The Campfire

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Jewish Camp in the News — Week of 2/2/15

Here’s what’s been happening in the camping world this week: 


It’s Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month! Here are a few articles about inclusion and camp:

Jewish Camp In the News – Week of 4/21/14

Here’s some news on camp from the past two weeks:

The Wexner Foundation blog featured a write up on the Shapiro Prize:

Here’s a great post about Leaders Assembly on the URJ Camp George blog: “Foundation for Jewish Camp Leaders Assembly

Jewish Camp In the News – Week of 4/7/14

Here’s some news on camp from this week:

This feature in NJ Jewish News mentions our own Alina Bitel and Rabbi Avi Orlow! “Learning festival speaks to Russian Jews’ identity”

See Jeremy’s post in Times of Israel.

Jewish Camp in the News – Week of 3/31/14

Here’s some news on camp from this week:

Here is a great blog post in Kolot Ramah about Leaders: “What It’s All About – Lessons from the FJC Leaders Assembly

This blog post from URJ Camp George discusses the great experience their camp representatives had at Leaders Assembly, but also talks about the experience they had with Gift of Life and finding out at Leaders that someone in their community is a match! “Camp George Provides Bone Marrow Match

Ethan Kadish, the boy who was struck by lightning at GUCI this summer has returned to school a few days a week.  Read more about his progress here:

Jewish Camp in the News – Week of 3/24/14

Here’s some news on camp from this week:

Day Camp Exploration

Over the past 15 years, Foundation for Jewish Camp has worked hand in hand with overnight camps to create and professionalize the field of Jewish camp.  As our field evolves and Jewish camp is now ever more present in the lexicon of the Jewish community, we are pleased to share that FJC is now beginning to explore how we may add value to the day camp world.

As the central address for nonprofit Jewish camps in North America, FJC works with camps from all streams of Jewish belief and practice to promote excellence in their management and programming as well as with communities to increase awareness and promote enrollment growth.  Our efforts highlight the value and importance of the nonprofit Jewish camp experience to parents, leaders, and communities.  Consistent with our strategic plan, we employ a variety of approaches to ensure that each camp delivers the best possible experience for every child and the opportunities are growing to include every child that desires to experience Jewish camp.

At our upcoming Leaders Assembly, March 23-25, 2014, we will explore together how the entire field of Jewish camp can move forward together.  We know this gathering will be an important one for all of us.

We look forward to continuing the partnerships we have with the camp movements, independent camps, and others as well as the community leaders – foundations, federations, and philanthropists – that have sought our guidance and also expressed interest in FJC entering the day camp arena.

A Snapshot of Camp Philanthropy

Right now, across North America, over 1,200 Jewish summer campers are becoming philanthropists. At 43 camps, groups of teens are developing mission statements, examining Jewish texts and values, reviewing grant proposals, making site visits, and awarding $1,000 grants to nonprofit organizations. The program encourages campers to “learn by giving,” and will generate at least $40,000 in grants to nonprofits.

The Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN), a youth philanthropy project of the Jewish Funders Network, awarded grants to 38 Jewish summer camps across all denomination lines throughout North America as participants in the Camp Philanthropy Program, and continues to work with five camps from earlier pilot programs.

Generously supported by the Maimonides Fund, the Camp Philanthropy Program is part of JTFN’s broader work to build the field of Jewish teen philanthropy. JTFN supports 150 Jewish teen philanthropy programs across North America in day schools, religious schools, synagogues, social service agencies, local Jewish Federations and Jewish community foundations.

Updates and photos from Camp Philanthropy programs are featured daily on JTFN’s Facebook Page, and on the various camp blogs, written by teens as they learn about philanthropy.  As reflected in their words, the opportunity to give away real money helps teens understand their obligation, both as Jews and as the next generation, to engage in tikkun olam:

The G7 Girls of Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village in Poyntelle, PA started by understanding how Jewish values and tzedakah connect to philanthropy:

 “One of the first programs we did was a fake auction.  We were broken up into four groups and given $5,000 to donate to a certain Jewish value. We also learned about mission statements and wrote one ourselves about what we want in the charity of our choice. Another program we participated in was making a quilt to explain what tzedakah meant to us.”

Teens at JCC Camp Chi in Lake Delton, WI developed their mission statement, which helped focus their review of grant proposals:

“The organization we choose will embody the values of saving and respecting the lives of any community, no matter how diverse. When we are successful, people will be living in a safe, harmonious, self-sufficient environment.”

Alexa S. from URJ Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge, MA, shares her experience of site visits and grantmaking:

“I feel so proud to be a part of this incredible group.  We are the next generation of givers.  The feeling of giving is so great and should be shared.  Find an organization that touches you.  We saw that anyone can give and that we all have an obligation to support our community and make a difference!”

Steven B. of URJ Camp Kalsman in Arlington, WA reflects at the end of their Machon (counselor-in-training) experience on their funding decision, and how philanthropy strengthened their unit’s transition from campers to counselors:

[This organization] represented who we were and complied with our Jewish values. As CITs, over the course of the summer we were learning how to be counselors, which involved taking on responsibility and learning what core values would help us become respectable and empowering role models to others.

Soon, campers will return home with new skills, new friendships, and new interests. At JTFN, we believe these campers will also bring an increased self-awareness about their values, knowledge of non-profits and grantmaking, and new leadership and group consensus skills. We trust that they will return to their communities, both Jewish and secular, with the ability and the passion to repair the world through philanthropy.

To see the full list of camps participating and learn more, visit

- Andrew Paull is the Program & Communications Assistant at Jewish Teen Funders Network, a networking organization with the mission to grow and strengthen the field of Jewish teen philanthropy.

A Happy and Healthy Summer

This post originally appeared on the Camp Ramah Darom blog.

In last year’s parent survey, many of our parents told us that their children need healthier options while they are at camp. We couldn’t agree more, and are pleased to tell you about several improvements we are making to our food offerings this year.

We have always been committed to nurturing our campers’ bodies and minds, and that includes providing them with healthy, kid-friendly food that they find enjoyable and nourishing. The camp environment is a natural haven from the onslaught of advertising and other factors which promote unhealthy food products. We are taking the opportunity this year to focus on creating a healthy camp environment in which delicious, nutritious options are widely available to  children while they are with us. Our efforts include:

- An expanded organic gardening program: In addition to the organic garden in camp that our campers have been tending for years, this year we are leasing land just down the road on which we will establish a more expansive organic gardening program. Campers will grow – and eat – their own produce. We also will continue to source our produce locally when possible, which will help us reduce our carbon footprint and fill our kitchen with highly nutritious fruits and vegetables. We aspire to become a farm-to-table camp, and this is a first significant step toward that vision.

- Shomrei Adamah Tuesdays: Each Tuesday our menu will represent our commitment to the Jewish value of being stewards of the land, and will feature food grown and sourced in a manner that is good for our bodies and the planet. The menu will include fresh produce, healthier snacks and vegetarian meals.

- Healthier canteen: Twice a week children visit the canteen for special treats. This year, we will be offering healthy options including natural fruit juices and smoothies, granola, veggie chips and other snacks that are low in salt and sugar.

- Healthy additions: We will be using more whole wheat flour in our pizzas and breads and increasing the variety of locally-grown vegetables on our salad bar and in our dishes.

As always, we will accommodate any and all of our campers’ specific nutrition needs and are very sensitive to allergies and special diets. We have had happy campers with nut, dairy, gluten, egg and other allergies over the years and are glad to offer them satisfying alternatives when necessary to provide them with the energy they need to enjoy our action-packed days at camp.

This is the beginning of a shift for us to bring our menus into alignment with the healthy lifestyle that is central to our Jewish values and life at camp. At the same time, we recognize that it will be a bit of a change for our campers. We hope you will join us in this effort, and encourage your child to make healthy food choices this summer.

We are committed to creating an environment in camp that is most nurturing for children’s physical, social and spiritual health, and look forward to providing them with their best summer yet!

General Manager Anthony Franklin getting our new garden ready for our campers!

- Geoff Menkowitz, Director, and Todd Jones,, Executive Chef, Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, GA


The fellows arrive today for the 2012 Cornerstone Fellowship.  Now in it’s 10th year, Cornerstone is the largest and longest running program that FJC organizes.  We’ll be offering updates on what’s going on at the seminar for returning counselors as well as offering insight from various types of participants via our blog, Facebook, and Twitter (#Cornerstone2012 and #JewishCamp) … so stay tuned!

I was 22 years old in the summer of 2003 when I got lucky for the first time.  I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right.  It was that summer when I attended my first Cornerstone Fellowship Seminar!  It was in the mountains of northeast Georgia, and I was there as a guest artist to perform and teach with Storahtelling, a Jewish ritual theater company based in New York.  I remember being overwhelmed by the diversity, the creative energy, the abundant joy of summer camp that everyone at the conference brought to the table.  And I remember very clearly feeling that I wanted to come back again the next year.  But lucky as I was to be at that first Cornerstone Seminar, I was unlucky as well.  I was too old to be a fellow, not quite old enough to be faculty.

I asserted myself several times over the next few years.  Storahtelling was invited back to Cornerstone in 2004 when it was in Ojai, California.  And I made sure the company office knew I wanted in.  2005 at the Hudson Valley Resort?  I performed my soon-to-be Off-Broadway play, Walking in Memphis: The Life of a Southern Jew, for the entire conference.  Nearly 300 people!  By far my biggest audience since  the virtuosic, memorable performance I delivered as Kenickie in the Camp Ramah in Wisconsin 14-year old division production of Grease (in Hebrew).  But those early Cornerstone memories were only tastes, a day here, a few hours there, at a conference that I always got excited to visit and dreaded departing.

Then, one day in the fall of 2007, I got the call!  I was invited to be an educator and advisor at Cornerstone and I think it took me 17 seconds to say yes (and that’s only because Sprint did not yet provide full service in the corner bodega on 49th street and 9th avenue in NYC, so I was having trouble hearing Becca Shimshak’s offer).  From that moment on, my life changed.  Teaching a student is always an exciting experience.  But teaching a teacher?  That’s incomparable.  And I get to do it with the most amazing team of experiential Jewish educators.  I am humbled, educated, and most importantly, inspired by the faculty and that I have the privilege to work with each year.

In this, my 8th summer at the Cornerstone seminar, I still feel that same anticipation when I pack my suitcase.  And I still feel that same dread right before the end.  I do have one egregious regret that could only be remedied by the invention of a time-traveling DeLorean: as I’m teaching fellows to explore the inner psyche of Jonah while treading water in the deep end of the swimming pool at Capital Camps, there are amazing educators such as Sarra Alpert turning people on to social justice, Efraim Yudewitz giving sports programming a Jewish lens, and Josh Lake teaching people about Jewish education using…well…a lake.  And I can’t attend any of these amazing sessions.  That’s the rub.  I’m 31 years old.  I love summer camp.  And I just want to be a fellow over and over again for the rest of my life.  But I know I have an even luckier fate.  I get to watch these fellows experience Cornerstone for the first time every year.  I get to play a role in their awakening as Jewish educators.  And I get to do so working side by side with the best of the best.  Pretty lucky, if you ask me.

- Jon Adam Ross (aka JAR) is a widely acclaimed Jewish theater artist.  Find out more about him and his work here.


The Volunteer-Professional Partnership: Takeaways from Leaders Assembly 2012

On Sunday, March 11th at Leaders Assembly, camp professionals and camp lay leaders attended high-level skill-building workshops. Michelle Koplan, executive director of B’nai B’rith Camp in Oregon, and Irv Potter, BB Camp’s past president and lay leader, share their account of the “Navigating the Volunteer/Professional Partnership” workshop below.

Irv Potter: Michelle, after all of the years we’ve worked together as lay leader and professional, did you take away anything new from Rae Ringel’s session on navigating the volunteer/professional partnership?

Michelle Koplan: I did!  I can framework a volunteer’s experience in a different way.  I can now see that a volunteer’s experience can be a transformative experience for the volunteer in much the same way that camp works for kids.

IP: Does your thinking of it this way change the way you will be working with your board members?

MK: It does.  Absolutely.  By thinking of it this way, I can elevate board members’ experiences.

IP: Do you mean we won’t just be there to help the camp, but that we’re actually going to get something out of our volunteer activity?

MK: Yes.  Hopefully, you and the other board members will see that everything we are doing is done intentionally, and that you are part of a carefully crafted plan that will help the camp, the kids, the community and you.

IP: I agree.  I definitely took away the concept of intentionality.  I came away with a whole new way of talking about camp.  Just like Rae was able to infuse Jewish values into this workshop, I’m sure we will be able to do a much better job of infusing Jewish values and, my new buzz word, “Intentionality” into all of our board activities.

MK: Plus, we learned a whole new language, and the concept of thinking about language as a tool.  For example, we will be shifting our conversation away from the language of “requesting” to language which offers and invites involvement.

IP: All of this is after just one day at FJC’s Leaders Assembly!  Looks like we’ll be bringing back a whole new set of tools for our camp.

MK: All that, Irv, and we actually had a good time learning!

Thanks to everyone for joining us at Leaders Assembly 2012. In the next couple of weeks, we will post notes and takeaways from conversations and sessions at Leaders Assembly at Keep your eyes peeled!