Summer camps attract more kids
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Many parents are sending their offspring abroad for an experience that they wouldn't be able to get at home.
Many parents are delighted to get their kids out of the house and away to summer camp for two weeks each year. Some go even further, shipping their kids out of their home country, opting to send their offspring to Israel for the camp experience. "This is a new and growing trend", said Michael Jankelowitz of the Jewish Agency, who added that while the numbers are "insignificant" compared with Jewish Agency programs, the trend is developing rapidly. The shift concerning where to send children to summer camp, and the move from camps abroad to those in Israel has seen several camps spring up over the last five years to cater to the need. Many factors influence parents' decisions as to where to send their children - and cost figures high on the list, according to Dr. Ronen Hoffmann, founder of Camp Kimama - an Israeli, international summer camp. "We keep an eye on the US camps' prices, and are aware that if our camps are cheaper, it will influence some parents," he commented. He was quick to point out, however, that other factors were of equal importance to many parents and their children. "Many parents want to send their children to a place where they can meet Israeli youth and form friendships that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to make." He stressed that many Israeli parents felt the same way, wanting their children to spend time away with children of a less homogeneous background than they would find at an all-Israeli camp. "We are trying to build bridges between Jewish youth from abroad and native Israeli Jews, in both a Zionist and fun environment," Hoffmann said. Although no one was willing to estimate the potential market value of this relatively new Israeli enterprise, it's clear that if current trends continue the country may have found itself another lucrative business. Hoffmann founded Kimama three years ago, and it currently caters to 650 campers - with nearly half of them from overseas. "When we began, the split was 80%/20% in favor of the Israelis, the next year was 60/40, and this year we are looking at almost 50/50." While many of the overseas campers are American, Hoffmann said there are also several from Europe, South America and even Asia. The OU Center's Camp Dror also caters to a mix of Israeli and Diaspora youth. However, there are far more Israelis present as a general rule. "Last year we had 150 campers, eight of whom came from the US," said Shelly Morer, of the OU Center. She agreed that monetary concerns were a factor influencing many parents to send their children to camp in Israel. The financial savings to parents who send their children to Israeli rather than local camps are significant. "To send a child to camp with us for two weeks costs $690 which, even with air fare on top, works out as cheaper than many camps in the States," Morer commented. Even when factoring in a $1,500 airfare, Camp Dror's cost works out to be cheaper than many of the US camps researched. Berkshire Hills Camp, in Copake, N.Y., for instance, charges $2,825 for the same period, and Texas-based Echo Hill Ranch costs $2,325 for two-and-a-half weeks. Yet, for most parents, their children's enjoyment is far more important than cost-cutting. "Most of our parents want to give their child a positive Israel experience, in a camp framework," Morer said. Parents, as a general rule, also don't seem to be deterred from sending their kids to camp here by "events" in the country. "Even during the intifada, numbers remained stable as, unlike on an Israel tour, children on our camps are in a safe, secure location the whole time they are here," said Kimama's Hoffmann. "Parents know that the camp is gated and guarded, and therefore are not as worried as if their children were touring from city-to-city". Morer also doubted that parents held back from sending their children to an Israeli camp during more dangerous periods, but conceded that "last year numbers were lower due to the disengagement". Both Camp Dror and Camp Kimama cater to children who do not speak fluent Hebrew, which means that language is no barrier for children from abroad, who may have otherwise attended a camp closer to home. For next year, Hoffmann said Kimama was planning an exchange program, where Israeli campers trade places with American campers, to "maximize the experience for both groups."