Simulating the Nation in a Jewish American Summer Camp

Simulating the Nation in a Jewish American Summer Camp

This research project examines the production of Zionist attachments in Massad, a Jewish American summer camp that operated in a Pennsylvania between 1941-1981. My focus is on the practices that were developed in order to persuade Jewish American kids, interested mostly in baseball and dating, that the Zionist revival that happened thousands of miles away was intimately relevant for their own lives. Attempting to endow campers with a sense of national belonging, Massad’s educators simulated Israel. The camp was Hebrew-speaking, its geography was modeled after Israel, and Israeli counselors were imported to impress campers with their authenticity. They hope that even a glimpse of this totality will turn campers into Zionists. In practice, however, campers experienced intense national belonging only rarely. Nevertheless, many campers were deeply inspired by the camp. This accomplishment, I argue, had to do with the simulation that was played out in the Massad. The brief moments when campers felt belonging to the nation as an enchanting totality lent credence to the belief that others, in Israel, experienced membership in the nation in a deeper and more lasting manner. Thus, the simulation of the nation in the camp created an interpretive schema that encouraged campers to sense national belonging vicariously, as something that happens to others. An article that explores this idea more closely has been recently published in Theory and Society.

 

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