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Swimming, Ceramics, Philanthropy?

By Naomi Skop

When summer 2011 ends, over 250 campers from ten summer camps will return home asking their parents some hard questions:

“Where do you give your tzedakah? How did you pick that organization?  At camp we learned…”

At the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN), we believe that collaborative teen philanthropy programs and overnight Jewish camp are a perfect pairing. Philanthropy is not only experiential Jewish learning by its very nature—it also contributes to the real magic of camp: instilling values that campers take with them and live by throughout the year.

Research shows that those who attend Jewish summer camp are among those most engaged in Jewish life. As educators, staff, and parents, we need to think about the values that we teach each summer, and how they prepare our campers for adulthood.

From 2008 – 2010, the National Ramah Commission piloted collaborative teen philanthropy programs in six Ramah camps with the support of JTFN, all of which are in full force this summer. This year, building on the success of the Ramah Philanthropic Initiative, four more residential camps from across the field of Jewish camping are piloting their own teen philanthropy programs with JTFN’s help.

These programs work because the core lessons of teen philanthropy can be molded to complement any environment. Each of the participating camps has found the program flexible and ready to integrate with their core educational goals:

- For Habonim Dror Camp Galil, making decisions about social responsibility is integral to their summer program, and the philanthropy program introduces a new opportunity to explore the skills and values associated with these choices.

- JCC Maccabi Camp Kingswood uses the teen philanthropy program to focus on leadership skills, a core element of their educational mission.

- At URJ Camp George, where the CIT program focuses on Jewish identity development, they will highlight Jewish values of local and global responsibility that shape Jewish identity.

- Educators at URJ Greene Family Camp integrated a philanthropy component into their volunteer program so that campers could begin to see themselves as individuals with multiple ways of impacting the world.

Mitch Morgan, director of JCC Maccabi Kingswood, says the planning process “has really helped us think about not only creating Jewish leaders, but Jewish leaders who are active and give back to the community.”

Just like last summer, campers and staff will think that their weeks of independence at overnight camp brought them home knowing a little more than their parents.  This time—at least when it comes to philanthropic giving—they just might be right.

Naomi Skop is the program associate at the Jewish Teen Funders Network. The mission of the Jewish Teen Funders Network (JTFN) is to provide Jewish teens with hands-on opportunities to engage in collective philanthropic giving with their peers, guided by Jewish values. Learn more at

Eight Days a Week, (Camp) I Lo-o-o-o-ove You!

The following post is from The Jewish Week.  It was written by Rabbi Marci N. Bellows who serves as rabbi of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh, NY.

Rabbi Marci N. Bellows

Rabbi Marci N. Bellows

So, I’m in the middle of my Pesach preparations, as I’m sure many of you are. I’m figuring out which Haggadah to use this year, finalizing the menu that my sister and I will prepare for our guests, and cleaning up the living room and dining room. The kitchen is about to be the eye of the storm, and brand-new bottles of Manichewitz wine are already forming what looks like a small army on the counter.

Yet, in the middle of the hametz hullabaloo, there was a four hour meeting up in the Berkshires that I had to attend. What in the world would be so important that I and my colleagues would drive three and a half hours up and three and half hours back for such a short meeting?

Ah, well, my friends, that’s the best part – we were going up for a Faculty orientation at Union for Reform Judaism’s Eisner Camp, located in beautiful Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators from all over the Northeast converged on the campsite for a meeting to discuss curriculum, holidays, and plans for the coming summer.

I will be visiting Eisner’s sister camp, Crane Lake Camp, for two weeks this summer, and it will be my second time on faculty. The opportunity to spend this time at camp is a very precious part of my rabbinate. As I reflect on the areas of my life that have always brought me the most happiness, some of the best experiences took place during my adolescent years at camp.

In junior high and high school, I spent a number of years at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), a Reform Jewish overnight camp in Oconomowoc, WI.

These years were both formative and transformative – I truly became myself there. I was surrounded by incredible, warm, and positive staff and campers. The days were filled with arts, learning, Hebrew, services, sports, and music. Nights were filled with games, programs, campfires, and song sessions.

Perhaps most importantly, we experienced what it was like to be Jewish all day long, and to look at the world around us with a Jewish lens. For most Reform Jewish kids, this is a new, exciting concept. Judaism was something fun at camp, it was something that tied us all together, and it was the source of wonderful teachings and traditions.

Every two weeks, a different set of rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators spent time with us – we got to see them in much less formal settings (Rabbis wear shorts? Rabbis sing along at the campfire? Rabbis hang out on the beach?), and see what wonderful, approachable human beings they were. Many of our counselors even went on to become clergy in subsequent years. Thus, as you might imagine, I credit my years at OSRUI with much of my ultimate decision to become a rabbi.

One of my priorities in my rabbinate was to return to camp as a faculty member. I feel very fortunate that my congregation, Temple B’nai Torah, has supported my wish to spend two weeks each summer at Crane Lake Camp. It is truly an honor to now be one of those camp rabbis who can influence the next generation of Jewish leaders.

Recent studies from the Foundation for Jewish Camp have found fascinating connections between families that send their children to camp and their involvement in Jewish life. They discovered: 1) parents of camp kids remained temple members longer, 2) kids who went to camp were more likely to stay in religious school post-B’nai Mitzvah, and 3) the entire family was more likely to be involved in temple life and leadership. The Jewish Week covered these important findings in its article, “Summer Camp Impact Seen High in New Study.”

If there were eight days in a week, I would want to spend that extra day up at camp. Just as our ancestors were liberated from Egypt and, in their freedom, first began to learn who they were as Jews, I solidified my Jewish identity when I began attending camp.

If I may continue the analogy, many of the “plagues” of childhood and adolescence – overwork, social awkwardness, academic pressure, feeling like an outsider, effects of bullying – can be cured by attending camp and meeting other kids who wind up becoming part of your family.

Thanks to Facebook, I’m still in touch with many of my camp friends from over twenty years ago. We’re still family today, despite the years and miles between us. As James Taylor would sing, “You just call out my name, and you know, wherever I am, I’ll come running to see you again… you’ve got a friend.”

How Far We’ve Come

A lot can happen in 10 years.

In 2000, Leonard Saxe, PhD and Amy Sales, PhD visited Jewish overnight camps in 2000 for the first-ever study on the field, commissioned by the AVI CHAI Foundation.  The result was a report called Limud by the Lake: Fulfilling the Potential of Jewish Summer Camps.  Shortly after, they also wrote the book “How Goodly are Thy Tents”: Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences.  Based on their observations, Saxe and Sales made several recommendations, which have served as FJC’s guidelines to improving the field:

- Expand the reach of Jewish camping;
- Make camp a model of Jewish education;
- Provide the training and support counselors need to advance on their personal Jewish journeys and flourish in their work as Jewish role models; and
- Conduct research to inform the field of Jewish camping and ground its future development in reliable information.

Since this study, the field of Jewish camping has gained wide recognition for its successful track record in building Jewish identity.  It has grown exponentially and made incredible strides.  Communities, foundations, and other organizations have made camping a priority, fundraising to support it with never-before-seen gusto and momentum.

Now, almost a decade later, AVI CHAI commissioned Amy Sales to revisit the same camps for “an updated snapshot of the field.” She revealed the findings at a dinner hosted by AVI CHAI and FJC at the Jewish Funders Network International Conference last week in Philadelphia.  Limud by the Lake Revisited: Growth and Change at Jewish Summer Camp confirmed how far the field has come as a result of the camps’ and FJC’s efforts and the support of a number of funders including the Marcus Foundation, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and AVI CHAI, who have recognized and understood the value of camp and invested in its development.  In conjunction with CAMP WORKS, this research further qualifies the power of Jewish camp and proves why camping is on top of everyone’s agenda.

We are grateful to these dedicated philanthropists, and all who support Jewish camp.  Every day, our work evolves, and reminds us just how far the field has come.

Methodology Madness

If any of you are like me, March Madness has taken over your day and you are frantically checking your NCAA basketball brackets, sneaking peaks at game scores throughout the day. This past fall I started the University of Washington – Foster School of Business’ part time MBA program, and was fortunate enough to receive a grant through the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Robert and Elisa Spungen Bildner Fellowship. Fortunately for me, and for my bracket, I just completed a semester of “Statistics Analysis for Business,” but it was not my basketball bracket where I have most utilized the last quarter of studying. For the last few weeks there has been much talk about the impact of Jewish summer camp. This is likely a result of the CAMP WORKS study released by FJC earlier this month.

As a full time camp professional, I am always thrilled with anything that supports the work that we do. Any tool which shows Jewish summer camp as integral in the foundation and growth of a child’s Jewish identity and, further, indicates increased involvement in the Jewish community and ongoing Jewish life, is a welcome tool for us to share with parents and community members. If this had been published three months ago, I probably would have said to myself, “Here is a great article to share with families about the success and importance of Jewish Summer Camp.”

Instead, at the beginning of March, I poured over the report with a whole new perspective. I looked at the findings not only through the eyes of an Assistant Camp Director but, also, as a person who was just about to take her final stats exam. The night before the study was released, my class focused on multivariate statistical analysis, looking at the importance of isolating specific variables and controlling for the potential effect of others. I heard myself explaining the methods in conjunction with the results of the CAMP WORKS study with great excitement. The strength of the findings was not the qualitative idea that camp is great, but rather the ability to quantify what we all felt. Jewish Camp works and it’s all in the numbers.  The ability to combine and quantify gives exceptional weight, not only to the study, but in effect, to the success of Jewish Camp.

In the FJC’s Yitro Leadership program, our cohort spent a lot of time drilling down into the details of our camps’ programs and missions. We explored the methods of infusing the day to day of camp with intentionality and supported each other in developing meaningful additions to the culture and offerings of Jewish Camp. Now, just two quarters into my MBA program, I am excited that I have already found ways to seamlessly apply my coursework to, well, work and understand methodology from a different angle.

- Briana Holtzman, Assistant Director, URJ Camp Kalsman

Reform Jewish Camping: The Essential Question

The following post is from the Union for Reform Judaism blog, written by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, the President of the URJ.

We echo Rabbi Yoffie’s sentiments about Jewish camp and have heard many similar stories over the years.

If a URJ camp is not for you, please visit our Find a Camp search engine browse the 143 others and find the right one for your family.

Reform Jewish Camping: The Essential Question

I have a 27-year-old son who will be graduating from law school this June. He and I have our disagreements about matters of theology and religious practice, but he is, by any definition, a committed Reform Jew. He cares about tikkun olam, he is an activist for Israel, and he wants to have a Jewish home and a Jewish future. My wife and I would like to believe that his Jewish commitments flow from the example that we set, and in some measure this is true. But we also know that the single most powerful Jewish experience of his life was the years that he spent at Camp Harlam, as both a camper and a counselor. He remembers and treasures his experiences at Harlam, he remains in regular contact with his Harlam friends, and although he has made no commitment, I suspect that if he has children, he will send them to Harlam or to another Reform camp. Nothing that we ever did in our home could compare to his summers at camp and the influence they have had on his life. I am confident that Judaism is an essential part of his being, and I know in my heart that his camp years are a very big reason for that.

Why, I wonder, don’t all Reform Jewish parents who care about the Reform Jewish identity of their children send them to a URJ Camp?

Editor’s note: We were thrilled to see the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Camp Works study, which gives quantitative proof to what we know to be true: Jewish summer camps have a profound effect on Jewish identity. We see this every summer with the 10,000 children who attend URJ camps. We have seen thousands of URJ campers grow up to become involved in Jewish life in a variety of ways and we have seen countless URJ camp romances turn into marriages and future generations of URJ campers.

Russian Jews’ Attitudes Towards Jewish Camp

Towards the middle of 2010, it felt like every time I opened my Inbox, a colleague had forwarded me another article about Jews from Russian-speaking backgrounds!  Apparently, new funding opportunities and a small but dedicated and outspoken community of Russian-speaking professionals and lay leaders led to an upsurge of interest in the subject that is long overdue.  This certainly is exciting news for the Jewish communities of North America since Jews coming from the countries of the Former Soviet Union represent not only a significant proportion of the overall Jewish population but an exciting source of innovation and communal revitalization, as well.  And, while the players have changed over the past few decades, it is interesting that what hasn’t changed much at all are the questions being asked about this population – often, as it turns out, by Russians, themselves.

FJC, with the support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, commissioned a study of Russian-speaking parents to begin to learn about their attitudes towards Jewish overnight camp.  Read “A Study of Russian Jews and Their Attitudes Towards Overnight Jewish Summer Camp” here.

- Abby Knopp, Director of Community Initiatives, Foundation for Jewish Camp

Schmoozing and Social Media? We’re there.

FJC just returned from the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, and after three days of meetings, sessions, plenaries, booth-running, and schmoozing, we’re happy to say that it was a huge success.

Check us out in the below video by Esther Kustanowitz, renowned blogger and LA Federation’s NextGen programmer extraordinaire, about the NOLAISM Schmooze-up, a reception for entrepreneurs and creative folks.

What’s innovate about FJC? Why is camp important? Watch to learn.

Jewish Camp, Jewish Education

We’ve said it before- the Foundation for Jewish Camp strongly believes that Jewish camp is an integral component in a child’s Jewish education. We have done research to study it, have seen it with our own eyes, and heard it with our own ears as we work with this magical community.  So it is not surprising that we really like this recent feature by Rabbi Mitch Cohen, director of the National Ramah Commission, written specially for The Jewish Week, entitled “The Power Of Jewish Camping.”  Jewish summer camp, its pretty magical and potent stuff!