Camps allure: from mitzvot to yoga to rock climbing

This summer campers can conquer the high elements on a ropes course, backpack through the splendor of Yosemite, produce a musical review, be a DJ on a radio station or just relax in an old-fashioned inner tube.

Jewish summer camps offer programs where campers can learn new skills, become more comfortable in the outdoors, enjoy a sense of community and explore their Jewish identity.

Here is a sampling:

Generations of Jewish families have considered Camp Tawonga a home away from home since 1926. Located next to Yosemite National Park, the camp makes the most of its natural resources; backpacking, hiking, fishing, boating and swimming are all part of a Tawonga summer.

The camp's philosophy combines Jewish history, culture and faith with traditional camp activities like overnights, campfires, dances, barbecues and luaus.

"During the last couple of years we've expanded our program for teens," explains Ann Gonski, administrative director. "Repeat campers have built up a sense of community during previous summers, and they're ready to take things a step further and start giving back."

For information, call Camp Tawonga, (415) 543-2267.

Summer '97 brings some additions to the Camp Ramah campgrounds at the Max and Pauline Conference Center in Ojai; repeat campers will find a new outdoor chapel and sports field, a ropes course and refurbished sleeping cabins.

As the camp of the Conservative movement, "we create an atmosphere where Judaism is everywhere and it's comfortable," says Navah Kelman, assistant director.

Activities for campers in grades four through 11 include karate, Israeli dancing, archery, arts and crafts, drama, woodworking and Jewish studies. Ramah maintains a strictly kosher camp and observes the laws of Shabbat.

For information, call (310) 476-8571.

Camp Arazim, next to Oakdale in Stanislaus County, begins its 26th year with expanded sleeping, bathing and dining facilities and new basketball and volleyball courts.

Campers in second through 10th grades select activities such as horseback riding, journalism, arts and crafts, gardening, cooking, Hebrew and yoga. New electives include band, with a music director, and broadcasting. The camp is strictly kosher and Shabbat observant.

"The value of a Jewish camp is that it shows so many beautiful sides to being Jewish," explains Yaffa Tygiel, camp director.

For information, call (510) 429-6779.

Three hundred summer campers will initiate Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, the newest of the Reform movement's Union Of American Hebrew Congregations' summer camps.

The site features an Olympic-size swimming pool, an outdoor amphitheater, a sports complex and 500 acres of rolling hills and hiking trails. That camp as well as Camp Swig Saratoga offer aquatics, hiking, environmental awareness and nature electives, as well as programs about Israeli culture, Hebrew and Shabbat.

The camps are "perpetuating Jewish life in a physical, emotional, and spiritual sense," says Eric Kleinman, associate director of the UAHC Camp Swig Institute for Living Judaism.

For information, call (415) 392-7080.

This year Camp Young Judaea-West, sponsored by Hadassah, moves to Oakdale, in the center of Northern California.

The new site features a lake, ropes course, an arts and crafts-ceramics studio, three performance stages and a petting zoo.

Campers span the observance spectrum and begin each day with an egalitarian morning prayer service; everyone observes Shabbat, holidays and kashrut together.

The camp's philosophy is that ruach (spirit) is what Camp Young Judaea-West is all about.

For information, call (510) 549-0260 or (800) 698-6788.

As for day camps, Camp Chai, on the grounds of Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa, has provided a Jewish summer camp experience for youth in Sonoma County for 15 years.

"Many of our activities, including theme days and parent nights, are quietly but noticeably Jewish in a cultural and traditional way," explains Beth Goodman, administrative director.

About 75 campers per three-week session enjoy swimming, baseball, arts and crafts, folk dancing and Jewish programming. On Fridays every child bakes a challah and participates in the traditional Shabbat blessings and lighting the candles.

For information, call (707) 526-5571.

At Camp Gan Israel on the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School campus in Sunnyvale, campers explore Jewish holidays with yeshiva counselors through games, songs and crafts and learn the importance of mitzvot through personal experiences, such as putting a penny or two in the tzedakah box every day.

"We don't offer Jewish content. The entire experience is permeated with Judaism," explains Batsheva Williamson, program director.

The sports program includes baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, kickball ("If it can be done with a ball, we do it") and two new activities, karate and swimming instruction.

For information, call (415) 424-9800.

"Any mitzvah that a Jew does should be done as beautifully as possible," says Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, the education rabbi at the Emanu-El Arts Camp in San Francisco.

Children at the camp can concentrate on performing, visual and cultural arts based on a Jewish curriculum. Students focus on their own creativity, invention and technique, as well as the historical and religious meanings of their art.

For information, call (415) 751-2535.

"Being in Berkeley, we represent a diverse community but no matter how old you are or where you come from, you'll have a successful summer," says Roz Sarah, director of the youth and family department at the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center

Several specialty camps operate from the BRJCC base camp, or as Sarah calls it, the place of "organized chaos." Kindergartners through fourth-graders can enjoy swimming, drama, environmental science, music and Jewish cultural education.

"Uncamp" campers, in grades five through eight, leave camp every day for outdoor adventures like rock climbing or inside expeditions like walking through Virgin Records.

New Horizons, a new leadership program for students in eighth through 10th grade, allows campers to perform community service and take a closer look at being Jewish.

For more information on Berkeley "J" Summer Day Camp, call (510) 848-0237.