmmaking classes and telling them to leave their Nintendo Game Boys at home. In Georgia, a camp is encouraging face time with video pen pals rather than time on iPods. In Wisconsin, a camp has traded snail mail for scanned mail.

As technology oozes into every facet of children’s lives, Jewish summer camps are struggling with how to wean kids off their gadgets — at least for the summer — while using technology to improve the camp experience.

Once upon a time, kids were playing cards at night, but camp is a very different place than it was 40 years ago,” said Rabbi Paul Resnick, director of the Conservative-affiliated Camp Ramah in the Berkshiresin Wingdale, N.Y. “Camps need to keep up and evolve since technology keeps changing on us.

Many Jewish camps now have rules banning gadgets such as cellphones, tablets, laptop computers, iPods and gaming devices. B’nai B’rith’s Beber Camp in Mukwonago, Wis., has a no-screen policy. Camp Morasha in Lakewood, Pa., bans any device that can connect to the Internet.

But at the same time, camps are using technologies to their advantage: live streaming events so parents back home can watch, using digital programs to teach Hebrew, uploading photos to the Internet and replacing scanning with snail mail to instantly send the children’s letters to their parents.

Watching my son during the live Havdalah service was like watching him through a peephole — giving him the freedom and independence I want him to have while still getting to see him look so free, so happy and so engaged,” said Jodi Fleisig of Atlanta, whose two sons attend Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Ga, who hosted a viewing party at her home for the service. “It’s amazing to see your normally shy kids who don’t sing, don’t dance, literally come alive at camp.”

Technology can be a wonderful vehicle to watch your kids grow, and to know that they are getting out of the camp experience what you were hoping they would gain without interfering with their independence.”

Ramah Darom is looking into other programs to live stream this summer, including the camp play.

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