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Ratner Lecture, "Jews by Nature: The Summer Camp in American Jewish Culture"

Uptown Campus
Freeman Auditorium

How did the residential summer camp become an integral part of American Jewish life? Is there something special about the relationship between Jews and camp? In the decades directly following the Holocaust, American Jewish leaders anxiously debated how to preserve and produce what they considered authentic Jewish culture, fearful that growing affluence and suburbanization threatened the future of Jewish life. Many communal educators and rabbis contended that without intervention, Judaism as they understood it would disappear altogether. They pinned their hopes on residential summer camps for Jewish youth, institutions that sprang up across the U.S. as places for children and teenagers to socialize, recreate, and experience Jewish culture. Adults' fears, hopes, and dreams about the Jewish future inflected every element of camp life, from the languages they taught to what was encouraged romantically and permitted sexually. But adult plans did not constitute everything that occurred at camp: children and teenagers also shaped these sleepaway camps to mirror their own desires and interests and decided whether to accept or resist the ideas and ideologies their camp leaders promoted. In this lecture, Sandra Fox explains how a sense of cultural crisis birthed a rite of passage for Jewish children across the country.


Sandra Fox is a visiting assistant professor of Hebrew Judaic Studies at New York University and the director of the Archive of the American Jewish Left in the Digital Age. Dr. Fox is the founder and executive producer of the Yiddish-language podcast Vaybertaytsh: A Feminist Podcast in Yiddish and is a peer-review editor at In geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. Her book, The Jews of Summer: Summer Camp and Jewish Culture in Postwar America (Stanford University Press, February 2023), addresses the experiences of youth in postwar Jewish summer camps, and the place of intergenerational negotiation in the making of American Jewish culture.


This event is generously provided for by the TAWANI Foundation, the sponsor of the Audrey G. Ratner Excellence Endowed Fund for American Jewry and Jewish Culture and the Audrey G. Ratner Speaker Series.

Jewish Studies

For more information on this event, please visit https://tulane.campuslabs.com/engage/event/8352656