A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that having a Pesach seder is the ritual in which most American Jews participate. While 53% of Jewish Americans said they fast on Yom Kippur and 23% said they light Shabbat candles regularly, a full 70% of said that they attend a seder. This includes — amazingly — 42% of people who identify culturally as Jews but don’t believe in any religion. The same study showed that 44% of American Jews — almost half of the entire population — attended summer camp, including 18%, nearly one-fifth, of Jews without religion.
What is it about the seder and the camp experiences that bring together so many of us, regardless of how we observe the rest of the year, or even believe? How have these two become so pervasive and essential to American Jewish identity?
Taking a closer look at the seder and camp reveals experiences that are strikingly similar. Both are focused on youth — obviously camp is for kids, but also so much of what we do at the seder is “so the children will ask questions.” Both are completely immersive: just as camp is a world of its own, with its rituals and songs and inside jokes, the ritual progression of the seder (which literally means “order”) puts each of us in a place to mentally, spiritually, and emotionally experience being taken out of Egypt ourselves. For 74 years, Jewish kids have been coming to Northwood, New Hampshire each summer, each year both as familiar as home and yet a completely new experience. For millennia, Jews have gathered together to have seders each year, saying the same enduring words as our ancestors yet bringing new teachings to somehow make each seder unique. Pesach was the formative experience of the Jewish people, and Jewish camp is a formative experience for almost half of the entire American Jewish population. Pesach made us a Jewish nation long ago, and camp continues to connect us to our Judaism today.
- How does your Pesach seder resemble/parallel your camp experience, or how could you make your Pesach experience more like camp? What could you borrow from one experience to bring to the other?
- How has Pesach influenced your Jewish identity? How has camp influenced your Jewish identity?