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Yes, Jews do Camp

October 6, 2010 – 6:26 pm30 Comments

A scene from the Peyo campsite, as we imagine it

By Keren Tuch

I was telling a friend about a rejuvenating weekend camping I enjoyed in Australia’s beautiful nature. Although he expressed interest in coming on future camping trips, he remained a little surprised because, as he succinctly put it, Jews don’t camp.

Now I find this stereotype a little bemusing as I personally love this pastime and have a circle of (Jewish) friends who join me on these trips.  This statement was all the more ironic as it was said during the festival of succot – a festival that celebrates the vulnerability of life and temporary lodgings. I also think of Israeli culture, where all young Israelis seem to have the necessary equipment at hand to take off within half an hour’s notice to escape into nature.   I understand that there is no electricity for hair dryers in nature, which may potentially turn off stereotypical high maintenance Jews, but surely not all Jews are like that.

I fell into the world of camping through my school’s Duke of Edinburgh program.  My parents never went camping.  My mum would rather eat a ham and cheese sandwich on Yom Kippur before sleeping under canvas.   My father, on the other hand, enjoys the outdoors and enjoyed camping when I introduced him to it two years ago.  He just never learnt the knack of putting up his tent as his parents never took him camping, and then he met my mother.  My hypothesis is that when my grandfather immigrated to Australia from Poland and starting his own business from scratch, camping was not a priority so my father never learnt and perhaps this is true of his generation.  Two generations later, I am not struggling for my survival and have the luxury of escaping to nature and gazing at the stars before I go to bed.

Or perhaps camping is more of a status thing.  When you’re young and poor camping is a good idea as the expense is minimal.  But as one gets older and becomes more affluent,  after working hard for a week, why should one have to set up their tent and cook their own meals when one can pay for it?    Do wealthy Jewish people not camp as it is easier and more convenient to stay in a hotel?

However, I have noticed in more recent times that there are a core group of people in the Jewish community who are festival junkies.  (Con Fest, High and Dry, Peats Ridge etc.)  Peyo is a relatively new festival in Victoria starting on October 29 with the philosophy that everybody should contribute to the festival, whether it be by running a workshop cooking dinner or preparing chai.  I am told that a large proportion of its attendees are Jewish.

Limmud-Oz Fest is  a new retreat for the Jewish community, taking place in the NSW Central Coast from 26- 28 November, which combines Jewish learning with a range of presenters (including international presenter Steve Israel) on assorted topics  with musical entertainment by night (Alana Bruce and Monsieur Camembert).  Limmud-Oz Fest’s philosophy is that anyone can be a teacher and everyone is a student that and no one is more important than anyone else. Tenting is the main option for accommodation, although there are dorms and rooms available for those who need.

I encourage others to join me in proving my friend wrong. Happy camping!

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  • Mum says:

    I object to the aspersions cast upon me. There is no way I would ever eat a ham and cheese sandwich on Yom Kippur….and when I was a child I did go camping and slept in a tent. I have photos to prove it.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Wow, did you remind your friend that the Jewish people spent 40 years camping, nationally we were practically raised on it? And we’ve been pretty portable ever since.

    And in 2010, especially living in a country so diversely beautiful as Australia, camping is, certainly for me and my friends, a past time.

    I have camped all across the gorgeous state in state forests, fished its rivers at sunrise, and even been stranded in the desert in the Northern Territory. All with the utmost pleasure and enjoyment!

    We’ve done Chanukah camping trips where we lit the Chanukiyah and ate ponchkehs by the fire, while the possums gathered around our tent, presumably to hear out delightfully ‘shikkur’ rendition of ‘Mah Otzur’.

    In fact, generally it is my non-Jewish friends who do not camp and who would prefer to sleep under ‘5 stars’ than a whole night sky full.

  • Malki Rose says:

    oops, was supposed to read “a treasure past time”, not just “a past time”. (I think its already clear its a past time!)

  • alana bruce says:

    jews love to be camp

  • Malki Rose says:

    ahh, that is a different matter!

  • Mum says:

    Alana you put it so much more succinctly than I could have. I tried to make a comment about the expanded meaning of the word “camp” in recent times, but couldn’t be as pithy as you, so erased it without submitting.

  • Actually, camping, in many respects, is entirely antithetical to Jewish tradition. Despite the fact that the Torah contains many instances of the word מחנה, and despite the brief and ostensible sojourn in the wilderness, subsequent biblical history evinces a highly disparaging view of those who live outside areas of urban habitation: a prejudice that only becomes more extreme in the Talmudic period. What is more, there has never been a rabbinic authority who has sanctioned separating oneself from the community and travelling to a location that lacks a miqveh, a minyan and a sefer Torah. You could always go with other people, carry a sefer Torah with you and bathe in the stream, but they were also scared of the wilderness as well. There’s just no arguing with some people.

    As for me, I only argue because I can’t help it. I love camping! And I’m a Jew. Or so I keep being told.

    Also, “Mah Otzur”. Cute :) Only highlights the fact that nobody understands this song. Can’t we sing something on Hannukah that’s written in real Hebrew?

  • Malki Rose says:

    Haha, I did say ‘shikkur’. The only time/way it should be sung.

  • Malki Rose says:

    oh and Simon, re its being antithetical.. I note you said ‘subsequent’ and ‘talmudic’.
    Meh, I am somewhat more of a fan of the original wandering Jew, before he became a big indoorsy talmudic scaredy-cat.
    Now studying Talmud around a campfire, THAT would be the best amalgam of the earlier and the ‘subsequent’. (in which case, Hoorah for Limmud-Oz Fest!)

  • Hi Keren,

    Thanks for a great conversation topic. I was a member of 3rd Doncaster West as a Cub, Scout and Venturer. They were a Jewish troop, attached to the North Eastern Jewish Centre in Melbourne, running for a couple of decades I guess, before it closed its doors.

    I have very fond memories of many camping expiditions as a cub and scout. When I was a scout my parents Merv (“Bagheera”) and Naomi (“Rikki”) Barnett were cub leaders for 5 years and went on many camps with the cubs.

    In 1982/83 I went to the Jamboree in Queensland with 3DW and two other Jewish scout troops (Camberwell & Caulfield) from Melbourne. We camped in a massive tent city in Collingwood Park. I remember we were camp site # 276.

    I set up a Facebook group for 3rd Doncaster West. There are some old photos there, for nostalgic purposes. Here’s one photo from a Father & Son camp in 1980.

    Aside from the scouts, when I was a kid, my parents and other family friends (also Jewish) would often go camping and take my brother and me along. I remember we went to the Grampians and Wilsons Prom and so many other sensational places.

    I haven’t camped out for some years now, partly because I need a CPAP machine when I sleep, and this limits camping options to those in caravan parks with a power point on site. If I had an inverter and battery I could probably go further afield, but that’s not so practical.

    These days I satisfy my need for outdoor adventures by climbing mountains and exploring national parks. I’m particularly proud of my effort in February when my partner and I climbed Mt Amos in Tasmania. What a breathtaking view from the top!

    I do have fond memories of many camping adventures, for one reason or another.

    So to answer you friend, yes, Jews do camp.


  • ariel says:

    I will be attending Limmud-Oz Fest, but taking the dorms option.

    I was traumatised as a young lad on youth movement camps sleeping outdoors. By outdoors, I mean on the natural ground; I have no problem sleeping in a tent that is pitched over a concrete slab area, on which subsequently a foldout bed is placed for me to sleep on. The higher above the natural ground I am sleeping, the better!

    The not showering or blowdrying my hair, I can handle :)

  • Geoff Bloch says:

    Hi Michael,

    CPAP shouldn’t stop you going further afield. I am part of a group of about 6 – 7 fathers who, for the past 23 years, have run a week-long Dads and kids camp in the Christmas week in the high country on the snow plains (nowhere near any camping ground or power). At least 5 are on CPAP (the rest of us probably ought to be) which are run off car batteries as they don’t draw much power.

    We are living proof that Jews (including some orthodox ones) love to camp and can even survive the experience thanks to modern medical respiratory technology.

    Geoff Bloch

  • Geoff … your camping experiences are legendary in the community, and I hear the catering is outstanding. Every now and then I aspire to join your group and “rough it” for a few days, and I ask my kids if any of them would like to join me. They give me this crazy look, and then I regain my senses! :)

  • Hi Geoff,

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely investigate my options. My partner Gregory also uses CPAP, so it’s something we both need to do otherwise neither of us gets any sleep. :)

    The thing is though Geoff that it’s one of Gregory’s great ambitions to climb the Major Mitchell Plateau in the Grampians again, something he did many moons ago. As this is an overnight trip, without the luxury of a car park nearby, it becomes a challenge for us.

    I love the Victorian Alpine region, although don’t get to it nearly as much as I’d like to. The closest I’ve been recently was a day trip to Mt Erica in May this year.


  • Shira Wenig says:

    Given that my dad’s camping trip has been running for nearly 25 years, he should have said that it’s now a grandfathers & grandchildrens camp, with the occasional son in law roped in to take care of the practicalities.
    I was a proud member of the camp until bnei senior camp started to clash with the dates, and we had a great time every year. no toilets, showers or garbage disposal, and a multitude of flies, only enhanced the atmosphere!

  • Malki Rose says:

    Might I suggest a ‘Hire-a-kid’ service?
    (Kind of like when Homer hired Pepi when Bart didn’t want to hang out with him)

  • Geoff Bloch says:

    Shira, that was in the old days… don’t put potential campers off! Now we have 2 toilet tents, 2 shower tents (with solar heated water), a chadar ochel and kitchen annexe (so no flies), double air mattresses for each person and we always arrange glorious weather!

    David, our chef (your brother-in-law… look out if you call him the cook) prepares amazing cuisine and we enjoy freshly caught trout every day (I plead guilty to being speciesist… apologies to any readers who may be offended).

    With all these mod cons and attractions, how can you resist? You are welcome to join us. You and your kids would have a ball!


  • Keren says:

    Thanks for all the comments. It seems to me that there are indeed a lot of keen Jewish campers. But it makes me wonder, is there a correlation between galus readers and camping? Or rather galus commenters and camping? I don’t believe that there was a resounding positive response for camping amongst my Moriah cohort back in the day……..

  • Malki Rose says:

    Well I’ve spoken to a few non-Galus readers/commenters today, all Jews, all campers.
    Maybe Moriah people just don’t camp.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    goos evening. My name is Mandi. I’m Jewish and I haven’t camped since 1984.
    But then I am originally South African….

  • G’day, all

    I was being completely tongue-in-cheek before, but I think this does raise an interesting question. Prior to the development of Zionism, have there been any instances in which Jews have camped in the wilderness and seen that as an expression of their Judaism? I would think not, but I don’t actually know.

    And I can’t speak for “Moriah people” (I have heard of these people: show yourselves!), but most of my friends certainly love to camp. Mind you, I prefer the no-bathroom, no-running-water type of middle-of-nowhere camping because I’m weird. The only way you can improve on that is by filling the day with discussions pertaining to the biblical and rabbinic literature.

    Oh, Limmud Oz Fest… How I await thee.

  • Marky says:

    I once tried camping out ………in our outside Sukka. Within 2 hours I was back in my bedroom, after being bullied by all these creepy crawlies, mozzies etc. Never have these issues just eating in the Sukka.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    keren maybe you needed a blog back in the day, to bring all the moriah campers out of the woodwork…

  • will says:

    @simon : Zionism or not, I doubt any one camped as an expression of anything other than necessity prior to the mid 19thC. I would think that “camping” as recreation is a fairly new phenomena, which is to say I imagine swagmen of the past would look at the decadence of my swag and have a good chuckle.

    Radio National did an interesting piece here on camping: For work or for pleasure? A history of camping in Australia http://www.abc.net.au/rn/hindsight/stories/2009/2476471.htm

    I have only ever camped, and always feel a little awkward in hotels, etc, as though I am wasting good money or that it feels kinda wrong sleeping in a bed a gazillion other people have slept in.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I am very surprised that no one has mentioned this classic , American children’s camps were quite a different enterprise…


    10 Caulfield Scouts were great…also Habo camps

  • Eli says:

    Back in the 70’s SKIF camps were quite rugged. Old ww2 tents, bell tents as a kitchen and huge marquee tents for dinning rooms. Mind you there were still shower and toilet facilities. But they were certainly good times..hmm don’t remember showering that often actually! Certainly not Zionist!

  • Ari Silbermann says:

    My New Yorker mother in law recently sent me a powerpoint presentation with a nice song that had the chorus, “Jews don’t camp”. I sent her back some photos of me in the army.
    But really, we love to camp!! But then again we don’t live in Australia.

  • Akiva says:

    @Will – camping as a leisure activity pretty much started in the 18th century, with the nature-romantics.

    Personally, I don’t think Jews do the sort of camping I like to do (in the middle of nowehere, with no conveniences and preferably few people)well. Or, in fact, at all.

    I also think that since the days of triumph of the ‘indoors man’ Jacob over his outdoor-camping sort brother Esau, Judaism has pretty much frowned on the outdoor type.

    @Ari – I was also planning to go, but seriously doubt that that Limmud Oz-fest will be big enough for us both to go.

  • Ari Silbermann says:


    Firstly, you are welcome to visit my tent any time.
    Secondly, have no fear, I live in Israel and have real Jewish learning at every corner – I can spend a couple of days camping in the Jerusalem hills and spend the week hearing lectures on almost any Jewish topic by world experts – followed by dinner at Bet Ticho and if its Tuesday night they have wine cheese and jazz aswell.
    (I don’t want to sound pretentious – This is just my Aliyah pitch)

  • @Simon – isn’t that why we celebrate Sukkot?

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