As temperatures and heat indexes climbed toward — and even above — 100 for more than 12 days, area day camps stood on the front lines of the battle to keep kids cool and hydrated in the face of the unprecedented heat wave.
At JCC MetroWest’s Camp Deeny Riback in Flanders, it was all about the water. “We had sprinklers going all over camp, so anything outdoors was in the sprinklers,” said camp director Joanne Morgenthal. “We had parachutes with water balloons, a bucket brigade, and water relay races. Everyone was in the pool two to three times a day instead of just once.
“We even had organized water fights. The kids were wet all day.”
Of all the area’s Jewish day camps, Deeny Riback is the only one without major indoor air-conditioned facilities.
Most directors took the weather in stride.
“Sometimes it’s too cold for our activities. Sometimes, it’s too hot. We just adapt,” said Rabbi Mendel Solomon of Camp Gan Israel on the campus of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown. “This is my 21st year, and it’s a given there are going to be days that are too hot, or too cold, or too rainy. You always need a backup plan.”
That plan, he said, included moving more activities than usual into Gan Israel’s air-conditioned building.
Some directors, however, are reluctant to herd the campers indoors for too much of the day.
“Kids come to camp for an outdoor experience. They don’t come to sit inside the building,” said Scott Lantzman, director of Camp Gesher on the Kushner campus in Livingston. “We keep them outside as much as possible. Usually, they are outdoors all morning, and we will adjust the schedule after lunch. It’s a day-by-day decision,” he said, with camp leaders keeping a close eye on the heat index. Still, Lantzman added, because of the hot blasts from the tennis courts, that sport was reliably among the first casualties of the heat.
At Camp Yachad at the JCC of Central NJ in Scotch Plains, however, the staff took a different approach. “We took advantage of the air-conditioned building and moved most activities inside. When it’s 98 degrees outside and 100 percent humidity, it’s dangerous for campers,” said codirector Jodi Hotra. Activities remained aligned with campers’ schedules, she said. So if, for example, a game of Ga-ga — an Israeli form of dodgeball — was on the agenda, Hotra said, “we used a portable Ga-ga pit and set it up indoors.”
Gan Israel took an in-between approach, keeping kids outside, but only for short bursts of time — 20 minutes — and switching to less strenuous activities. So instead of playing soccer, which involves a lot of running, the Yachad campers played a more stationary game, like volleyball.
Morgenthal isn’t alone in thinking that water is always a good antidote to blazing temperatures. Some camps got lucky and had planned wet activities in the midst of the heat wave — like “Wild Water Days” at Gesher or “Splish Splash” at Yachad. Others, like Camp Ramah-Nyack, brought in giant water inflatables, and at Gan Israel, they picked “anything that would enable kids to get into bathing suits and get wet,” according to Solomon. On one of the scorching days, they got creative and did a car wash. Some activities were prohibited during the nine days — the period preceding Tisha B’Av (this year July 16) — but as soon as they were over, Gan Israel and Ramah brought in a Hawaiian slide.
Ramah-Nyack made sure not only water but also Gatorade and other drinks that keep electrolytes in balance were everywhere available, according to director Amy Skopp Cooper.
No matter what the approach, every camp director echoed the sentiments of Lantzman at Gesher, who said, “We always worry, and we make sure our campers drink a lot, wear plenty of sunscreen, and stay cool.”