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Archive for the ‘Leaders Assembly’ Category

Inclusion at Jewish Camp

Last week, the Foundation for Jewish Camp hosted our biennial conference, Leaders Assembly, in New Jersey.  The topic of inclusion was high on the agenda and I engaged in so many invigorating conversations with colleagues about the topic and what each camp hopes to achieve within their own camp communities.  Alexis Kashar, a civil rights and special education attorney, spoke to attendees about how growing up deaf impacted her access to the Jewish community. I was particularly struck by Alexis’ description of the effect that living in a home with a family with two parents and a sibling who were all deaf had on her sister who is hearing.  Because synagogue life and supplemental school were inaccessible to the family, her sister was never introduced into it. Alexis stressed to us how inclusion has a ”ripple effect” and can profoundly affect the lives of the family of the person with disability.

Just one day after the close of the conference, I read the report that had just been released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing that the escalating numbers of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis continued to rise. According to the report, one in 68 children are now believed to be diagnosed with ASD, a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It reaffirmed for me the important work that our camps can do to engage children with disabilities and their families and continuing to evolve in order to embrace them in the best way possible.

Read the rest of this post on The Canteen.

The Tech Side of Camp

by Rabbi Jason Miller

New Brunswick, NJ – As Jewish camp leaders once again convened at Leaders Assembly, the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s biennial conference here in New Brunswick, there was a lot of networking taking place – both in person and via social media. The dozens of ad hoc camp reunions taking place in the hallways of the hotel also materialized into an exchange of best practices for these Jewish camp professionals. The hot topic this year was the use of technology, both in the back office of the camp operations and front and center for campers, their parents and alumni.

What role all of this new technology plays for the Jewish summer camp industry was hashed out in breakout sessions at the camp confab in what were termed “Hot Topics” and also discussed in the “Shuk” where the companies that provide this new technology were camped out. “Do you keep your camper registrations and medical forms in the cloud?”, “Who manages your alumni Facebook page?”, “Have you started Instagram or Pinterest accounts,” and “Which online service do you use for staff background checks” were just some of the questions overheard at the conference.

While many don’t typically associate high tech with the camp world, which for generations was thought of as a low tech industry, there’s no question that camps have come to depend on the latest support applications in the technology world to run their camps efficiently, effectively and safely in the 21st century. After all, while one of the core missions of the overnight summer camp experience may continue to be allowing our youth to unplug from their electronic gadgets for several weeks each summer, the camps charged with that mission must be run like businesses. And that means using the best technology to manage everything from security, registration, financials and medical information to social network engagement, summertime communication and alumni relations.

In one “Hot Topic” session, Sacha Litman, the founder of Measuring Success, demonstrated the importance of using “Big Data” to help camps with their year-round engagement efforts. Big corporations, he explained, have been using “Big Data” for many years and in 2014 summer camps need to utilize the same data tools to acquire new campers and maintain existing relationships with both current staff and the valuable alumni who are now positioned to donate and send their children or grandchildren to the camp. These data measuring tools have been available to camps for years, but most didn’t know how to put that data to good use for philanthropic or camper recruitment and retainment purposes. Litman’s plea that camps focus on engaging their campers twelve months a year rather than in the traditional camp recruitment season was a theme echoed throughout the 3-day conference, which ended Tuesday afternoon.

Read the rest of this article on eJewish Philanthropy

Jewish camp trend-spotting: 10 ways a summer ritual is changing

By Julie Wiener

Nostalgia about summer traditions notwithstanding, Jewish camps have changed dramatically from a generation ago.

Camp’s value for Jewish education and identity-building is now a major focus of communal attention. Major Jewish foundations, federations and organizations are investing heavily in the sector.

Many camps have become more intentional about incorporating Jewish learning, Shabbat and Israel into their programming. They’ve also evolved to meet families’ changing expectations and demands: offering a wider range of choices of all kinds (from food to activity to session length); providing more frequent updates and communications to parents; accommodating numerous medical requirements and allergies;and placing greater emphasis on safety and security.

At the same time, the Jewish camping field is becoming more professionalized. The job of camp director has been shifting from a seasonal gig to year-round career, and counselors are receiving more intensive training.

With all this change in the Jewish camp world, here are 10 specific trends we have noticed:

1) Shorter sessions: Once upon a time, summer camp meant the entire summer, with the majority of campers attending for seven, eight or even 10 weeks. Now it is the rare child or teen who spends the full summer at camp (or at one camp), and most programs offer multiple sessions, ranging in length from just six days to seven weeks. “Our three-week session has always sold out more quickly than the four-week, and our new two-week session has been a quick hit as well,” said Vivian Stadlin, co-director of Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, N.Y.

2) Specialized programs: Whether a child’s passion is sports, the environment, outdoor adventure or science and technology, there’s a Jewish camp for that. An incubator under the auspices of the Foundation for Jewish Camp spurred the creation of five specialty camps in 2010 (including Eden Village, which is focused on the environment) and another four that will open this summer. The idea is to attract kids who might not otherwise consider a Jewish camp and to show them they can combine their passion with Judaism. Increasingly, established general-interest Jewish camps are adding specialty tracks and electives. For example, the New Jersey Y camps offer a science program and various sports programs, while Ramah in the Poconos has run basketball clinics and a tennis academy.

3) Healthier food: Serving healthy, locally sourced food is a part of the mission of some specialty camps like the new health-and-wellness-focused Camp Zeke and was a component of Ramah Outdoor Adventure from its beginnings in 2010. In addition, many established Jewish camps have been redoing their menus to make them more nutritious and environmentally friendly: adding salad bars, replacing “bug juice” with water, offering more vegetarian fare and even planting their own organic vegetable gardens.

4) More affordable options: The Foundation for Jewish Camp recently introduced a new program called BunkConnect that enables first-time campers from middle- and lower-income families to search for a variety of discounted Jewish summer camp options. While BunkConnect is currently only available in the Northeast, New England and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, the foundation hopes to expand it in future years. In addition, most Jewish overnight camps offer financial aid and the One Happy Camper Program, initiated in 2006, offers grants for all first-time campers regardless of need. So far 50,000 children have received One Happy Camper grants.

5) Broadening definition of camp: While rural settings and rustic accommodations are still the norm, two specialty camps — the Union for Reform Judaism’s Six Points Sports Academy and Six Points Science & Technology — are located on boarding school campuses, and another, the 92nd Street Y’s Passport NYC, is in the middle of Manhattan. Passport NYC, in which participants do internships and live in air-conditioned dorms, and Six Points Science blur the boundary between “camp” and “summer program,” while programs like USY on Wheels and Adamah Adventures, which operate under the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s umbrella, blur the boundary between “camp” and “teen travel.”

Read the rest of this feature on JTA.

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.

Leaders Assembly is for Non-Camp Professionals Too

Around the same time every year it happens, thousands of happy campers step off the buses back into their parents’ arms and the countdown to next summer begins. Similarly, as the hundreds of camp professionals, community professionals, lay leaders and educators leave the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s biennial Leaders Assembly, another countdown kicks off!  The three day conference brings together professionals from across North America to interact, learn, discuss, share best practices, challenges, and let’s face it…have fun!

This upcoming March, I will be attending my fourth Leaders Assembly. I have participated as a summer camp professional and in my current role, working for Federation CJA in Montreal on the GEN J Jewish Summer Camp Initiative.  Attending the conference as a community professional helps me to connect with my local camps, to build relationships with other communities, camps and organizations who work in the field and I ALWAYS leave with a larger network of peers and resources.

The variety of workshops and speakers cover everything from affordability, marketing, Jewish education, community partnerships, year-round engagement and inclusivity – there is something for everyone.  Jewish summer camp  is more than just flip-flops and friendship bracelets, it’s an immersive environment that builds Jewish identity and Jewish leadership. The campers and staff of today are the Jewish leaders of tomorrow and that is why as a community we support the power of Jewish summer camp.

I encourage anyone who works with youth, outreach, education, summer camps and community organizations to make every effort to attend, you will not regret it. At Leader Assembly, we truly do come together as one, building relationships to advance our agendas and move the field forward.  See you there!

- Veronica Klein, Associate Jewish Camping Initiative, GEN J


How Are You Reaching Beyond the Bunk?

We are so pleased with the impact Leaders Assembly 2012 had on the field and so many individuals. Tell us how you are REACHING BEYOND THE BUNK in 2012. 

Stefan Teodosic, Executive Director of B’nai B’rith Beber Camp and Leaders Assembly Advisory Circle member, wrote a guest post for the Human Rights Campaign Backstory Blog laying out his commitment to REACH BEYOND the LGBT support in place at camp to a new level of intentionality. Read about his decision and approach…

A Fully Inclusive Jewish Summer Camp

As the Executive Director of Beber Camp, I am proud to help drive Jewish continuity.  At Beber, the development of life skills along with the lifelong friendships that our campers attain should occur within an inclusive environment.    It is my belief that the best way to do this is though creating the most safe, inclusive community possible.  With our commitment to this mission and with recent conversations with our constituents we realized that a change was needed.   We needed to bring a level of intentionality to LGBT inclusivity in our community and not just be supportive when the issue arose.  The decision was made on how to best approach was to create strong updated processes supported by well trained full and part time staff.

This year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Keshet LGBT inclusivity training for Jewish organizations; and it was a great learning tool about new programs for our staff and campers.   Along with the training, this year we filled out the 2012 Jewish Organization Equality Index survey.  Through the JOEI our organization was able to find out what gaps we needed to fill to reach our goal.   These experiences were extremely positive, and through them we have indentified where we can become more inclusive in our organization.  The process of creating new staff training modules is underway, and we are increasingly becoming more excited for the summer to start with our new inclusive programs.  I would highly recommend both of these opportunities to all of my colleagues in the Jewish camping field and I am excited with my organization progressing towards total inclusivity.

Reach Beyond and Venture Out

by Abby Knopp, Vice President, Program and Strategy Foundation for Jewish Camp

Did you hear what they were saying at FJC’s Leaders Assembly last week?  That was the sound of the Jewish world praising your work, of so many influential Jewish leaders acknowledging that camp changes, shapes, and creates Jewish lives.  But…you knew that already and so did we!

What made this Leaders Assembly so different from the three gatherings that came before was the diversity of people who made the choice to be there.  The presence of professionals and lay people coming from a multitude of communal affiliations and communal roles, and from diverse backgrounds made it clear that our collective effort to plant seeds and influence more Jews at more communal tables to talk about the power of Jewish camp is bearing fruit.  Philanthropists, foundations, federations, and educational institutions are all signaling that they want to learn more about what you do and how you do it.  Now is a moment in time for you – the leaders in the field of overnight Jewish camp – to REACH BEYOND THE BUNK.  Take the time to step up and step out:  step up and acknowledge that you are, indeed, Jewish communal leaders – and perceived as such; step out of the “confines” of camp to help shape our collective Jewish future.  Yes, you are beneficiaries of your communal resources but you are also benefactors to the future of Jewish culture.

In my inbox today, I saw the call from Joshua Venture for dreamers with a vision for a Jewish future that is “more dynamic, just, and inclusive.”  They are looking for social entrepreneurs with an “idea to transform Jewish education, spiritual practice, or cultural experience.”  Many of you have already established transformative, dynamic, and inclusive communities during the summer at your camps.  Some of you have more room to grow into vibrant Jewish culture-makers, articulating a vision for Jewish community and giving that vision life in your bunks, at your lakefronts, and in your dining halls.  The opportunities are endless to help the community at large REACH BEYOND the norm and transform.

Joshua Venture is intrigued by the notion that the Jewish energy inherent in camp can offer exciting models for the future.  The Foundation for Jewish Camp will offer consultation and support to camp professionals in seeking to articulate and deepen their role as “Jewish culture-makers.”  If you are interested in submitting applications to the Joshua Venture’s Dual Investment Program please be in touch with Abby Knopp at 646-278-4517 for more information.

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!

My First Time at Leaders Assembly…

This was my first real introduction to the world of Jewish camp, and what an introduction it was! Leaders Assembly was amazing in not just the quantity of people (650?!) but also the quality and diversity of people – I met people from across the spectrum of Judaism and across the continent, people who were new to the job and veterans of dozens of years. To put them all together in a room and spark real conversations was truly memorable. But instead of being overwhelming, it was actually helpful and enlightening; instead of feeling like an outsider, I quickly felt at home in the world of Jewish camp.

I came to this conference for a variety of reasons – but mostly to see if and how the peer-to-peer engagement work I do on college campuses could interface with the work camps do with their campers and counselors. I emerged with some good leads and ideas, and the innovative program structure was fascinating. But perhaps even more than that, I emerged with a new-found admiration and fascination with the work that the Foundation for Jewish Camp and its affiliates do – building Jewish identities, relationships, and communities. Even in totally different and diverse settings, the way people spoke about their vision and their passion resonated with me – this was exactly the language that I spoke! This peek into the world of Jewish camp both piqued my interest in being involved, and inspired me in our shared commitment to a more meaningful and robust Jewish future. I would just like to thank and wish much success to all the participants, partners, and FJC professionals who make this work possible, and who made this Leaders Assembly feel just like home.

- Hart Levine, Director, Heart to Heart

Reach Beyond the Bunk: Leaders Assembly 2012

The following originally appeared on the AVI CHAI Foundation blog

With a theme of “Reach Beyond the Bunk,” this year’s Foundation for Jewish Camp Leaders Assembly took place from March 11-13th in New Brunswick, NJ. In true manifestation of the strength of the growing field of Jewish camping, over 650 were in attendance; in representation of beyond-the-bunk reach, only around 40% were camping professionals – the rest were comprised of lay leaders, Jewish Federation and foundation representatives, and others who care deeply about Jewish camp and its future.

The innovative conference structure took the traditional conference phenomenon of so many productive conversations taking place in the hallways outside sessions and made those hallway conversations the substance of the program. Participants crowd-sourced over 600 session ideas, culled down to 43 open-source sessions on the topics that the participants themselves wanted to talk about, from “Making the Case: Selling Jewish Camp to Parents” to “To Plug In or Not to Plug In: Thinking about Technology at Camp” and “Keeping Up With the Changing Face of the Jewish World.”

During those breaks and hallway time, I took the opportunity to ask camp directors and other stakeholders for their personal reflections on the overall conference theme of “Reach Beyond the Bunk.” Whether reaching constituencies besides campers, such as parents and alumni; extending camp programming beyond the summer months; or increasing and enhancing opportunities for Jewish education and identity-building, a multitude of ways to reach beyond the bunk were shared. Here are a few:

Employ Technology to Further Customer Service: Make an app that helps parents register, pack, and access information and updates – Stefan Teodosic, Camp Beber

Break Down Community Silos: Through “horizontal programming” during the course of the year – events tied to synagogues and other community institutions such as father/son and mother/daughter weekends – Jerry Kaye, URJ Camp OSRUI

Online classes: Connecting young adults around the country – Talia Spear and Kali Silverman, Habonim Dror

Provide Social Action Opportunities: Partner with Jewish organizations to do social action work during the summer – Alan Friedman, Camp Mountain Chai

Year-round Israel Education: Take successful Israeli leaders who have been at camp to live in the community as full-time shlichim at synagogues, youth groups, college campuses, leveraging relationships they already have through camp – Bobby Harris, URJ Camp Coleman

View more views from Leaders Assembly on AVI CHAI’s YouTube channel,