New Reform camp combining science and Judaism

URJ's Six Points Sci-Tech Academy wants girls to apply too. (URJ Camps)

Mostly boys have been enrolled thus far at the Union for Reform Judaism’s new Six Points Sci-Tech Academy. (URJ Camps)

NEW YORK (JTA) — At most Union for Reform Judaism overnight camps and youth programs, girls account for at least half, if not more, of the campers.

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Outside the Orthodox community, Jewish institutions often struggle to attract and retain boys.

But finding boys is not a problem for URJ’s Six Points Sci-Tech Academy, one of four new Jewish specialty camps opening this summer. (The others are a business and entrepreneurial camp, a nutrition and fitness camp, and a sports camp.)  Instead, the biggest challenge facing the camp in Byfield, Mass., is recruiting girls: Of the 70 campers registered so far, fewer than 20 are female.

“One of the things I’ve been shouting from the rooftops is that this is a program for girls, too,” said Greg Kellner, Sci-Tech’s director.

At Sci-Tech, located on the campus of the Governor’s Academy boarding school, participants choose from four tracks: robotics and engineering, video game design, environmental science and digital media production. The camp is open to kids entering fifth through ninth grades.

It is believed to be the first Jewish summer camp focusing on science, so kids “don’t have to choose between science and a Jewish program,” Kellner said.

“My passion lies in making sure that when the kids are at camp that they can learn that science and Judaism are not exclusive of one another,” he said. “You hear a lot of people say, ‘I’m a scientist, so I don’t believe in God.’ But you can have both. Judaism can inform our decisions as discoverers and explorers. We can use robotics in a discussion about repairing the world because robotics is being used a lot in medicine and in creating prostheses.”

Despite the science focus and the academic setting — the kids live in dorms rather than cabins — Kellner says Sci-Tech is more camp than summer school.

“When the kids get up in the morning, they’re going to have morning singing,” he said. “There will be traditions in the dining hall, athletic programs, evening programs, campfires, special days and trips. It will have a camp feel, and certainly we’ll celebrate Shabbat with dinner, song and dancing.”

In contrast, he said, “with many academic programs you get a course catalog and then go from one thing to the next, it’s more frontal-classroom style. This is more project-based learning.”

Kellner, who has served as assistant director of URJ Camp Eisner and senior assistant director of URJ Crane Lake Camp, both in Massachusetts, emphasizes that Sci-Tech is not just for science whizzes and that beginners are welcome.

“We want to encourage kids to explore,” he said.

Julie Wiener Julie Wiener is a features writer for JTA. Previously, she was the associate editor of The New York Jewish Week, where she wrote about education, food and assorted other topics along with intermarriage.