Camp Sababa is the place where a thriving Jewish community comes to life through a Jewish day-camp experience at the JCC of Metro Detroit.

By Jeffrey Lasday

Camp Photos courtesy of Lizz Cardwell

What happens when you are walking down the street in Tel Aviv and someone asks you how you are feeling, and you are feeling great? You answer, “Sababa!”

Sababa — הבבס — Hebrew slang for terrific, wonderful, great, amazing, cool!

What happens when a collaboration of Jewish organizations put their heads together to create a new innovative Jewish education initiative? The answer, “Camp Sababa, of course!”

The Camp Sababa Concept

Camp Sababa is an innovative Jewish day camp experience for first through fourth-graders piloted last summer as part of the JCC day camp offerings and will be offered again this summer.

The program was a collaborative effort by the Jewish Community Center, Tamarack Camps, Temple Beth El, Temple Israel, Temple Kol Ami and Temple Shir Shalom and supported through a Berman Family Jewish Education grant from Jewish Federation. It was a place where children and their families came together to learn, celebrate and enjoy Jewish life.

Last year, camp started on Sunday with a family scavenger hunt at Hazon’s annual Michigan Jewish Food Festival. Monday through Friday, campers participated in a Jewishly enriched day camp experience from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. In addition to traditional camp activities such as swimming, sports, arts and crafts, music, dance, nature and games, campers also participated in experiential hands-on activities around the theme of “Me and My Jewish World.”

During the week, campers prepared for a special Kabbalat Shabbat experience and Shabbat dinner for campers and their families that took place late Friday afternoon/evening.

Shabbat at Sababa

Camp Sababa was staffed by JCC camp staff along with clergy and educators from participating congregations.

According to Randy Comensky, senior managing director of JCC Day Camps, including Camp Sababa during the JCC Day Camps’ post-camp week was the perfect way to end the camp season.

“I loved that the congregational staff participated and offered their expertise throughout the week. What a great collaboration between the JCC of Metro Detroit and the synagogues in the area.”

Expanding Time for Jewish Learning

Children who are enrolled in a typical Sunday school program participate in approximately 24 two-hour classroom sessions a year for a total of 48 hours of classroom instruction.

One week of typical JCC day camp provides for 30 contact hours. Add in a Sunday family Michigan Jewish Food Festival scavenger hunt and a Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat family dinner and that’s closer to 35 contact hours.

Through a collaboration between forward-thinking congregations and day camp, we can create a new educational structure that annually almost doubles the amount of scheduled time for Jewish learning.

In addition, Jewish learning takes on a whole new dimension when campers:
• Explore the idea of Jewish community with their families through a scavenger hunt at Hazon’s annual Michigan Jewish Food Festival
• Create their own family heritage books
• Have a meaningful intergenerational experience with seniors at Jewish Senior Life
• Share prayer melodies and traditions with campers from other congregations
• Go to a bowling alley for a camp field trip and receive “bonus” points when they can tell their counselors in Hebrew how many pins they knocked down
• While on a field trip to the zoo, learn the names of the animals in Hebrew and act out and debate a story about a “Horse that Could Pray” (Really, do you think that a horse can actually pray?)

Power of Collaboration
Congregations, the JCC and Camp Tamarack each possess unique strengths, abilities and resources that, when combined, have the power to create a stronger, richer learning experience than any of the entities can provide on their own.

In describing Camp Sababa, JCC CEO Brian Siegel says, “Our reimagined JCC places a high value on innovation, collaboration, entrepreneurship and community. This summer’s Camp Sababa was designed and implemented with these values in mind.

“The power of collaboration, the power of like-minded organizations coming together and creating something special, something powerful that would not have happened if each organization had worked on its own,” he added.

Power of Jewish Community

One of the major goals of Jewish communal organizations is the building of Jewish community, creating a sense within individuals of belonging to something bigger than just themselves.

Camp Sababa provided Jewish community building learning experiences that created a sense of community within the campers as well as within the camp families, linking them together and to the larger Jewish community as well.

Power of Family

One of the common sayings of family Jewish education is “Educating a child without educating the parents is like heating a house and leaving all of the doors and windows wide open.”

Recognizing the importance of involving families in a child’s Jewish learning, Camp Sababa provided opportunities for whole families to be involved in the learning, the celebrations and the fun through a Hazon Michigan Jewish Food Festival family scavenger hunt, the creation of family heritage books and celebrating together over a Kabbalat Shabbat dinner for campers and their families.

Power of Experiential Jewish Learning

For some time now there has been a recognition of the power of hands-on experiential learning. Learning through games, singing, dancing, doing, group experiences, creating, community building and other engaging informal learning opportunities creates lasting learning and indelible memories.

Why Synagogues Liked it

As the director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Kol Ami, Gail Greenberg was excited by the opportunity to connect with her students during the summer and in a camp setting.
“Partnering with the JCC and other congregational educational leaders provided a think-tank where we could supplement the learning our students engaged in during the school year, combining the best of education with the best of camp.

“With Temple Kol Ami’s school theme this year being ‘Wherever You Go, There’s Always Someone Jewish,’ the thought was that it would be helpful for our students to explore their Jewish identity in partnership with others they would otherwise not have known outside of their congregation.”

For Rabbi Daniel Schwartz of Temple Shir Shalom, being a part of the pilot camp program seemed like a natural fit for Shir Shalom families.

“Providing a camp program with Jewish content was the perfect extension of our educational program, and we were thrilled to partner with the JCC, Tamarack camps and the other synagogues who were part of the planning partnership.

“We were excited our families would be able to join with like-minded families and benefit from strong programming with new and familiar faces who would bring excitement and joy to this summer experience.”

According to Deborah Morosohk, director of education at Temple Beth El, “Our Beth El students had an amazing experience at Camp Sababa. They loved being immersed in Jewish themes while doing all the best camp activities like swimming, sports, arts and more. We are hoping this one-week experience will lead to our families being more likely to choose Jewish overnight camps as their children grow older.”

Rabbi Arianna Gordon, director of education and lifelong learning at Temple Israel, says, “Temple Israel was excited to partner with the JCC on Camp Sababa this summer in order to provide additional informal Jewish engagement opportunities for our families. Our campers had an amazing week — they loved getting to know other Jewish kids in the community, learning new songs and cheers, and exploring themselves and their Jewish world!”

As a camp mom and a Temple Israel rabbi, Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny was very glad that her family and her congregation participated in camp.

“My kids loved camp Sababa. They were able to be together in one small group and spend the day playing, singing, learning, swimming and having fun all in a Jewish environment. They were so proud of the beautiful family book they made and presented to us at the end of the week, when all the families celebrated Shabbat together. It was Sababa!”

For more information about Camp Sababa, contact Jeffrey Lasday at Lasday is the COO of the Jewish Community Center. This story was first published on

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