What started 45 years ago as a place to provide “a wholesome, healthy and peaceful summer for children of all different backgrounds,” according to its website, has blossomed into a camp where Jews and non-Jews play, learn and even celebrate Shabbat together.
Camp Ahava, named for the Hebrew word for love, is run by the Silver Spring Jewish Center and operates out of its Arcola Road synagogue.
Like many day camps, the children play sports, go swim and bowl and create artwork. They also roller skate and ride horses.
But what makes this camp different is that children of varying religious backgrounds recite prayers and sing “Hatikvah” together every morning. Come Friday afternoon, the children bake challah and celebrate Shabbat.
“We are multicultural. We are open to everybody,” said camp director Chaya Kranz. “The very Orthodox [campers] are sitting right next to someone who is not Jewish.”
Parents send their children because they appreciate the “warm environment,” said Kranz, as well as the values that have been taught at Camp Ahava since it opened in 1971 by her father, Rabbi Herzel Kranz.
The camp’s motto is “where love and growth come together,” said the daughter, who first attended the camp when she was 6 years old. Her four children also went and she expects her two grandchildren to attend as well, once they are older.
Jacqueline Hyman, 19, also has spent many summers at Camp Ahava, attending as a youngster before becoming a counselor in training, junior counselor and now the drama counselor.
Camp Ahava “is one of those places that you don’t leave. I definitely made strong bonds through Camp Ahava,” said the Olney resident, who is a sophomore at University of Maryland majoring in journalism. “I definitely have some lifelong friends.”
Last year, Hyman oversaw a production of Annie Junior. She also put out a weekly camp newsletter, mixing photos with reminders for the parents and quotes from the campers.
“I think Camp Ahava has a really big variety of activities, and that’s what the kids like. They can relax and play board games, swim in the pool or go on trips,” Hyman said. “I don’t think there is ever really a down moment. You are always doing something.”
At the same time, she said, the children are immersed in Jewish traditions, learning and culture.