Is Camp Hiawatha Jewish Parents can scout the Web

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It may be the middle of winter, but if you are looking for a Jewish summer camp, now is the time to choose. Fortunately, many camps and Jewish youth movements have created Web sites. And that makes comparison shopping much easier for parents of prospective campers. Today, an overview.

There are well over 100 Jewish camps in North America, and it is beyond the scope of this column to list them all. But there are some very good sites that will do that for you. The Jewish Camp Guide is broken into four American regional sections in addition to Canadian and International listings. It lists more than 150 camps including all-girls- and all-boys camps, kosher camps and sports camps. If you can't find your favorite camp on the list, you can ask to have it added: www.jewish.com/camps/

Moment magazine maintains a similar list of Jewish camps in addition to a list of those in Israel that cater to Americans at www.momentmag.com/ resources/campguide.html

And you can check out the Association of Jewish Sponsored Camps, which represents 33 not-for-profit children and adult camps including five camps for individuals with special needs at www.jewishcamps.org/

There may be many Jewish camps to choose from, but every year campers are turned away because the camps just can't fulfill the demand. The Foundation for Jewish Camping wants to do something about that.

The foundation was started in 1998 by Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, a New Jersey couple. The foundation has already provided $200,000 in grants to help camps expand. It is working to triple Jewish camp attendance, because its members believe that the Jewish camping system requires 100 new camps. The foundation's Web site is at www.jewishcamping.org

As campers grow up they embark on their next challenge as counselors. The Jewish Camp Staff Web site is designed to help counselors and Jewish camps find each other. Counselors fill out online staff profiles (listing skills, education, religious affiliation, etc.) that can then be used by camps looking for summer help. At the moment, this site — www.jewishcampstaff.com/ is used by two dozen Jewish camps.

But according to an article in Jewish World Review, some camps are having a tough time finding counselors. Camps find themselves in competition with fast-food chains and theme parks for summer help. And some college students prefer to go for jobs and internships that are connected to their careers. In order to hold onto camp staff, Jerry Kaye, director of a Reform camp in Wisconsin, has awarded $1,000 scholarships to counselors who return for a third year of work. Check it out at www.jewishworldreview.com/0600/lure.html

In order to help fill their staffing needs, many Jewish camps turn to Israeli teenagers. These shlichim, or emissaries, play a crucial role at Jewish camps around the country. They introduce American campers to the human side of life in Israel. Read about them at www.campramah.org/news/shlichim.html

You can get more familiar with the importance the state of Israel has played in Jewish summer camps in a comprehensive article by David Friedman and David Zisenwine at www.israelives.org/camp/camps.html

How do you know if the time is right to send your own children off to camp? Ellen Nash, director of Ontario's Camp Northland-B'nai B'rith, says age 9 or 10 "is ideal for many kids to begin to go to camp. Twelve is sort of the top end." Ask yourself: "Do they like being with groups of kids? Are they comfortable sleeping over at other kids' houses? Those are good signs," she says. Read more at www.todaysparent.com/ school_age/article.jsp?cId=3927

Once their kids are off at camp, the parents will fret until they get mail. Then they may fret even more. Eileen Goltz has accumulated some choice letters from campers. After two weeks at camp, one postcard home started with "My counselor is a witch. I hate everyone in the cabin. But other than that, I'm having a great time." Read more at www.clevelandjewishnews.com/camp/

And then there was 9-year-old Stevie Palmer. "He wrote that his counselor was taking the whole cabin to see a cannibal and that he wasn't sure why, and could his parents call the camp and find out because he was afraid someone would get eaten. Turns out it wasn't quite that exciting. It was just a field trip to Cape Canaveral and nobody from Stevie's cabin was on the menu."